Budget Burn: Essential Equipment for a Killer Home Gym

Here’s a secret your local gym might not want you to know: it’s possible to get a great full-body workout right in the comfort of your own home. Don’t take that to mean a membership is a waste of money, you’ll only find a full range of equipment, live expert help, and other athletes to cheer you through that last round of burpees down at the box, but if your time or funds are limited, you can put a killer garage gym together to keep you fit until your resources are in better shape.

Gym in the DesertNow, a lot of the time when people hear me talk about a home gym, they picture one of these big, square, thousand-dollar rigs that look like (and can be) torture devices, but I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to make that kind of expensive equipment just to work out at home, especially if you’re just starting out.

In fact, a few essentials will go a very long way toward helping you reach your fitness goals…I remember setting up my home gym with my overtime pay one week…trust me, it’s not a lot.

In any event, here are the 5 most important items for you to have in your home gym along with some homemade alternatives for most of them in case you’re really strapped.

Of course I assume you have got a suitable pair of shoes and gloves.

Dumbbells

Dumbbells are a big part of CrossFit…without at least a pair of these, you’ll be limited to body weight exercises only, and while these can be effective in maintaining strength, you’re not really going to make any big gains. If you’ve got funds to spare I recommend a pair of adjustable dumbbells that enable to make adjustments quickly (just twist the handle!) – they’re versatile and will grow with you through your journey as a garage gym warrior. You can even use them as a substitute for a bar dumbbell for WODs involving squats and overhead lifts.

OK, I know I promised cheaper alternatives for the essentials, but honestly this is the one piece of equipment I strongly recommend you actually spend a few dollars on, as the use you will get out of them more than justifies the investment. You will also find they hold their value when you search for used ones.That said, you can get a pair of dumbbells for less than $0.50 per pound on sites like Craigslist or at local garage sales, and there’s a reason – people can sell them over and over again: a good set of dumbbells practically lasts forever.

If you absolutely cannot afford dumbbells, a couple of lengths of PVC pipe with end caps, a bag of sand and some bonding epoxy is a common sense away from providing an adequate solution.

Rope

Cardio, cardio, cardio…all the strength in the world means nothing if you’re blown up 5 minutes into an activity, and a good speed rope is a great way to improve your cardio as well as your explosiveness and coordination. A good quality speed rope really shouldn’t cost more than maybe $15 (even though the store I manage will gladly sell you one model in particular for $30). If that’s out of your price range, you could always use a length of clothesline or rope-rope instead, and I believe in your ability to scrape together 5 bucks or less for one of the two.

Pullup Bar

One of the biggest debates in fitness is whether to kip of not to kip at the end of a muscle-up on this piece of equipment. You could ask 5 CrossFit experts and probably get 6 answers, but what none of them will say is that you don’t need a pullup bar at all. A pullup bar is the fastest way to build explosive upper body strength one grunt at a time.

There are specialized models out there that can be permanently installed and allow for the flying stair-step pullups you can see on one of those competitive ninja game shows as well as coat-rackish free-standing models that can be moved from room to room, but one of your standard door frame models will do the job just fine and can be had for less than $40.

If you’re really lacking for workout funds, you could always find a sturdy support beam in your house (if it can hold up your walls, it should hold you) or you can even jog on down to a nearby playground for a few rounds with the original pull-up bars once the kids are gone…believe me, I’ve done it.

Medicine Ball

From weighted sit-ups to a grueling game of wall-ball, the medicine ball is one of the core pieces of equipment in CrossFit. A top-of-the-line medicine ball will cost you $50 or more, and provides you with all of the advanced features of the finest sand-filled rubber ball money can buy, but if you can’t quite part with $50, one thing you can do it get a rubber ball and fill it up with sand yourself.
A basketball works nicely in this scenario. Just get yourself a nice, sturdy one (hit the secondhand store if possible, no need to buy an official NBA on-court model), cut a small flap in it large enough to fit a funnel, then pour in the sand and seal it with rubber cement and a few pieces of duct tape. The finished product weighs around 20 pounds. It ain’t exactly pretty, but then you’re not doing CrossFit to win a beauty pageant, are you?

Kettlebells

The Russians have known about the massive benefits of kettlebells for generations, but they’re a generally hardcore people…I’m not entirely sure how they lost the Cold War. Anyway, they’ve become an indispensable workout tool over here in recent years, and I challenge you to find a good, consistent WOD that doesn’t involve kettlebells.

The different types of exercises can even require different kettlebell weights based on how strong the focus muscle group is, so investing in a set of kettlebells, while a good idea, can quickly get expensive as they start out at $1 per pound and only go up from there. Worse, kettlebells have only recently become popular, so the secondhand market for them isn’t anywhere near as robust as with dumbbells.

Budget burn with homemade kettlebellsLuckily, there is an inexpensive alternative to kettlebells, and the technical name for it is “any sturdy plastic jug filled with something.” You wanna put sand in a couple of milk jugs until they weigh enough? Go for it. Fill a laundry detergent container with quick-set concrete? Perfect. Replace liquid fabric softener with solid rocks? You get the idea. Of course, this type of substitute is not as durable as a real kettlebell, but they’re also extremely inexpensive to replace, so there’s no need to cry over spilled milk jug sand.

All told, you can assemble a functioning home CrossFit gym for under $200 using legit equipment like I did, or you can get everything you need for an homemade gym for about $50. These 5 items will give your gym flexibility and enable you to perform a variety of WODs without taking a trip to the box. Of course, there’s no real substitute for pushing yourself to the limit under the guidance of a professional and the support of your CrossFit peers, but if you don’t have time or money for that, I’m the next best thing.