How To Turn Your Unfinished Basement Into A Home Gym For Cheap


You once had big plans for your basement but life got in the way and years later it’s still unfinished. Now you’re wondering if you could turn it into a home gym cheap and easy. I found the answers you’re looking for.

How to turn your unfinished basement into a home gym: There are eleven steps to turn your unfinished basement into a home gym.

  1. Measure
  2. Planning
  3. Clean up your basement
  4. Fix any problems
  5. Improve ventilation and air quality
  6. Install gym flooring
  7. Install lighting
  8. Assemble equipment
  9. Place equipment
  10. Anchor the power rack
  11. Install mirrors

There is a little more to it than just these steps. The devil is in the details as always. Keep reading and find out exactly how to go about building your basement gym.

Don’t forget to check out my eBook! It shows you exactly how to build a great home gym in a small space.

How to build a gym in your basement


Now onto what you actually have to do. Some steps might seem obvious but that doesn’t mean they’re not important.

1.     Measure


Measuring what you have to work with is very important. It makes planning, buying equipment and building your gym so much easier and smoother. Maybe you don’t want to use the whole basement as a gym and keep some space for storage. That’s fine of course. Just measure if you’ve got enough space for what you want to do.

For a weightlifting gym, you’ll want a space of at least 8’x8’ free for equipment and exercises. A space of 8’ x 10’ will give you a little more room to work and maybe for some extra equipment. If you want weightlifting equipment and a treadmill, 10’ by 10’ would be the minimum. Even if you use a treadmill that has a fold away deck, they take up quite a bit of space.

Measure the length and width of your basement and see if you can rearrange your stored goods so you have a space of at least 8’ by 8’ or more.

Don’t forget to measure how tall your ceilings are. Most basement ceilings are pretty low compared to other spaces in the house. 7’ tall ceilings is the minimum height in many building codes but sometimes you’ll get lucky and get 8’ tall ceilings. It’s not impossible to have a good workout under a low ceiling but it can require some changes to your equipment and routine. More about that at the bottom of this post.

2.     Planning


Once you know how much space you can and/or want to use for your home gym, it’s time to do some planning. What do you need to plan for? The following things are important to think about;

  • Which equipment do you need and what fits in your basement.
  • How much flooring do you need?
  • How many mirrors do you need?
  • Where will you mount the mirrors?
  • What goes where?
  • Can you access everything in your intended plan?
  • What will happen with the stuff that’s in the basement now?
  • How can you deal with lighting and ventilation?

You get the idea, think before you do anything. Every basement is different and everyone will get different equipment. On top of that everyone will lay out their gym in a different way. That makes it difficult to make any hard recommendations in this stage.

3.     Clean up your basement


Depending on how full your basement is, this could be number one. Some basements are just too full to measure anything. In that case, clean up first so you can measure.

Otherwise it’s OK to do it now. Free up the space you intend to use and maybe take the opportunity to clean up some things you really should have gotten rid of a long time ago. You’ve got an excuse to get rid of it since you want to make space for a gym.

Even if you don’t need your whole basement for the gym part, it’s a good idea to check the whole basement for water intrusion or other problems. It’s easier to see any issues if you clean up. Better to fix it before you put in any gym equipment since you’ll probably end up taking it out again in that case.

4.     Fix any basement problems


For a gym, you don’t have to finish your basement at all.  A gym is a place you go for the workout, not to enjoy the room. Basement floors are concrete but you’ll put some gym flooring on top of it anyways. The walls don’t have to look good and some of it will be covered with mirror anyways.

The ceiling in some houses might have wiring and plumbing running under the basement ceiling. You don’t want to cover this up however since that will take away ceiling height you need for some exercises. Just lift in a place where you won’t hit any plumbing or wiring. 

There might be some problems you have to fix before you put in anything else. Common basement problems that you should fix;

These problems are sometimes finishing problems and sometimes not. Most people will need a professional to look at these problems and fix them.

Water intrusion and moisture problems are likely the same problem. This can need a special treatment of the walls, floors or windows. It has to be done however since you don’t want your equipment to rust and deteriorate because of the moisture.

Mold is often a moisture problem as well but might also be a ventilation problem or a combination of the two. Mold is unhealthy and ugly. It’s certainly not something you want in your gym since it can make you really sick.

Pests are just nasty and make your basement a place you really don’t want to spend any time. Having a gym you don’t want to spend any time in isn’t going to be helpful.

If you need any of this fixed, that’ll likely be one of the most expensive parts of this project. Since these are the parts that most people aren’t able to do themselves, they’ll hire a professional to do it and that costs money.

5.     Improve ventilation and air quality


Ventilation in a basement is very important. It becomes essential when you want to work out there. Without proper ventilation in your basement you can get problems with moisture, mold and bad smells. This can be unhealthy to be in, let alone work out there.

If you’re interested in gym air quality, here is a post that goes really in depth.

On top of that you might just not get enough oxygen in there when working out. Your body needs a lot of air when working hard. Your basement might not have a whole lot of natural airflow. The combination of those two things is going to cause problems pretty quickly.

There are a few things you can do to improve the ventilation in your basement;

  • Convert your windows so you can open them when necessary. Getting air straight from outside is the best.
  • Add a window fan.
  • Add a ventilation duct. There probably is already one in place that brings air into the basement. Consider adding one duct with a fan on the other side of the basement that pushes air out so it creates some flow.
  • Get a blower fan. Just keep the door open and blow air from upstairs into the basement. The airflow is good for cooling down as well.
  • Hook your basement up to the house HVAC system. This provides the greatest comfort but is also the most expensive.
  • Install a window A/C or split A/C. You get the benefits of A/C but in some houses it’s very difficult to connect the basement to the HVAC system.

Basements are usually cooler than the rest of the house so instead of A/C you might need heating in the winter. A simple space heater would do the trick in that situation. But actually, when your basement is cold, it’s actually quite nice to work out in once you’re warmed up. As long as your hands don’t freeze to the weights, you’ll be OK.

For basements where the air quality is still questionable, an air purifier can help you out. Air purifiers have special filters that clean the air of all the parts that can be dangerous for humans like; dust, mold spores, pollen, etc.

The cheapest option is to just have a little fan that sucks air out of the basement and a duct that allows “new” air to move in.

6.     Install gym flooring


Once all the problems are solved, it’s time to start building the actual gym. Starting at the bottom is the easiest.

You might wonder why you need extra flooring when you’ve got a concrete floor already. Isn’t that strong enough? Actually, dropping heavy metal weights can damage a concrete floor over time. And if your weights are rubberized, you can actually damage them by just having a concrete floor. Gym flooring isn’t something you absolutely need if you’re on a super tight budget but it certainly makes things better.

A gym floor is a rubber or foam floor that is specially made to be used in gym environments. It’s impact resistant, easy to clean and often comes in ½” or ¾” thickness but thicker and thinner are available as well. It does some great things;

  • Protect your floor
  • Protect your equipment
  • Dampens noise
  • Easy to clean
  • Provides grip

For people that want to keep their basement gym as cheap as possible, you can consider only placing the gym flooring in places where the weights would touch the floor. That’s where you need it the most.

7.     Install lighting


Basements are dark and people often work out before or after work. That means that if there is any daylight in your basement, it probably isn’t there when you’re working out.

I’ve made an in-depth post about lighting on this site. Find it here.

You want to see what you’re doing so that makes lighting pretty essential. Fluorescent tubes are one of the cheapest ways to get a lot of light in a room. It won’t look pretty but hey, it’ll go nicely with the atmosphere of an unfinished basement. If you want to spend a little bit more, flush mount LED ceiling lights aren’t actually very expensive either and provide nicer lighting.

Don’t put any light fixtures where you might hit them with the weights you’re lifting. Also make sure you have lighting from the front wherever you’re looking in the mirror. Lighting and mirrors are necessary because you want to see what you’re doing. If you only have lighting from the rear, that can make it a bit difficult.

8.     Assemble equipment


Now it’s finally time to turn the basement into the gym. All the previous steps were necessary preparations but now it’s time for the fun part, assembling the equipment. You probably have ordered everything or at least some equipment you plan on using.

Find the equipment I recommend for home gyms here.

  • Move all boxes with parts of the bigger equipment into the basement. Don’t assemble anything upstairs since it’ll be very difficult to move into the basement.
  • Assemble! I don’t know what you ordered so you’ll have to follow the instructions I’m afraid.
  • Move in all the smaller stuff like dumbbells, weight plates and barbells and put them in the right place. The dumbbells on the dumbbell rack and weight plates on the power rack.

9.     Place equipment


You have planned this in step two so you should know where everything goes. If not, spend a few minutes considering what would be the best.

Now everything you want should be assembled and almost ready for use. There is one thing that’s important now: Do a trial workout.

Just try all the equipment and exercises you could ever want to do. You’ll notice really quickly if everything is in the right place. Some things to look out for;

  • Do you have enough space to deadlift and stretch?
  • Do you hit any wiring or plumbing when doing overhead pressing or pull ups?
  • Can you access your dumbbells easily?
  • Can you access your weight plates and have enough space to put them on the rack and bar?
  • Can you place mirrors where you need them?

If you need to make any adjustments to the layout, do it now.

10.  Anchor the power rack


Once everything is in the right place, it’s time to anchor the power rack. Don’t do this before everything is in the proper place since you’ll have to undo all the anchoring if you want to move it.

Anchoring the power rack is recommended by most manufacturers. Many people get away with not actually anchoring it to the floor or wall but just stabilize it by putting a lot of weight on the rack. What you want to do is up to you. I can just recommend you follow the manufacturer’s recommendation.

Find my favorite home gym power rack here.

11.  Install mirrors


Installing the mirrors is the last bit of work you have to do.

You don’t need mirrors everywhere but there are a few places where they are important:

  • Behind the power rack
  • In front of the place you deadlift
  • In front of where you stretch
  • Where you do dumbbell exercises.

In a small gym these could all be the same place. The most important mirror you have is on the wall behind the power rack. You’ll probably dead lift and stretch in a location where you use the same mirror anyways.

The place you work with dumbbells might be different but it could also be the same location you do the other lifts. Whatever is the case for you, make sure that you cover the areas listed above with mirrors.

There are two reasons why mounting the mirrors should be done last;

  • Mirrors can break. If you’re moving things around, it’s very easy to damage a mirror.
  • You probably planned ahead where you wanted things to be. But maybe you still make some adjustments in the layout at the last minute. If you had mounted the mirrors already they might now be in the wrong place.

The downside to mounting mirrors as the last part of the puzzle is that you have to work around the things that are already there. Since mirrors are big, this could be a bit difficult.

I’ve written a post about the correct height to mount gym mirrors and how big they should be. Find it here.

12.  Enjoy!


Enjoy the fruits of your labor! For some people building their home gym is a process that takes months. Others knock it out in a week. Whatever was the case for you, enjoy the fact that you’re finished now. Now you’ve got no excuses left to start building a better body.

Why build a gym in your unfinished basement?


Aren’t there any nicer places to put a gym? Sure, you could put it in your living room I you wanted to. An unfinished basement isn’t the nicest place to be. But there are some great reasons why It’s one of the most practical places to put your home gym.

You don’t have to do a lot of finishing to be able to create a functional gym. This saves time, money and living space. You don’t have to take up any finished living spaces for your gym. You probably aren’t using an unfinished basement for much more than storage at the moment. You probably are using the bedroom. That means that putting the gym in your basement doesn’t cost you any living space.

It might come at the expense of a bit of comfort. Your gym might be more comfortable to use when it’s in a living space although with some simple changes your basement will be comfortable enough.

Dealing with low ceilings in your basement gym


Basements usually have lower ceilings than other spaces in the house. If you’re lucky, your basement ceiling height is 8’ but the building code requires only 7’ of ceiling height.

That requires some adjustments in your equipment and exercises. Getting the right height equipment is important. Especially pay attention to the height of your power rack and cardio equipment. There is equipment available for lower ceilings since you’re not the only person dealing with this problem.

You might also have to change up your exercise routine slightly. Especially pull ups and overhead pressing can be a problem if your ceilings are 8’ or lower. There are thing you can do however. I’ve written quite a bit about dealing with low ceilings already. Check out the following posts that will help you discover how to deal with low ceilings in your home gym.

13 favorite tips for working out under low ceilings

How tall should your home gym ceiling be?

Related questions


Will a gym in an unfinished basement comfortable? An unfinished basement with only the cheapest alterations to turn it into a gym, it’s not going to be very comfortable. Improving air quality is the most important improvement you can make to have a more comfortable basement gym.

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.

To find my favorite home gym equipment, click here

Don’t forget to check out my eBook! It shows you exactly how to build a great home gym in a small space.

Matt

Hey, I'm Matt. Welcome to HomeGymResource.com. I've been going to the gym for about 15 years and am now looking to build my own. In the process I've learned many things I'd like to share with you.

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