Working out at Home: How to Set up a Home Gym

Working out at home can save you time and money. Here's how to do it properly

Credit: Sean Dreilinger

Working out at home is a convenient and affordable way to get fit

This past weekend I was at the Vancouver Wellness Show speaking about working out at home.

I received some great feedback on my presentation so I thought I’d share the information with The Active Life readers.

Working out at home can save you time and money while helping the environment by decreasing personal driving. It can also spare you from social awkwardness if you’re just starting out on a program and find all the equipment confusing and people in tight, revealing clothing intimidating. 

Potential Drawbacks to Working out at Home and How to Overcome Them

While there are benefits to working out at home there are also some drawbacks you need to be aware of. Here are the biggest pitfalls and how to overcome them:

  1. Lack of accountability. Overcome this obstacle by working out with a friend or with your family. Remember the importance of social support.
  2. Limited space. You actually only need an arm’s length of space around you to get a good workout. Even the smallest downtown Vancouver condo can give you enough space if you move a couple of pieces of furniture out of the way.
  3. Too many distractions. While your messy bedroom, overgrown garden or dog may be calling for you, stay focused and set your boundaries. Block out dedicated time for your workout and let nothing interrupt you. Turn off your phone, your kids, your husband.
  4. Improper technique. Doing an exercise incorrectly can at best negate its benefits and at worst lead to injury. A DVD or book can’t tell you if you’re doing something wrong so have someone watch you and let you know if your movement is awkward. Hiring a qualified trainer for a few sessions is a great investment in your health.

How to Set Up a Home Gym for $100

Buying a big piece of cardio training equipment like a treadmill or elliptical trainer is the first thing that comes to mind for most people thinking of setting up a home gym. But they cost hundreds or thousands of dollars and need a lot of space to set up.

Fitness equipment manufacturers won’t be happy with me for saying this but the reality is such equipment is the last thing you need to buy for a home gym. Your workouts should focus on strength training while your cardio can be done outdoors. Or, if you really want to get a great piece of cardio equipment, get yourself a skipping rope. I’m serious. It can give you a better overall workout than the highest priced treadmill.

So what should you include in a home gym on a budget?

  1. A couple of sets of dumbbells to start. They cost anywhere from $1 per pound to $1.50 per pound. If you’re just starting out, buy a 5 lbs. set of two and a 12 or 15 lbs. set of two. The cost will be about $40.
  2. Get some exercise bands or tubing as well. This will set you back $20.
  3. And lastly, get a quality stability ball for about $40.

That’s it. Total cost is about $100. Once you start getting stronger you can buy more dumbbells and get an exercise bench.

How to Work out at Home

A good workout can be done in as little as 30 minutes; this is the same amount of time it probably takes you to drive to the gym and home. At the most your workouts should last 60 minutes. Any longer and you’re either plodding along or you’re trying to do too much. Keep your workouts short and sweet.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Do a dynamic warm-up at the start of your workout.
  • Work you full body each time. Don’t strength train on consecutive days.
  • Use compound exercises that activate a lot of muscles. Squats and pushups are great examples.
  • Put the exercises together in groups of two to four, done back to back. This will save time and keep your heart rate elevated.
  • Stretch after your workout.

A Sample Exercise Circuit

A circuit is simply a group of exercises done one after another. Here’s a great beginner circuit you can do which doesn’t require any equipment, only your bodyweight:

  1. Squats (8 reps)
  2. Kneeling pushups (10)
  3. Plank (hold for 20 seconds)
  4. 1-Leg hip bridge (8/side)
  5. Side plank (hold for 15 seconds each side)

If you’re just starting out take a short break between each exercise. Your goal is to be able to do all of the exercises without any break in between. Once you can do that, complete all five exercise then take a 30 – 60 second rest and then do them all again.

Where to Find Workouts

You can find good workouts from a number of sources. Search online for free workouts as well as programs you can buy. has some good, free workouts for both beginners and advanced exercisers. is another great free resource.

One of my favourite online programs for purchase is Turbulence Training, developed by a colleague from Toronto.

Another great source of workouts are DVDs and books. Go to your favourite bookstore or search online at There are many fantastic follow-along workout DVDs. I’ve even produced my own workout DVD that’s geared toward runners but you don’t have to be a runner to benefit.

Health and fitness magazines also provide good workouts. Check them out at your grocery store checkout.

If you keep in mind how to avoid the pitfalls, working out at home can be fun, convenient and save you a lot of time.