Last updated on March 16th, 2021 at 01:29 pm
So you want to build a home gym for $500. You start shopping and soon realize that in the world of home fitness equipment, $500 doesn’t go all that far. You are faced with a choice. Do you get only a couple of quality items? Or do you try to buy a “full gym” with the least expensive options you can find?
Which route should you take? Do you buy the cheapest rack, bench, bar, and weights you can? Or do you invest in quality while leaving yourself short of a “full gym”?
If you are trying to stay within a $500 budget, my best advice is to invest in a nice bench and a quality set of adjustable dumbbells. With those two items, you can train your entire body effectively. You can also use them as a solid base for a more fully equipped gym down the road.
A “full home gym” for $500 on Amazon?
I love watching YouTube. One of my favorite YouTube channels is Garage Gym Reviews. Coop, who runs the channel, has been a fantastic source of knowledge for me as I built my home gym. Thanks, Coop!
I don’t love or agree with every video he makes, but overall it’s a great channel. If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out.
Recently, Coop made a video titled “How to Build a $500 Home Gym on Amazon”. In that video, he goes over which pieces of gear he would buy if he was trying to build a home gym on Amazon for $500. At the time I’m writing this article, it’s his most-watched video with over a million views!
In it, he picks out an inexpensive barbell, a cheap squat rack, an entry-level bench, and two 45 lb. plates. Add them all to cart, pony up $500, and voila, a home gym!
Having gear you can’t train with isn’t a home gym
I kept thinking the whole time I watched Coop’s video that anyone buying that setup would end up hating it in the long run. Sure, you’d technically have all the pieces that make up a home gym, but what could you do with them?
The first problem is that it only included 2 45 lb plates. That almost immediately rules out being able to do most movements effectively in your new “gym”.
For the average gym owner, that’s way too heavy for movements like an overhead press or even curls. It’s also way too light for the average lifter when it comes to deadlifts and squats.
Then I started to think about the movements that could be trained. A single barbell with only two plates doesn’t facilitate very many movements with an effective load.
Sure, you can do the big 3, squat, bench, and deadlift. I’d be lying if I said those weren’t effective for whole-body training. The problem is that after those three, you start to run out of things you can do pretty quickly. Especially with only two 45 lb plates for a static 135 lb load.
Buy nice or buy twice
Dennis Miller, back when he used to do some really funny stand up, had a bit that made fun of people who hunt for bargains and end up with a lot of garbage.
It went something like “Two for the price of one lime green leisure suits at KMart isn’t a good deal! If they really wanted to screw you, they’d give you three!”
In other words, just because you got a lot of things for a limited amount of money, it doesn’t mean you got a good deal. Trust me, you’re better off with no lime green leisure suits at all!
Great gym equipment doesn’t need to cost a fortune. You can get quality gear without spending top dollar. That said, it’s almost never a good idea to go with the cheapest options either.
Most people who go cheap end up replacing that cheap option with something nicer down the road. Either because it wears out, isn’t enjoyable to use, or outright breaks.
The key is to realize this before buying anything and to not waste your money on the cheap option in the first place.
You will end up replacing a cheap barbell. You will end up replacing an entry-level power rack. You will definitely need to replace a cheap bench.
The moral here is not to buy those cheap options in the first place.
Ask a better question
After the video was over, I asked myself a slightly different question. Instead of wondering how would I buy a full home gym on Amazon for $500, I asked myself…
If I only had $500 to spend on training at home, what would I spend it on?
The answer to that question doesn’t include a single thing listed in the Garage Gym Reviews video. If I had to start from scratch with a $500 budget, I wouldn’t even consider trying to put together a “full home gym”“.
Instead, I’d put each dollar towards enabling myself to effectively train at home. I’d want a set up that enabled me to perform all of the primary movement patterns with enough available resistance to produce results.
I’d want to be able to squat, hinge, pull, push, lunge, and carry. All using weights that I could dial in to exactly what I needed for each movement.
I’d also want something that I could keep and use and love for a very long time. I’d want something that I could build upon down the road.
You see, one of the keys to building a home gym you’ll love and use for years is realizing that you don’t need it all at once. It’s a process. And if you’re on a budget, it’s best to realize that you’re going to need to build your “full gym” over time. Not all at once.
Start with weight
If I only had $500 to spend on my own home or garage gym, the first thing I’d buy, without hesitation, is a nice set of adjustable dumbbells.
Fortunately, this is an easy thing to do. In the world of adjustable dumbbells, you have three basic choices.
You could go super cheap. Don’t. That $100-$150 set might look enticing, but keep on looking. They will fail over time. And it won’t take much time for it to happen. Not to mention these cheap sets never provide very much resistance. Topping out at 25 lbs doesn’t help anyone train in a significant manner.
You could go to the other end of the spectrum and buy a super expensive set. You don’t need to do this, though. You aren’t gaining any functionality or durability by going high-end or expensive.
That leaves you with the two best-known options in adjustable dumbbells. PowerBlocks or BowFlex Select Tech. I’ll briefly review both here. I’ve owned both. I’ve trained with both. Both will get the job done. Both are around the same price with BowFlex being slightly more expensive.
Power Block Dumbbells
PowerBlocks are the veterans in the adjustable dumbbell game. They’ve been doing it longer than anyone else out there. They are what I use on a daily basis. They are what I’d buy again if starting from scratch.
There are three variations of Power Block dumbbells available. The Sport, the Elite, and the Pro. All can be great choices, but I prefer the Elite or the Pro if you are going to the 50-90 lb level. You can see a detailed comparison of all 3 sets here on the PowerBlock site.
At the time I am writing this the 50 lb PowerBlock Elite is listed on the PowerBlock site for $299. The 50 lb Pro sells for $429. When I bought my PowerBlocks many years ago, I opted for the Elite.
For the purposes of this article, and staying under the $500 price point, the Elite are a perfect choice. I really do love mine. They have lasted for years and are what I used long before I ever bought a power rack and barbell.
I’ve found the best place to buy PowerBlock dumbbells is on their site directly. You’ll get faster shipping, more options, and better customer service ordering direct. Check out all the PowerBlock Elite options and riding here on their site.
At the 50 lb level for $299, that leaves you $200 for your bench. That’s more than enough to buy a great bench (see below for my recommendations or check out my recommended benches page here)!
BowFlex adjustable dumbbells
The other solid choice for adjustable dumbbells is the set made by BowFlex. Branded as their “Select Tech” line, they have multiple options just like PowerBlock does. If you go by the number of reviews on Amazon, BowFlex seems to be a more popular option than PowerBlocks.
The BowFlex model I’ll suggest for this article is the SelectTech 552. It’s a 50 lb model and fits well within the budget target we are working with.
I can tell you from talking to people that this is specifically because of the design. BowFlex dumbbells are shaped more like traditional dumbbells.
The odd shape of the PowerBlocks seems to turn some people off. I actually prefer the shape of the PowerBlocks, but they are definitely different than standard dumbbells. If this is a concern for you, the BowFlex may be your best bet.
I’ve used both PowerBlocks and SelectTech dumbbells pretty extensively and the first thing I’ll say is that they are both solid options.
If I had to pick I’d go with PowerBlocks (see the next section for a brief overview of why), but if you are leaning towards the BowFlex, go for it! You really can’t go wrong either way.
Head over to Amazon to see other people’s opinion on the BowFlex SelectTech dumbbells, you can see the SelectTech 552’s here.
Why I prefer PowerBlocks over BowFlex SelectTech dumbbells
As I’ve mentioned a few times, I strongly prefer the PowerBlock models. I want to stress, though, that I don’t think the BowFlex are bad. They are a solid option and there are thousands of happy owners out there who love them.
What I do think is that while the BowFlex are good, the PowerBlocks are better in several key ways.
First is the shape. The flat bottom of the PowerBlocks means you can use them for things you would have a harder time using the BowFlex models for.
Whether it’s anchoring bands or using them as supports for pushups, the round shape of the BowFlex means they will roll easily. This isn’t something you want your dumbbell doing.
Second is the ability to expand down the road. With Bowflex, you have to buy either the 50 lb set (the SelectTech 552) or the 90 lb set (the SelectTech 1090). With the PowerBlocks, you can start with a 50 lb set and then buy additional weights to add on when and if you want them.
The PowerBlocks can grow with you down the road. You can up your 50 lb set to 70 and then to 90 lbs without being forced to buy an entirely new set.
The third is the steps in resistance as you add load. The PowerBlocks have more and smaller steps across the entire weight range. You can also add a set of Plate Mates (see accessories below). Plate Mates won’t attach to the BowFlex models.
Lastly, the Bowflex are kind of awkward. They are always the same overall size regardless of weight and with the dials on the end they are generally bigger than I’d like. Not to mention, you have to set both dials every time you change weight and it’s easier than you’d think to screw this up.
I’m about to break the $500 limit in this section, but there are a couple of things I think it’s important to point out if you are considering buying one of these sets of adjustable dumbbells.
If you want more than 50 lbs, you are going to go over $500 once you add a bench to the mix.
With Bowflex, you’d do that by buying the 90 lb set ($599) upfront. That’s the only way to get to the higher weight level.
With PowerBlocks, if you want more than 50 lbs in resistance, you can either buy the additional weights or buy a 70 or 90 lb set to start with. Both options end up costing the same, so you don’t save money by buying the heavier set upfront.
As a note, PowerBlocks are less expensive per lb of weight regardless of the set you buy. It’s not a huge difference, but the Bowflex option does cost more at all weight levels.
You’re also going to want a stand. If money is tight, you can for sure store these on the floor, but the optional stands available for either brand are a game-changer.
This is especially important if you are going to be using the 90 lb set. Having them up off the ground has saved my back a ton of strain. I can’t see myself using them without the stand!
I also highly recommend a set of Plate Mates (these will only work with the PowerBlocks). These are little 1.25 lb magnetic plates that you can stick to the ends of the PowerBlock dumbbells.
Adding these little gems allows you to go up and down in weight in much smaller increments than any other dumbbell option. I use mine all the time and they are one of my all-time favorite gym accessories. If you’ve never seen this extra cool accessory before, make sure to check it out here on Amazon!
To recap, none of these accessories is a must have. If you need to stay under the $500 cap set out in this article, you can live without them and still train very effectively.
Adding a bench
Once you have your dumbbells, the next step is to get a good bench. You can do a lot with a set of adjustable dumbbells and no bench, but once the bench is thrown into the mix, the options are endless.
As an aside, if you want to have a ton of fun training with dumbbells, check out this cool dumbbell workout playing card game. It’s a very neat idea and can make your workouts fun from day to day.
If you went with one of the sets of dumbbells I recommended above, that leaves you around $200 to play with. You can definitely get a good bench for that.
I wrote a really thorough guide on how to pick out a great bench for your home gym that you can read here. That guide will walk you through everything you need to know to buy an amazing bench.
For this article, I think the choice is easy. First, you’re going to want an adjustable bench. That’s the most versatile. That’s one of my many problems with the video I reference on Garage Gym Reviews. While a flat bench will work, you can do so much more with an adjustable one.
You are also going to want a bench that will grow with you down the road. One that feels right at home inside of a power rack and under a barbell.
For my money, there is no one making better benches for the money than Rep Fitness. And in this case, the Rep AB-3100, priced at $189, is the perfect solution.
Why the Rep Fitness AB-3100?
Let’s start with the 1,000 lb capacity. This thing is built to last. It also comes with a ten-year warranty. But that’s just the start.
When you look on Amazon at all of the adjustable benches in this category, they are all missing one key element. The support at the foot of the bench is too wide.
You want the support at the foot of the bench to be narrow. This allows you to get your feet in the correct position when bench pressing. When the support is too wide, you simply can’t bench as effectively.
It also has an easy to use ladder-style adjustment for both the back and seat pad. Seat pad adjustment is important as it locks you in when the back is inclined. Without it, you’ll always feel like you are about to slide off of the bench.
It’s available in four colors. It has a well made 2.5″ thick pad. It has a handle on one end and wheels on the other which make it easy to move around.
At this price point, there simply isn’t a better option out there. The best place to buy Rep Fitness equipment is on the Rep site directly.
They have more color choices there and the customer service is a lot better than when buying through someone else. You’ll also be sure to get the most up to date version buying from Rep directly. They upgrade their gear regularly, so make sure only to buy the latest model!
So can you build a home gym for under $500?
Well, that depends.
If your definition of “home gym” is having a squat rack, weight plates, a barbell, and a bench, then you technically can. You can absolutely buy all of those pieces and come in under $500.
You can also buy a car for under $500. It won’t run very well. It won’t get you to work or the store reliably over time. It won’t be a car you’ll want to keep for very long.
But it will be a car. And you will have paid less than $500.
Same goes for the “complete home gym” bought for under $500. You’ll have all the pieces. You won’t get much out of it, though.
If you want to know what it costs to build a gym you’ll love and is a “complete home gym”, make sure and check out my full guide on just that topic.
If your definition of “home gym” is the ability to effectively train with weights at home, then the answer is a resounding yes! You absolutely can train effectively at home with $500 of equipment.
With just the two pieces of gear I outlined in this article, you can train every muscle in your body effectively. You can work your way through almost any professionally designed workout program. You can train every major movement pattern that your body is capable of.
And you can do each movement with a level of resistance that is appropriate for your body and that particular movement.
Not only that, with these two pieces of equipment, you’ve spent your $500 on equipment that you’ll keep for a lifetime. Those two pieces will always be useful to you whether you just stick with those two or you decide to build a fully equipped gym over time.
Training at home has many rewards and with some dumbbells and a bench you are well on your way enjoying them! Have fun, stay safe, and train hard.