How to Set Up a Home Gym

Create a home gym setup that will encourage you to stay active as you shelter in place.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Set Up a Home Gym

A gym and sauna room in the loft of a luxury new home.

In most cases, setting up a home gym is relatively easy to do.(Getty Images)

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The global COVID-19 pandemic isn’t just closing your office and favorite restaurants – gyms, spas and recreation centers throughout the U.S. have been shuttered as well as local, state and federal governments try to stifle the spread of the coronavirus.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a gym rat, you may be desperate to get active as cabin fever sets in from self-isolation, social distancing and sheltering in place.

Fortunately, setting up a home gym – even a temporary one – is relatively easy to do. You may even find that the simple do-it-yourself projects that go along with creating an exercise space will help exercise your mind as well.

Here’s how to set up a home gym:

  • Find the right space.
  • Locate natural light and good ventilation.
  • Make sure you have a strong Wi-Fi signal.
  • Order equipment.
  • Incorporate what you already have.
  • Connect with your gym, trainer or other exercise sources.
  • Get outside a little.

Find the Right Space

Whether you’re creating a gym for the pandemic only or you seek a more permanent setup, it’s important to designate an area that will be comfortable to spend time in.

The basement is a popular spot to set up home gym equipment, but if you don’t like the idea of spending 45 minutes below ground every day, pick a spot you like more. Temporarily convert a guest bedroom, commandeer a corner of the living room or even leave one of the cars in the driveway to transform a part of your garage into a gym.

If you're looking to incorporate exercise machines like a treadmill or a stationary bike, make sure you set aside plenty of space. Dan DiClerico, smart home strategist and home expert for HomeAdvisor, based in Brooklyn, New York, recommends about 6 feet of clearance behind a treadmill, and a couple feet on either side. “We see a lot of injuries where people slip off the back of a treadmill and they get stuck,” DiClerico says. A few feet of space surrounding a stationary bike is also advised.

If you’re living in a studio apartment, the right workout space is wherever you have a few extra square feet. In limited space, handheld exercise equipment that can be tucked away in a closet or under the couch may be the best way to go.

Locate Natural Light and Good Ventilation

At least one window and a good deal of natural light can help motivate you to exercise. For this reason, DiClerico says the basement may not be an ideal spot for your home gym.

“If there’s no light, no windows down there, that may be a reason not to go down there,” he says.

Ventilation is also key to making your home gym setup a success – you don’t want to be in a room that’s too hot or cold, and you certainly don’t want it to smell like sweat after a couple workouts. If you’re in a space with windows or a door that goes outside, open them to let fresh air in.

Make Sure You Have a Strong Wi-Fi Signal

Many people are relying on video workouts on YouTube or Facebook, interactive exercise apps and individual advice from their personal trainers. So a smartphone, tablet or smart TV may be key components of your home workout.

To ensure your sweat session doesn't get interrupted by a buffering video, make sure you have a strong Wi-Fi connection wherever you set up your home gym. If you find yourself struggling to get through a routine workout without service interruptions, DiClerico recommends getting a Wi-Fi range extender. Range extenders simply plug into an outlet and help boost the Wi-Fi signal in a specific area and can be ordered online from stores like Best Buy or Amazon for $20 to $150.

Order Equipment

If you like the idea of keeping your workout similar to what it would be at the gym or in a SoulCycle class, you can order equipment online for delivery, from an elliptical machine to a weightlifting rack to a stationary bike. To keep costs down, however, you can focus on smaller pieces of equipment, including a pullup bar, a couple of dumbbells and resistance bands that can give you a full workout.

While stores nationwide are currently closed, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart, Target and Eastern Mountain Sports are offering contactless curbside pickup at store locations. Orders for curbside pickup can be placed online.

Equipment to consider for your home gym:

Yoga mat. Even if you don't practice yoga yet, a yoga mat creates a space for you to stretch before and after any exercise, and it can be easily rolled up and put away. Depending on how often you plan to use the mat and whether you're looking for a simple option or one that will withstand hot yoga classes in the future, there are many types of yoga mats available. [Shop Now]

Dumbbells. Dumbbells or free weights can be used to make a cardio workout more difficult or to simply do a few bicep curls. You can find them in a variety of styles and weights that will best suit you. For example, Dick's Sporting Goods' highest-rated dumbbells, the ETHOS Hex Rubber Dumbbell, are available for contactless, curbside pickup and vary in price from $8 for a single, 5-pound weight to $65 for a 40-pound weight. [Shop Now]

Elliptical machine. If you're looking to create a permanent home gym and you have the funds to invest, you may want to consider larger machines that provide more of a gym membership experience. LifeFitness, for example, sells both home gym equipment and commercial gym equipment. Elliptical cross trainers are a popular, low-impact cardio option for people who may be looking for an alternative to running on the treadmill. [Shop Now]

Incorporate What You Already Have

You can still have a fulfilling workout without ordering any home exercise equipment, or you can supplement what you're ordering with items already found in your home.

“A whole range of programming can be carried out with zero equipment,” says Alex Peacock, general manager of digital solutions for eGym, a company that works with gyms and fitness facilities to make exercise machines more dynamic and improve communication with members. He adds that in many cases, you can use “everyday household objects rather than specialist equipment.”

Many people working out from home are using canned goods as hand weights, filling up backpacks with bottles of water and running the stairs in their apartment building to achieve a gym-level workout.

Connect With Your Gym, Trainer or Other Exercise Sources

Exercising at home would be even more intimidating if you had to come up with all your own routines and workout plans. Fortunately, you can get free and low-cost instruction from experts. Peacock explains that many gyms that eGym partners with are focusing on providing substantial resources and communication to their members, so if you belong to a gym now, check if it has an app and inquire about virtual classes.

Many personal trainers are communicating through similar apps, or even directly with their clients. “Your trainer can continue to give you routines to do at home,” Peacock says.

Also check out the countless workout apps available for free, including Nike Training Club, FitOn and Daily Yoga. Some apps may require a subcription but offer free trials for a few days or weeks, including TRX and SHRED: Gym Workout & Tracker. Peloton is best known for its stationary bikes, but its mobile app can be used for workouts without equipment, and it is currently free to new customers for 90 days when you sign up.

Get Outside a Little

If you’re not exhibiting symptoms of illness, consider supplementing your home gym exercise with some outdoor sessions such as a run or walk with your dog. Just remember to keep a distance of at least 6 feet from everyone else.

“There’s no substitute for actually exercising in nature – it will give a boost of serotonin,” Diclerico says.

You might also consider occasionally taking your yoga mat into your backyard or onto your apartment balcony for a guided yoga or tai chi class. You can also do workouts with crunches, squats or pushups easily in a small space outside, or if you have more room you can do lunges over the length of your driveway or backyard.

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