Who likes to work out in the dark? Every gym owner will have to think about lighting at some point. What is the right choice and how should you set it up? I’ve done some research and found out.
For a home gym, the best lighting option is a number of LED down lights. Mount the lights in 3’-4’ intervals on the ceiling. The total system should have an output of about 400 lux per square meter at a color temperature of 5000K. LED replacements for fluorescent tubes can be a cheaper alternative.
That’s the short of it. There are some important details below you don’t want to miss about setting up your lighting and some useful tips. Keep reading to figure out what the perfect lighting solution for your home gym is.
Why do you need home gym lighting?
Why would you be worried about lighting in your home gym? There are a few good reasons why you want to put in at least a little effort into the lighting. What are those reasons?
See where you are and what you’re doing.
The most basic reason why you need lighting in your home gym is to be able to see where you are and what you’re doing. See which weights you’re grabbing and where you’re stepping. You don’t want to trip over any runaway dumbbells either. Sure you don’t need a whole lot of light for this reason but at least some. And if you have to add some lighting anyways, why not do it right from the get go?
Check your exercise form
The next and arguably even more important reason why you need lights in your home gym is to see your exercise form. It’s important to be able to see all the small movements you’re making while lifting.
Sometimes a small wrong movement can indicate muscle imbalance, injury or future injury. Having enough light (and a mirror) allows you to see if you keep all your body parts in the right position so you don’t get injured and make the most of the exercise.
If you’re stretching it’s also important to see what you’re doing. Seeing if you can stretch both sides to the same degree or get into the same position every time can help you prevent injuries and see when something is wrong.
See your progress
Who doesn’t like to see how they’re getting better. It’s one of the best forms of motivation. For people who are serious about improving their physique, seeing the fruit of their labor is the most important thing. Or maybe the opposite is true for you; You see your belly growing a little bit too far and it’ll motivate you to work out and eat better.
Either way, you need to be able to see yourself in the mirror to see which direction your physique is going in. Without light you can have all the mirrors in the world but you aren’t going to see anything.
Make yourself look better
Having good lighting can help you look better as well. Ok, you don’t actually change but, the location and type of lighting can make a big difference in how you look. You can use this in two ways. Make yourself look as good as you can and use it for pictures or self-confidence.
The other way you can go is to put yourself in a “realistic” light and really see how you look so you can really be honest about your physique and see what you should improve.
If you’re not into any kind of bodybuilding or care about your physique then this is not really a concern for you. Many people would like to look better than they do now however so it’s something to keep in mind.
Turn your home gym into a good space to take photos and YouTube videos.
Sure, this isn’t important for everyone but, if you’re in any way active in the fitness space on any social media, people want to see what you look like. People are also getting used to higher and higher production qualities for content.
Having good lighting really help creating quality content people want to watch. Often, people use tripods with big lights to get better lighting for a video or photo shoot. In a home gym that you actually want to use, they will be in the way however. And setting them up and taking them down every time you want to take a video gets old quick.
If you plan on doing any of this in your home gym, get the lighting right from the beginning and integrate it into your gym properly so your videos require much less setup time and effort.
Make your gym look more inviting
Finally it’s good to have a gym that you want to go to and be in. That way you’re more likely to stick to your workout plans and create the body/strength/physique you want. Not many things are less inviting than a dark basement with unlit corners that looks like a dungeon out of a horror movie. Some well-placed lights can turn it into a nice place to be which will help you stay/get into shape.
Gym Lighting Requirements
You might already be convinced that you need lighting in your gym, if only to see what you’re doing. What kind of features are you looking for in gym lighting?
- Doesn’t produce a lot of heat
- Energy efficient
- Doesn’t steal too much height when mounted on the ceiling
- Light up the spaces you use
- Letting you see everything you’re doing.
- The right color temperature: around 5000K
- Make your gym look more inviting
Some of these requirements will be explained in more detail below.
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There are different lighting technologies available. Which one is the best for your gym?
Sure natural light is always nice to have in a space and a gym isn’t any different. If you can have natural lighting in your home gym, go for it. It’s free and always feels nicer than artificial lights.
The problem is that most people have to work during the day. That means they work out when the daylight has run out. You can have all the natural light in your home gym during the day but, if you’re not there at the right time it’s useless.
So it depends on when you can work out if natural lighting is worth taking into account. If you usually work out during the day, relying on natural light is great. Get of much as it as you can and if it’s not enough, just add some artificial lights.
Keep in mind, you might want to add a few artificial lights anyways if you care about any of the reasons listed above.
If natural light isn’t available either because of the room you use or the time of day you work out, LED lighting is the best option to light your gym. In fact LED is increasingly becoming the right choice for more and more applications. Before LED would produce weak light that wasn’t very useful but those days are long gone.
LED lights come in all shapes and sizes and there is a wide range of colors, wattages and fittings. You’ll be able to find something that fits your current light fixtures.
There are some massive benefits to LED lighting over other technologies;
- Lasts very long. You’ll have to replace fewer bulbs.
- No warm up time like fluorescent lights.
- No chemicals like fluorescent lights.
- Doesn’t produce as much heat as filament bulbs
- Can handle being turned on and off many times.
- Can be dimmed
Even though LED lights are pretty cheap nowadays, fluorescent lights are still cheaper. Fluorescent light bars give you a whole lot of light for little money. The technology has been around for 100 years and it’s reliable and cheap.
LED still has the advantage in power consumption and longevity however. So while the initial price might be a bit lower, over time you’ll be better off by buying LED lighting.
You’ll see that LED has the advantage in every case except upfront costs. Only if you’ve already got light fixtures with fluorescent lights it’s better to keep them. If you want to spend the money you can replace them with LED’s but it’s not necessary.
What about traditional filament bulbs? They look give a very nice light and can be used in a retro setting. In home gym they don’t really have a place anymore. A gym is not a place where you’re trying to create a really cozy atmosphere.
While they are not too expensive to buy, they also last the shortest amount of time and use the most electricity for every bit of light produced. Like with fluorescent lighting, if you’ve got them installed already and you’re happy with it, keep it. Otherwise LED bulbs are the best choice for your home gym.
Smart lighting isn’t really a type of lighting. Most of the smart light bulbs are actually LED bulbs. The trick with smart lighting is how they are turned on/off and dimmed. Smart lighting is usually controlled by an app on your smartphone or sensors.
The benefit of smart lighting is the options it brings. You can choose to let it turn on and off through a motion sensor so you won’t waste any electricity by forgetting to turn off the light. You can also use it for added security by letting lights turn on at a certain time every day so people think someone is home.
If you like the tech and you want to experiment with some smart home technology, you can add it to your gym. If you don’t want to deal with things like that and want to keep everything simple, just go for normal led lighting with a switch.
Natural light is the best option if it’s available. Not all home gyms have windows and many people don’t work out when there is any natural light. So you’ll need some artificial lighting. LED lights in different shapes and forms are the clear winner. LED lighting technology has come a long way in the last decade and is now the best choice for most applications in your house.
Light output is measured in Lumen. The higher the number, the brighter the light is. Previously, light outputs was measured in Watts. Since the advent of LED lighting, the Watt measurement doesn’t really make sense anymore. A 25 Watt LED bulb will produce much more light than a 25 Watt filament bulb.
That’s why Lumen is a more useful number to know since it says something about actual light output.
The Lumen is the output of a single light source. Lux takes the area that is lit up into account. If you spread out the light of a single lamp over 1 square meter, that square meter is brighter than if you would use the same lamp for 4 square meters.
For reference, direct moonlight is about 1 lux while sunlight is around 10000 lux.
So what kind of lux levels do you need for a personal gym?
As you can see there, gyms aren’t listed separately so can we infer something from the numbers we see there? The general lighting in places like the living room and garage are a little under 200 lux. However, for the areas where you perform tasks in those areas, 400 lux is recommended.
This PDF also mentions 300-400 lux for areas where you perform tasks.
A gym is certainly a place where you do things and you have to see what you’re doing so I feel confident in recommending 400 lux per square meter for that purpose.
That means now you simply have to multiply your gym space in square meters by 400 to find your total required lumen output.
E.g. if you have a 15m2 gym you simply calculate 400 x 15 = 6000
So your lighting system should have a total output of 6000 lumen. This is a bit oversimplified but gets you close enough for our purposes.
That doesn’t mean you should have a single light source that outputs that amount. You want different light sources that have that amount in total. Having a single source would create some really bright spots while the corners are still dark. A single source that bright would also likely create big shadows and possibly blind you.
Light color temperature
Another important aspect of the lighting you use is the color temperature. The color temperature of a light bulb is expressed in Kelvin (K). The range for artificial lighting goes from 1000K to 10000K. The lower the value, the ‘warmer’ the light looks and vice versa. In other words, the lower the value, the more yellow/orange the light looks. The higher the value the more blue it looks. For reference, 1850K is similar to a candle flame while 6500K is similar to daylight.
The light temperature in a room really influences the mood and feeling in a space. Think about your favorite pub versus an office. The lights in those two places will look very different. One place is friendly and intimate while the other one is crisp and efficient. In a gym you want to have a good workout. For that to happen you have to be energized. Warm light makes you comfortable and sleepy. That’s not what you want.
The good news is that with LED lighting you have a whole host of choices for color temperatures so you can get something that’s perfect for your gym. The bad news is that you have to make one more choice. Let me help you with that;
For a home gym you want a color temperature of around 5000K. This simulates sunlight which is very energizing. You can go up to 6500K but you run the risk of your gym starting to look like a factory. Color temperatures below +-4000K are more relaxing and soothing. That’s not what you want in a gym where you want energy and alertness.
Some smart lighting like the Philips Hue system can be dimmed but also change to any color you like. If you like smart tech and the flexibility it brings, that can be a good choice.
Which LED lights should you use for your home gym?
LED is the right choice for your home gym. But which type is the right choice? Let’s take a look at a couple of common LED lights and which one is good for your home gym.
The simplest option is the simple LED bulb. They fit in the same fixtures as traditional bulbs which means you probably already have a few of them in the room you’re going to build your gym anyways. They are cheap, produce a lot of light and won’t break the bank.
LED bulbs come in a ton of shapes, sizes and colors. You’ve got ones with smart functionality, can change color and be dimmed. Whatever you want is probably available.
They don’t always look the best especially when out in the open. Since in a gym you’ll want to spread out the light a little, you need a lamp every +- 3’-4’. This can look a bit strange and for just a tiny bit of extra money there are better options.
If you’ve got fluorescent light fixtures, you can reuse them. No need to buy new fixtures. There are LED tubes available for every fixture that holds fluorescent tubes. You just have to get the right one.
- The right length
- Check if your fixtures are T5, T8 or T12. This number corresponds to a certain diameter of the tube. (5/8”, 1” and 1 ½” respectively)
- Compatibility with the ballast. There are three types of ballast and not all LED tubes are compatible with all the types. Check this article for more information.
One thing to know is that fluorescent tubes emit light in 360 degrees around the tube. LED tubes only project the light one way. This can make the room look quite different and leave shadows in corners where there was light before.
The benefit is that these LED tubes produce a lot of light for how much they cost. They are not the best looking solution but neither are fluorescent tubes. If those were good enough for you, LED tubes will be too.
Recessed down light
For people that want a nicer finish and are willing to put some effort into mounting their gym lighting, recessed down lights are a the best option. This type of light is not very easy to install in some situations. That’s because recessed lights will require you to cut holes in your ceiling and have some room above the ceiling for the light and wiring. For people with a dropped ceiling this is pretty easy, otherwise it might be more effort than it’s worth.
The benefit is that it looks really nice and clean. No lights are sticking out of the ceiling or the walls. You can space them as necessary and are not dependent on existing fixtures. The lights don’t protrude into your gym where you could hit them. That’s good for people with lower ceilings.
Surface mounted down light
Recessed lighting isn’t possible or practical to install in every situation. Down lights are still the best solution for a home gym. That’s why there are also surface mounted down lights available. These just mount on the ceiling instead of having to cut a hole. The drawback of these down lights is that the finishing and wiring is more difficult to get right since you can’t do it above the ceiling.
The best looking option and value for money are down lights. The recessed version looks really nice but isn’t possible everywhere. In those circumstances surface mounted down lights are a good alternative.
If you’re just looking for the most light per dollar spent, LED tubes are your solution.
How to set up your gym lighting?
The easiest way to set up your gym lighting is to mount it on (or close to) the ceiling. Gym lighting should be utilitarian and mounting it on the ceiling makes the most sense. There are a few reasons why;
- It doesn’t take up floor space
- The light won’t blind you
- There are probably already be lighting fixtures on the ceiling.
- It’s one of the easiest places to mount lighting
- It projects the light where you want it.
It’s a good idea to spread out the lights evenly over the ceiling. Having one really bright light might light up your gym enough but it’s not the best solution. You’ll have one really bright spot while some corners are still dark and you’ll have big shadows. It’s better to have several sources of light spread out over the space so you’ll have a more uniform spread of light.
How should you spread out your gym lights? This recommendation is for down lights;
- Start 2 feet from the wall
- Measure your ceiling height and divide by 2.
- Put lights at intervals similar to that number. E.g. if your ceilings are 8’ tall, put lights at 4’ intervals. If your ceilings are 7’ tall, put lights at 3.5’ intervals. That’s a guideline because;
- Make sure you end two feet from the wall on the other side. You can play around a little bit with the intervals to make them even but also end 2 feet from the walls on both sides.
Having light fixtures on the wall can cause problems for a few reasons;
- You won’t be able to fit the gym mirrors where necessary.
- A light that projects light to the side can blind you directly or through a mirror.
That doesn’t mean it can’t work but if you want to put fixtures on the wall they should be mounted high (above the mirror, closely below the ceiling) to prevent the issues above.
Home gym lighting tips
A few more tips that could be helpful to know;
Have a dimmer
I know you want to use this gym for heavy workouts and that needs energizing bright lights everywhere. A place just for you where you can release your energy and build a great body. But you know what will happen? At some point your partner will want to use your gym for something like Pilatus or Yoga. And that’s great, who doesn’t want their partner to be in the same great shape you are? The problem is that bright lights are not as comforting and soothing as is required.
For that reason it’s probably a good idea to add a dimmer to your gym lighting so you can turn it down for the more relaxed work out and stretching sessions.
Of course if you combine this with smart lighting that can change colors like the Philips Hue system, that would be even better.
Home gyms are not usually the rooms with the tallest ceilings. If you’re wondering how tall your ceiling should be, here’s your answer.
Mounting light fixtures on that ceiling can take even more height away you really need to do overhead pressing and pull ups. There are two ways you can prevent this;
- Use recessed lighting if possible
- Don’t mount lighting above the place you overhead press or do pull ups.
- Mount lights high on the walls. This is not optimal but it’s better to be able to perform important exercises than to have perfect lighting. It’s a gym after all.
Gym Lighting Summary
To quickly summarize all the information above, here’s a quick list of things you’re looking for in gym lighting.
- LED is the best option.
- Go for smart lighting options if you like to be able to dim the light and/or change the color when necessary.
- Aim for 300-400 lux per square meter light of output. Calculate 400 * (M2 of your gym) for total amount of lumen you’ll need in your gym.
- Use 5000K color temperature
- LED Downlights are the best type of lamp for a gym.
- Mount lamps in/on the ceiling or if that’s not possible as high on the wall as possible. Recessed down lights are the best followed by surface mounted down lights. LED tubes are a good cheaper option.
- Spread out the lights evenly over the gym ceiling. Start 2 feet from the walls and use even intervals of 3’-4’ until you reach the other side. You can play around with the intervals so you’ll end up with the lights spread out evenly. Plan and measure first before you start cutting and drilling holes.
- Check if the amount of lights you’re putting on your ceiling puts out the amount of lumen you need in total. You can usually find the output of a lamp on the box. It’s not a problem if you’re a little off but if it’s more than +-25% you might want to check if there is something you can change. With dimmable lighting you can always turn it down of course.