You want to build some muscle at home but don’t want to have all that bulky gym equipment around. I feel you, gym equipment is big and expensive and not everyone wants that in their house. So what can you do?
The smallest home gym setup that can be used to build muscle is;
- Pull up bar
- Set of adjustable dumbbells
- Resistance bands
- Jump rope
All these things are very compact and except for the bench can be stored in a cupboard.
Why you need those pieces specifically and how you can use them might not be clear from that short paragraph. Keep reading to find out.
Small and basic home gym equipment to build muscle
A free weights setup with barbell, weights, power rack and bench could be called minimalist but it’s still quite a bit of equipment and it’s big. Is it possible to get a lot of the same functionality without taking up so much space? Let’s take a look;
First, let set some goals. What should this minimalist gym do?
- Possible to exercise every body part
- Provide enough resistance (for most people)
- Takes up little space
- Use simple equipment
If you’re looking for a full sized free weights gym, here’s a post that tells you how to do that.
So, what equipment can we use that ticks all of those boxes? Here’s the list; more information about why and how, follows below.
- Pull up bar
- Set of adjustable dumbbells
- Resistance bands
- Jump rope
Pull up bar
The pull up bar is a small piece of equipment that can be had for little money and is a great tool to train your back muscles. Your body weight will provide enough resistance for quite a while. Look at someone that can do 20+ pull ups in one set. They’ll probably have a decently developed back.
A pull up bar is a bar that you can mount in a door frame. Who doesn’t have a doorframe? Pretty much every room has at least one. It’s easy to mount although you have to do it properly so it doesn’t come loose.
A pull up bar allows you to do;
- Pull ups
- Chin ups
Those are two awesome exercises that can be used to build a great strong upper back. Sure you can’t see your back in the mirror. That’s why many people that start training, don’t actually train their back. They are training to look good in the mirror. That’s a mistake and one that you shouldn’t make.
There are a few good reasons why you should definitely train your back muscles, even if you can’t see them;
- Only training the ‘visible’ muscles can create imbalances in your body. Having a strong chest and arms but a weak back can lead to postural problems and injuries. Guess what? When you get injured it’s hard to train anything, especially if it’s your back.
- Having a back that’s balanced with the rest of your body will make you stronger on many exercises. Your spine is what ultimately holds the weight up on many lifts. It creates a stronger, more stable base for many exercises. That means you can perform the exercises better and therefore build more muscle.
- Your posture will be better. A strong back makes it easier to stand up straight and keep your shoulders back.
- Other people don’t always look at your front. A big part of the time you’ll have your back towards people.
- You’ll look better in clothes. A bigger back is one of the things that makes people look muscular while wearing clothes.
So as you can see, there are plenty of reasons why you should train your back and why even a minimalist gym can’t do without a pull up bar.
Set of adjustable dumbbells
This is the most important recommendation in this post. With a set of dumbbells you can do so many exercises, you can’t afford not to have them. They’re very simple to use and super flexible.
A full set of dumbbells can be very big which is not what we want here. That’s why I recommend getting adjustable dumbbells. These take up a lot less space since you use the same handle for every weight. You just change the weights that are on the handle.
This post doesn’t recommend barbells and weights. Those things take up a lot of space. We still need something to provide proper resistance though. That’s where adjustable dumbbells come in. They take up way less space than a barbell, weights and power rack but you’ll be able to do many of the same exercises.
Resistance bands are a very space efficient and cheap way to provide resistance. Resistance bands come in different ‘weights’ so you can get the one you need. And when one band gets too weak since you’re getting stronger, a stronger one costs very little.
You could have a full body workout with resistance bands alone, as long as you have a few points on the wall you can attach it. They are also good in combination with dumbbells to add extra resistance and change the strength curve.
This is the biggest piece of equipment recommended in this post. There is a good reason why I recommend getting a bench for a minimal home gym.
A bench will allow you to do so much more with the dumbbell set. Especially chest and triceps exercises which are difficult without a bench. An adjustable bench especially opens up so many exercise options that you don’t have without one.
On an adjustable bench you can change the angle of the backrest from flat (or sometimes a decline) to upright. All the different angles give you the option to train your muscles slightly differently. If you get the right bench it’s also possible to fold it up and put it against the wall so it takes up minimal space when you’re not using it.
The final part of this gym is a piece of equipment you can use for cardio exercise. Sure, cardio isn’t direct muscle building but it’s still something everyone should do. Cardio can help you lose some body fat. A lower body fat percentage will make you look better since then your muscles won’t be covered up by another layer.
A jump rope is a super small piece of equipment you can store in the same box as your resistance bands. As an added benefit to improving your cardiovascular health, a rope could actually help you develop your calves a little bit.
Is this basic setup optimal?
The question is; optimal for what? This is the best option for people that want to;
- Work out at home
- Want their gym equipment to take up minimal space
- Keep things simple
- Build a muscular physique
Is it the optimal setup to build muscle? You can absolutely build muscle with this equipment and the right workout program. At some point it could be a bit limiting however. Since there are no barbells and weights, the weight you can lift is limited to the dumbbells and resistance bands. You can combine those two for more resistance.
To build muscle you don’t necessarily have to lift super heavy though. It’s also possible to change the amount of sets and repetitions to make an exercise more stimulating for muscle growth. Having a heavier weight to lift is a different growth stimulus for your muscles but it’s not the only way you can build more muscle.
What can this setup NOT do?
As you might have noticed, this setup doesn’t recommend using a barbell, weights and power rack. While I really believe in the effectiveness of training with that equipment, it can’t be called minimalist and certainly isn’t small.
So what are you missing out on by not having those things? Mainly the big compound lifts; Deadlifts, squats, military press and the heavy weights you could do those lifts with. With the recommended equipment you can perform dumbbell or kettlebell versions of those lifts. A barbell allows you to lift much more weight though.
Lifting heavier weights means you’ll get stronger and being stronger means you’ll have bigger muscles. Not everyone is into lifting the heaviest weight they possibly can however. It’s certainly possible to build muscle without lifting super heavy weights. It just requires a different approach.
In general the maximum weight you can lift with this setup is a little limited. For most people this won’t be a problem and only starts to become a issue when you get really strong. At that time you could still add a barbell and power rack to your gym if you’ve got the space.
So if you’re an aspiring power lifter, this is not the right setup for you. For most people that are just trying to build some muscle and strength is not the main focus, this setup will work well.
Can you build muscle at home without equipment? Yes, there are plenty of bodyweight exercises that build muscle and can be done without any equipment. With a good bodyweight program you can create a decent physique. At some point the muscle growth will be limited by the lack of resistance and exercise selection.
Favorite home gym tools
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.