How to Design Your Own Home Gym

Exercising at home is a good alternative for people who are short on time or enjoy the convenience of working out at home, can’t afford or don’t want to spend their disposable income on a club membership, or just can’t seem to make it across town to the local gym. Many people are interested in setting up home gyms, but are intimidated by the many available choices. Before you invest time and money in designing a gym of your own, take a minute to consider your fitness needs, available space, budget and other factors that will determine how much time and money you are able to devote to home fitness.

Quality Matters

Home gym equipment is of higher quality and more space-efficient than ever before. The real challenge is choosing from the many options. Before purchasing a piece of equipment, make sure you test it out yourself. The following factors should be considered when creating a home gym.

What is your budget?

You get what you pay for. Expensive equipment is usually priced that way for a reason. High-quality equipment that is reliable and will work for years to come can’t be made cheaply. However, there are options for every budget.
For example, if you really want a $1500 stair stepper, but it’s not in your budget, some quality step-training DVDs and a set of benches with risers for around $150 is a good alternative. This would be a better choice than spending $300 on a low-quality machine that will quickly wear out. You may also want to consider purchasing used commercial equipment from a reputable dealer who offers a warranty.
A home gym represents a significant investment. Trimming the budget on cardiovascular equipment is a false savings. Any equipment in this category should suit your interests and fitness level and should be able to maintain at least 20 minutes of smooth continuous motion. The activity you choose should be enjoyable as well as challenging and you should be able to increase the resistance, incline or duration.

Who will be using the equipment?

Will other people in your household be using the gym? If so, keep in mind that a treadmill may need enough programming features and a long enough deck to accommodate the different body shapes and fitness goals of multiple users. Similarly, weight machines and free weights should adjust to safely accommodate a range of sizes and abilities.

Other Issues to Consider

  • Strength equipment for any budget—Choosing strength-training tools is a matter of budget and safety. Novice exercisers may be better off with a multigym, which is safer to use unsupervised than free weights. The key with any home gym is to make sure it’s easy to adjust. If a multigym isn’t in your budget, a set of free-weights is an affordable alternative, as is resistance tubing.
  • Think about the space—Even equipment designed for home use can be a space hog, especially treadmills and multigyms. Space limitations may mean you have to opt for a space-saving rack of dumbbells instead of a multigym. Also look at ceiling height, since some equipment sits high off the ground.
  • Equipment design and features—Before purchasing a piece of equipment, inspect it for safety, serviceability, design and appropriate features. The equipment should be adjustable and easy to learn, and your body should move in a correct and safe manner. Parts should be easily removed and replaced, and moving parts should lattice well. There shouldn’t be any design flaws or weaknesses that could increase the risk of injury.

Finally, be honest with yourself about how motivated you will be to exercise at home before you make the investment. It is also important that you understand how to exercise safely and that your doctor has cleared you to exercise. Once you have made the decision to design your own home gym, your next step could be on a new treadmill or elliptical trainer.

Square Footage

Use these guidelines to determine approximately how much room you’ll need:

  • Treadmill—30 square feet
  • Elliptical trainer—30 square feet
  • Single-station gym—35 square feet
  • Free weights—20–50 square feet
  • Stationary bike—10 square feet
  • Rowing machine—20 square feet
  • Stair climber—10–20 square feet
  • Ski machines—25 square feet
  • Multistation gym—50–200 square feet

What You Need to Know to Purchase a Treadmill

According to industry data, treadmills consistently rank as the most popular choice for home aerobic exercise equipment.

If you’ve decided to join the ranks of treadmill owners, there are a number of factors to consider to ensure that you purchase a machine that meets your needs.

There are a multitude of treadmills on the market, with prices ranging from $499 to $4,000+. You are likely to find that a treadmill’s cost directly reflects its quality.

Before you leave your home, measure the space in which you’d like to keep the treadmill. While the average treadmill measures 64 inches long and 28 inches wide, there are machines that fold up to be stored under a bed or in a closet.

Drive to the nearest fitness-equipment specialty store, where the staff will be knowledgeable and you can choose from a wide variety of machines. Wear a comfortable pair of athletic shoes—the same pair you’ll wear as you exercise on the machine at home.

Consider three key elements as you shop: construction, programming features and the warranty.


First, look at the treadmill’s motor size (measured in horsepower) to determine the machine’s longevity. Some manufacturers measure horsepower at continuous duty (the motor’s ability to function under a load for an extended period of time), others at peak duty. Look for a motor with a minimum 2.0 continuous-duty horsepower motor, which will accommodate users who weigh more than 180 pounds.

Next, examine the treadmill’s belt and deck. The belt should be at least two-ply, 17 inches wide and 49 inches long. The board thickness should measure at least an inch.

The deck acts as a cushion for the joints, legs, back and feet. The most sought-after treadmills feature low-impact decks that flex under the user’s foot plant to absorb the shock without rebounding to cause additional jarring. This feature is essential for individuals with shin splints and foot and back problems.

A sturdy frame supports the belt and deck system. Treadmills that cost between $499 and $1999 usually have a steel frame; treadmills with a price of $1999 or higher often are constructed with aircraft aluminum frames that offer additional flexibility for impact absorption. Aluminum frames don’t rust or corrode and are lighter and easier to move.

Programming Features

Lower-priced treadmills offer basic programming for variable speed, time, distance and calories. However, they seldom utilize user information, and the calorie counters aren’t very accurate.

The quality of the programming features, such as preset programs that automatically vary the workout intensity by raising or lowering elevation and increasing or decreasing speed, rises with price. Heart-rate control programs are convenient features that consider the user’s age and weight and keep the exerciser at an intensity sufficient to achieve maximum fat-burning or cardiovascular benefits.

Other programming options include incline/grade settings. A maximum grade of 10% may challenge beginning exercisers, while experienced exercisers may need a treadmill that reaches a 15% grade.


Most manufacturers warranty against manufacturing defects only, not normal wear and tear, and if a user weighs more than the machine’s specifications, a warranty may be voided. Many machines come with a lifetime warranty on the frame, while warranties on features and components usually range from 90 days to three years, depending on the machine’s quality.

Higher-end machines often come with a one-year in-home labor contract. You can purchase renewable extended warranties that cover everything from parts to labor.

Don’t Give the Man Your Money Yet

Is the machine loud? Do you like how it looks? Does it offer a smooth ride? Is it easy to operate? Remember, this product will be around for a long, healthy time, so determine what you want and need from it before you even begin shopping to prevent a regretful purchase.

Why Treadmills Are Ranked #1

In 1996, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that, based on a study from the Medical College of Wisconsin and Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Milwaukee, treadmills provided the most efficient way to burn calories when compared to other popular exercise machines.

Researchers asked eight male and five female young adults to exercise on six different types of indoor exercise machines, including a cross-country skiing simulator, cycle ergometer, rowing ergometer and stair stepper. They compared energy expenditure at ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) levels of 11 (fairly light), 13 (somewhat hard) and 15 (hard), and found that subjects who exercised at an RPE of 13 burned approximately 40% more calories per hour on the treadmill as compared to the cycle ergometer, which produced the lowest energy expenditure.