Most people don’t have the luxury of a huge spare room where they can create a home gym. At least I don’t. That means you have to get creative to get a good workout in your small space. I’ve found quite a few things you can do and here I share them with you.
Small home gym hacks;
- Use the walls
- Use the ceiling
- Adjustable dumbbells
- Fold away power rack
- Fold away treadmill
- Pay attention to equipment sizes
- Change your cardio
- Bodyweight exercises
- Mount speakers in ceiling
- Bluetooth headphones
- Use short barbells
- Get organized
- Use mirrors
- Resistance bands
- Pull up bar
- Yoga mat
Most of those points are pretty straightforward but there are some details that are important to know. Details that explain what exactly to look for so keep reading.
0. Measure and plan
I can’t really count this as a hack since it’s more like a preparation but it’s important for making the most of your space nonetheless. Measure your available gym space so you know exactly what you’ve got to work with. This can help you when buying equipment and figuring out if everything fits.
Measure the available space (don’t forget the height) and make a floor plan. Do this before you buy anything new. Check out the measurements of the equipment you’re planning to buy and try to fit it in the floor plan. It’s better to find out something doesn’t fit before you spend your money.
1. Use the walls
Starting with the simplest way to make the most out of your space is to get things off the floor. Floor space is precious and becomes increasingly valuable if your gym is smaller.
So getting things of the floor is an easy win. And the easiest way to get things off the floor is to put them on the wall. Of course this isn’t possible for everything but quite a few things can be gotten out of the way like this.
Make some shelves, hooks and brackets and you can hang yoga mats, resistance bands, (empty) barbells, cable attachments and maybe more. Getting all this clutter off your floor will make it look bigger while also creating more usable space. Items that are not too heavy and can be supported by the wall are an easy win to create some more space.
While hooks and brackets are super simple, you might not like the look. Luckily there are tons of good looking alternatives for if you want to spend slightly more money on a good looking gym.
2. Use the ceiling
If using the walls isn’t enough there’s a whole ceiling available that can help you get some things off the floor. This can only work if you’ve got ceilings that are high enough of course. If you don’t leave the ceiling alone, you’ll need all the height you’ve got.
For people with a small gym with high ceiling, there are some ceiling storage solutions available. Some are shelves that don’t move. They’re mounted on the ceiling so you’ll need to be pretty tall to reach things you need regularly. A better solution might be the ceiling storage lift. This system has a shelf that you can lower down with a crank to make it easier to reach.
3. Adjustable dumbbells
When you think gym, you think dumbbells. To do every exercise at the right weight and be able to progress over time, you need quite a few dumbbells. A full set of dumbbells on a rack takes up a lot of space.
That’s why adjustable dumbbells are a great invention. Adjustable dumbbells are dumbbells where the handle stays the same but the weights on them can change. Regular ‘fixed’ dumbbells have one weight on the handle that can’t be changed.
There are two versions of adjustable dumbbells;
- A handle with a screw on collar where you have to change the weight plates by hand.
- A handle with a selector mechanism. Put the dumbbell back in the base station and move the selector. The mechanism will automatically pick up the weight you selected.
4. Fold away power racks
The power rack is arguably the most important piece of equipment in any gym. There are so many lifts that require a power rack, it’s difficult to go without it if you’re doing squats, OHP, Bench pressing and much more.
Find out what my favorite power rack is here. It’s suitable for smaller spaces.
It’s also the piece of equipment that takes up a ton of space. Even though it’s just a bit of metal tubing, you need a lot of space to set it up and use properly.
Even a small rack will have a footprint of about 53” by 32”. And that is a small version that most people might consider too shallow. A more regular sized rack will measure +-53” by 45”. That’s a whole lot of floor space to give up in your house, wherever your home gym is located.
A good solution to this problem can be a fold away power rack. When you want to use it, you can fold it out and it will have similar functionality to a normal rack. Then, when you’re done, fold it away and it will take up almost no space. When folded away it takes up the normal width but only protrudes about 5” into the room.
Obviously this still means you need the space to unfold it and use it but it barely takes up any space when folded away. So that’s a great solution if you want to use the space your home gym is located for other activities as well.
Think about a garage. Maybe you want to create your home gym in the garage but also park your car there. A fold away power rack would be a great solution for this purpose. I’ve actually written a whole post about how you can do this: Build a gym in your garage and still park your car.
5. Fold away treadmill
The treadmill is the piece of equipment that takes up the most floor space in a home gym, unless you’ve got a full sized leg press machine. Sure a power rack is big as well but it’s empty and multifunctional. The treadmill only serves one purpose and it is very bulky.
Like with power racks, there is a solution: The folding deck treadmill. After you are done with your cardio workout, you can fold up the deck (the part you run on). This clears up a whole lot of floor space you could use for other exercises.
For people who only want to get a cardio workout at home this is a great solution as well. In that case you probably won’t dedicate a whole room to workouts. The treadmill will be in a corner of the garage or another less trafficked area. Having a fold away treadmill is great for those situations as well. You only use a treadmill for up to about an hour a day so the rest of the time you can use that space for other things.
6. Pay attention to the equipment sizes
When buying equipment and there’s not a whole lot of space in your home gym, it’s important to pay attention to the sizes of the equipment you get. There is so much gym equipment available in different styles, qualities and sizes, you’ll probably be able to find something that fits your specific needs.
The biggest pieces of equipment in a home gym will be the power rack, bench and treadmill. Those items will be the most important to look at.
The biggest is the power rack. Luckily they are available in a lot of sizes. High/low, deep/shallow. The width is always about the same (+-48”) since you need a stable base for the barbell to rest on. As said above, there are fold away power racks that can help you save space when you’re not using it.
The treadmill has been covered before as well. Check out treadmill sizes here.
The bench is unlikely to be a problem if you’ve got space for a power rack. Since a bench will live a big part of its life inside the rack, you can always put it there. There are a few exercises that don’t need a bench but you do need to be inside the rack. Squats are an example of such an exercise.
That’s why it’s good to check if your chosen bench still has a space outside the power rack.
Fold away equipment always helps as well. Check out this fold away rower that only takes up 4′ by 4′ when stowed away!
7. Change your style of cardio
Cardio equipment is some of the biggest and bulkiest in any gym. Getting rid of that equipment would free up a whole lot of space that could be used for other activities and equipment. Of course you still want to get your cardio work done so what can you do?
In its most basic form, cardio exercise is just getting your heart rate at a certain level for a certain amount of time. There are many, many ways to do this and quite a few of those ways don’t require any equipment. Here are some examples;
- Jump rope
- Step ups
- Kettle bell circuit
- Jog in place
- Bodyweight squats
- Side lunges
Those are just a few examples. There are tons of ways to get your heart rate up for an extended period of time that don’t require big machines.
If you still want a cardio machine, click here to find which ones I recommend for a home gym. These are selected to use in small spaces.
8. Bodyweight exercises
Equipment takes up space. Bodyweight exercises no or very little equipment. For almost every piece of equipment you use to work out a muscle there is a bodyweight exercise that does the same things or at least practically the same.
You can build a great body and condition yourself with just bodyweight exercises. If you need some inspiration for exercises and workouts search for calisthenics on YouTube.
Of course there is a reason why there are so many gyms filled with tons of equipment. At some point bodyweight exercises don’t provide enough resistance to have an efficient workout. Sure you could make it much longer but who has time for that?
That said, the vast majority of people is not at a level where they can’t progress with just bodyweight exercises. Most people can start with bodyweight exercises and get some equipment later on when necessary.
Online you will be able to find a ton of full body bodyweight circuits that can help you get started. Check out this one for example.
9. Mount speakers in the ceiling
A gym isn’t complete without some music. To be able to play music, you need some speakers. Speakers are often big and bulky. They have to be placed somewhere and that takes up space. Mounting the speakers in the ceiling saves that space. It looks much cleaner than some wall mounted speakers as well.
Not all ceilings are suitable for mounting speakers but if yours is, it’s a great way to save some space. It’s not as difficult as you might think and the only thing outside the ceiling you need is an amplifier. This will still take up a bit of space but an amplifier is usually a lot smaller than a set of speakers.
To keep it short here, check out this post on home gym sound systems.
10. Bluetooth headphones
Of course speakers in the ceiling is nice to have and will give you great sound without taking up any space. Maybe you think installing speakers in your ceiling is too difficult and complicated. The solution to that problem is a Bluetooth headset.
Headphones don’t require any setup or installation, just connect them to your phone or any other Bluetooth enabled media player and you’re good to go. There are a lot of benefits to headphones but also some drawbacks.
- Easy to start using
- Good sound quality for the price
- No wires to get in the way
- Don’t need a separate amplifier
- Can be uncomfortable during workout
- Gets sweaty
- Gets in the way during some movements
If you choose headphones to provide your workout music, go for one that is meant to be used during sports. Those will be a bit more secure on your ears and be more resistant to sweat and other liquids.
11. Use short barbells
An official barbell is 7’ long. This is pretty long and means you need a space that is at least 8’ wide to be able to use it. Since you need a bit of space to put on and take off the weights, it’s necessary to have a foot of extra width.
It’s not absolutely necessary to use a 7’ barbell though. 7’ is the competition size for Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting so that’s why it’s also commonly used in gyms. Most people are not training for official competitions however. So that means you can use shorter barbells if you don’t have enough space.
Shorter barbells can have a different shaft and/or sleeve length. For the vast majority of people and exercises you don’t need the full shaft length of the bar. If you need the sleeve length depends on how heavy you lift. Shorter sleeves hold fewer weight plates and therefore less weight in total. Many people will never max out their barbell anyways so it’s not a big problem. Some people are very strong and will need the full sleeve length to get up to the weight they want to train with. You’ll know for yourself how heavy you lift and how heavy you’re planning to lift in the future.
Getting a 6’ or even 5’ barbell saves a significant amount of width you need in your home gym. It can mean the difference between being able to use a barbell and not having enough space. You might give up a little usability compared to a full length barbell but it’s better to be able to use one that doesn’t do 100% of what you want than not use one at all. And for most people the usability won’t be different at all since they don’t use the full capabilities of a full length bar.
12. Get organized
In rooms where you’re short on space, you don’t have the liberty to get messy. Every bit of unnecessary clutter takes up space that you can’t afford to lose.
Make sure that everything has its own space. On the wall or ceiling like mentioned above would be the best solution but anywhere you can put your loose equipment to keep it out of the way is good.
Once everything has its own place, make sure you’re consistent in cleaning up your mess. Having storage space doesn’t do any good if you don’t use it. Clean up your weights, dumbbells, barbells and other equipment when you’re done with it. This frees up the space for other activities.
Having an organized gym also helps you to be consistent with your workouts. Seeing a messy gym might cause you to not work out as many times as you should. Cleaning up makes the room look bigger, more usable and more inviting.
13. Use mirrors
Mirrors don’t actually make your gym bigger but it sure makes it LOOK bigger. Interior designers have been using mirrors forever to influence how a room looks. In a gym you want mirrors for several reasons anyways, why not make them improve the look of your gym as well?
The biggest reason for mirrors in a gym is to check your form. Doing heavy exercises with heavy weights can be quite dangerous so it’s very important to see if you’re doing it right.
You only really need the mirrors in the places where you’re doing those exercises. Most of the time that’s not a whole wall. But if you get a few extra mirrors, enough to cover one whole wall, it will have a huge impact on how your home gym looks. Effectively it doubles the visual size of your room. This helps to make your room feel roomier.
14. Resistance bands
Resistance bands are quite interesting. Basically they’re just big rubber bands. With a bit of creativity and minimal equipment it’s actually possible to get a great workout. All you need is;
- Resistance bands with different strengths
- A few mounting points at different heights
- Enough space to move stretch out your arms and legs
The equipment you need is very small and doesn’t get in the way while you’re not using it since they’re just little hooks on the wall. The resistance bands themselves can be stored anywhere else and it’s not difficult to find a space that’s big enough to stretch out. If you have a place that’s big enough for bodyweight exercises, it’ll be big enough for resistance bands workouts.
Bands used right can give you much more resistance than bodyweight exercises which means a better training impulse and better results. Resistance bands can be a great addition to bodyweight exercises but are also a good stand-alone work out option.
Getting a few kettlebells can be a great space saver. Kettlebells are very flexible and you can do a huge amount of things with them. Everyone will have enough space to store a few kettlebells since they aren’t super big. Then you just need to make sure you have enough space to swing them around.
For people that are used to a traditional workout with dumbbells, barbells and machines, it might seem a bit weird in the beginning. But you can be sure that you can still get a very decent workout in.
Here’s a list of kettlebell exercises that are possible. There are a lot;
Unlike dumbbells, you don’t need a whole rack full of kettlebells. With just two or three different weights you can do so many things and get a full workout. That takes up a lot less space than a full set of dumbbells. It’s still bigger than a set of adjustable dumbbells however.
Kettlebells are also great to have if you’re travelling a lot. Sure they’re heavy but for the regular traveller it’s a sacrifice worth making. It gives you the option to have a regular workout even when you’re in a new hotel every day.
16. Pull up bar
Pull ups are a small piece of equipment that can have a big impact on the usability of your gym. Usually people will do pull ups in the power rack. I’ve mentioned the power rack before. It takes up a lot of space and even though there are options to make them take up very little.
Pull up bars are a lot smaller still. These are bars you put in the door frame so you can do pull ups. They’re small, take up very little space while still being fully functional.
Pull ups are a very important exercise in any workout. It’s an exercise that can help you build a great back and even some parts of your arms. If you can do 100 pull ups, you have a pretty strong back. The best way to get better at a certain movement is to do that movement. A pull up bar is the most compact way to make this possible at home.
17. Yoga mat
For a dedicated home gym room, I would recommend fixed gym flooring. Check out this massive post to read all there is to know about gym flooring.
If you’re already short on space you might not want to dedicate a whole room to working out but just carve out a little space of your living room for 45 minutes a day to finish your workout. In that case a permanent gym floor is not what you want.
Still, it’s good to have something soft to make your workouts a little bit more comfortable. The best option is a yoga mat. Even if you don’t intend on doing yoga, the mats are great for small spaces since you can really easily roll them up and store them when you’re done.
A yoga mat also keeps your floor clean while being easy to clean.
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