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1 October 2020

How to set up a home gym

Stay fit and burn calories from home with our expert guide on buying and using home gym equipment.
Senior-exercising 4
TM
Tom Morgan

If you don't want to take on the cost of a gym membership, or just like the idea of shedding pounds from your living room, a home gym setup can help you hit your fitness goals.

For obvious reasons, working out at home has become more popular then ever in recent months. You'll be pleased to know that you don't need to break the bank to get started – and there are ways to exercise in even the smallest of spaces.

Keep scrolling for more details on working out from home, whether you're a fitness newbie or a gym-goer looking for an alternative setup suitable for your home.

New to working out? Advice for beginners

Step one of your fitness journey is buying the right equipment, but don't fall into the beginner's trap of overspending on high-tech equipment you may not use.

You don't need to spend hundreds of pounds on fitness gear if you're just starting out. A basic, inexpensive floor exercise accessory such as a resistance band or medicine ball could be all you need to get results. 

Even more substantial pieces of exercise equipment, such as exercise bikes or cross trainers, don't have to cost the earth. You can get your hands on one of these for around £100, and build up your exercise empire over time if it turns into a good habit.

If you class yourself an exercise newbie, here are some top tips on getting started:

NHS advice on exercising

Adults aged 19 to 64 should aim to be active every day. Per week, the NHS recommends 'at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity' or '75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity'.

Moderate intensity activities include brisk walking, riding a bike or pushing a lawn mower. Vigorous activities are defined as those that make you breathe hard and fast – think running, swimming or an uphill bike ride.

Strengthening activities, such as yoga, lifting weights or push-ups, can all help to build your muscles at home. The NHS website notes that you should do these activities to the point where you need a 'short rest' before repeating.

As you get older, remaining active is no less important, but rather than power through long exercise sessions, you could spread out your activities. Aiming for 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week could work better for you, so explore your options.

Ready to buy? Here are the most popular types of home gym equipment

Exercise bike

Why get one? A good cardio workout that avoids too much pressure on the knee joints; cycling also strengthens your thighs and hamstrings. 

How much does an exercise bike cost? Popular models cost between £100 and £500.

How much space do I need for an exercise bike? Exercise bikes are relatively compact compared with other exercise equipment, such as treadmills; there are foldable options that can be stored when not in use if space is limited. 

Where can you buy an exercise bike? Retailers such as Amazon, Argos, eBay, Fitness Superstore, John Lewis, Sports Direct.

For more details on how to buy an exercise bike and the features to look out for, see our full exercise bike buying guide.

Treadmill/Running machine

Why get one? Run or walk for a good cardiovascular workout in your home.  This builds endurance, works your legs and core.

How much does a treadmill cost? Popular models cost between £250 and £1,000.

How much space do I need for a treadmill? This depends on whether the treadmill has a foldable design. Running machines usually take up more space than exercise bikes.

Where can you buy a treadmill? Retailers such as Amazon, Argos, Fitness Superstore, John Lewis, Powerhouse Fitness, Sport Leisure UK.

For more details on how to buy a treadmill and the features to look out for, see our full treadmill buying guide.

Rowing machine

Why get one? Works all muscle groups, including arms, shoulders and legs. Also offers effective aerobic exercise. 

How much does a rowing machine cost? Popular models cost between £100 and £600.

How much space do I need for a rowing machine? Rowing machines are one of the most space-consuming pieces of equipment, and usually take up more space than a treadmill. Total length can be around two metres.

Where can you buy a rowing machine? Retailers such as Amazon, Argos, eBay, Fitness Superstore, Powerhouse Fitness, Sports-tech, WaterRower UK.

For more details on how to buy a rowing machine and the features to look out for, see our full rowing machine buying guide.

Cross trainer

Why get one? Provides a good cardiovascular workout that puts less pressure on knee joints than running. Many cross trainers work both arms and legs. 

How much does a cross trainer cost? Popular models cost between £100 and £600.

How much space do I need for a cross trainer? Can vary considerably depending on the model. There needs to be room for the pedals, which can extend behind you when the machine is in use.

Where can you buy a cross trainer? Retailers such as Amazon, Argos, Fitness Superstore, FitKit UK, John Lewis, Powerhouse Fitness, Sports-tech.

Weights and weight bench

Why get them? To tone and shape your body and build strength.

How much do weights cost? £10-£30 for dumbbells, £30-£200 for a weight bench.

How much space do I need for weights? Dumbbells take up very little space and are easily stored away. Weight benches will generally take up the same amount of space as a reclining chair.

Where can you buy weights? Retailers such as Amazon, Argos, Decathalon.co.uk, Fitness Superstore, Sports Direct, Sports-tech.

Small exercise equipment

You don't always need to go big to get results. You can improve your workout, save some money and get noticeable results with smaller fitness accessories such as those we've listed below. 

Foam rollers

Foam rollers aim to improve blood circulation and can be used to reduce muscle aches and pains. These inexpensive fitness buddies are best used to prepare your body for a workout or help it to recover afterwards.

They're relatively cheap – you can pick up some foam rollers on Amazon for £10-£20. They come in various sizes and densities.

When using a foam roller, pick two points on your body close to each other and work the roller from point A to point B slowly, but firmly. Breathing deeply will help you keep a nice rhythm.

You can use foam rollers to focus on:

  • Calves – Sit on the floor with your legs extended. Place the foam roller at your calves, raise yourself off the ground slightly by pushing down and roll the foam forwards and backwards.
  • Hamstring – Start with the roller at the back of your knees. Raise yourself off the ground and use your hands to push yourself forwards and backwards.
  • Upper back – Place the roller underneath your shoulder blades, lift your hips and use your weight to apply pressure to the shoulders.

You'll get better results with a foam roller if you use it multiple times a week. If you feel pain, you're likely putting pressure on a tense area – repeating the process over time will make things more comfortable.

Resistance bands

The name is a giveaway – resistance bands create resistance, which means you can focus on working specific muscle groups harder. The harder you pull or stretch the band, the more force you'll feel working through your body.

These rubber bands come in various sizes and can be used to complement your existing workout routine. They were originally developed for post-injury exercise and place muscles under tension for long periods of time. Some will wrap around your legs, while others come with handles ('handled bands') and are pulled on to build upper body and arm strength.

A thicker band offers higher levels of resistance. The colour of the band is also an indicator of its strength, with darker colours requiring more effort to pull. If you're looking for an entry-level band that's not too tight, shop for a lighter colour. You may also want to try buying a bundle of bands that offer varying levels of resistance. That way, you can work your way through the colours over time.

You can use resistance bands to focus on:

  • Arms – Using a handled band, place both feet on the middle of the band, grab the handles and stand upright. Make a T shape and you'll feel some resistance as you lower and raise your arms.
  • Legs – Using a handled band, place both feet on the middle of the band and bring the handles over each shoulder. Keeping your abdominal muscles tight, squat down and then return to your starting position.
  • Chest – Start by lying face down on the floor with your hands in push-up position under your shoulders. Wrap the resistance back around the top of your upper back and pin down each end of the band with your hands. This will make your push-ups that little bit trickier.

Most resistance bands will cost you less than £20. They're widely available online and in-store from brands including Argos, eBay, John Lewis and Sports Direct.

Punching bags and boxing gloves

Adding a punching bag to your home gym will help you let off some steam and gain muscle strength at the same time.

There are various types of punching bag to choose from, but you'll probably be happy with one of the two main varieties. The first is known as a standard heavy bag – these hang from the ceiling and are kept in place by a ceiling buckle or hook. When buying a bracket for these bags, make sure you pay close attention to how much weight it can hold.

Alternatively, you can try a freestanding heavy bag. These don't need to be dangled from the ceiling as they're weighted at the bottom, so even if you're striking them with force they won't dance across the floor.

Argos has a healthy selection of punching bags and gloves. Expect to pay anything from around £25 for a basic, freestanding model up to more than £100 for a more heavyweight bag.

Skipping ropes

These are a proven winner when it comes to burning calories. Get your technique just right and you'll be building stamina and tightening your core at the same time.

You have a couple of different types to pick from. A standard skipping rope is good for beginners, and the cheapest option at around £5. But if you want to push yourself further, you can grab a speed rope or a weighted rope.

Speed ropes are lightweight, durable and designed to be used at high speeds. A weighted rope, as the name implies, is chunkier and has more bulk to it. Expect to pay around £20 for a speed rope or a weighted rope.

Medicine balls

These weighted balls, also known as 'med balls', will integrate additional weight to your workout. They can help you work your abs, hips and thighs. Unlike dumbbells, they won't damage your floor if you drop them. In fact, they're designed to be thrown around.

Medicine balls are available at different weights, so do your research before you place an order. You don't want to injure yourself picking up a medicine ball that's far too heavy.

You can use medicine balls to focus on:

  • Core – Sit on the floor and raise your feet off the ground, with your knees closer to your chest. With the medicine ball in your hands, tap it on the floor to your left and then your right. This repeating twisting and tapping motion will work your abs.
  • Upper body – Use your medicine ball to perform an 'overhead slam'. Hold the ball behind your head, swing it above you and chuck it towards the floor, away from your feet. Make sure you have plenty of floor space.

You can expect to spend between £10 and £30 on a medicine ball, depending on its weight. Argos is currently selling the Men's Health Medicine Ball - 5kg and Opti Medicine Ball – Set of 3.

Home gyms for different space sizes

Home gyms for small spaces

If you're planning a workout in the living room, you probably won't have too much floor space to work with. With that in mind, resistance bands or weight training could work well.

An exercise bike that folds up neatly when not in use could also be suitable. You might want to position the bike near your TV when working out to help pass the time.

Home gyms for medium spaces

An empty spare room can transform into a neat home gym, especially if you can clear out its existing contents. While floor space may still be limited, you'll probably have more room than in an area with lots of furniture and that you need to use for other purposes.

If you only have room for one large piece of equipment, you may be debating the pros and cons of either a running machine, an exercise bike or a rowing machine, for example.

For maximum calorie burn, a treadmill could be best if you're able to run on it; you'll burn far less if you only plan to walk. You'll get a similar calorie burn from both an exercise bike and a rowing machine, but an exercise bike will take up less space. A bike won't work your arm muscles like the rowing machine does, however. Make your decision based on space and the parts of your body you're looking to work on.

Home gyms for large spaces

A spacious garage could make for the perfect spot for a home gym, assuming there are no cars in the way and you've de-cluttered the space.

With enough room, you can kit your garage out with a treadmill, rowing machine, ceiling-mounted boxing bag or a cross trainer.

However, check manufacturers' instructions before putting equipment in a garage; some advise against this as the cold and damp in a garage can cause problems with the electrics or moving parts. There's also the risk of dirt and grit from the garage floor getting into the equipment. 

If you place equipment in a garage against manufacturers' recommendations, this could invalidate your warranty. 

Gym equipment for the garden

If you're taking your workout outside to get some sunshine while you sweat, consider investing in a weight bench.

Check that your weight bench is durable enough for outside use – the manual it arrives with or the brand's website will have the details. The unreliable British weather means an outdoor workout isn't always an option, so you'll probably want to cover up the bench when it's not in use.

Resistance bands and medicine balls can be used on the patio. You might want to avoid chucking a heavy medicine ball on the lawn as it could damage the grass.

A sunny day in the garden can also pair nicely with a relaxing yoga session. If this appeals, take a look at our yoga equipment buying guide.

How we selected prices and retailers

Retailers and gym equipment chosen based on popular UK search terms and availability. Prices correct as of 17 April 2020 and obtained from manufacturer's own website where possible; otherwise, obtained from third-party retailers listed on Google Shopping.

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