How To Create A Minimalist Home Gym
Personally, I enjoy being “at the gym”. Being in the right physical environment with other people can be motivating. Full disclosure here: I own a training facility, so I’m likely biased.
Nevertheless, sometimes it’s a pain to drag yourself to the gym when the weather is not cooperative or when traffic is bad. And if there’s a commute, it can be time consuming.
Whether you workout in a professional facility or not, having an option to train in your own home can make life easier. You can supplement your normal gym routine with extra homework, or you can get a full-body workout almost anywhere without spending a ton of money on equipment.
Do you really need an expensive cardio machine and a cross-training weight rig? Quite simply, no. You don’t need anything too complex, and frankly the more moving parts and adjustments on a piece of equipment, the more things that can go wrong and break.
Actually, the only real thing you need for adequate training is a stable floor or ground area. If you travel frequently or don’t have access to equipment of any type, you can still get in a solid training session with no equipment at all.
But if you want to put together a really awesome home gym, there are some things you’ll want to invest in. These items won’t break the bank and will extend your training so you can target the upper back and biceps, pulling moves that are normally difficult to train without equipment.
Do shop for durability. You don’t want cheap knock-off items. They are often poorly designed which can actually lead to injury. If things bend under your weight or seem flimsy due to low-quality materials, cheap fasteners or grips, then they likely aren’t worth your money. Make sure things don’t rock or wobble. High quality companies provide resources in terms of free workouts, videos and online support that can be very valuable along the way.
The final thing to consider is your available space (how much room do you really have) and your environment. Allow enough room for you to move around freely.
Here are some of my top equipment suggestions:
From doorway-mounted bars to free-standing pullup rigs, building vertical pulling strength is important. Being able to pull your own bodyweight is one of the most functional things you can do. And you don’t need an expensive lat-pulldown machine or a gravity-assisted pullup rig - you just need a bar - one that is strong and stable.
The bar should be high enough that you can clear your feet from the floor with your legs bent, but not so high that you can’t reach it. If you can’t reach it, you can use a box, bench or step stool to allow you to grip the bar.
Can’t do a single pullup? There are some easy ways to scale the movement while you’re building strength. You can use a bench or step-stool to allow you to use your feet as an assist. Try jumping your chin over the bar and lowering your own body-weight under control. Or you can put your foot in a looped resistance band that you’ve attached to the bar to provide assistance.
While pullup bars are great, horizontal pulling is another movement pattern that should be regularly trained regardless of your ability level. Having a horizontal rowing bar at waist or slightly lower height will allow you to work on these skills, and the Lebert EQualizers fit the bill perfectly due to their strength, stability and portability.
An inverted row performed on EQualizers is a compound pulling movement that targets the upper back, the rear shoulders and to some extent, the biceps. Keeping those muscles engaged during the movement is important, as is keeping the lower back and glutes tight. Don’t allow your body to sag.
Beginners in particular will find a set of EQualizer bars helpful, especially if a scaled pullup is out of the question. Building horizontal pulling strength is somewhat easier than vertical pulling, and the movement skill will have some transferability to the more difficult overhead pullup. Once the basics have been trained, you can progress rowing movements by keeping the legs straight and focusing on keeping the shoulder in retraction and leading with the sternum during the pull.
These bars are near the top of my list because of their versatility. While they are perfectly suited for horizontal rowing, they also make great dip stands, push-up bars, a platform for knee and leg raises, and a base for almost a hundred other calisthenics exercises. A full and free guide to using them is available for download with purchase at the Lebert Fitness website.
Dumbbells or Kettlebells
While bodyweight training is particularly effective, having external resistance to work with develops strength in a different way. Kettlebells are my personal favourite tool when weight training because of their versatility, their portability, and their effectiveness for both ballistic and strict strength movements in multiple planes.
Pick a pair or two of weights that suit your ability: a pair of 8 kilogram, 12 kilogram, 16 kilogram or 24 kilogram bells. You can do a lot with a single bell, but having a pair of equal weights will allow you to perform more advanced double kettlebell moves.
While my preference is to train with kettlebells, you do have to know how to use them properly. They are technically more advanced than dumbbells due to the increased complexity of movement involved, and it’s difficult to learn without being shown how by a qualified trainer. For that reason, dumbbells may be a better choice for many.
When choosing dumbbells, you can choose from an adjustable set or a few pairs of fixed weight bells. If you are going the adjustable route, get the best you can afford. You don’t want to skimp on quality here. Try them before purchasing. If you’re used to fixed weights, you may find that the extra bulk of an adjustable set may make them awkward for some moves.
Other considerations in adjustable bells will be the type of adjustment (dial, selector-pin, twist-lock, etc), maximum weight, weight increments, and the availability of expansion packs.
Unless space is really a priority, fixed-weight dumbbells may be your best bet. Fewer moving parts and adjustments means they will last a lifetime, and their stability and durability can’t be beat.
My preference are rubber-coated hexagon dumbbbells (they won’t roll around on the floor or damage surfaces) and you don’t really need a full selection of weights to make them useful. You’ll need a few pairs suitable for arm and overhead work (presses, push presses, snatches, etc.) and some heavier varieties for squats, deadlifts, and other lower body work. Three to five pairs generally will do the trick.
Lebert HIIT System:
While there are quite a few suspension trainers on the market, the Lebert HIIT System has a few advantages over others. It’s not just a suspension device, it’s a true multifunctional trainer that incorporates dynamic unilateral, rotational, and bilateral strength-building movements. By leveraging your own bodyweight for dynamic resistance, you can regress or progress exercises easily.
Unlike other suspension trainers, the HIIT System has a friction ring that allows one side of the body to resist the other in all planes of motion. From rows to presses to curls and lunges, you can train your whole body.
The HIIT System also comes with a third handle, so when it isn’t anchored to a door or a bar, you can use it with a partner for buddy-style workouts. This innovative product is a new release from Lebert Fitness, and you owe it to yourself to check it out.
Why train with parallettes? More than just “pushup bars”, Lebert Fitness Parallettes are a compact but essential piece of equipment for bodyweight training that will greatly improve your upper body and core strength. It’s all about the height of the bars -- they’re just high enough so that you can support yourself with straight arms and swing through them, but low enough to be challenging.
The elevation of the bars also allows for a larger range of motion in pushing movements. If you perform a pushup from the floor, you can only go as far as the ground will allow you. Performing the same movement on parallettes will enable you to go even deeper.
Parallettes may not be the first thing people think of when they think of a home gym, but they can take you from beginning movements right into some pretty advanced calisthenics.
You’ll also find them easy on the wrists.
Use them for everything from L-sit static holds to deep pike pushups. Pike push ups are performed in a downward-dog position, with the legs straight and the hips flexed. Parallettes not only help with wrist strain, they will allow you to increase the range of motion at the bottom.
Ensure the parallettes are on a grippy surface where they won’t move. A guide to training with the parallettes is available at the Lebert Fitness website.
If you don’t have the budget for commercial-grade foam or rubber flooring in your home gym, you’ll at least want a mat. A thick, grippy floor mat can come in handy for training floor mobility and yoga moves. While a simple yoga mat may do, you might want to invest in a larger roll-up mat designed for martial arts training. These have a non slip antimicrobial vinyl surface that's permanently bonded to a dense foam. They are easy to set up, transport and store, making them ideal for at home use.
Finally, consider a few accessory pieces to complete your setup.
Foam rolling has become popular over the past ten or so years, and is an inexpensive way to get some self myofascial release (SMR). They work by applying pressure to a muscle group by moving the roller under your own bodyweight. They help to get blood into the muscles, loosen up trigger points and increase mobility.
Consider a standard size or a compact roller if you want something portable. Foam rollers come in various levels of firmness; the greater the density and firmness of the roller, the more intense the therapy will be. Beginners may want something more forgiving, while more experienced trainees will likely want something more dense.
Some rollers are textured, others have a smooth surface. The one that will be right for you will be ultimately dependent on your ability to handle discomfort and even pain. When you hit a trigger point, it can hurt, but you will adapt over time.
Bands are inexpensive, useful and ultimately portable. You can use them as an alternative to weights, to work on mobility and rehab, and as an assistance tool for pullups.
Thickness, colours and resistance levels tend to vary by company. Nevertheless, the thicker the band, the greater the resistance will be. Stronger bands will help to assist with pullups, but will make strength exercises more difficult (bands can provide both assistance and resistance).
Varieties of bands include the looped standard bands (thicker with various levels of resistance), therapy bands (thin, non-looped), and tubular bands with handles. Looped bands are the most versatile as they can be used to scale pullups and the lighter resistance varieties can be used for rehab and mobility work.
Lebert Stretch Straps:
A great addition to your fitness toolbox is a pair of stretch straps. Being able to stretch is of vital importance to keeping your body supple and injury-free, but many of us don’t have the range to reach an appropriate position. Stretch straps allow you to comfortably reach different positions and can also help hold them longer.
A pair of stretch straps are affordable and don’t take up any space. Consider a set for your home gym or to throw in a gym bag.
What you end up with will vary with your own personal preferences and style of training, but this list should help you get started. Finally, don’t forget to add a decent portable stereo for those workout jams!
By: Greg Carver for Lebert Fitness
Founder/Lead Trainer, StrengthBox
- Lebert Fitness