Since gyms are still closed and don’t look like they’re reopening any time soon, it’s beginning to look pretty bleak for those of us who are without home gyms equipped with dumbbells, squat racks, or benches. Though bodyweight exercises are still able to provide a significant enough stimulus for muscle growth, using no equipment than our bodies limits not only our exercise variety for well-balanced training, but even our morale and drive to be active during these times. In this guide, I’m going to discuss how to build an unconventional home gym on a budget that will optimize your exercise variety, ultimately leading to well-balanced muscular development, while keeping exercise exciting and fun.
1. Resistance band set
Resistance bands are a perfect way to round out your otherwise bodyweight workouts, and they’re not awfully expensive either! The set shown above is only $40, and offers all the tools you need to replicate any exercises you can do with a cable machine at the gym, including a door mount, handles, and even ankle straps. Without any fitness equipment, it’s awfully hard to exercise the muscles of the back (which we already aren’t doing enough). Resistance bands are at number one on my list because of how valuable they are for integrating the muscles of the back, let alone the infinite exercise options you instantly gain with a set of bands (rows, face pulls, pec fly, etc). The only reservation I have for resistance bands is that they apply dynamic resistance, meaning that the amount of resistance that the bands provide increases as they are stretched. Cable machines apply a constant, unchanging resistance. This key distinction will just allow for slightly different adaptations, but still provide sufficient tension to the muscles for development.
Physioballs/stability balls are the perfect addition to a completely bodyweight training program, but can also add some variation for your dumbbell or band exercises. These instability devices can be super cheap too (5 Below sells some for $5) and will certainly serve their purpose! Physioballs provide essentially endless possibilities for training the core (planks, crunches, roll-outs, etc.), but there are also plenty of ways to integrate them into your training for every other muscle group. Stability balls are also a great substitute for a bench for exercises like the chest press or pec fly. Let’s not forget that physioballs can also serve as posture-friendly chairs for all those hours we are sitting while stuck at home.
3. Medicine ball
Medicine balls are incredibly versatile tools to have as part of your home gym. These are really underrated probably because other than med-ball slams, the exercises that you can perform with them aren’t exactly obvious. Med balls are great for adding to squats, lateral tosses, chest passes, and honestly so many more. I’ve trained individuals aged 13 to 80 effectively with a 10-pound med ball implemented throughout each of their programs. That said, I definitely think the 10 pound size should be sufficient for the average person, not to mention they’d only set you back $20-$40 at that weight.
We have departed from the conventional exercise equipment and have arrived in the Hope Depot fitness aisle. Any kind of rope with a working load limit greater than your body weight should do the job. Tie a knot in the middle of a 10-ft. strand, place the knot over the top of a door, and shut the door and you have a homemade TRX suspension trainer. Instead of spending more than $100 to do some inverted suspension rows, 50 ft of heavy-duty polypropylene diamond braid rope costs just under $10 at Home Depot (still open during COVID-19) and makes a great substitute. Keep reading for more reasons to include rope in your home gym!
If resistance bands and high-rep-sets just aren’t cutting it for you and you’re missing lifting some real weight, sand bags should do the trick. A 50-pound bag will cost you $3-$5, which comes out to just over 6 cents a pound, so needless to say they are excellent wallet-friendly alternatives for weight sets. I bought a tarp and some rope along with the sand to make my own protective bag, though some sand still manages to leak. If you’re looking to spend a little extra, there are plenty of options for commercial sand bags that will prevent sand from leaking when you’re throwing the bag around. Either way, sand bags are great functional pieces to deadlift, squat, and press so you can maintain and gain some strength while stuck at home.
6. Broom stick
A broomstick should complete your home gym as an easy stand-in for a barbell, and you probably don’t even have to go to the store to find one! Add some bands, filled buckets, or even sandbags if you want to incorporate the barbell movements into your home program.
Hopefully this guide is helpful to those of you building home gyms on a budget! With all of these items, basically all of your bases should be covered and there isn’t much you can’t work on strength-wise. If you’re interested in learning more exercises you can do with the items I’ve highlighted, see my training page for details or send me an email at email@example.com