Are you trying to create a complete free weight home gym? You’ve come to the right place. Here is how you can create a compact and complete home gym.
The smallest possible free weight setup for a home gym consists of a set of (adjustable) dumbbells and a weightlifting bench. For more serious workouts you can add a power cage, barbell and weight plates. If there is not enough space for a power rack, squat stands can be compact alternative.
Find out more below about the details of equipment and setup you need to know to build a good compact home gym. You’ll also find some example floor plans.
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Compact free weights home gym equipment
There are two things that we have to figure out;
- What we need for a free weights home gym
- How to make a free weights setup compact
First let’s see which equipment we need to make a small free weights home gym.
If you want to know why you would want to use free weights for a compact home gym in the first place, you can read about that lower down. For now, let’s focus on which equipment you want to get for a small setup.
The fact that we’re using free weights dictates a lot of the equipment we need. There are a few pieces of equipment that you all need to create a functional gym with enough exercise options.
Here’s what you need;
Besides that, you will need some exercise flooring and a large mirror. Those things aren’t really exercise equipment and don’t take up usable space so don’t worry about where to put those too much.
The power cage or rack comes in a ton of different sizes. There are smaller ones that can be used in a home gym. If your home gym is too small to even fit the smallest power rack, a pair of squat stands will work but you’ll give up some safety measures for a more compact piece of equipment.
Make sure the bench is folding and the backrest is adjustable. The folding part means you can fold it up, lean it against a wall and suddenly you have freed up some extra floor space. The adjustable backrest makes the bench suitable for way more exercises while only taking up marginally more space.
The barbell is by far the longest thing in a home gym. That means the length of your gym is dictated by the length of your barbell. So to get the smallest home gym possible, getting the shortest barbell that fits on a power rack will help a lot. Some 6’ long barbells will still fit on a power rack which is perfect. If you’re going to use squat stands, that’s not a big issue if you get a squat stand that’s width adjustable.
Weight plates are simple discs of steel with a hole in the middle. Get the rubber covered ones if you can. They aren’t much more expensive and protect your floor and makes the plates last longer. The only other thing to keep in mind is that the hole in the middle of the plate has to be the same diameter as the sleeve on the barbell. The standard sizes are 25 or 50mm.
A full rack of dumbbells is awesome. However, they cost a lot of money and take up a lot of space. Adjustable dumbbells are much cheaper since they use the same pair of handles and weight plates to create different weighted dumbbells. That makes them much smaller at the same time.
Alternative compact home gym
Maybe you don’t want a power cage and barbell + weight plates. Or maybe you just don’t have enough space to fit all these things. What can you do?
The best option is to just get;
- Optional: Kettlebells
A very simple and super small setup.
With dumbbells only, you can still perform a ton of exercises. You can certainly exercise the same muscles as with a barbell. With dumbbells you usually lift a bit lighter than with a barbell but that doesn’t mean you can’t get into great shape with just dumbbells.
Optionally you can add some extra kettlebells to add some extra variety into your workout.
Space requirements compact home gym
For a more in-depth look into how much space you need, go to this post.
Because it’s described deeper there, i’ll just give the quick summary;
For a full free weight setup with power cage and barbell you need at least 42 square feet (6’x7′) to use it comfortably. You could fit the equipment in a 5’x7′ (35 square feet) space but it won’t be comfortable to use since you’ll be hitting the wall on many exercises.
For the alternative setup with just dumbbells. a 5’x6′ (30 square feet) is enough. If you use adjustable dumbbells, you should keep the space the same amount of space since you’ll need it for the exercises. You’ll have some space for other equipment like kettlebells or resistance bands.
Compact home gym layout
I can spend hundreds of words describing how to set up the equipment outlined above. But, as we all know, a picture says more than a thousand words so take a look below for a compact home gym layout.
It might look like there is not enough space for exercises that don’t use a bench. That’s why you want to get a folding bench. That way it’s easy to get out of the way and free up space for squats and deadlifts for example.
Keep in mind that the barbell shown in this picture is not a full sized one but a 6’ version.
Alternative home gym layout
The alternative setup is a lot simpler since there fewer pieces of equipment.
Why use free weights for a compact gym?
You probably already know what free weights are but in case you don’t, here is a quick explanation;
Free weights are weights that can move around freely without being limited in their motion. Because they are not limited in how they can move, they are ‘free’. Another way to look at is that it’s every type of weight that’s not attached to a cable or machine.
The most well-known types of free weights are;
- Barbell + weight plates
The benefit of using free weights in a home gym is that you can do tons of different exercises with just a few pieces of equipment. Machines take up a lot of space and can usually only be used to exercise a single muscle group.
If you wanted to use machines to get the same functionality as a free weights setup, you would need a ton of machines. A collection of machines to get a full body workout would take up much more space and cost way more than a free weights setup.
Because of that, free weights are by far the best option to create a small home gym that is fully functional. Of course a free weight setup is mostly focused on building muscle but building muscle also has positive effects on your health and body composition.
Of course lifting weights builds muscle but kettlebells can also be used for conditioning. In a small home gym there often isn’t space for a cardio machine but with the correct equipment and workout program, you can train your conditioning as well as muscles.
In essence, to train your cardiovascular health, you just have to keep your heart rate above a certain threshold for an extended amount of time. Which heart rate and how much time depends on your training level. Getting your heart rate up can be done perfectly fine with weights. Low weight lunges or squats could work very well for this for example.
More home gym ideas
Do you want to see many, many more home gym layouts with equipment recommendations and full explanation on how to set up your home gym? I’ve got a whole eBook that comes with a lot of example gyms that show you exactly what is possible in the space you have available.
You’ll get a ton of floor plans, exact equipment recommendations and it’ll take out all the stress of building a home gym. It aims to make creating a home gym as smooth and stress free as possible.