Are you wondering if your ceilings are high enough for a home gym? I was curious myself, so I decided to find out how high your ceilings should be to perform all the exercises you want.
For a person of average height (5’9”), a ceiling height of 9 feet is enough to perform all common exercises including pull-ups and overhead pressing. There are some ways to lower this requirement with modifications to exercises or equipment. Of course, it ultimately depends on your personal height.
You might be curious how I got to those numbers and how you can calculate your personal height requirements. Not everyone is average after all and this is something that really depends on your height. So let’s see how you can find the height you personally need.
- 1 Home gym ceiling height requirements
- 2 What about other exercises and machines?
- 3 What if my home gym ceiling is too low?
- 4 How do I know my “palm height”?
Home gym ceiling height requirements
To find out how high the ceiling has to be for a home gym, we have to look at two things; Equipment and exercises.
Of course, looking at things that obviously don’t need a high ceiling like push-ups. Other things are obviously going to require a bit more headroom. here are the things that require the most ceiling height when working out.
- Squat/power rack
- Lat pulldown machine
- Pull up/ chin up
- Muscle up
- Standing overhead press
Sure some things require a lot more height than those things like a climbing rope or rings. But I don’t think anyone expects to have those things in their home gym.
Let’s look at the equipment first. In principle, it’s pretty easy to see how high the ceiling has to be to fit the equipment since you can just read it from the spec sheet. However, the height of the equipment also has an impact on some exercises but more on that later. Let’s focus on the equipment first.
The average full-sized power rack is about 90” tall. Most home gyms will have that much headroom available since that’s only 7.5′. And if not, there are other options. Some manufacturers have short power racks available that are about 80″ (6’6) tall. For a tall power rack, an 8′ ceiling is high enough while for a short power rack, you only need about 7′.
Besides the total height of the power rack, the height of the pull-up bar is important. The front top brace of a power rack is often used as a pull-up bar. The pull-up bar is often a few inches below the top of the rack.
Lat pulldown machines can be as tall as 96” but there are plenty of shorter versions available down to 75” so that shouldn’t be a problem with some planning.
So, if your ceiling is 8′ tall, you’ll be able to fit any lat pulldown machine you want and most other cable gym equipment as well. Many cable crossover machines are about 80″ to 85″ tall although the tallest versions are around 100″ tall. So even the tallest cable stations can fit under an 8’5 high ceiling while the shorter ones fit under a 7’5 high ceiling.
Exercise height requirements
Equipment heights are easy to find. Just simply measuring how tall your ceiling is will tell you if you can fit a piece of equipment or not.
Where you start running into problems is when you start doing certain exercises. That’s where you interact with the equipment and also your own height comes into play.
The main exercises that can cause problems are;
- Standing overhead press (OHP)
Pull/chin up height
For pull-ups and muscle-ups, you need a pull-up bar. Home gyms usually don’t have a dedicated pull-up bar, people use the one that’s integrated into the power rack.
For a full-sized power rack, the pull-up bar is at about 88″ high while a short rack has the bar at about 78″ high.
Now what’s important is how much space you need above the pull-up bar.
To do pull-ups properly, (bar to chest) you need about 16” of headroom above the bar. A good chin/pull-up means you pull the bar to the top of your sternum. From the top of the sternum to the top of your head is about 12”.
However 16” is a better amount of headroom to have above the bar. It’s little more than you strictly need but, you don’t want the top of your head to touch the ceiling at the top of a pull-up. Maybe you’re having a good day and you pull yourself up higher than usual. With 12″ headroom, you’ll hit your head. With 18″ you can safely do so.
- Ceiling height necessary for pull-ups on tall power rack: 88”+16” = 104”
- Ceiling height necessary for pull-ups on short power rack: 78”+16” = 94”
Muscle up height
The muscle-up is a cool variation on the pull-up. Instead of just bringing your chest to the bar, you actually get your elbows above the bar so you’re resting on top of it instead of hanging from it.
So instead of using the distance from the sternum to the top of the head, you use the distance from the palm of your hand (next to your body) to the top of your head.
For an average height person (5’9) that’s going to be about 32″. For me (6’1) it’s 34″. That means you need about 34″ – 36″ of room above the pull-up bar. As long as you hold on to the bar, the length of your arms will limit how high you will go so not as much extra space is necessary as for pull-ups.
- Ceiling height necessary for Muscle-ups on tall power rack: 88”+34” = 122”
- Ceiling height necessary for pull-ups on short power rack: 78”+34” = 111”
As you can see, you would need a ceiling that’s taller than 10′ to do muscle-ups on a tall power rack and more than 9′ on a short power rack. That means it’s pretty unlikely you’ll be able to do them inside.
Overhead press height
Finally, let’s take a look at the OHP which is a much more common exercise than the muscle up.
The first concept you should know is “palm height”. This is the height where a bar or dumbbell would rest when you stand up straight and raise your arm straight up. If you want to know how to calculate this, scroll to the bottom. For now, let’s work with the average person. For this example let’s use a 5’11” man. He’ll have a palm height of about 7’5” (90”).
For the overhead press, the height to palm is important again because that’s the height the bar will be on top of a repetition. On top of that, the weight plate size is important. 45 lbs. plates are commonly used in any gym. An official Olympic 45 lbs. plate has a diameter of 450mm.
450mm = 17.7”
Now we add half of that diameter to the palm height. (Since only half the plate will be above the bar).
- 17.7”/2 = 8.85”
- 90” + 8.85” = 98.85”
We need to add another inch or so, to have a little more headroom. Otherwise, the plates might still touch the ceiling on some explosive reps.
Let’s round it up to a very scientific 100”
That means for a 5’11 person to overhead press without hitting the ceiling, you need a ceiling that’s 8’4 high.
|Exercise||Palm/bar height||Extra necessary room||Total|
|Pull ups||88” (228.6 cm)||18” (45.7 cm)||106” (269.2 cm)|
|Overhead press||90” (228.6 cm)||10” (25.4 cm)||100” (254 cm)|
|Muscle up||88″ (228.6 cm)||34″ (86 cm)||122″ (310 cm)|
For more explanation on palm height, scroll to the bottom. That way you can do your own math.
Overhead pressing in a gym with low ceilings (lower than +-8’4), can easily be a problem standing up. If this is the case for you, sitting down on a bench while pressing overhead gives you most of the benefits of the exercise and allows you to perform it under quite low ceilings.
What about other exercises and machines?
So you might be wondering why I only highlighted three exercises and two pieces of equipment. That’s because those are the things that require the highest ceilings.
Maybe you’ve already found out that you can’t possibly do pull-ups or OHP. Now you’re a bit afraid that your ceiling might be too low for other exercises as well.
There is good news. How many exercises can you think of now that require you to have a lot of headroom above your normal length? Very few.
If you can stand up straight in your home gym, you’ve already got enough height to do the vast majority of the exercises. With a few exceptions:
- Box jumps
- Jump rope
Those two are easily done outside though.
What if my home gym ceiling is too low?
By now, you might have discovered that the ceiling of the garage you intended as a home gym isn’t going to cut it for what you wanted to do, is there a solution?
It all depends on what you want to do. There are different solutions for different problems. Let’s go over a few common ones.
Ceiling too low for pull-ups
Since you’re going to need the most headroom for pull-ups, it’s likely a problem that many people have.
In a perfect world, you should be able to completely relax and let yourself hang from the bar without your feet touching the ground. That way you can have the best range of motion and form.
Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world. What’s better doing pull-ups and chin-ups slightly differently or not at all? The answer for most people will be that a modified version is better. And pull ups are definitely a great exercise so you shouldn’t have to skip it.
The 18” of headroom above the bar is not negotiable. You don’t want to bang your head against the ceiling. We could lower the bar, however. This means you have to pull up your lower legs so they don’t hit the floor at your lowest point.
- If you’ve got a separate pull-up bar, just mount it 16” under the ceiling.
- If your pull-up bar is part of a power rack, you can put a barbell in a high position and use that to do pull-ups.
- Secure the barbell in some way so you don’t dislodge it from the pins. Heavy weights or maybe a rope on both sides should do the trick.
- Do strict pull-ups only on this, you don’t want too much upward or sideways momentum as it can move the bar.
- Get a doorframe mounted pull-up bar. Everyone has a door and they’re high enough.
For proper pull-ups, you need about 18″ of headroom above the pull-up bar. Ideally, you want to be able to stretch out your body for the best form. But if that leaves you without enough headroom, lowering the bar and changing your form slightly is a better option.
Ceiling too low for overhead pressing
Overhead presses go up. Overhead press variations probably won’t need as much space as pull-ups but still a good amount. So what can you do if the ceiling is too low for overhead pressing? There is a bit more we can change here without changing the exercise too much.
Here are the things you can do:
- Use smaller diameter plates. Different brands will have different diameter plates.
- Lighter plates for home gyms are usually smaller as well. E.g. Instead of using 1x 45lbs. and 1×5 lbs. why not use 5×10 lbs.? Sure you’re going to need a lot more of them but if that’s the solution, why not?
- Hang your weights from the bar. This eliminates all the height from above the bar. You could make your own sandbags and hang them from the bar. Or get dedicated straps to hang weights off a bar.
- Careful: When you distribute the weight differently the balance might be a bit different than you’re used to. Start light to get used to it.
- If all that isn’t enough, you can always do a sitting variation of the overhead press. It’s not exactly the same but that’s the best option.
Ceiling is too low for equipment
If your ceiling is too low for a certain piece of equipment, there isn’t a whole lot you can do. Please measure your ceiling height and the equipment you like before buying. It’ll save you a lot of frustration.
- Find shorter options. Not all equipment is the same. There can be huge differences in dimensions. Some shopping around might help you find something that fits.
- Remove Flooring. If you just need an inch or so, you can consider removing the flooring under the legs of the equipment. Gym flooring can easily be ¾ of an inch. (and maybe you’ve got another layer of flooring underneath?) Taking out a small patch could make the difference you need. It doesn’t look pretty though and might damage the floor underneath.
Ceiling too low for box jumps
This problem is solved the easiest. Go outside. I’m sure you can find a spot in your garden where you can jump without limitations. Live in an apartment? Go to the park. Maybe if it’s not normal to see people working out in public where you live you might get some weird looks. But who cares?
How do I know my “palm height”?
Everyone is different but there are two ways you can discover your palm height.
The palm height is how high the palms of your hands are when raised up as far as possible. That’s the height the bar will be in an overhead press.
So to discover what your palm height is, there are two things you can do;
- Grab a broomstick or other bar, lift it above your head, and have someone else measure how high from the floor it is.
- You might be familiar with “standing reach” from basketball. That’s almost the same but measured from the tip of your fingers. NBA draft data shows that for most people, this is your height x1.335.
- Calculate your standing reach by multiplying your height by 1.335.
- Then measure the distance from the tip of your middle finger to where the barbell rests in your hands.
- Subtract that from your standing reach to get to “palm height”.