Building a Home Gym You’ll Love in a Room with a Low Ceiling.

In Plan Your Gym by Tim Steward

Last updated on July 7th, 2021 at 01:26 pm

The very first home gym I ever saw was in the early 1970s. My grandfather and uncle had carved out a small back room in their basement that held a drum set and a small home gym.

That gym consisted of a heavy bag, a speed bag, a flat/incline weight bench, and a set of plastic covered cement weights from Sears (I later got a set just like these for Christmas one year).

This is the exact weight set and bench they had!

Both my grandpa and my uncle were over 6’ tall. The ceiling in that basement was just over 7’. That gym saw daily use, and some of my fondest memories are spending time down there as a kid watching them work out while I played with my toy trucks on the floor.

It wasn’t a problem to build a great home gym in a room with a low ceiling then, and it’s not a problem now. With just a few minor adjustments to a “normal” home gym set up along with some imagination, you can train very effectively in a room with 8’, 7’, or even 6’ ceilings!

Building a home gym in a room with a low ceiling is a simple matter of following four easy steps.

  1. Prepare the room’s floors, walls, and lighting. 
  2. Determine which type of squat rack best fits your space.
  3. Select an indoor cardio option suited to your room’s height.
  4. Modify how you do overhead presses and pull-ups.

*By the way, if you have a gym with a low ceiling, make sure not to miss our article with some really awesome tips straight from gym owners dealing with this exact problem. You can check it out here: 11 Ways to Train in a Gym with a Low Ceiling – Real Tips From Real People.

The three essentials of all home gyms

In my article outlining the three basic things that all home gyms need, I explain one of my biggest “aha!” moments when it comes to building home gyms. When creating their home gyms, I realized that too many people get caught up trying to recreate someone else’s gym that they saw on Instagram, YouTube, or a blog like this one.

Here we have all three elements of a typical home gym.

The problem with that is that all of those gyms look the same. I’m guilty of this myself! My gym looks a lot like the gyms I’m referencing. Too many people in the home gym industry have painted a very narrow picture of what a home gym should look like.

We all kind of got stuck in this mode of “everyone needs a power rack, barbell, bumper plates, and a treadmill or exercise bike.” And that’s simply not the case at all.

Every great home gym only needs three things: 

  • Space to train. 
  • Resistance to train with. 
  • An indoor cardio option.

How you do or achieve each of those is up to you. And when you look at it that way, your options are virtually limitless!

When people decide they want to carve out a small home gym for themselves in a room with a low ceiling, they sometimes panic. They’ve been stuck thinking, “how am I going to fit a power rack in here?” or “what treadmills will work in a room with a 7’ ceiling?”.

Those are the wrong things to ask!!! Here are the right questions…

  1. How much room do I have to work with?
  2. Which resistance options fit and are also effective within that space?
  3. Which cardio options will work well in the space I have?

When framed this way, a much broader range of options opens up!!!

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m definitely not saying you should go without a power rack or treadmill if those are things you want. But some of you simply may not be able to fit those things in your gym. 

And that’s okay! That’s why I wrote this series of articles. There are a ton of great options out there for you!

How to prepare your room to be a home gym

The first step, and the subject of this particular article in this series on low ceilinged home gyms, is the room itself. One of the keys to making the most of a small space, especially one that is height restricted, is setting up the room for success to start with.

How you prepare and build out the room will go a long way towards building an effective gym. It will also go a long way towards enjoying the gym once you start using it!

So let’s take a look at what you’ll need to do first. These are the things to take care of before buying a single piece of equipment or completing a single training session.

Install rubber gym flooring.

Rubber floor tile

Some people will tell you to skip installing flooring in your gym when you have a low ceiling. They say that every inch matters, and installing thick rubber flooring eats up valuable space.

Yes, a ¾” stall mat will eat up almost a full inch of workable height. But going without flooring shouldn’t be your first choice. That said, it is a choice some of you will make. So let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of going without a dedicated floor in your home gym.

Can you build a home gym on a cement floor?

If you are in a garage or unfinished basement, the floor will most likely be cement. 

Of the types of preexisting flooring you may run into, cement or concrete is the most useable. There are a few issues like grip, noise, and dirt that should be addressed, but it can be effectively used as a home gym floor.

The drawbacks of a cement floor in a home gym are:

  • It can be slick and lack grip.
  • It gets dirty very quickly.
  • It’s cold and offers poor insulation.
  • Equipment will slide around and need regular repositioning.
  • Not the best surface for calisthenics.
  • It creates a noisy room with lots of echoes.

The first two items on that list can be handled by cleaning and degreasing the floor (if needed). Then I’d recommend an epoxy sealer for grip (you can see an example of this here on Amazon). This not only looks nice but will give your feet decent traction while training.

No matter what, concrete is not suitable for most ground-based movements. Kneeling on a hard floor like this is not pleasant!

This bench is amazing! And it has rubber feet too!

You’ll want a bench with rubber feet for sure. I recommend the Rep Fitness AB-5200. It’s my current bench and my top pick for adjustable benches. It just so happens to have rubber feet as well!

You’ll also want to bolt down your squat rack. Otherwise, it will slide around every time you use it. This is not only a pain but dangerous as well. You want your rack solidly in place when trying to put a loaded barbell back on the hooks!

Last, you’ll want a mat under any cardio machine you get. These are sold anywhere you buy cardio gear and are common. Make sure you have one if you are going with a cement floor. Need help picking out a cardio mat? See my full article here!

Without a mat, your cardio machine will “walk” all over the floor, and you’ll find yourself continually having to move it back in place.

If you do those things, you can make cement work. It’s not ideal, but it works. Unlike the next option.

Can you build a home gym directly on a plywood subfloor?

In an unfinished attic or interior room, you may be faced with a completely bare wood subfloor. This is not ideal.

I’ll cut straight to the point on this one. 

Plywood subfloor isn’t a good surface to train on. Even if added flooring’s extra height prevents you from adding a piece of equipment you wanted, do it anyway.

Training on a plywood floor has no positives. It’s all drawbacks. Don’t do it!

Can you build a home gym on a hardwood or laminate floor?

This one is a lot like cement. It can be made to work. In fact, it’s a better choice than cement as you typically have a pretty good grip if it’s clean.

Wood and laminate can make a suitable floor for a home gym. Ensure that it is protected from any heavy equipment by using a lifting platform under your rack and mats under your cardio equipment. You should also consider using highly durable laminate flooring instead of more delicate hardwoods.

I would still recommend a bench with rubber feet. I’d also recommend bolting down your squat rack and using a mat under your cardio equipment.

All that said, hardwood and laminate do work. Just be prepared for it to take some abuse. And you may want a pad of some type for your gound-based stuff. Wood is hard.

Can you build a home gym on a carpet?

Carpet is not an ideal surface on which to build a home gym. It has a long list of drawbacks like mold, dust, fibers, and VOC’s. It’s also usually an unstable surface on which to train. The only advantage carpet has is that it’s easier to leave in place than to pull it up and replace it.

I get that last point, too. Removing carpet and padding, addressing any subfloor issues, and then reinstalling rubber flooring is a project. But it’s a worthwhile project.

Not to mention, any rubber flooring you put in will take up less room height-wise than the carpet and padding it was replacing. You may actually add to your vertical space by trading carpet for rubber gym flooring.

The best type of flooring for a low ceiling home gym

The answer here is the same answer for any home gym regardless of ceiling height: ⅜” rubber interlocking floor tiles.

⅜” rubber interlocking floor tiles are the perfect working surface for a home gym and at ⅜” in height are ideal for low ceiling installations. Interlocking tiles are easy to install, have no visible seams, and provide a firm yet grippy surface that’s conducive to physical training of all types.

You’ll see many people recommend horse stall mats for gym flooring, and while those can work, I prefer the tiles for a variety of reasons (you can see an in-depth comparison of the two options here).

For the purposes of this article, one of those reasons is clear. A ⅜” thick tile is half the size of a ¾” stall mat. In a low ceiling room, that may make a difference.

I love the flooring in my gym!

Some of the choices you’ll have to make in this situation will be settling for what fits. This isn’t one of those situations. I both use and recommend the ⅜” tiles regardless of the application. That’s also what you’ll find in most commercial gyms.

You can see the exact flooring I use in my gym and what I recommend for yours right here on Amazon.

Improve your walls.

Once you have your floors squared away, let’s move on to the walls. While there’s nothing you can do with your walls to make your room taller, there are a couple of things you can do to make the room look larger than it is.

One of the drawbacks people don’t consider when building a home gym in a lower ceiling room is that it can start to feel very cramped. If the room doesn’t feel inviting and open, it will be less enjoyable to use. That can lead to it not being used at all.

I want to quickly touch on two possible solutions for this.

Paint your walls

This is a quick one, but if you can, paint your walls a light color. Brighter or lighter colors can really open up the room. A coat of light-colored paint can really improve a cramped and dark room.

This one is kind of a “duh” tip, but I wanted to include it just in case. Painting is one of those things that is easy to talk yourself out of but once done, you are always glad you did it!

Install mirrors

A lot of people like to put mirrors in their gyms. They have quite a few benefits, and they are an asset in any home gym.

One of those benefits is that they make your space look a lot bigger. Mirrors effectively take a small, cramped feeling space and make it seem like it’s twice as big as it actually is.

I can’t recommend mirrors highly enough for those of you outfitting a low ceilinged home gym. You don’t need to go nuts and cover every wall, but a well-placed mirror or two can make a huge difference.

Combine those mirrors with the lighter paint color I suggested, and you are well on your way to making the room look a ton bigger than it really is!

Want the full scoop on mirrors, including my recommendations on which ones to get and how to hang them? Check out my complete guide to choosing and installing home gym mirrors here!

Install bright, cool-colored lighting.

In my article on home gym lighting, I cover quite a few of the options you have for lighting a home gym. When it comes to a gym with low ceilings, your options are a little more limited, but the choice you make will be important in this area.

First, stay away from anything that hangs down from the ceiling. If you want overhead lighting, you’ll need to find a way to install recessed lights that are completely out of the way. 

Garage LIghts
While these work great in my high ceilinged garage, they would not work in a low ceiling application.

Lighting mounted on the wall is also a viable choice in a room with a low ceiling. This can be anything from basic shop lights mounted on the wall to more decorative sconces.

Another option is uplighting. Uplighting consists of lights that sit on the floor and point up. These can go in corners, along walls, or on tables/stands throughout the room.

The key here is that you pay attention to your lights. Make the room as bright as you can. Make it inviting. Bright, cool light is an excellent addition to any home gym. 

In a room with a low ceiling, combined with mirrors, it will make your room seem much bigger and more open than it really is.

One last tip is to pay attention to the color temperature of your lights. You want something cool, preferably in the 5,000 degrees Kelvin range. This will approximate the color of daylight. Not only will this give you energy, but it will be more conducive to training as well.

Make the room taller.

My last tip for you before you get to building out your gym is to make sure you are working with all the space that is actually available to you. In other words, take a close look at the ceiling itself before you proceed.

See what’s above that drop ceiling.

Is the current ceiling a drop ceiling? If so, can it be removed? Can it be raised? Can it be replaced with a taller option? I’ve seen more than a few drop ceilings in basements that have another 18-24” above them to work with. Take a peek; you might be surprised!

Is your ceiling one of those old 1970s style insulated tile ceilings? Those tiles, much like the tiles in a drop ceiling, can often have a lot of useable space above them. I will warn you, though, removing a ceiling of this type is a major project!

Is it drywall with another 12-18” of useable space above? Even if it’s a drywall ceiling, it may be worth a look at what’s above it. 

I had a basement with can lights in it at one point. When changing one of those cans, I was shocked at how much room there was above the drywall to allow for the cans in the first place.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. Unless you are looking at the ceiling joists above you, you don’t really know how much room you have until you check it out. Before you go any further, you owe it to yourself to take a look!

On to building your gym!!!

Now that you have your room squared away, it’s time to move on to step two, adding equipment.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, all great gyms have three things. Space to train, resistance to train with, and some type of way to train cardio indoors.

In many cases, resistance is going to come in the form of a barbell and weight plates. To use those effectively, you’ll need a power rack. In the next article in this series, that’s exactly what we talk about, and you can check that article out by clicking here! Lnk coming soon.

If power and squat racks aren’t your things, and you are wondering what options you have for cardio machines, that’s what article number three in our series covers. You can check that out here! Lnk coming soon.

Got your squat rack and cardio machine covered but unsure how to get your pull-ups or overhead pressing accomplished with a low ceiling? We cover that completely here! Lnk coming soon.

And last but not least is the article everyone with a low ceiling gym should read. Eleven ways to train in a low ceilinged gym; real tips from real people. This one has some gems that you won’t want to miss, and you can jump straight to it here! Lnk coming soon.

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