Everything You Need To Hack Your DIY Home Gym

We all know that gym memberships are expensive: but most of us are convinced that it costs about the same to set things up at home.

If you plan on recreating a commercial gym set-up, you would be right. Decking out a home gym with brand new equipment from leading manufacturers can get expensive quite quickly. Top grade squat cages sell for over $1,000, plus kettle bells, dumbbell sets, gym mats, bike stations, rowing machines… who can afford all of that?

This post will give you the most important hacks for building an affordable DIY home gym.

First, I’ll outline what the ideal home gym setup really needs. Then, I’ll tell you how to build it yourself from scratch, if you want to, for a fraction of the cost; I’ll outline how to go about setting up a great home gym on a budget; and lastly, I’ll give you 3 hacks for making your own gym equipment out of everyday available materials.

Let’s get started.

Home Gyms - The Ideal Setup

The best home gym setups should eliminate the need to go to the gym at all. I speak from personal experience with this, having tried to meet somewhere in the middle; I kept my gym membership for the big lifts and bought some lighter weights at home for the small stuff, thinking that I could get the best of both worlds. The theory was good: only I found that I wasn’t really getting the most out of either setups. I felt bad for spending on the membership everytime I lifted at home, which meant I would usually end up finding a reason to go the gym (even when all I needed was some floor space and light dumbbells).

Your experience might be different, but ideally your home gym will let you do three things:

  1. Lift heavy;
  2. Allow for bodyweight exercises like pull-ups and dips; and
  3. Give you some flexibility, so that you’re not just doing the same three exercises every day.

Realistically, to meet all three of those requirement you just need two structures:

​Pull-up bar and a squat cage.

In my opinion, the pull-up bar is an essential part of any setup. Pull-ups themselves are an incredible strength exercise, but having a dedicated bar space will also let you do another important thing: hang. It doesn’t sound exciting, but hanging from a pull-up bar every day is an incredible hack to fixing structural problems in your spine and shoulders, and it’s a great workout in itself when you can start doing it for several minutes a day. Add to that some great core exercises, like hanging tucks and L-raises, and you can see the value.

Squat cages, on the other hand, let you do pretty much everything else. With a lifting platform beneath, you can do any Olympic lift, from Deadlifts to Power Cleans, and with an adjustable rack you can up your squat cage for bench press, too.

Both of these setups can be expensive, so the next section will tell you how you can make your own equipment from scratch, and have the perfect home gym set-up at minimum costs.

Making a DIY Home Gym From Scratch

If part of your joy is in the building itself, then making a DIY garage gym from scratch will be right up your alley. Being handy with pipes and some basic tools is a plus, but realistically the following projects can be put together by anyone with an allen key and some time on their hands.

Standing Home pull-up bar

While some homes have natural ledges and frames to perform pull-ups on, many don’t. And unless you have (or are willing to develop) ninja-finger strength and start doing them on your door frame, having a decent pull-up bar can be really useful.

For the DIY-lovers out there, this project is really simple. All you need is:

  1. Pipe for the structure
  2. 6 x 90 degree elbow sockets
  3. 2 x Three socket tees
  4. 8 x 30 to 60 degree socket tees

For beginner’s, it may look a little overwhelming to see the final product, but the process is straightforward; and at the end of it all, you’ll have a great standing pull-up bar.

DIY Pipe Fitted Squat Rack 

Squat racks are the first thing I look for when I enter a gym (home gym or commercial, it doesn’t matter). Maybe it’s because I love to squat, but it’s also because the squat rack is a staple of any serious gym set-up. Squatting is one the most important exercises you can do, and having a rack for the weight isn’t just nice: it’s essential. The rack will also act as a rack for bench press, allow for resistance band setups, and save you serious cash on a manufactured squat cage.

For a project that will take a little time and creativity, building your own home squat rack is perfect. Fortunately, it can all be done with pipe and Klee Klamp fittings. When done correctly, you’ll have yourself a heavy duty squat cage that can be easily disassembled for moving or cleaning.

For a more involved project making full use of wood, steel and pipe fittings, check out this tutorial here: http://www.garagegymreviews.com/diy-squat-rack-guide/

Making a Home Gym on a Budget 

Then again, if the building isn’t necessarily your favorite part and you just want to get into the exercise, there are ways to offset costs and make a great home gym on a budget. It just means being smart about which equipment is priced for value, which are overpriced, which are easy to make from raw materials, what substitutes are available, and if you really need it in the first place.

When you pay for a gym membership, you pay for everything in it: you might just use two or three machine and the bench, but you pay for the stair-climbers, the squat racks and the aerobics room, too.

A DIY home gym on a budget will focus on what you need, and save on unnecessary costs in the process. Let’s break it down in steps:

  1. Identify what you’ll need (which exercises you want to do);
  2. Look at existing equipment that you use, manufactured or provided at commercial gyms;
  3. Match the price of the equipment with the value of its raw materials;
  4. Consider the effort (labor costs) it would take to actually build it (do you need specific tools/skills/knowledge to complete the project?); and finally
  5. Balance the costs against what you would otherwise spend in membership fees.

Odds are, it won’t be difficult to come in well-beneath the membership fees. Taking the national average gym membership fee, $58 per month, you could make yourself a very nice home set-up within the first two years of membership. In 24 months, you would spend $1392, plus the costs of gas (and maybe parking), just going to the gym. Considering most of the equipment I suggest will last for more than five years, we’re talking $3480 in membership fees that could be spent (or saved) on a great DIY home gym.

In terms of value for money, some equipment really is worth spending on. I would suggest that the basics like weight plates, adjustable dumbbells, a barbell and an adjustable workout bench, are all worth it. As you’ve seen, many of the racks for storing weight and structures for bodyweight exercises like pull-ups can be created from scratch. However, these 4 sets of basic equipment will be enough to set you up for almost any resistance exercise, and at a small percentage of the cost.

3 Pieces of Home Gym Equipment Available For $0

If you’re looking for ways to make a home gym with no money at all, this next section is for you. Here are three great pieces of equipment that you can put together with parts found lying around the house, or can be picked up for free in your community.

#1 - Sandbags​

Manufactured strongman sandbags can set you back anywhere between $40 and $90. When you think about what they are, it isn’t difficult to imagine doing it yourself for cheaper.

Have any old duffel bags lying around? Backpacks you don’t use anymore? These make for great sandbag substitutes, offering natural handles and durable materials for bearing loads. Backpacks are also great because they let you do a bunch of weighted exercises while keeping your hands free (weighted jumps, push-ups, etc.).

If you happen to live by the beach, you can literally make your own ‘sandbag’ for nothing. Pea gravel, on the other hand, makes for a great affordable substitute. Just line your backpack or duffel bag with a high grade plastic bag or sheet, then pour in the pea gravel or sand as your heart desires. For a variety of weights, you can do this in a couple of smaller backpacks or duffel bags; then if you want a challenge, put these together in a larger travel bag and you’ll have a perfectly good 60lbs+ sandbag for a fraction of the cost.

#2 - Giant Tyres

Another great zero-cost option is the giant tractor tire. You’ve probably seen these at crossfit gyms or in NFL bootcamp videos--they’re awesome for pushing your lower body strength capacity, while also working out like a bad-ass.

More than likely, you’ll need to take these outside so that you have enough space (and don’t break anything by throwing a giant tyre through it!). The great thing is, for such a huge piece of equipment, in most cases you won’t need to pay a dime. A trip to the tire yard is usually enough to find one, and most owners will be happy for you to take it off their hands--just make sure you have a way of transporting it home.

If you don’t have a yard or strip to flip one of these around in, giant tyres can also be used for Farmer’s Walks, which are a great way to improve core strength and forearm strength. Besides, having one of these around your home gym setup will automatically add an element of ‘heavy-duty-ness’ to the space.

#3 - Weighted Slosh Pipes 

PVC pipe, 5-10 gallons of water, and two caps to close it off. That’s all it takes to give your shoulders, upper arms, core, back, and even lower body, a ridiculous workout.

Water-filled alternatives to sandbags are becoming increasingly popular. Since the water is free to slosh around with movement, this equipment opens up a whole range of great balance and core strength exercises. It’s also perfect for increasing shoulder stability and engaging your upper back when held above the head.

Instead of spending on a manufactured Aquabag, half-filling a piece of PVC pipe with water and stopping each end with a cap will get you the same effect. Lift it above your head, hold it out in front of you while doing squats or lunges, or twist it from side to side; who knew that a piece of pipe filled with water could be a serious full-body workout?

Summing Up

Setting up your home gym from scratch is easier than you think. There are plenty of ways to hack your DIY home gym, cutting on costs and allowing you to customize your workout space to what you need most. Check out the links for more detailed descriptions on each project, and make a home gym that hits all of your workout needs.

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