Minimalist Home Gym: 4 Setups That Build Muscle

Want to build a very simple home gym that can help you to gain muscle and get in shape? Here are four setups that are simple yet work well. 

The simplest minimalist home gyms are a set of dumbbells and a bench or a set of resistance bands. Those things allow you to train all the muscles in your body and grow them. Functional trainers and barbell setups are a bit larger and more expensive but have their benefits.

Below, you can read exactly what you need for those setups, why they work and what’s best for you. 

4 Minimalist Home Gym Setups

Here are four simple yet very effective home gym setups. These are setups that are meant to be used for muscle building. If you want to be able to do cardio, simply get the cardio machine you like.

  1. Dumbbells and Bench
  2. Resistance Bands/Kettlebells
  3. Functional Trainer
  4. Barbell Setup

1. Dumbbells and Bench

Most people who want to build some muscle, get in shape and want to do so with as little equipment as possible to keep things simple, compact and cheap. 

All you really need is a set of dumbbells and a bench. With those two things, you can exercise pretty much every muscle in your body with enough resistance to get bigger and stronger. 

A full set of dumbbells is quite large and expensive. If money and size are important, take a look at adjustable dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells combine many different sets into one pair. You can adjust the amount of weight on the handles. You do have to be a bit more careful with adjustable dumbbells but they’re significantly cheaper and smaller. 

Use an adjustable bench as well. Adjustable benches allow for more different exercises while only costing a little more than fixed benches. 

I recommend the PowerBlock EXP dumbbells in this case since they can be expanded later on when necessary. For the bench, the Steelbody Deluxe Adjustable is very solid, lasts long and is good value for money. There are cheaper benches that claim to have the same load limit but they don’t feel as stable under heavy weights.

2. Resistance Bands/Kettlebells

While dumbbells and a bench are going to be better for most people, because it is more like a real gym, you can get very similar results with a set of resistance bands and/or kettlebells. 

They are cheap and very compact. Resistance bands can very easily be put in a little bag and thrown in a cabinet or luggage when traveling. While you do need to figure out how to use them properly, that’s the same with all equipment.

Suggested article: Free weights vs. bands

Kettlebells are an interesting option as well. Just one or two kettlebells can give you a very tough full body workout. The exercises are usually quite different from regular free weights exercises but if you follow a good workout program, you can get really good results with just one or two kettlebells. 

In my opinion, a set of dumbbells and a bench are still number one as a minimalist gym setup because it’s the way people like to exercise. However, it doesn’t get more minimalist than resistance bands or a kettlebell. 

Suggested Article: How many kettlebells do you need?

3. Functional Trainer

This setup is very minimalist in the sense that it’s only one piece of equipment. It’s a pretty complicated, expensive and large piece of equipment though. If you don’t like the thought of using barbells or dumbbells and want something a bit more substantial than a set of resistance bands, this is the way to go. 

A functional trainer is also knows as a cable machine. There are two adjustable pulleys connected to two weight stacks. A functional trainer allows you to do all the cable exercises you can imagine while standing on your feet. Add a bench and you can do many seated exercises as well.  

Functional trainers are much more approachable for most people than free weights. So if you or someone else in your house doesn’t want to use barbells and dumbbells, this is a great solution. You can build very similar muscle and strength as with dumbbells. 

Functional trainers don’t have the super heavy resistance like barbells can provide so if you’re going for all out strength, a barbell is a better choice. However, for muscle building and good, real world strength a functional trainer is awesome. Besides, functional trainers usually have weight stacks that weigh around 150 lbs. which is plenty for most people.  

4. Barbell Setup

This setup is pushing the boundaries of what can be called minimalist in my opinion. However, if you compare it to a fully equipped commercial gym, it is quite simple. 

What you need is:

This is the setup you go for if you want to do Olympic style weightlifting/Crossfit or become very strong and big. Because barbells can be loaded much heavier than dumbbells, they’re great for building strength. However, dumbbells can be used for more different exercises. 

Suggested: Barbells or dumbbells for your home gym?

Minimalist Gym Accessories

I get it, minimalist and accessories don’t really go together but hear me out. There are a few simple things that you can add to any of the setups outlined above that add significant value to your gym without being big or expensive. 

1. Pull Up Bar

A simple pull up bar can be mounted temporarily in the doorway. Pull ups are an amazing back exercise and you can also use the pull up bar as a high mounting point for resistance bands. 

Pull up bars are not expensive and well worth the money for what they provide. Also, they aren’t big or complicated. 

2. Jump Rope

Boxers often use a jump rope and that’s not because they can’t afford anything else. Jumping rope is a very good cardio exercise and also helps you to become lighter on your feet. No need for a big and expensive treadmill or elliptical trainer, a $5 jump rope will get you similar results. 

A jump rope does require a bit more coordination and base athleticism than large cardio machines though so it’s not for everyone. 

3. Floor Mat

It’s always a good idea to have a rubber gym mat in the spot where you work out. It prevents your floor and equipment from getting damaged, is easier to keep hygienic and provides grip. Rubber mats also reduce noise of weights dropped on the floor. 

Tiles or hardwood floors can easily be damaged by gym equipment and become quite slippery when a little wet which can happen when you sweat. Carpet is difficult to get clean after sweating. A rubber mat solves those problems. 

Read in great detail what and why you need a gym flooring in this article (click).

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.

To find my favorite home gym equipment, click here


Hey, I'm Matt. Welcome to After working out in many different gyms for almost 20 years and helping people build their own home gyms, i've learned a few things i'd like to share with you.

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