Many people have to deal with having a low ceiling in their home gym. This can cause some problems, especially with overhead exercises. Here are 13 tips to deal with the problems that low ceilings bring for the home gym enthusiast.
13 Tips for working out under a low ceiling:
There is a bit more to most of these points than you might think when reading this list. Keep reading to find out what you should and shouldn’t do with a low ceiling.
- 1 1. Measure your ceiling height
- 2 2. Get a low power rack
- 3 3. Get the right cardio equipment
- 4 4. Lower your pull-up bar
- 5 5. Use smaller weights
- 6 6. Sit down
- 7 7. Z-Press
- 8 8. Pay attention to flooring thickness
- 9 9. Go outside
- 10 10. Make more headroom
- 11 11. Lighting is important
- 12 12. Use recessed lighting
- 13 13. Get a fan
1. Measure your ceiling height
Before you do anything else, you have to know how much space you’ve actually got to work with. Just looking at a ceiling and thinking; ‘that’s low’ isn’t going to help you very much. You want to know exactly how low they are exactly.
So break out your measuring tape or even fancy laser measuring device and find out how tall your ceilings are.
If you’re just trying to guess the height of your ceiling, use the door as a guide. A normal-sized door is about 7’ tall. That should make it a bit easier to get an idea of how tall your ceilings are.
How high should your gym ceiling be? Read this post to find out.
2. Get a low power rack
Now you know how much space you’ve got to work with, let’s get the low-hanging fruit first. The power rack will be the tallest piece of equipment in most home gyms. Getting one that fits is very important since you’ll use it for a ton of exercises.
Check out my favorite home gym power rack here. The recommended rack is available as a short version that will fit most low ceilings.
There are two things to the height of a power rack that are important.
- Does the rack fit under your ceiling?
- Do you fit under the rack?
The first question is answered very simply. Is the total height of the rack lower than the ceiling? If so, it fits. If not, you’ll have to find a different one.
The other part is that you have to fit inside the rack. You can hit your head on the top bar of some of the lower racks and you’re a tall guy. While you can work around this, it can be irritating at times.
More important is that you can squat inside the cage. If you’re a tall guy, make sure that the height at which the bar rests on your back, is below the height of the top bar. While it’s possible to squat outside the cage, in a home gym you usually work out alone and that means you don’t have a spotter. That makes it quite important to be able to squat inside the cage.
3. Get the right cardio equipment
Many people aren’t too interested in weightlifting in their home gym. They’re much more interested in getting a great cardio workout at home. What kind of cardio equipment works well with low ceilings?
I’ve got a whole post about cardio machines and low ceilings. Click here to read it.
Treadmills can be problematic. The average treadmill has a belt height of 8” to 9”. If you’re a bit taller at 6’1, you’re standing pretty close to 7’ tall on a treadmill. When you run you’ll get off the belt a little bit as well. With ceilings that are 8’ high this is still OK although maybe a little claustrophobic. Some ceilings are even lower at 7’. If that’s the case for you, a treadmill might not be the right choice.
There are some treadmills with a lower belt height that can help you out. The lowest available deck height for motorized treadmills is about 4.5”.
Elliptical machines often have the same problem as a treadmill. When standing on one, there is a good chance you’ll hit the ceiling if you’re a bit taller.
The best cardio options for low ceilings are;
- Stationary bike
- Recumbent bike
- Indoor rowing machine
All those options don’t require you to stand up on the machine. It’s just your torso that is above the seat. If you can stand up straight under your ceiling, these machines will be OK. The indoor rowing machine will be the absolute lowest option for a cardio workout. Click here to find my favorite rower for home gyms.
Cardio equipment for use under low ceilings
4. Lower your pull-up bar
You need 18” of headroom above the bar to be able to do pull-ups with proper form. Ideally, you also want to have your legs off the floor without bending them when you’re just hanging. If you’ve got a low ceiling to deal with, both things can’t be done at the same time.
The 18” above the bar is not something you can change unless you like banging your head into the ceiling. That means you have to lower the bar to the point where you have the 18” of headroom. In most situations with low ceilings, that means you’ll have to adjust your pull-up form a little bit. The easiest way to do this is to just bend your legs at the knees. That will save enough height for most people to do pull-ups.
If that still isn’t enough, you can adjust your form even more. Bend at the hips and rest your legs on a bench. You can adjust for the weight by clamping a dumbbell between your upper legs. This is not ideal but comes quite close to a proper pull-up.
5. Use smaller weights
The exercises that are most likely to cause problems with the ceiling are the OHP and pull-ups. We’ll get to pull-ups later, for now, let’s focus on the OHP.
The first thing you can do if you’re missing a few inches of headroom on the OHP is to use smaller weights. I don’t mean lighter but actually smaller. 45-pound plates have a big diameter.
Lighter plates often have smaller diameters. You can easily save a few inches by using 10-pound plates instead of 45’s. This might give you enough room to be able to OHP in your home gym.
If that’s still too much, you can consider straps that hang the weights off of the bar. Using those gives you a bit more space but also causes the weight to be unstable so be careful.
6. Sit down
For very low ceilings just using smaller weights isn’t always enough. If that’s the case for you, the next option is to just sit down.
While I’m a big fan of the standing OHP, if it’s impossible to do without hitting the ceiling, you have to look for other options. Doing a sitting press is better than not doing it at all.
The benefit of doing a standing OHP is that it’s a whole-body exercise. The weight has to be transferred from your hands to the floor. That means the force goes through the whole chain of your body. You’ll have to use stabilizing muscles. Sure it isn’t a leg exercise but there are still benefits for many smaller muscles.
Once you sit down, many of those benefits disappear. To optimize the sitting press, do it without a backrest. This way you’ll still have to stabilize your torso while holding up the weight.
What about doing overhead presses kneeling? It seems like a good solution since you’ll still have some of the stabilizing benefits of a standing OHP.
While I’m not a physical therapist I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s uncomfortable to start with but that can be solved with a soft floor and maybe some kneepads. The bigger problem is that your knees are probably not made to transfer all the weight to the floor. Especially when you go up in weight this becomes an issue.
While I couldn’t find any research on overhead pressing while kneeling, there is plenty of research that shows that people with jobs that require them to sit on their knees, have way higher rates of knee problems.
The other problem is that while kneeling, it can be really difficult to maintain proper hip posture. That puts you at risk of damaging your lower back.
One other solution could be a half-kneeling OHP where you alternate between which knee is on the floor. This helps with proper hip posture. Stability might be compromised, however.
Please: If you’re not sure, ask a professional to see what the benefits and dangers are of certain movements.
Ok, one more alternative for standing overhead presses. Since it’s one of my favorite lifts I’ve given it some thought.
The Z-Press is a great alternative for standing overhead pressing and is probably better than kneeling.
The drawback is that it’s quite an advanced movement. It takes a lot of flexibility and stability to execute this lift properly. That means you’ll have to take a big step back in weight and work on some parts of hip flexibility and trunk stability. In the long run, it will benefit you, however.
For beginners, I wouldn’t recommend starting with this press, however.
8. Pay attention to flooring thickness
Every inch counts… when you’ve got low ceilings. Flooring is a big part of a home gym. A good floor is necessary to protect your floor and weights while they also dampen noise. For that reason, many people go for a thick gym floor.
But you might just be stealing that half-inch that makes the difference between hitting the ceiling or not. There are a few things you can do to prevent your floor from taking too much height.
- Completely forego any gym flooring and remove any existing flooring. This will give you the most headroom. Be aware that also means you don’t have anything to protect your (concrete) floor and equipment. If you’ve got some rubberized weight plates and dumbbells that might be enough for you.
- Remove the original flooring but put in gym flooring. This way you still have some protection but you gain a little bit of height from removing the original flooring.
- Pay attention to the thickness of the gym flooring you buy. Of course, there is a tradeoff between thickness and protection/noise damping. ½” or ¾” inch is common. ½” is basic but enough for protection.
- Cut out holes in the flooring for the legs of equipment. This will give you a little bit of extra height to fit tall equipment like a power rack. It doesn’t look great but if you do it neatly and don’t move your equipment, it’s a reasonable solution. You want a power rack to be anchored to the floor anyway.
9. Go outside
The sky is the limit if you’re outside. Especially if you’re in the garage, it’s easy to move outside for some exercise. Box jumps are a good example of an exercise you can very easily do outside in the driveway.
For overhead pressing it’s not too much to ask since it’s probably not that much weight anyway. You might have to learn to clean so you can overhead press without the support of a rack. It’s nice to get some fresh air and sunlight while working out as well.
The drawback is that you can only go outside to lift when the weather is good. Snow and rain might cause you not to be able to go outside for whole seasons. That’s why it’s important to find solutions or alternatives you can do inside.
Would your neighbors look at you weirdly? Maybe the first two times but, after that, they’ll get used to it. Also, who cares? You’re not doing it for your neighbors and you shouldn’t give a F@ck what they think. If you’re in an apartment or don’t have a driveway or garden it’s a bit difficult.
10. Make more headroom
Take a look at the ceiling you’ve got. Is it in any way possible to create a bit more space? Not in all situations this will be possible but it’s worth a look. If your ceiling is just concrete, there probably isn’t much you can do.
- Do you have a ceiling that covers up plumbing, wiring etc? Think about removing it. The industrial look doesn’t actually look that bad in a gym setting. Of course, you’ll have to be a bit careful not to damage the things the ceiling was covering.
- If the ceiling is just there to cover up the skeleton, it’s even easier to raise your ceiling height a little. There will probably be joists that hold up the floor above but it’s possible to work around those.
This is a change that is a bit more difficult to make and if you’re not sure the gym will be there for a long time, you might not want to do this.
11. Lighting is important
Ok, lighting won’t make your ceilings any higher. It can make the space look a bit less like a dungeon. With low ceilings, it’s easy to make a gym look uninviting and cramped. A good lighting setup will help you make things look a bit more inviting.
- Use mirrors. You should have a mirror in your home gym anyways but it also helps make your space look bigger and makes the most of the lighting you put up.
- Use some lights that shine up to the ceiling. Light up all the dark corners. Dark makes the ceiling look lower, light makes it look higher. It doesn’t actually give you more space but it will look better.
- Get as much natural light in your gym as possible. It’s hard to get any lighting that’s better than the sun. If you only work out when it’s dark outside, this doesn’t matter of course.
12. Use recessed lighting
You need lighting for the reasons named above. Just hanging a lamp off the ceiling takes even more height away from your room, however. If your ceiling is already low, it might even hang low enough to hit your head on.
To prevent the lighting from stealing space and height, use recessed lighting where possible. This saves a couple of inches of space protruding from the ceiling.
Don’t worry that you have to drill huge holes in your ceiling. There are actually really flat LED lighting systems that are built to recess in a ceiling.
13. Get a fan
No, not a ceiling fan unless you like to take the risk of getting an unwanted haircut. Get a good floor standing fan. There are quite a few available that move a lot of air.
But why? Because low ceilings mean less interior space. Less space means less air. Less air means that chances are that things get really hot and stuffy quite quickly. Your gym will get very uncomfortable to work out in a short amount of time.
Having a fan that pushes fresh air into your room will make it that you can keep it much nicer to work hard in for longer. In the long run that will cause you to have more, longer, and better workouts and that’s what we all want.
As said, a ceiling fan is not a good idea. Not only because it steals a lot of usable height from your room but also because it doesn’t move air from one room to another. A ceiling fan just moves around the air inside the room. That will make you feel a bit cooler but doesn’t introduce any fresh air.
It’s better to look for something like a blower fan that you can move around. Something that can push air from one area to another. Put it in a doorway or maybe a window opening for example.
Many people often forget a few important pieces of their home gym that isn’t directly gym equipment. Here are my favorite home gym tools.
- Interval timer: To time your intervals and all types of other workouts, the GymNext Flex is easily the best and easiest to use.
- Mirrors: Fab & Glass (Amazon link) makes the best large mirror sheets so you can see your exercise form.
- Flooring: American Floor Mats gym flooring (Amazon) or equipment mats make your gym quieter, easier to clean and keeps your floor and equipment safe.
- Fan: The Rowenta VU5670 (Amazon) is a great way to stay cool while working out.