LED light strip

The Best Ways to Light Your Home Gym, A Complete Guide

In Guides by Tim Steward

Last updated on February 27th, 2021 at 05:19 pm

Every time I was in my garage working out, something always felt a little off. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something just didn’t seem right. Then spring came and for the first time in several months I opened the garage door before I started training. The fresh air and warm temps were amazing, but the kicker was the sunlight! Training in a bright and inviting environment was a game changer!

That day set me down a path of trying to figure out the best way to recreate that sunny environment every single day I trained. I seriously wanted to know what the best way to light my home gym would be. After a bunch of research and multiple visits to local lighting stores, I figured it out.

The best lighting for a home gym is natural light let in through lots of windows. When this is not possible, mimic natural light by installing multiple fixtures evenly across the entire space. They should use daylight temperature bulbs (5000k) and provide a bright and energetic space to train in.

The Sun
The best light comes from the sun!

If you want to see how I fixed my lighting problem in my garage gym, check out the same lighting I use and love here on Amazon!!!

I never really noticed before, but the only lights in my garage were an overhead 60w bulb and a single shop light over my workbench in the corner. That meant that I spent most of my time working out in the shadows. Our bodies take cues from the light we are exposed to. Shadows and dark tell our bodies it’s time for bed, not time to work out.

That day in the sunlight I had one of the best training sessions I’d had in a long time. The credit is due, in large part, to the bright and inviting light streaming through the door on that warm spring day.

That meant one very important thing… It was time to fix the lighting in my garage gym. I didn’t want to work out in the dark anymore so I started my research that night.

There are several general options to light our home gyms. You can do something basic like getting brighter bulbs for existing fixtures. You can hang some simple lighting that’s a step up from what you currently have. You can install recessed or track lighting for a high end, finished look. You can even get creative with smart lighting that will add spark and a little fun to your training space.

I looked at a lot of different options as I thought about what I might want to do in my dark and shadowy garage gym. I learned a lot about both lighting and lights. Here’s what I found.

Nothing beats the sun

When considering your lighting options, natural light is always the best choice. Sunlight hits your skin and vitamin D is generated. It hits the photoreceptors in your eyes (And in your ears. You have them in your ears!!! Isn’t that crazy?) and tells you to be awake and alert. If you can get sunlight into your gym that should always be your first choice.

If adding or opening windows and skylights is an option for you, it’s your best course of action. The problem for me, and I’m guessing many of you, is that I work out in an area with no windows and no ability to add them.

At best, most garages or basements (the places many of us build our gyms) have zero to very few windows. Sure I can open my garage door when it’s nice out, but I live near Chicago. It’s just not nice enough around here for that to be a full time solution!

If you can’t have sunlight, mimic sunlight

If you can’t get sunshine inside your gym, you should have one overarching goal: To use lighting that is as close to sunlight as possible in amount, direction, and color. In other words, lots of light, coming from above our heads, and as close to the color of sunshine as possible.

That means no fluorescent lights. Those old school shop lights or cheap lighting ballasts aren’t the best choice and can be quite harsh on your eyes. Fluorescents tend to flicker and buzzz. They have a short lifespan and are not very efficient. They aren’t even the right color temperature. In other words, they are most definitely not like sunlight!

Instead, if you can, use LED lighting. It will often be the most flexible and cost effective. Today’s lighting choices are rife with LED options and you will have a ton of lights to pick from. The right LED lighting can be very close to actual sunlight and will almost always be your best option.

LED light

A primary benefit of LED lights is a choice in color temperature. Make sure to choose lighting that is classified as “daylight” in color or has a listed color temperature of 5000k. 5000k is the same color temperature as the midday sun.

You will often see “soft white” as an option. Stay away from this for your gym. Matching the color temperature of the lighting to that of the sun will add energy to both you and your space. It will be easy on your eyes and it will provide a pleasant atmosphere to train in.

Just like the sun, you want your lighting overhead. Hang it from or recess it into the ceiling. Get it up and out of your way. You will be especially thankful for this if you have mirrors in your gym. Overhead lighting will be more flattering than light that comes from most other directions. It will also eliminate unwanted reflections if you have mirrors mounted in your gym.

Light spacing and coverage

The goal is for a bright and evenly lit gym. Depending on the type of lighting you use and the room you are working with, there are several guidelines you could apply.

While not ideal, you could simply place a light over each piece of equipment. In a garage or unfinished basement, this may be the most workable choice. Adding lights at regular intervals or installing recessed lighting might not be an option for you in a space of this type.

In these cases, simply mount the lights of your choice over each main area of activity. One over the power rack, one over the elliptical, and so on.

If you find yourself in an area that allows you to install multiple lights at regular intervals, this is the much better route to choose. It will take a few more lights and little more work, but the result is well worth it!

There are a couple of general rules of thumb you can use to determine the correct spacing for your lights. If you are using recessed or track lighting, simply take the height of your ceiling and divide by two. That will give you the proper spacing between your lights and also give you an idea of how far out from the walls they should be.

For example, if you are using recessed can lights and you have an 8 foot ceiling, your lights should be about 4 feet out from the wall and also 4 feet apart. 9 foot ceilings equal 4.5 foot spacing, 10 foot ceilings equal 5 foot spacing and so on. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it’s a great starting point that will ensure excellent coverage.

If you are using shop lights (what I use) then you can go a bit further apart. Because this type of lighting is so much brighter and spreads its light across a broader area, you can space them further apart.

For shop lights, I like to go with ⅔ the ceiling height instead of ½. So in my garage, which has 9 foot ceilings, I started my plan by putting my lights about 6 feet out from the walls and 6 feet apart. I added two more that had closer spacing, but gave me a nice symmetrical coverage of my garage. This set up gives me outstanding coverage and the bright environment I was looking for!

See exactly what I did and how I installed it in this video!

Install everything spaced evenly and use identical lights, don’t mix and match if you can avoid it. The main rule here is even coverage. Don’t leave room for any weird shadows to creep into your space. Especially in the corners.

Lighting options

What your options are will be determined by your space, your access to electricity, and your budget. I had to consider all three for my garage gym lighting project. You will too.

Upgrade your bulb

If you have a limited budget or are in a space that doesn’t allow installation of anything, there are a couple of stop gap measures that fall in the “better than nothing” category. I strongly considered both of these as I am as reluctant to spend money as I am lazy.

Overhead, in my garage, I have a single light socket. One solution I looked at was this bulb I looked at on Amazon. Equivalent to a 250w bulb, and at the desired 5000 kelvin color temperature, it seemed like a reasonable solution to me.

If all you have is an overhead socket to work with, and you don’t mind a super bright single light source, this may work for you. It’s not the route I took, but it would still be an improvement over an old school 60w or 75w equivalent cfl bulb.

Another way to make use of a bulb like that is to pick up a couple of hanging lights on Craig’s List or at a garage sale. You can hang them in a variety of ways and they will get the bulbs up above your head where it belongs.

Be creative. If your space or budget don’t allow anything else, this is the perfect solution for you.

Basic yet highly effective lighting

The next option I considered (and the one I ultimately chose to go with) are nicer looking LED shop lights that put out 5000k light. My gym is in a garage. If it was in a finished room of my home, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to go with this type of light. But for a garage or basement area, I think they work great!

If you look around, there are a million options for this type of light. I went with a model that I found on Amazon that came in a 6 pack and had great reviews. You can check the current price and description of those by clicking here.

They can be daisy chained together so I only have to turn on one to get the whole area lit up. They are 5000k and give off the ideal color of light. And they come in a very reasonably priced 6 pack. This is the exact right number of lights I need to properly cover my smaller garage gym area! 

Track lighting

Another option to considered is track lighting. If you have a nicer space, or want to make your space look nicer than it currently does, track lighting is a classy option that both looks great and functions extremely well. It’s a little more time consuming to install than the shop light option above, but still a DIY lighting project that will take no more than a single weekend to complete.

Track lighting
There are some really cool looking track light options

When I was shopping and researching lighting for my space, track lighting came in a close second on my list of finalists. A big reason for that is that there are so many cool looking options. A trip to your local home improvement store will net you a few nice choices. But a trip to a local lighting store will reveal a world of very interesting looking options that will match just about any taste or room decor.

My gym is in my garage. Shop lights matched my taste and decor. If that’s not the case for you, take a couple hours and head out to do some shopping. I’m a big fan of shopping on Amazon, but this is something I wouldn’t recommend buying on line. Instead go out and look in person.

A second motivator to buy this at a brick and mortar store is that while it can be a DIY project, having someone to give you pointers is invaluable. Especially when it comes to what you’ll need to wire the track lighting in to your current electrical situation. You may even want to just skip the effort of doing it yourself and hire someone from the store to install it for you.

Recessed lighting

If I was building a space from scratch, or if I was remodeling a finished room in my home, I would 100% go with recessed LED lighting. It looks great, works great, and is really the only choice if you want a higher end feel in your fitness area. It’s actually not that expensive as far as the equipment goes and you’ll end up spending more on the electrician to install it than you will the lighting itself.

This is another option I probably would not buy online. If you have a contractor for your room build out, they should be able to supply everything. If you are building out the room yourself, your local Home Depot, Menards, or Lowe’s will be your best choice.

Smart lighting

The last lighting option I want to touch on is one that I’ve been looking at and considering for a long time. Smart lighting.

Smart lights come in various shapes and sizes and are controlled by an app on your smart phone or tablet. They can be made to illuminate in a seemingly endless array of colors. They can be synched to other devices in your home. They can even be programmed to do things (light up, fade on, fade off, blink, change color, pulse, etc) based on events that occur.

I’ve got a friend who is a Cubs fan. She has her lights programmed to flash blue whenever the Cubs win a game. Another friend does the same for the Blackhawks, but in red. Some people program them to light gradually in the morning to wake them like a sunrise. The possibilities are truly endless.

I’ve already thought of about 50 different cool things I could do with smart lighting in my garage gym. And someday I’m going to install them. Not as my main lighting, but as accent lighting around the room.

If this sounds like something you want to try, the best way to go is the Hue system by Phillips. I work in a store that sells smart lighting and these are far and away the best overall choice.

They come in a ton of different form factors from strip lighting to bulbs to spots and floods. The app is incredibly easy to use. And they are actually quite affordable all things considered. Check out the Phillips Hue options on Amazon where they are typically priced lower than anywhere else you can get them.

Get creative

For those that want to go beyond the typical smart lighting. There is one more option you should check out. It’s unique and not quite explainable without seeing it. You really need to see all the things it can do to appreciate it. It’s called Nanoleaf lighting and it’s truly one of the coolest lighting ideas I’ve ever seen! I’m not affiliated with them, I’m just a fan. Check out their site here.

If you want to buy those uber cool NanoLeaf lights, you can get them on Amazon here.

Summary

I did a ton of research on this topic. I wanted to know and truly understand all of my choices before deciding on something. For me, it turned out to be basic LED shop lights. I was a little disappointed I didn’t end up buying something fancy, but I am actually very happy with the result.

That’s what you should aim for. Being happy with the result. Whichever option you choose, make it one that gives you a well lit and energizing environment to work out in. I can’t tell you what a difference it makes to have a well lit space. It’s worth the time, money, and effort to address this aspect of your home gym.

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