Making a Home Gym

Forget a bar and TV man cave. Make your man cave composed of iron and sweat. It certainly makes staying strong and in shape a lot easier.


The home gym setup depends on your space, your goals and motivations, and your budget. I’ll tell you what I like and why, but it’s up to you to figure out if it’ll work in your situation.

Top 3 Recommendations

Although I have a bunch of equipment, I mainly use three pieces of equipment:

Kettlebells are fast efficient and fun. Aside from the benefits I write below, you can also read Why Kettlebells
Barbells develop limit strength—you max strength. There is only exercise I do with the barbell and that is the deadlift. (If I had more ceiling room I’d do the military press as well).
Pull up bar
Most people can’t do pull ups. I enjoy the pull up for its own sake, but it is also an incredibly efficient exercise. It trains you to stay trim—extra weight makes pull ups harder. It strengthens practically you entire upper body—it’s incredibly efficient. Finally, it is an important movement that balances out overhead work.


#1 Recommendation: Kettlebells

GetUpKettlebells, used correctly, teach you how to use your body properly by teaching you to use your hips to hoist a cast iron ball with a handle. You’ll get strength in all the right areas—your abs, glutes, hamstrings, quads, shoulders, forearms, and hands.

The kettlebell teaches you how to coordinate your body, quickly turning muscles on and off. It’s incredibly athletic, but you don’t need to be an athlete to use one.

For the purposes of a home gym, one or two kettlebells can hide easily in a closet, in the garage, or in the basement&emdash;and are quickly available when you want to get a fast workout.

kb swingThe primary kettlebell exercise, the swing, develops your posterior chain into a rock-solid and capable unit that keeps your back in excellent shape and makes it easy for you to lift heavy boxes, start mowers and snow blowers with one pull, and burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time.

You only need a couple kettlebells. For guys, a 36 and 53 pound kettlebell, used properly, will give you all the strength you could ever possibly need in life. Women can get away with an 18 and 26 pound bell or a 26 and 36 pound bell. (Some guys might need to start with 26 pounds, too.)

Kettlebells, and proper kettlebell exercise will develop your heart and lungs as well as your muscles, tendons, and ligaments. They are incredibly versatile, extremely fun, and very useful. The type of all-round strength you can develop with kettlebells, along with the variety they offer, is just not matched by other training tools that I have experience with.

If you have a small space and want to make the most of it, the kettlebell is the number one handheld gym. See more reasons to get a kettlebell—Why Kettlebells.

#2 Recommendation: Barbells

dl_435_wmfThere is only one reason I bought a barbell. Deadlifts. The deadlift is a fantastic exercise that has tremendous carryover to daily life activities. We constantly pick stuff up off the ground, whether you are shoveling dirt or picking up luggage.

Perfecting the deadlift at a decent weight is a good idea for bone density and overall bodily strength. If you have athletes in the house, or are one yourself, many sports benefit from the increased limit strength that barbells help produce.

Bench presses, military presses, squats, bent over rows, and deadlifts are all great exercises with a barbell.

Barbells take up some space and can run into some money once you start adding more weight to your lifts. If I had a choice of a few kettlebells or one barbell, I would pick the kettlebells because they are way more versatile and useful. But the barbell can’t be beat for progressively adding weight to your lifts.

A good place to start with barbells is a 300 pound set, available from most sporting goods stores or Craigslist.

#3 Recommendation: The Pull Up Bar

You can get a full-body workout with just bodyweight exercises, but you need a place to be able to do pull ups. I’ve done pull ups on I-beams, but that really makes the grip the limiting factor which isn’t ideal.

If you’re handy, you can fashion a pull up bar by going to a Home Depot. At one point, I was doing pull ups off of a steel bar that was attached below joists in the basement, my head fitting neatly between the joists with every rep. That was one of my favorite pull up bars.

The Door Frame Pull Up Bar

For a small amount of money, you can also buy a doorframe pull up bar. I’ve used the Iron Gym door frame pull up bar. It works great. For twenty bucks, you have a spot to do pull ups and it supports up to 300 pounds so you can do weighted pull ups. See Qualler’s Product Review for the Door Frame Pull Up Bar.

Trapeze Rigging Pull Up Bar

For a little over $200 you can buy a Trapaze Rigging Pull Up bar. I’ve been using this for over half a year and have no issues with it. It’s a solid unit and it assembles and disassembles quickly–this makes it perfect for a home where you don’t have a spot to have a pull up bar set up permanently.

Speciality Equipment

I like to emphasize the basics but the speciality equipment makes things more enjoyable and gives you better development.

Jungle Gym XT

atomic-pushup3The Lifeline Jungle Gym XT enables powerful exercises, like the leg curl, the atomic push up, and the bodyweight row. You can wrap it around the pull up bar and do dips or push ups from the handles. Additionally, if you travel, this is a great piece to have with you to get a great workout. I love wrapping it around a tree branch and doing pull ups. Check out Qualler’s Product Review for the Jungle Gym.

Lifeline Weighted Jump Rope

Jumping rope is a great exercise. It strengthens the feet, angles, and calves–and of course the heart and lungs. I like this weighted rope because it also strengthens the wrist, forearms, shoulders, and, it makes the exercise more difficult from a cardio perspective.

Swiss Ball

The Swiss ball can make stomach exercises more difficult, it can be used for leg curls, for chest presses, and it can be used for postural exercises. Some people sit on them at their desk, too. My primary reason for owning one is for postural work. Here’s a general review of Swiss Balls.


Iron Gym Hand Grippers are a great addition to home gym, or, more specifically, to your desk gym. Squeeze these suckers five times a day, 5 days a week, and you’ll develop a pair of hands strong enough to open any jar. See my post about Captains of Crush training at your desk.


Shit, I usually just have on slippers or barefoot. Makes things really easy. I like wrestling shoes for running.

Iron Mind Dip / Chin Belt

Buy one of Iron Mind’s Dip and Chin belts and it’ll last a lifetime. Chin ups and pull ups are great, but if you want to really add strength, add weight. This belt makes adding weight easy. I’ve been using mine for over six years and it still looks like new.


Your phone. Siri can easily set the timer for you. Inexplicably she won’t start the stopwatch. WTF, Apple?