Building a home gym

Building a home gym
Photo by Victor Freitas / Unsplash

I would have stared at you blankly if you had asked me a couple of years ago what I would most likely build. But then, I got hooked on going to the gym (see my progress report here and here for the second year). I like the current gym I go to, as it has less equipment, more free weights, and more Strongman/CrossFit-style gear. You can view a 3D map of the facilities here.

Anyway, when I knew it was finally time to build our own house, I carved out a separate room in the design to house my future home gym. The idea is to train three times a week at home and once at my regular gym (to meet with my trainer). Perhaps I can finally cut out seeing people ever again, in a true Finnish fashion!

The room

I live in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. It's expensive, but I guess all capital areas in every country are more expensive than you would like. Building a gym includes the cost of the gym gear and weights and allocating the space, which in turn requires a portion of your land.

I didn't dare to calculate the cost of the land specifically for the gym. I save 39 euros a month by not having to pay for a membership to my local gym, so if I continue using my home gym for at least a few decades, I'm getting a return on my investment.

Due to certain limitations with the local zoning and permissions, I couldn't allocate unlimited space for my home gym room. It turns out I was able to carve out 31 square meters. That's about 333 square feet. I hoped to have more, but it's plenty enough for my needs for now – and perhaps I will build another house in the coming years and have more capacity then.

The ceiling height is 245 centimeters (96"), slightly limiting specific plans. Overhead press? Forget about it unless you're sitting. Everything else mostly fits and works well.

The gear

For the gear, I went back and forth. I spent about four months listing the needed equipment with a limited budget, specific needs, and limited space. I mostly opted for Rogue-branded gear for quality, availability, and resale value. Other brands, like Titan, do not ship to the Eurozone, so my choices are somewhat limited. I also considered other brands, such as ATX and Eleiko. The former had poor availability, and the latter had prices I wasn't compatible with just yet.

The main elements of the home gym are:

A powerlifting rack. Rogue has a lot of different models. I opted for the RM-4 Monster Rack 2.0:

Image by Rogue

It's large enough but is available in 90" height. As I'm limited to about 96", the 100" model would not physically fit in the room. You can customize the finish, the cross members, and the safeties. Herein is also a design approach I did not consider: I cannot bolt the rack to the floor, as water-based heating (circulation) is embedded in the cement flooring. If you drill, there's a 100% chance you'll break a water pipe. The aim is to bolt this to a small custom-made platform to keep it stabilized. The other option would be to opt for a slightly larger rack and use plates to stabilize it.

The rack has a pull-up bar with a few different positions, and the rack also allows for other additional attachments. Sadly, the cable pulley (the Monster Slinger) doesn't fit, requiring 7" space above the rack. The solution would not work at a combined height of 97".

As we will be training often at the same time with my wife and the kids, I initially considered a separate bench press setup:

Image by Rogue

The ideal solution would be a professional competition bench press setup from Eleiko. It's priced at around 5500 euros, so the Rogue Westside Bench 2.0 suits this need. It's about 1000 euro. I opted not to get this for now, as I feel the rack will serve the same purpose and save me space and money.

I will also have a dedicated deadlift platform. And for this, you can NOT get the Rogue Deadlift Bar Jack.

Image by Rogue

For power bars, I opted for two Ohio Power Bars. It's crucial to check that you're getting the 20 kg models, not the 45 lb ones. The latter would be a tad heavier than precisely 20 kg, and we wouldn't like that.

These bars are splendid for all the main movements I will be doing – deadlifts, back squats, bench presses, etc. They are not cheap at about 400 € per bar, but I bet they'll be eternal.

Image by Rogue

I'll also invest in a trap bar, as I'm keen to get variations to my lifts. The Rogue TB-2 trap bar is very solid and simple.

Image by Rogue

For plates, I knew I needed a selection of everything: 25 kg plates, 20 kg plates, 15 kg plates, 10 kg plates, 5 kg plates, and 2.5 kg plates. I got about 400 kg of plates - mostly because we sometimes train in the gym with friends, and now everyone should have enough plates.

For dumbbells, I wasn't initially sure what and which to get. I've always loved hex-shaped dumbbells, so I went with the following selection:

  • 2 * 2.5 kg
  • 2 * 5.0 kg
  • 2 * 7.5 kg
  • 2 * 10 kg
  • 2 * 12.5 kg
  • 2 * 15 kg
  • 2 * 17.5 kg
  • 2 * 20 kg
  • 2 * 22.5 kg
  • 2 * 25 kg
  • 2 * 27.5 kg
  • 2 * 30 kg
  • 2 * 32.5 kg
  • 2 * 35 kg

In addition, I got a small rack of dumbbells for a pair of 1-10 kg ones. Those lateral raises are nicer to do with smaller weights ;-).

For cardio, I wanted a treadmill. I also had a trainer for my cyclocross bike initially, but setting it up to warm up was a hassle. A nice treadmill that has air cushioning is a must. Foolishly, I opted for a model with "media services," Let me tell you, they are pretty useless - so don't pay extra for that.

Besides the essentials, I got some random stuff - a stall bar for warming up and for the kids to hang around. An assortment of pulleys.

How is it?

I got most of the equipment in one go - and then carried them downstairs to my gym. Some stuff I acquired later when I learned what works and what doesn't.

Here's the layout:

And here's from the other side, showing the dumbbell racks and the treadmill:

The deadlift platform is self-made - far from amazing, but it serves the purpose for those days I'm lifting heavier at home.

Someone didn't fold the laundry before hitting the gym.

Here's a close-up of the platform:

Often, when I'm doing my sets, our youngest might join and do his own - creative - gym session.

The room works exceptionally well for the rack - back squats are a joy:

The floor is extra hardened cement; thus, I'm not too worried if I drop weights on the floor. The rubber mats are 10 mm from a local hardware store.

For bench presses, the rack works very well:

What would I change?

I'm pretty happy with the initial setup. I'd love to fit a real cable pull setup and have the space, but I'm still digesting the large chunk of money I invested in the setup (besides building a house around it). When I do need to stuff with cable pull, I've got the ad-hoc setup from Spud Inc.:

Image by Spud Inc

It takes about a minute to fix on the rack and allows me mostly to do anything. Low pulley rows are not optimal, but anything else goes.

The rack is not bolted to the floor, as you can see. Two 20 kg plates on the opposite end balance it well, and I confirmed with the manufacturer that this is a supported configuration.

I also figured I'd only need up to 35 kg dumbbells, but I'm now running out from the top end and need to make room for larger weights. It's not a significant issue, but perhaps I should have opted for dumbbells between 10 and 50 kg and used the smaller rack for 1-10 kg.

For the rack, I should have gone with the steel pins instead of the vowed safety sets:

The issue with these is that you essentially cannot remove them. So, sometimes, I'm fiddling them up and down when switching from bench press to back squat.

Was it worth it?

Without a doubt, yes. We've now used the gym for about 18 months. Every day, someone is racking weights or pushing hard. I train there three times a week, and so does my partner.

Admittedly, I could as quickly drive down to the gym, where I still go once a week. But finding time for that has proven trickier now that I can seamlessly integrate my training with everything else. After dinner, I can slip into the gym and finish my session in about 70 minutes. And if the kids need me, I'm practically there. A significant upside is that I don't have to queue or see other people ;-)