I have been dreaming of a personal home gym for as long as I can remember — something I have envisioned, done sketches of, and even made 3D simulations. Maybe a little ridiculous with that last one, but it’s something my wife and I have been planning probably since the day we met. Now that it’s nearly complete, we’re proud of what we’ve built together. Here is an inside look into our Pain Cave and seven steps to making your dream gym a reality.
1. TAKE THE TIME TO DESIGN
The first step to making a home gym feel like an actual gym, and not just weights in your garage, is design. But before you can begin planning, you need to establish a dedicated space that works for you. If you’re working with an unfinished area, consider adding those final elements like drywall, insulation, and a finished ceiling to complete the space before inserting a gym. Then take the time to write down what it is you want in a home gym. Find inspiration online and look for gyms that appeal to your style and functionality. Finally, map out your equipment and physically tape off your floor plan. Planning will save a lot of time and even more money. Most importantly, detailed preparation will make the gym feel more like a dream and less like an afterthought.
2. START SAVING SPACE
The majority of people won’t have a dedicated building or room to use as their home gym. Most of us are going to utilize our garage for conducting Operation Home Gym. With that said, and if you’re anything like we were, it’s time to clean things up and get organized. The visible goal here is to declutter and create a great space for your gym, but also think of ways to maximize what space you do have. Garage storage options are endless, and I recommend anything that helps keep things organized and out of sight. We went with metal shelving from Lowe’s because it’s available in individual pieces and gave me the option to build a “custom” storage rack (also has 10% off for all military/veterans). In addition to the shelving, we opted for plastic garage cabinets that look great for the price. Throw in a tool rack and some storage bins, and we have an entire wall dedicated to the “garage” that looks clean and professional.
3. FROM THE GROUND UP
There is no shortage of options when it comes to flooring, but keep in mind that this is the literal foundation of your home gym. Gym flooring is not cheap, and not the place to try and go cheap either. There is a lot to think about when making this decision, but I would suggest function over aesthetics and quality over cost. I will say right off to avoid the foam interlocking mats available at sporting goods stores and big-box retailers. Any flooring made of foam will most likely compress, tear, and inevitably leave you disappointed. Rubber is the obvious choice and most commonly used in fitness facilities, but you can use anything that will work for your setup. Artificial turf, carpet, floor epoxy, and even luxury vinyl are all viable options for a home gym. You just need to consider the equipment you intend to use and the impact your style of training will have on the floor surface. The majority of our gym floor is a thick, durable rubber with a strip of sports turf down the center to serve as a training area and divide the space. Our flooring is actually made up of 4×8 horse stall mats we picked up from a local feed and tack store. A tip I learned long ago in the fitness industry, trailer mats are perfect for gym flooring and olympic lifting platforms.
4. HIGH-END GARAGES
Another option which is more space-creating than space-saving is what’s called a high-lift garage door. This garage door modification can be costly, but for us, it was a necessity. Standard garage doors are seven feet tall and open at that same height or just above it. This will leave a dead space above your garage door of two or more feet when it’s open. A standard door can create problems for taller pieces of equipment like power racks or pullup rigs, not to mention the wasted space. A high-lift garage door is exactly that. It lifts your garage door to open as high as possible. Our garage door now opens nearly at ceiling height and allows us to fit a full rig inside our garage. This modification isn’t as simple as adding some track and moving your garage door up a few feet. A high-lift is something that requires a professional; this is not the place to try and save money. If this isn’t an option you would consider, then think of utilizing that space above the garage door as possible storage — maximize space.
5. LIQUIDATION LISTINGS
When it comes to large equipment, the first thing is to never, and I mean never, buy anything new. The fitness industry is a complicated beast to tackle, and local boutique gyms open just as fast as they close. Look for them. Scour the internet for them because the deals they will bring are beyond anything you can imagine. Facebook marketplace, Craigslist (check out this article on how to search Craigslist for gym equipment), Offer Up, and even local pawnshops (Las Vegas has a few), are all places we scored significant savings. If you’re looking for weight machines, power racks, pullup rigs, or cardio equipment, you won’t find better equipment than at an actual gym. The majority of our home gym is liquidated equipment from fitness centers forced to close their doors. That puts commercial-grade equipment in my home at household prices. Trust me, the stairmill you see at Dick’s sporting goods is nothing compared to the ones you use at a commercial gym.
6. WHEN AND WHY TO DIY
Beyond searching for deals, the most significant cost-saving step you can do in any project is the one you do yourself (DIY). Whenever and whatever you can do yourself — do it. To get a better deal on our commercial rig, I showed up to the gym going out of business with my tools, took it apart myself, and hauled it home piece by piece. Painting, lighting, flooring, and accent walls, we did all ourselves. Avoid kits when at all possible; you’re paying for convenience, not quality or efficiency. A wood accent wall “kit” at a big hardware store would’ve run me well over $500 to complete a wall similar to the one I did. Instead, I grabbed some redwood fence pickets ($1.58 apiece), cut them down to various sizes, and stained them in different colors. With a little work and thinking outside the box, our wall came in at around $75 and looks incredible. The same goes for the garage door insulation kits that run about $60 and would require more than one for a standard two-car garage. For about half the price of only one insulation kit, you can purchase two 4×8 polystyrene panels (which also have better insulation), that can be cut down to custom fit your garage door. Whatever the project, try and get your hands dirty whenever you can.
7. ALL THE WAY TO THE FINISH LINE
When it comes to finishing your home box, try and think outside of it. From flooring to paint and decor, thinking outside the box of a typical home gym is what will make your gym feel finished. Most people probably wouldn’t consider a wood accent wall as a part of their design when planning a home gym, but those unique elements are what make all the difference. Beyond those finishing touches that will bring your gym to life, try and think of what will put some life back into it as well. Colors, quotes, and photos can all inspire you, and even technology can help you dig a little deeper and help you go the extra mile. Some things to consider changing or upgrading are paint colors, accent walls, lighting, garage door insulation, heat or a/c, sound systems, televisions, and anything else that will make your home gym a place you want to spend your time. We mounted two matching flat screens (pawnshop scores) along our cardio wall for aesthetics and function. They look awesome, but they serve a real purpose. I can pull up Nest and keep one eye on the nursery while the other scours YouTube for motivation. The dual televisions allow us to run training apps and watch the news at the same time. When we’re doing cardio together but not feeling the same vibe, we can throw in headphones and binge on Netflix together — separately.
Whatever your health and fitness aspirations might be, the perfect home gym does exist. It’s the one you’re actually using. That’s the whole point of investing time and money into a home gym or, hell at this point, a private fitness studio. (Yeah, that’s what I’m calling it now) It’s not supposed to be a gym membership that you pay money to once a month and visit just as often. It’s right there with you, under the same roof, just begging you to come out and train! Life can be hectic, schedules can be beyond busy, and time always seems like we need more of it. But, a home gym has no excuses. If you find yourself wanting it, but struggling to get to the gym to make it happen, then consider this as a great option.