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The Home Gym Compendium: Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?

This post is long. Like, really long. I’m dumping everything I’ve learned about home gym life into one place. The pros, the cons, and where to start. All of it.

I’ve spilled a lot of digital ink on the importance of making fitness and physical capability a cornerstone for life. You might argue that I spend too much time on given that most people view this site first and foremost as “gun blog.” Nevertheless, I believe the two go hand in hand, and your level of strength and conditioning directly impacts your success in a variety of shooting situations, be it competitive or defensive.

Like many burgeoning fitness enthusiasts, I spent too much time program hoping in the chase for gains. It wasn’t until Spring of 2022 that I finally settled on a consistent and repeatable framework. I’ve been going strong [sic] ever since.

To make this work, I’m not shy about the fact that I wake up at 5:00 AM on most days to go get the workout in. It’s the only time I know I can be consistent. My work schedule doesn’t permit me to do it when I would prefer to (around 10:00 AM) and doing it at the end of the day when I’m exhausted from work and family activities is a recipe for disaster. Not to mention, doing so at the end of the day would also take away from my ability to produce content for the site.

At the risk of being called old, my early wakes also mean I’m in bed by 9:30 PM on most nights so I can shoot for 7.5 hours of sleep.

I bring this up only to set the stage for the decisions that followed for the rest of 2022.

Why I Built a Home Gym

For as long as I’ve been working out, inconsistent as it may have been, I’ve used commercial gyms or similar facilities whatever base gym was available where I was stationed. Other than crowding during peak hours, I never had strong complaints about this arrangement. Going at 5:30 in the morning, as I had to do in my post-military career, resolved the crowding issue for the most part.

The most inconvenient part about it was commuting back and forth, which typically took 10 minutes each way where I live now.

At least that was true at first.

As my lifting experience grew and I began developing certain preferences, I kept running into little frustrations. Part of that stemmed from other gym goers distributing things around the place to the point that I was wasting time hunting for 2.5 lb or 5 lb plates on a regular basis. Another bigger issue was limitations in the gym’s equipment all together. Sure, they had kettlebells, but only up to a certain weight and usually not in pairs. That’s assuming you could find them, since people tended to grab them and leave them in other places.

One gym I went to for two years had sandbags, to my delight, but only up to 30 lbs. They leaked everywhere, and I felt bad about using them indoors. My next gym, the one I left to go full time at home, didn’t have sandbags at all. I ended up awkwardly bringing my own 60 lb bag in from time to time as needed.

On top of the general wear and tear factor of gym goers treating expensive equipment like rental cars, there’s the fact that a lot of equipment and services in commercial gyms is superfluous to me. I don’t go to group classes, or use a ton of specialty equipment (cable machines notwithstanding). In August 2022, I decided to commit to the home gym life. It was not a quick, easy, or inexpensive process. I’ve learned a lot along the way about what’s important, what’s not, and what kind of people are best suited to the home gym life.

Establishing My Requirements

Before we get to the gym itself, there needs to be a little bit of setup. I don’t just buy things because some home gym enthusiast said I needed it. Rather, I established what I wanted in my gym based upon the types of workouts I actually do.

Typically, I’m in the gym 5 to 6 days per week, with a balance between strength training and conditioning. You can get a sense of what this looks like with my Run & Gun Training Plan. The balance between strength and conditioning shifts back and forth throughout the year, with the Run & Gun plan erring more towards conditioning.

Typical strength days utilize barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and calisthenics. Conditioning days have a lot of variety, with running, cycling, rowing, jump rope, sandbags, kettlebells. 

Some times of the year might look like I’m training for a strongman competition with sandbags, relays, and medleys. Other times of the year, it looks more like I’m training for a 10k race. Every once in a while, I take a training “detour” and do something a little off the wall, like a kettlebell-only program designed by someone like Geoff Neupert.

You might not have such complicated plans in mind. Most people are very well served with 2-3 days of basic strength training per week along with 1-2 days of conditioning. I mention this because the list of equipment I’ve picked up over time looks intimidating, but it’s also largely unnecessary.

The Aretê Forge Gym

I know, it’s goofy that I named my gym- but whatever. I like the reminder that it’s about building excellence, and I hope to set that example for my son as he grows up around it.

Starting Point

Before beginning this project, I already had a few things on hand from prior years. Back in 2015, Allison and I attempted a stretch of at-home workouts, so we had a set of Iron Master Adjustable Dumbbells and an their adjustable kettlebell purchased at the same time.

As for other kettlebells, we had two 15 lb bells and a 35 lb one I purchased a while back to practice the kettlebell mile challenge.

I also had two sandbags. One is a 40 lb bag from GoRuck, and the other is a 60 lb bag from Mountain Tactical Institute.

For cardio options, we had a rowing machine purchased in 2018 that’s been a staple of my own training. In 2020, at the onset of the pandemic, we also picked up a Schwinn IC3 spin bike for Allison. I put a fair number of miles on it, but it’s not my preference.

That’s a fairly significant amount of equipment and many people would be happy with it. Prices have gone up on everything since purchasing it, but we’ll estimate that at today’s prices, we were already starting from about $3130 spent over 6 years.

The Big Purchase

By November 2022, the time had come. I waited months for the annual Black Friday sales to begin. I also decided that I was going to go for Made-in-USA as much as possible on reasons of principle, and I know that increased costs.

The project started in the Summer, as I had to clear out the garage and reorganize everything to make room for the gym. That meant installing overhead racks to put items that were stacked on shelves, clearing out a storage area, and moving those shelves into it. This was both time consuming and not free due to the cost of organization systems.

Flooring

For the flooring, the most common suggestion is to go to Tractor Supply and get 3/4″ thick horse stall mats cut 4’x6′. My local store was out, so I went to Rep Fitness and got their mats, which have a reputation for being a little more clean cut, have less odor, and have flecks in them like an actual gym floor.

The mats weigh about 100 lbs each, and I ordered 12 to cover most of the garage. That was $996, including shipping.They fit together edge to edge, and I covered the seams with black Gorilla Tape.

The Meat of the Gym

The rest of the initial purchase came from Rogue Fitness. Several items were on sale, which helped. The real kicker was that they had a deal where if you bought a power rack, then all items ordered at the same time would ship for $75. That was the incentive to go in for a big purchase up front, because otherwise freight on heavy items adds up.

  • Monster Lite Half Rack (24″ depth)
  • Ohio Bar
  • Extra set of j-cups
  • Dip bars
  • 24″ safety arms
  • Rogue Adjustable Bench 3.0
  • Aluminum barbell collars
  • Landmine attachment
  • 605 lbs of weight

This order was $4595 (with tax and freight). So combined with the stuff we already had, we’re up to a total cost of $7725. I realize this is a significant amount, and I’ll go over some alternatives and lessons learned in a bit. For now I want to be completely transparent about the costs involved.

But Wait, There’s More

Not being able to leave well enough alone, I’ve continued adding more equipment and modifications since the initial purchases. Some of these came as gifts for birthdays or holidays, others I picked up outright. The point is that I felt strongly enough about what these items provided that I wanted them.

  • 100 lb and 150 lb strongman sandbags
  • EZ Curl bar
  • 2 x 16kg, 2 x 24 kg, 2 x 32 kg, and 40 kg kettlebells
  • BC Strength glute bench
  • Gym clock with timers for intervals and such
  • Gymnastics rings and parallettes for calisthenics work
  • Axle bar
  • Heavy resistance bands
  • Rogue Echo air bike
  • Barbell jack
  • Chalk
  • Mirrors
  • Multi grip pull up bar
  • Wall-mounted bluetooth speaker

I’m not adding all of this up, but let’s assume we’re up around the $10k mark by this point in just equipment. I’m not counting the little bits of gear like weight lifting belts, straps, etc. To be clear, you do not need all (or even most) of this. Much of it goes back to how I like to program my workouts for strength and conditioning. Even then, there are cheaper alternatives.

What I’ve Learned in the Process

The home gym scene has a lot in common with the shooting world. Manufacturers line up to create innovative products, or make affordable knock-offs of commercial ones, with an eye on making you think you need whatever it is. Enthusiast communities are everywhere, with people showing off photos of their gyms for clout or feedback.

Like pic threads on gun forums, you also see the gamut of the super cheap to wildly expensive home gyms. If I’m guessing, mine falls in the upper tier of expense and equipment, being largely composed of commercial grade stuff made in the USA.

From reading all of these enthusiast discussions and comparing them to my own experience, I’ve come away with a few important lessons.

You’re Not Saving Money

One of the biggest reasons that I think people elect to build a home gym is the prospect of saving money. The idea being that if they have a home gym, then they don’t have to spend money on a commercial gym membership.

Well, I’m sorry, that’s probably not correct.

Let’s assume a basic commercial gym membership is $50 per month. I know there are cheaper out there, but I generally don’t suggest those gyms. At $50 per month, it takes 60 months (5 years) to “break even” from an initial expense of $3000. That’s assuming you don’t have to replace anything and don’t buy more stuff along the way, which is unlikely.

You’re also giving up space in your home that you might otherwise have used for a car, workshop, or storage- so on top of financial cost, you’ve got opportunity cost.

From a dollar standpoint, I really don’t think you’re saving any real money until you start comparing your full home gym to the far more expensive specialty gyms that cost upwards of $250-$350+ per month.

If you’re not using gyms under the Starting Strength banner, or ones that have “Strength and Conditioning” in the name run by a few highly qualified coaches, then don’t go into a home gym thinking you’re saving money. Do it because you want the other benefits I’ll talk about.

That’s not to say that you can’t be more minimalist at the start, though. You can save a lot of money that way, and I’ll get to it in a minute.

Convenience Factor

This is probably the biggest bonus for me. On any given day, especially when I’m working from home, there is very little friction between me and the gym. In the tech world, “friction” is a phrase describing the little issues and things that get between a user and doing some kind of action that you want them to do.

Generally speaking, the more steps a process involves then the higher the friction to accomplishing it. Everyone has some kind of internal limit on how much friction they’ll tolerate before they decide a particular action isn’t worth it. This is why we’re so much more prone to impulse purchases when a site uses Apple Pay and stuff like that.

I bring this up because having a home gym removes most of the steps required to go start a workout. Other than getting dressed, the only thing I have to do is walk into the garage. Whereas a going to a commercial gym requires packing my gym bag, keys, and other stuff, then driving, parking, scanning in, storing my gear, and then starting.

The Time Factor

Going into this, I knew I would save time on the commute back and forth. That meant I got to sleep in 15 minutes later, and also work out about 15 minutes longer. That doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up.

In the Everyday Marksman Discord server, several of us post the results of our workouts almost daily in the accountability channel. More than one time, someone has commented on the amount of work I’ve been able to get done in a 50 minute period while still taking adequate 2-3 minute rests.

The reason for that is never having to hunt for equipment. I’m the only one that uses the gym, and everything is always organized and located exactly where I like it. That means transitioning from one exercise to the next is very fast. My gym is also small, effectively a 12′ x 18′ space, so I really don’t ever have go far to do the next thing. I estimate that this is probably worth another 10-15 minutes per hour that I can put towards more work.

The Social Factor

This is an interesting point, because it cuts both ways. While I have fully embraced home gym life, Allison is not a fan and continues to go to a commercial gym. This ultimately comes down to a social ‘x’ factor about gym life.

Dealing with other people while I’m trying to get my workout done was not something I enjoyed doing. Outside of occasionally asking someone if they were using something, I pretty much never talked to anyone save for some polite head nods from time to time.

On the other hand, Allison enjoys going to a dedicated location where other people are getting their workout on. She finds it motivating to be around others, and happily chats with the staff and other regulars. She’s also proud of building up a reputation as one of the most capable women in the gym, and never fails to draw attention for her sets of pull ups.

All of this to say that you should know that a home gym has a certain loneliness factor to it that you can’t ignore. A lot of people really need the sense of competition and camaraderie they build up with other gym-goers to be successful- and that’s perfectly fine. A full-time home gym is probably not a good fit for them.

Compartmentalization

This is a sub-item to the social factor. Years ago, I asked my bodybuilding friend Garret about home gyms. He told me something that I always remembered: sometimes you need separation in your life. He never went the home gym route, save for some cardio equipment, because he wants the physical and mental separation between “home” and “gym.” Traveling to the gym and working out in a separate place is something he needs.

Many men find out that home gyms don’t work as well as they thought because of interruptions and temptations. It’s easy for family to drop in and ask questions, get in the way, or get distracted by other “home life” stuff that can come up.

Also, just as there’s a less friction about starting a workout with a home gym- there’s also less friction about quitting a workout.

Like the social factors, this compartmentalization is not an issue for me personally. The chances of family interruption are near zero given the time I work out and everyone else being asleep. Even on weekends, when I tend to do things closer to lunch, it hasn’t been an issue.

The Variety Factor

With a home gym, your most precious commodity is space. Unlike large commercial facilities, you’re generally working within the confines of a portion of the basement or a garage. You simply do not have enough space to put everything you might want to use, even if you could afford to have it all.

Several companies have gone out of their way to develop equipment designed to maximize space, they’re full of compromises.

That doesn’t mean you aren’t going to get a great workout, though. In fact, you can produce some brutally effective workouts using simple equipment like barbells, dumbbells, and a pull-up bar. You can get even more minimalistic with just a kettlebell or two. The point is that the basic well-trodden movements are what you’re going to do all the time.

There’s a certain zen to that. You do not suffer paralysis by analysis because you simply don’t have access to the myriad of machines a commercial gym would have. The home gym demands a return to the classic bronze and silver era workout methods of men like Eugene Sandow, Georg Hackenschmidt, Reg Park, and Steve Reeves.

If you look through those physiques, I don’t think anyone would argue that simple isn’t effective. Granted, I’m focused more on performance than looking like a silver era bodybuilder, but the point stands. You get better at the things you do repeatedly, so spending time repeatedly doing the basic human movement patterns with weight is time well spent.

When I crave variety, I get it through bands, kettlebells, gymnastics rings, and sandbags. These items don’t take up much floor space and provide a heck of a punch.

The Kid Factor

I did not grow up in a household where fitness was important. In fact, I don’t think I saw the inside of a gym (outside of school) until I was in high school and my parents decided it was time to do something about their worsening health. It didn’t stick.

It’s important to me that my son grow up seeing Allison and I normalizing physical training. It’s one thing for that to be fit parents, but it’s a whole different ballgame when he can actually be there and watch the process. The home gym enables that.

Now, to be clear, I don’t let little guy hang around yet when I’m actually doing a heavy session. I’m not comfortable with a toddler standing near me when I’ve got 300 lbs on my back during a squat, he’s liable to to be a distraction at best or hazard at worst. But I’m happy to “play” weights with him by moving an empty bar, kettlebells, or anything else.

It’s been awesome. In fact, the gym is the little guy’s favorite place in the house to hang out. He and I can spend an hour together in the garage doing nothing but listening to music and “playing” with the equipment. He loves swinging from the rings, jumping on the platforms, and copying workouts he’s seen me do on video. We even bought him his own toy versions of a barbell set, kettlebell, medicine ball, and ply box. They sit right along with everything else and grabs every time we go in there.

He’s working on his squats, snatches, and presses.

Environmental Factors

This could go a few ways depending on where you put your gym. A garage is a different beast than a basement, for example.

My garage is not climate controlled, so that’s something to factor in. There’s a certain mental toughness you have to build by choosing to go work out in a cold garage when it’s below freezing outside. My garage is at least insulated, so it typically starts off in the mid to low 50’s before I turn on my space heater and get to work. That also extends to the equipment, since the metal bars, kettlebells, and dumbbells are all cold as well. In the winter, it rarely warms up beyond the mid 60’s.

In the summer, the garage is warm- but not unbearable. A simple fan keeps it fine for me. On weekend workouts, where I tend to do it in the middle of the day with the door open, it gets hot. But I do like the open air circulating.

Another downside to the garage is my workout buddies, AKA spiders and other insects that also live in the garage. To date we have a bit of an understanding. They get to live as long as they stay out of my way and eat the other insects that find their way into the garage (mosquitos, flies, moths, etc.).

What About the Basement?

Basements present their own issues. Often, the ceilings aren’t tall enough to do overhead work. This limits a lot of what you can do, especially with a barbell. If you’ve got tall enough ceilings, then disregard this point.

There’s also a noise and smell issue for the rest of the house. Those rubber mats made my garage smell like a tire shop for months, I couldn’t imagine bringing that into the house. Then there’s flooring problems where you don’t want to build the gym on carpet since it will soak up sweat, nor do you want to damage tile.

Is a Home Gym Worth It?

Now we get to the root question: is it worth it? Is this the kind of thing that everyone should consider doing?

For me, the garage gym has been amazing. I’m more consistent than I’ve ever been in my life, and I genuinely enjoy having it. Are there things I sometimes wish I had access to, like a cable machine? Yes. Eventually I plan to get one of those, too. Eventually. In the meantime, the thing that I enjoy most is the fact that the gym is always available to let me put together whatever kind of workout I want. That includes the ability to insert dry fire drills in between rounds of conditioning with sandbags, kettlebells, and the air bike (helloooooo tactical games and run & guns).

If nothing else, the home gym offers me flexibility. Should the world ever shut down again- no problem. Should I lose my job and need to cut back expenses, well- there’s no gym membership required to stay in shape. In dire situations, this stuff holds its value pretty well and I could sell pieces of it off as needed to make ends meet.

Buuuuuutttt…it’s not for everyone.

Why You Shouldn’t Build a Home Gym

Assuming you even have the space for it, there’s several reasons I actually think a home gym is the wrong move for people, depending on their circumstances.

Beginners

First and foremost, I actually don’t think a full on home gym is appropriate if you’re relatively new to strength training. Partly, this is a “you don’t know what you don’t know” issue. By that, I mean if you haven’t actually developed a training philosophy and a consistent understanding of executing a program, then you don’t even really have a grasp of what you really need to start with.

I think it’s worth the time to go to a commercial gym and learn how to execute programs using the available equipment. From this, you’ll learn what you like, dislike, and what you wish the gym had available. I wasn’t really committed to the idea of a home gym until I had a solid base of “this is how I work out” for over a year.

Frequent Movers

If you’re someone who moves around a lot, like a military member, then I say skip the full gym. All of this equipment weights a lot, is awkward, and probably isn’t worth eating up your weight allotment. If anything, you could go for a Level 0 gym (described below) and a few speciality items that don’t take up much space/room.

Stick to the facilities you have access to.

Safety Concerns

Another issue is safety. In a commercial gym, if you get hurt or have a medical emergency while working out- then you’ve got a gym full of people and staff there to help you out. You also have access to machines and equipment that’s less likely to hurt you if your form falls apart because you pushed your limit more than you should have (because you didn’t know any better).

In my garage at 5:30 in the morning, if something goes wrong- well, I’m a bit screwed. It’s just me, and nobody else is awake. Maybe I could get away with texting or calling my wife if it’s an injury or whatnot, but if I get pinned under the bar on a bench press with my phone across the gym- well that’s a no-win scenario.

That’s why you should always use the safeties when lifting alone, by the way.

Along with safety and “you don’t know what you don’t know,” you should not be trying to execute the big compound lifts like squatting and deadlifting for the first time by yourself. There’s a lot to be said for having other knowledgable lifters (and staff) around to help spot and correct your technique when you’re new. That doesn’t happen when you’re by yourself, unless you’re willing to further invest in an online coach or something where you send video of you doing lifts and they give you feedback.

Interested? Start Here.

With all of that pre-text out of the way, this last part of the post covers what I would do if I was starting from scratch. Let’s assume that you at least have developed some regular training time at a commercial gym, so you’re familiar enough with how to execute the movements and what you like to do. In other words, you’re not in the “beginner” category of people I said shouldn’t go for the home gym life.

My suggestion is to start small. Don’t jump right into the power rack, plates, benches, and all of the trappings. Instead, you’re going to take the minimalist route with equipment that takes up very little space, offers big bang for the buck, and still allows you to execute some minimalist programming. Give this a trial run for a while to see where you fall on the series of factors I mentioned earlier like social needs, compartmentalization, timing, and other questions.

That gets us to a “Level Zero” gym.

The Level 0 Gym

You could go one of two ways here (or do both). I suspect the path you choose depends a lot on your preferences and preconceptions. Whichever way you go, I suggest a door-mounted pull up bar and some heavy bands. These can get you pretty far on their own.

From there, Option 1 is to get 1-2 kettlebells of sequential size. That could be any number of combinations, like a 16kg and a 24 kg, a 12 kg and a 20 kg, 16 kg and 20 kg, etc. The point is to start with the lighter one to learn technique, and then have the next one to grow into. Better yet, adjustable kettlebells are great options.

Option 2 is to go with adjustable dumbbells. Note that these are usually limited in the weight you can do, but there’s still a lot isolation options available

Between the pull up bar, bands, bodyweight, and kettlebells/dumbbells, you’ve got a compact but effective gym setup for a few hundred dollars. This is enough to get your feet wet with some minimalist programs and see if you like working out from home at all.

BONUS: If you have the budget, a set of gymnastics rings (my preference) or a suspension trainer like the TRX system is another fantastic add for a Level 0 gym. They open a ton of options for additional calisthenics work.

Kettlebells are actually a better return on investment here. If you took the bonus route with a set of rings, you can cover a lot of muscle-building ground with them (check out Daniel Vadnal’s programs for an example). The kettlebells offer an extra kick for pressing movements and athletic strength on top of that. The pull up bar, bands, rings, and kettlebells- you may never actually need to go any further.

Level 1 Home Gym

A Level 1 gym is where the fun begins. This is where you start diving into the Golden 5 lifts (squat, bench, overhead press, deadlift, pull ups). You also still have your dumbbells/kettlebells from the Level 0, so they can stay part of the program for variety. At a minimum, you’re going to need a barbell and plates for a Level 1 gym. I suggest Olympic-style bar and plates, as it has the most support across the industry. Try to get as nice of a bar as you can within your budget.

Generally, the best “all-around” bars are around $300. That’s true whether you go to Rogue (Ohio Bar), Rep Fitness (Colorado Bar), PRx, The Strength Co., and more. You can go more expensive, for sure, but the return on investment for going much past $300 gets less and less as you go. The actual bar you get, with all the variations in shaft diameter and knurling patterns, is really up to you and your preferences. There are whole websites dedicated to sussing out those nuances, so I’ll be skipping it here.

For weight plates (and collars!), you have the choice between iron plates and bumpers. Iron plates cost less, and are usually the best answer. However, bumpers offer more versatility if you plan on doing power movements and Olympic lifts overhead. They won’t be as hard on your floors if you drop them, even if you’re using rubber flooring (which you should be).

Level 1 Racks

At this point, I would actually say that a power rack or squat stand is optional. If you have the bar and plates, and know the technique, you can clean the bar from the floor to your shoulders for your overhead pressing and squats (well…at least front squats). You can do floor press instead of the bench press, as well (or do weighted pushups).

Deadlift…well, it’s always from the floor anyway.

That said, if you also have the budget for a rack, then there are an incredible number of options. While I went with a four post half rack, I did it mainly for the weight storage capacity. Your choice boils down to how much space you’re willing to let the rack consume and how much money you want to spend up front.

Were I giving advice to myself, I would actually suggest a two-post squat stand setup like the Rogue SML-2 or SML-3. Add on the safety arms and j-cups. On top of being less expensive than competitors from Rep and PRx, the Rogue stands are also Made in the USA. Even better, they’re upgradable for conversion into a half rack with weight storage. In hindsight, I would have loved to have the 108″ height pull up bar rather than the 90″ height that was the only option on the Monster Lite Half Rack that I bought.

A two post system takes up less space, and you can disassemble it quickly, especially with an adjustable pull up bar rather than the bolt-on bar. That would let you put the uprights flat up against the wall and out of the way.

If you want to go big time with at least a four post half rack, then go for it. Just know that it’s less mobile.

Level 2 Home Gym

A Level 2 gym starts letting you add variety and specialize. For most people, this is probably about as far as you’re ever going to go with a home gym. The things I would add here include an adjustable bench, dumbbells (if you didn’t get them at Level 0) and additional conditioning tools. The adjustable bench lets you do a proper bench press, but also incline press, seated presses, chest supported row variations, and many more things. The adjustable bench does not just have to be for lying or sitting, but you can also use it to stabilize yourself during other lifts like tripod rows.

BONUS: Add a few more fun items that you like to work with. Stuff like a few more kettlebells, sandbags, plyo box, gymnastics gear (rings/parallettes), specialty bars like an EZ Curl Bar, etc. Not necessarily all of it, but just a few things to add some spice.

For conditioning, this is personal preference. At the lowest level, you could add a jump rope to the mix, but I’m thinking bigger. The choice comes down to how much space you’re willing to sacrifice and how much you’re willing to pay. I’ve spent time on all of the main options, and own a few of them as well.

Level 2 Conditioning Options

The goal of these conditioning tools is to provide you with options. Running is almost always feasible, but sometimes it’s just nice to have variety. Especially if you’re trying to keep an entire workout within a confined space and do circuits. Here’s my take on the most common cardio equipment options:

  • Treadmill – The most expensive way to go, and I would honestly rather run outside. Pass.
  • Stationary bike/spin bike – Good option for a lower body focus. Scales intensity well for low intensity cardio as well as sprints
  • Air bike (i.e. Echo Bike, Airdyne, Assault Bike, etc.) – Gets the whole body involved. Sprints are brutal and it is a killer workout. Despite what others say, I can do a 30 to 45 minute zone 2 session without issue.
  • Rowing machine – Fantastic cardio option. The whole posterior chain is involved. Easy for zone 2 as well as sprints. However, it takes up a fair amount of space, and requires good technique.
  • Ski Erg – Simulates cross country skiing. It’s like the rowing machine, but you’re standing upright. It’s a killer machine, much like the rower, and takes up very little space. It’s mostly upper body focused rather than lower body, so it’s an excellent complement to a bike

While the rowing machine has been my go-to cardio machine for years, the air bike is my tool of preference in the gym. It gives me a ton of flexibility, and it’s easy to insert into my circuits when I do them. The rower sees use mostly for sustained cardio efforts when it’s the only thing I’m doing that day.

Beyond the main options, you can of course use things like kettlebells for conditioning as well- but it’s difficult to do low intensity steady state stuff with them.

Level 3 Gym: For Specialists

A Level 3 gym ups the ante by bringing in more specialty equipment. At this level, you’ve probably picked a specialization path to train for. For example, bodybuilders would invest in a cable machine and additional equipment to help isolate muscles during workouts.

Strongman competitors will acquire things like kegs, logs, farmer’s carry implements, and more heavy sandbags.

Kettlebellers expand the collection out to pairs of all of the main weights (16, 24, 32 kg) and keep going with at least single bells in the heavy ranges of 40kg+. They’ll probably also get into competition bells, which are all a consistent diameter

Almost everyone experiments with a sled at some point.

The only limit here is how much space you have available, and how much money you’re willing to put down. Cable machines, for example, can run from $1000 at the low end for imported stuff to $6k+ for high quality commercial grade equipment.

If you’ve decided to go for a Level 3 gym, then you’re well past this article anyway. Well, that, or you have a lot of money to blow and you’ve already bought all the guns and gear you’ll ever be interested in.

Wrapping Up: Was the Juice Worth the Squeeze?

I can definitely say that the home gym life is absolutely fantastic, for me. I’m more consistent than I’ve ever been in my life, and I genuinely look forward to my workouts every day. The convenience factor cannot be understated. On top of that, I absolutely love watching the little guy’s enthusiasm for it. He enjoys watching videos of my workouts, and then running into the garage and trying to replicate it himself as best he can. To me, that kind of enthusiasm for fitness in a toddler is hard to put a price on.

Yes, we had to sacrifice some things to make this work. We’ll never be able to park a car in the garage. There’s not a lot of storage space for all of the things we tend to accumulate over the years. I’ll probably never get to set up a woodworking station like I used to imagine myself doing. But…that’s fine.

In the end, I think the benefits of the home gym and the flexibility it offers me are worth the hit. But what about you? Is this a path you’re thinking might work for you?

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Matt

Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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2 Comments
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Ben
Ben
Guest

Great article Matt! I’m a committed CrossFit/rucking guy. My solution in busy days was to pickup a concept 2 rower so I wouldn’t lose my entire garage space.

Seeing as how a buddy wants to do the tactical games next summer we’re doing CrossFit Murph monthly with weight vest & sand filled pvc pipes in lieu of running with rifles in town.

Paul
Paul
Guest

Good for you Matt! If a gym in your garage keeps you consistent – you’re ahead of most. At 64 now (agh!) the days of lifting a barbell off a rack (because I can’t lift it over my head from the floor) are over! I’d like to work up to throwing 150 lbs. over my head and on my traps for squats again (been longer than I remember) but my knees have apparently taken a beating and are the weak link in the chain. Over the years I’ve always kept a home set of iron around and a basic bench press bench. Once I strung up a 2 inch wooden dowel rod in a tree so I could do pullups. Lately I’ve been working only with dumbbells but not consistently. A serious stretching routine is becoming mandatory. It’s good to incorporate other forms of resistance like you’re doing with bands and kettlebells. Bands can really be beneficial if you need to take a break from the iron or rehabbing an injury (been there done that!). I have zero experience with the ‘swing bells’ and I’m good with that. Looks like it could hurt you if you don’t get some proper instruction with those. I’m thinking about dusting off my original ‘Total Gym’ slide that I’ve maintained more than used but I love the different angles you can get with it. If I get serious with the dumbbells it would be a good compliment. I’ll only need ‘half the garage’ for… Read more »

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