“And in this corner weighing in at 850 pounds…”
Photo by Mark Williams on Unsplash

You don’t need much for the home gym to cover your training needs. When we acknowledge and agree on the reasons for training at home in the first place, convenience and results, most of the home equipment requirements dwindle down to few essentials.

As long as we treat training as work, a practice of getting better for life, and not a source of excitement in itself, we can make the convenience and results collide efficiently.

The non-negotiables for a functional home gym

Two by two metres of space. Theoretically enough to swing a full grown, slightly overweight male cat* around without hitting him on the walls, windows, ceiling fixtures or furniture.

If a separate room or garage is not an option (reality for most) and you live with other people, it’s best to use a corner of a room. Less chance of someone walking into your sacred training space in the heat of the moment.

For those living in houses without corners. Well, you just have to deal with the geometric shapes you’re in bed with the best you can.

Forgiving flooring. A carpeted floor is fine for most. But two meter by two meter square of thin exercise foam adds a layer of comfort. It’s soft for the knees, but still sturdy enough to train on without feeling like you’re lifting weights on a mattress. It also keep the sweat of the carpet, which is a kind of nice.

I find that the more traditional rectangular yoga mats slide all over the place and never cover enough of the ground. Interlocking pieces forming a square just work better. If you’re placing these on hard floors get some form of non-slippery, grippy thing to hold them in place. People at Bunnings are generally nice.

These squares are not the most environmentally friendly item out there. But at least you can also pack them into a neat pile when not in use.

Interlocking foam flooring such as this work well.

Minimalist approach to equipment

The basics: Few kettlebells or dumbbells

Fever the better, I say. Most women will do fine with 12kg and 16kg in the beginning. For most men 12kg or a 16kg and a 20kg will get you going and progressing for a while.

Whether you buy dumbbells or kettlebells will only matter if planning to do swings and other kettlebell specific exercises. Sure, you can swing with a dumbbell (or that cat), but it’s not as ergonomically enjoyable (for the cat) and, I would argue, safe as with a kettlebell.

Side note Bob (in the middle of the text)
Other than swings and other kettlebell specific ballistic movements, dumbbells and kettlebells are more or less interchangeable.

For kettlebells get a solid iron piece without any plastic. There are also adjustable versions, but I’ve never tried one so can’t recommend them without reservations. Not sure how sturdy they are or how the weight is distributed. Both things to consider.

For dumbbells an adjustable pair will cost a bit more upfront, but it’ll be a long while before you need to buy more weights. Honestly, it might be all you’ll ever need. And it’ll save heaps of space too once you need to go heavier to keep progressing.

Few of the adjustable options look somewhat ethereal. Like they could’ve been used by Captain Kirk in Star Trek. Might add an element of spaciness into your existing decor.

Powerblock adjustable dumbbells
Bowflex adjustable dumbbells
Solid iron kettlebells similar to this.
Bowflex adjustable kettlebells

Also check Ebay and your local stores to compare best value and shipping options.

That could be all the equipment most of us ever need.

As long as we are still clear on the purpose of training: progress to be better at the things we enjoy doing outside of training. With a little bit of creativity and a shied for boredom this gets us going.

But if we really want we could add few more things…

To add an element of variety: TRX and/or chin up bar and some resistance bands

I use TRX as an example of a suspension trainer because that’s what I have had for close to a decade. It lasts and it does what it’s meant to do. Just know that there are other cheaper options available too.

The TRX is marketed as the ultimate full-body workout solution, but that’s a bit far-fetched. It’s absolutely brilliant for row variations and a decent helper for rear foot elevated split squats. And using it for just those two exercises makes it worth having. Most of the other exercises you can do with it are just fluffed up marketing hype.

TRX can be used on a door frame, tree, telephone pole, or Hodor so no need to get the hammer drill out just yet.

The chin up bar’s usefulness is along the same lines.

It’s brilliant for… chin ups. Sure there are other things you can do with it. But I don’t think you really need it if chin ups are not your jam.

If you have the strength and desire for chin ups, then adding a removable bar to a door frame is worth the little money it costs. It gives you the option to do vertical pulling which without a bar is pretty much impossible.

Side note Bob (in the middle of the text)
Chin ups are one of my favourite exercise so I bolted a bar onto our garage brick wall when we moved in. Yes, just that one exercise makes it worth drilling large holes into the wall.

If you currently can’t phantom doing a chin up (be it because of strength, pain or carrying too much weight) skip this piece for now and get a TRX instead.

Resistance bands on the other hand are surprisingly versatile.

Considering that they cost about the price of a movie ticket. They can be used for a variety of pulling and pushing exercises and even for some low body strength work.

Resistance bands are also good to have for so called prehab exercises. Archer rows, rotator cuff work (yes, it’s still a thing), glute work…

The light and medium bands are enough for most. Perhaps the one up from medium (more than medium?) as well. But the heavier bands don’t do much for home training. Unless you’re planning on pulling Volkswagen Golf up and down the driveway.

Side note Bob (in the middle of the text)
Avoid the urge to go super cheap. Don’t buy some half baked resistance bands made by a one-eyed pirate using strawberry bubble gum and parrot feathers. Those might last a workout. And end up costing you an eye at the start of the second.

A cheaper suspension trainer alternative
Door frame chin up bar (there are about ten different options so check your door frame fitting first)
Wall-mounted chin up bar for the true chin up enthusiast
Resistance bands

Again, it might be worth rummaging through Amazon, Ebay and your local stores for best bargains and shipping.

If you have the space and funds: a landmine…

If you do have the space, a barbell with a landmine attachment and some weights would be awesome. Great for shoulder friendly pressing (most people can’t deal with strict overhead pressing with kettlebells and dumbbells) and single leg work.

Landmine makes training more versatile, even fun. I am a fan. But it is a decent investment in both money and space so it’s not for everyone.

Landmine attachment – double check the barbell fits
Weights – double check they match the bar width

Postage might be an issue. Check local stores first to save on shipping. If you do ship it though see if there is an option to have the post(wo)man deliver it on a motorbike. Pay extra if necessary. Then go camp outside and wait.

The rest of the equipment options fall into the category of “nice to haves”

Stability ball, slides, ab wheel can all add variety to your home-based core, glute and hamstring training. But are by no means essential for progress.

I have all three but rarely use any of them for obvious reasons. Stability ball is flat because it takes too much storage space. I left the ab wheel at work. And slides don’t work well on garage concrete floor.

The upside on all these is that they are cheap. So if you have the space (and suitable floors for sliding), why not?

Stability ball – can also be used when birthing a baby. Two birds, one stone*.
Slides – woolly socks on a slippery surface works well too
Ab wheel – although slides might do the same thing

Less is better

Unnecessary pieces of equipment just add to the clutter and draw our attention away from training. It’s like using a guitar amp with too many knobs. Too much time spent finding the right sound and less time on what really matters: playing Paranoid.

Keep it simple. Focus on the work.

As we already covered, training at home (or anywhere, really) is not a way to inject excitement in to our lives. It’s just training to get better at whatever we do for excitement outside of training. Get it done and move on.

Yours, in ethereal training space,
Captain James Tiberius Kirk, Starship Enterprise**

*With swinging cats and stoned birds this post reeks mistreatment of animals. I condemn all that. We have to two cats. Neither have ever been swung.

**It’s all a lie. I had to Google that. I’ve never watched a single episode of Star Trek. I just don’t get it. There you go. Now you know.