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How to Create Your Own Home Gym

Convert an old bedroom or a corner of the basement into an exercise space you’ll actually use

spinner image illustration of person exercising in room with bookcase, chair with cat on it, end table, plant, treadmill, weight rack and workout bench
Illustration by Kyle Ellingson

It’s the new year and you’re ready to commit to getting back — or staying — in shape. One key to keeping that commitment? Convenience. The easier it is to get workouts done, the more likely you may be to keep doing them. And it doesn’t get more convenient than a home gym. A recent poll by consumer analytics platform CivicScience reports that at-home exercisers are 21 percent more likely than gym-goers to work out at least once a week.

But converting a spare bedroom or basement space into an inviting home gym isn’t as simple as setting up a treadmill and tossing a few dumbbells in the corner. “The more beautiful and pleasant and engaging a space, the more apt you are to use it,” says Steven Webber, associate professor of interior architecture and design at Florida State University.


spinner image illustration of green rubber floor tiles with one missing in center
Illustration by Kyle Ellingson


Hardwood is, well, too hard. You want flooring with some give­ — something that’s easy on your joints and able to absorb vibration and noise. Webber says vinyl flooring and linoleum, often used in kitchens, are good options. But he prefers interlocking rubber flooring tiles, which are easy to install and make your room look like a giant yoga mat. While carpet is soft and sound-absorbing, skip it, Webber says. It gets too worn too fast. (An exception can be made for carpet tiles, which can be easily replaced in sections.) And definitely avoid rugs; their propensity to shift and slide make them dangerous.


spinner image illustration of wall with things hanging on cork board
Illustration by Kyle Ellingson


Nothing is less inspiring than a blank wall. So think child’s playroom: Use dry-erase paint or chalkboard paint, then write on the walls to track your exercise progress and write motivational messages, Webber advises. Or cover one wall with cork tiles or sheets, he says, “so you can pin things to it. Cork also absorbs sound.”

Another tip: Gyms usually have mirrors so you can observe your form as you exercise. So hang one or two large mirrors on the wall, or carefully lean up a floor-standing mirror, suggests New York City-based celebrity personal trainer Kacy Duke. This can make a smaller room appear open and spacious.


spinner image illustration of outline of lights against blue background with gray light in center
Illustration by Kyle Ellingson


Natural light is the most energizing for a workout, but not every room has great window placement, and many people work out when the sun isn’t up. But artificial lighting can be harsh, uninviting and unflattering. The trick is to eliminate shadows, Webber says. “Like a vanity mirror, you want lighting that comes from the sides as well as the top,” he says. Consider lighting with modern technology that will let you adjust the tone among warm, white and daylight settings. That will let you set the mood for your activity. Dimmers will give you more control, letting you recreate the ambiance and energy of a dim indoor cycling studio, for example, says Kelley Robinson, assistant professor of interior architecture and design at Florida State.


spinner image illustration of outlines of treadmills against orange background with blue and gray treadmill in center
Illustration by Kyle Ellingson


Optimally, you should be able to do each of the four main types of exercise (strength training, cardio, balance exercises, stretching) in the same room. That likely will require a 7-by-7-foot space with no equipment where you will do much of your movement. Where that space is will define what equipment you can safely have on hand. There are a few key items that can help make it all work, Duke says.

Adjustable weights and resistance bands: No need to get a whole set of dumbbells of different weights. Modern dumbbells will adjust from five to 50 pounds with a twist of a handle. That gives you a full rack’s worth of weights in one compact set. Simple resistance bands, meanwhile, let you work every muscle, and they can hang on a hook.

Bench: “Invest in a bench so you can strength-train properly,” Duke says. “Then you don’t always have to get down on the floor, and you can sit down to take a break. You can get them in great colors, so the room is stylish.”

Cardio foldables: For smaller spaces, look into compact exercise equipment, like a foldable treadmill that can be tucked against a wall when not in use, Duke says. Some exercise bikes are also compact.

Personal training tech: For an incredibly compact, all-in-one great exercise experience, consider a tech solution such as a wall-mounted screen that delivers a full-body workout via two cable arms that extend from the screen. These also use digital resistance so you can do hundreds of moves without actual weights, Duke explains. “You just need a 7-by-7-foot area in front of the machine to be able to exercise,” says NASM-certified personal trainer Molly Ritterbeck, who works for Tonal, a popular manufacturer of such equipment. Be aware, though, that these units are pricey, costing into the thousands, often with monthly subscription charges too. Other popular brands are Speediance and OxeFit.


spinner image illustration of outlines of bookcases against pink background, gray bookcase with books on it in center
Illustration by Kyle Ellingson


Once you know the equipment you’ll use, survey the room and map out your floor plan, starting with your required block of open space. Then “measure not just the equipment, like your exercise bike or treadmill, but also the space around it you’ll need to get on and off,” Robinson says. Ritterbeck suggests using blue painters’ tape to mark where pieces will go; that’ll help you plan the room flow more effectively.

Some equipment may require electricity, so plan wiring based in part on the location of your wall outlets. Depending on the size of the space, you can also create different workout stations. “You can give your room flow and purpose by creating designated corners,” Duke says. “You can have your yoga corner, strength corner, cardio corner and so forth.”


spinner image illustration of television with woman exercising against green background
Illustration by Kyle Ellingson

Audiovisual gear

Boredom kills motivation. Infuse your home gym with energy, variety and innovation with a multimedia setup that includes a TV or tablet for streaming workout videos or movies as well as a Bluetooth speaker to pump up the soundtrack or your favorite music, Duke says. “There are so many workouts on YouTube. You can cue up your favorites, so you can just push play and you’re ready to go,” she says.


spinner image illustration of outlines of weight racks against blue background, weight rack holding medicine balls, dumbbells and kettlebells in center
Illustration by Kyle Ellingson


Clutter is both unsightly and dangerous when working out. If you have a lot of loose equipment like dumbbells, medicine balls, kettlebells, mats and bands, invest in a sports rack, shelves or chest to keep it all organized and away from your areas of movement, Robinson says.


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