How To Build A Home Gym For Less Than $200

frugal weight benchLast year I justified the expense of a year-long gym membership as an attempt to get into better shape. I did pay cash for the expense, and because I paid up front I received a few additional months as a bonus. Unfortunately, that membership is coming to an end in August, so I am beginning to think more about frugal ways to continue my exercise program at home. I’ve set a $200 budget for outfitting a home gym with a few key pieces of strength training equipment, and some additional workout gear. Here is a look at the things I’ll need to buy to build a home gym, and my budget for each item.

Shoes ($40). I’ve been cursed with bad feet (thanks Dad). A good pair of shoes is a necessity for me, but I refuse to pay $100+ for a pair of the latest Nike Air “Whatevers,” so I’ve been looking around at various online shoe stores and a few local sports shops. With a good pair of shoes I can find plenty of places to walk, and even run a few intervals for cardio training. I am not normally brand conscious when it comes to shopping, but shoes are the rare exception. I have a wide, flat foot and have found that New Balance (which typically comes in wide) is the most comfortable shoe for my feet. Because I usually destroy the inside of the shoes before the outside, I try to extend their life by picking up a sole insert or two before recycling them as my dedicated “lawn” shoes used for cutting grass, gardening, etc.

Stopwatch ($25). I don’t personally need one because my old Timex Ironman still serves me well. I’ve replaced the battery and the strap from the original, but it is still ticking. And to think some people pay thousands for a Rolex that doesn’t tell time any better than mine! Watches with a stopwatch feature, or a dedicated stopwatch, are a necessity when running intervals, measuring rest between weight lifting sets, etc.

Weight Bench ($85). A sturdy weight bench can be used to perform a variety of exercises, both with free weights and your own body weight. I like to use dumbbells for curls, flies, bench presses, dips, etc. Some benches also come with attachments for leg extensions and leg curls. Though it isn’t necessary, an overhead rack to perform bench presses using a full-sized barbell is a nice feature. However, this usually adds significantly to the price and the space required to store the bench. Since I’ll probably be using a small area of our back patio my options are fairly limited here.

Dumbbells ($50) . Used dumbbells are pretty easy to find on places like Craigslist, or at a used sporting goods store. The problem with dumbbells is that you need a variety of weights to do different types of exercises, but buying ten different sizes can get expensive. I’ll probably buy a heavy set for presses and a lighter set to use for curls, triceps work and flies. Besides, after tearing my rotator cuff a year or so ago and having surgery to repair, I avoid overly heavy weights as a rule.  Eventually, I hope to stumble upon a set of Powerblocks, or a similar set of dumbbells which features the ability to select your desired weight from a single rack and one pair of dumbbells.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of potential home gym equipment.  Cardio machines, punching bags, and exercise balls and mats are also popular additions, but the items listed above will at least get you started.  I’d be interested to hear from those of you who have setup a home gym.  What other pieces of equipment have you found to be the most useful when building a home gym?  Are there any other sources of purchasing cheap, reliable equipment?

photo by A_of_DooM


  1. I would like the echo Make Art Ever Day, get your shoes fitted properly at least once if you plan to do any cardio. I had to have very costly inserts made because of an excruciatingly painful bout with Plantar Fasciitis. I wish I’d paid the $100 for the first pair of shoes rather than the $500 for my insoles.

    My home gym consists of an exercise ball, a latex pull and a few dumbbells. Thus far it’s served me just fine, but my preferred workouts are Pilates, Wii Boxing and Belly Dancing, so we’re not entirely on the same page.

  2. Man, this is a great post idea! 😉 I would add a Smith Machine to the list. It can be safely used for a variety of leg, chest, back and shoulder exercises. Also, maybe some kind of cable machine too. The key is to get a few machines that allow you to do several pull and push exercises for your upper body. Legs and abs are easy.

  3. I have not set up a home gym yet but if I did here’s what I’d do and what I recommend. I’d go to my local Play it Again Sports store and buy a used Olympic sized barbell with various plates. Say 2 5lb plates, 2 10’s, 2 25’s and 4 45’s. I might also search on craigslist or my local Penny Saver flyer. I’d get some scrap lumber and build my own squat rack attached to the wooden ceiling supports in my basement (I have an article taken from, I believe, an old issue of Men’s Health that describes how to build this. Sorry, I couldn’t find it online). I’d be sure to have support pins for the bar set at several various heights to allow me to place the bar at shoulder rack height, bench press rack height, and up high so I could rack the bar there and use it for pullups. I’d get a cheap but sturdy flat bench. I’d finish with some rubber floor mats. That’s it. With that set-up you could do so many serious muscle building compound, multi-joint exercises that you’ll never get bored.

    Please skip a Smith machine. It it not beneficial and even a used one will probably blow your $200 budget. Check out these links for more.

    Combined with running (which, besides the cost of shoes is free!) and a sensible diet you’ll be a fit and frugal dad!

  4. i urge your to reconsider your way of purchasing shoes. i suggest finding a local store that specializes in running. if they are good, they will analyze your gait (sometimes this is done by videotaping your feet while you run on a treadmill, or they have you run on the sidewalk and observe the way your feet move). there should not be any charge for this. then they will select the shoe(s) that fit your type of foot. go ahead and pay the $110. then, look online for deals for that specific shoe (it may become discontinued as new models come out). you can buy your next pair on the cheap. but it really is important to get a professional fit, whether you are going to run in them or not.

  5. Try Craigslist for equipment, eBay for shoes. Also subscribe to your local Freecycle groups, home gym equipment does turn up there as people want to free up space.

    Also check local resale shops for equipment like Play it Again Sam and of course your Thrift Stores.

  6. You will not regret the decision to set up a home gym.

    I set mine up in 2004. I started with a good sturdy bench ($80) and dumbbells 1-40 ($180) in five pound increments. In addition, I added a Swiss exercise ball ($30)

    In 2005, I added an eliptical machine ($850)and a trainer ($200) for my mountain bike for indoor cardio.

    I replace my New Balance running shoes ($60) every 6 months and lift weights in Converse Chuck Taylors ($32) or in bare feet.

    In 2006, I added a lifting cage (with smith machine and bench) with pulley system and the ability to use an olympic bar instead of the smith machine bar. I don’t use the smith machine part. They have the exact same system both at Costco and Sam’s Club. The Costco system was priced at $700, including 250 lbs of olympic weight plates, olympic bar and various handles for the pulley system. At Sam’s Club, they ran a special and I got the entire system for $400 out the door.

    Before I assembled the lifting cage I painted the dedicated room, added mirrors, mounted a TV in the corner, added a stereo system and put down 90 lb. horse stall mats ($30 a piece from Tractor Supply Company), and some white workout towels from Costco ($15).

    This year I added the perfect pushup disks ($40) from Costco.

    The only thing I am missing is a pullup bar.

  7. I took a different approach. I searched ebay and found nothing good in my area. I then searched craigslist and after watching the ads and prices I found someone who had a full blown home gym that they had bought a couple years ago and never got into it. So it was like brand new and I picked it up for $100. Rather than running down to the sports store and spending $500 on a home gym, there are tons of people selling them on craigslist and most of them are like new.

  8. I suppose people missed the “less than $200” part. If someone really wanted to go low tech, they could pick up a set of used kettlebells and a Mike Mahler DVD… weights and cardio all-in-one.

  9. We have a treadmill and elliptical trainer that are close to what the gym carries. We have had these for around 7 years and paid about $2k for both. I think it’s a good investment so 1) we don’t have to pay for the gym membership and 2) as a SAHM, I can exercise whenever my schedule permits and my time is definitely worth something too!

    I’ve read where others use a heart rate monitor, but I think if you can listen to your body and know what is challenging for your workout, it’s probably not necessary (unless there is some sort of heart condition, of course see the doc).

  10. Yay New Balance! I run and have extremely flat, narrow feet and they are the only shoes that hold my feet in place (instead of over pronating like crazy). Well worth the price!

  11. Reebok makes the Speed Pack, which is similar to the Power Blocks for much less money. They don’t get as heavy as the Power Blocks however. Since you’re not planning on lifting heavy, these should do the trick. I’ve seen them at the local Target here.

    I also urge anyone who is lifting not to do it in bare feet. Proper foot protection and support are vital to lifting properly. Even that 1lb dumbbell when dropped on your bare foot hurts like mad!

  12. Hey, I want to recommend the Wii fit. Now you may think I am crazy, but this is something that the whole family would enjoy and you could use the Wii fit to work out. We just splurged and bought one, with our stimilus check. The Wii Fit and and Wii Sports programs are being utilized even by physical therapy centers to help patients who have had strokes or other injuries. Look in to it and see what you would think. It would be somewhat over your budget. The main unit was $249 at the hated Wal-Mart. We got ours set up last night and my arms are so sore today from playing the sports games, that I want to cry, but I can’t wait to get back on it! LOL!!

  13. Great post! I would add exercise videos to the list… you can find them cheap online or at garage sales… or borrow them from the library. I would also recommend an exercise ball.

    By the way, Consumer Reports just had an article on running shoes… they recommended Champion shoes from Target at $30!!!

  14. For an inexpensive (under $50), small, and transportable alternative to a weight bench/weights, check out Bodylastics: They’re high quality resistance bands that you can configure in a number of ways. My boyfriend bought them for himself, but I’m hooked. (no, I do not sell them or work for the company)

  15. As far as getting New Balance shoes (which are the only ones I use), I would go into a New Balance shoe store once to get fitted for the right shoe. I did this years ago. Now I go to an online New Balance outlet and buy several pairs of shoes once a year when they have a bunch on clearance. If you know your size, then check it out.

    Good post.

  16. I am trying to get in shape myself and this is what I did:

    I washed my old shoes in the washing machine. They still had plenty of miles on them, they just looked bad so I ran them through the washing cycle and they looked like brand new.

    I got a few choice wardrobe pieces that I could wear to the gym. Things that would interchange easily. I do my laundry a little more often, but I figure if I stick with it, I can reward myself with a fresh new piece once in awhile.

    I got a free gym membership. I babysit one hour a week and I get a free membership to the gym. If they offer childcare, check and see if you could watch kids to pay for the membership. I can take all of the classes and use all the equipment for an hour’s worth of work each week.

    Visit the local library for new workout tapes. I go there and get new ones to switch up my routine and keep me in shape. I do this for days where hitting the gym won’t work timewise for our family.

    One last thing, running is free and I do this around our neighborhood. I save on gas getting back and forth to the gym and I can do it anytime.

    That being said, we would like to buy a treadmill so that my husband can train in the winter for his races in the spring/summer. We figure it is a wise investment because we both will use it and I can avoid the roads in the winter.

  17. Our home gym has a used television ($20), good floor mats ($32 for 8’x6′), power blocks (off brand under $100), a Weider power tower for pull ups ($70), and the P90X program ($170).

    You can make this gym even more frugal by buying elastic bands and using a program like Never Gymless(

  18. Plus one on the bodylastics bands. I have been lifting for 30+ years and have an olympic set of free weights, a few assorted dumbells, a power cage or rack and a bench. For my money, I will always go with the power rack and a bench with the olympic barbell set. I got mine used for 180 several years ago. It included an EZ curl bar and a set of olympic dumbell handles. Takes care of business. Set up a program using compound exercises and just a very few isolation for certain key areas .You really do not need anything else.

    After reading about the bodylastics bands, I will buy them soon. I still like freeweights, always will, but for building muscle or simply keeping tone, those bands will work very well. The thing that builds muscle is proper nutrition, and overloading your muscles beyond what they are used to. Once you move past 6 months to a year, heavier resistance that will only allow reps of 6 to 10 is perfect for building muscle. Those bands can provide the resistance needed for that. That way, your gym is in a bag. So plus one for those bands,(they are built high quality as well) or go with a power cage, olympic barbell set and bench. The thing to make sure of is this, none of these items will work for you if you do not eat right.