11 Ways to train in a home gym with a low ceiling – Real tips from real people

In Guides by Tim Steward

Last updated on February 28th, 2021 at 07:25 pm

If you’ve read my other articles on training in a low ceiling gym, you’ve already got a good handle on the solutions available for traditional low ceiling challenges. I reviewed the gym build-out itself, power rack solutions, cardio solutions, and I also addressed pull-up and overhead press challenges.

I hope that those articles have helped at least a few of you build a gym you love and regularly use regardless of your room’s height restrictions.

But that said, most of those tips were pretty common sense things to do. I don’t know that any of those articles blew anyone’s mind with innovative or creative solutions to training in a low ceilinged home gym.

Hopefully, I’ll change that in this article. As I interviewed people who train in a height-restricted gym for this article, I slowly gathered a nice list of “pro tips” from them. 

I’ve already shared some of these tips but will list them again here, so they are all in one place. Others are unique. They all belong here on this list of out of the box solutions to training in a home gym with a low ceiling.

The 3 key components of a great home gym

This is a concept I’ve brought up before and will keep talking about for a long time to come. I see so many people get fixated on what they think a gym should be. They completely overlook some amazing options that would be perfect for their goals.

So, as an example, instead of trying to figure out how to fit a power rack and a treadmill in a room with a low ceiling, it’s better to pull back a little bit and instead look for how to fit these three things:

  • A space to train
  • Resistance to train with
  • An indoor cardio option

There is an almost unlimited list of things that could fill that list. Sure, many times that will still be a power rack and a treadmill. But what if those simply don’t fit?

What if, like one of my readers recently did, you are converting an attic into a home gym, and the canted ceiling doesn’t leave room for the traditional gym set up? What then?

In those cases, it’s time to look for different options. And that’s what we’ll cover here.

11 tips, tricks, and ideas from real-life low ceiling gym owners

In researching this article, I reached out to a large network of people who have helped me while building the GymCrafter site and YouTube channel. I know a good number of folks whose gyms have lower than normal ceilings.

So who better to get tips and advice from than the people who have dealt with this obstacle themselves? While I got many useful tips, what follows are the most useful; the best of the best!

Animal Flow

In the past, when someone would recommend calisthenics, I used to roll my eyes. Flashbacks to junior high gym class came to mind. Endless pushups, situps, and burpees are not how I want to use my home gym!

But bodyweight training has come a long way since I was in junior high (I won’t say when that was, but let’s just say it was a while ago!). And boy, do I wish that what we have available now was available back then! I might have actually enjoyed gym class!

Today you have the crazy calisthenics crews that train on pull-up bars in their local parks. You have parkour athletes running and jumping and flipping their way to being in shape. And you have ground-based movement systems like Animal Flow.

Animal Flow is a beautiful ground-based bodyweight training system. It’s graceful and fluid and quite honestly a brutal workout.

At one point, I decided I wanted to add Animal Flow to my weekly training schedule. I figured I’d start small and add 5 minutes in twice a week. In week one, I was toast after 3 minutes. It took me 3 solid weeks to get to a 5-minute flow without stopping to rest.

The crazy thing is that it also built strength. A lot of it! I still do some Animal Flow movements to this day and love them.

If you are looking for something different, fun, and challenging, this is a great choice. 

You can also do it in rooms with the lowest ceilings!

Kettlebell training

There aren’t too many things you can buy for your home gym that are more versatile than kettlebells. In fact, you could use only kettlebells for the rest of your life and build an impressive amount of strength!

Kettlebell purists recommend having just a few different kettlebells. Realistically, you could have a “complete” gym with just 3-6 bells!

When I started my home gym journey, my home gym consisted of moving my living room coffee table out of the way and working with a single kettlebell on my living room floor. I still have and use that kettlebell to this day!

I started with the chimpanzee “primal bell” from Onnit. Coming in at 36 lbs, I used that until I could lift more. I then added the Orangutan at 54 lbs. I now have 4 of these primal bells in my now much larger kettlebell lineup.

For many people facing space restraints, including those imposed by ceiling height, kettlebells are a great way to train. Instead of trying to squeeze in racks and weights and cardio machines, a clear space to train and a kettlebell or two is all you really need!

And remember, by including kettlebell swings in your training, you’ve added a brutally effective cardio workout without adding any additional gear! This is just one of the many things I love about training with kettlebells.

Want to see the kettlebells that I use and recommend? Check out my recommended kettlebell page here!

Suspension training

Since suspension training naturally happens below the point at which the suspension trainer is suspended, ceiling height typically doesn’t restrict this type of workout.

Suspension trainers like TRX or gymnastics rings can be mounted to a door or hung from a pull-up bar. You can do the entire workout at standing height or lower.

The only movement that might provide a challenge would be pull-ups. Fortunately, I wrote an entire guide to doing pull-ups in a low ceiling gym that you can read here if you think this will an issue for you.

Between a TRX type trainer and rings, I prefer rings, but both are amazingly effective and can be used in a low ceiling gym. You can pair them with a power rack, a stand-alone pull-up bar, or, as mentioned, a simple doorway.

Like kettlebells, the versatility of a suspension training system can serve as only a part of your gym or as the entire gym in and of itself. Suspension training can both get you very strong as well as provide a great cardio workout.

Pro tip… Having the rings or TRX is one thing. Knowing what to do with them is another. If you go this route, I highly recommend the suspension training program the guys over at Mind Pump put together.

Following this program, you’ll be guided by over 60 years of combined personal training experience, and your results will show it. These guys really know what they are doing with programming, and this suspension program is a great example of that.

Barbell and a landmine

If your ceiling is too low to accommodate a power rack, that doesn’t mean you also have to forgo training with a barbell.

Can you train with a barbell if you don’t have a power rack? YES!!! This is another example of possibly getting stuck in the thought pattern of what a gym should be. A lot of people say that if you have a barbell, you should have a power rack.

And if you have room, I agree. But what if you don’t? What if your ceiling height, budget, or training goals don’t allow a power rack? In those cases, pairing a barbell with a landmine is an amazing option and one that doesn’t require a high ceiling at all!

A landmine is an inexpensive device that anchors one end of your barbell to the ground while allowing you to add load to the other end. It’s simple and inexpensive. I use mine multiple times a week (my favorite landmine is this one I bought from Fringe Sport).

I cover quite a bit about using a landmine for overhead pressing in my article here, but a landmine can be used for so many more things than that. With just a landmine, a bar, and some weight plates, you could train effectively for years and not need anything else!

Use a boxing heavy bag for cardio.

I love this idea so much that it’s on my shortlist of things to add to my own home gym! Going several 3-minute rounds with a heavy bag is a heck of a workout. Your whole body will feel it, and the workout will elevate your heart rate as much or more than just about any other cardio workout you could pick.

It’s also great for working out aggression! When I used to use the gym where I work, the heavy bag was one of my favorite things. Nothing blows off steam better than beating the snot out of something until you are exhausted!

Not sure how to hang a heavy bag? I’ve got you covered with this article. You can also get ground-based mounts like this one if hanging from the ceiling isn’t an option.

Pro tip… If you are using a heavy bag for cardio, my source recommends a lighter, 40 lb bag like this one made by Everlast (Amazon link). It will be much easier on your hands and wrists and is much better suited for cardio than a 70 lb bag would be.

Pro tip… Get wraps and learn to use them. I’ll post a video here, but these are essential when doing heavy bag work. They aren’t expensive, and you’ll be glad you have them. I use this set I bought over on Amazon.

Use a speed bag for cardio.

Not a fan of hanging or hitting a big ole heavy bag for cardio? Neither is another reader of mine. Instead of the heavy bag, she went with a boxing speed bag.

She tells me, “Combined with active footwork, a speed bag is a great workout! I usually do intervals of one minute on and one minute off for ten rounds.”

Not only is a speed bag a fun and novel way to train, but it is also an amazing way to build coordination. A big part of why I train is to age well, and adding things to your training that require hand-eye coordination is a huge benefit for brain health!

Speed bags mount on a platform attached to your wall. They are typically adjustable in height to exactly fit the user. Even for the tallest person, a short ceiling will allow the appropriate height to mount a speed bag.

Pro Tip… Make sure and get an adjustable height platform (this one on Amazon would be a great choice!). A speed bag is almost useless if it isn’t at the right height.

Pro Tip… Start with a heavier bag. Don’t jump right into the ultra-fast, ultra-light bags. This takes a little work to get good at, and starting too light will make it quite a bit harder to learn this skill.

Get a sled

If you’ve never used a sled in your training, you are missing out! They are low impact and a killer cardio session all in one.

These are great in a low ceiling gym because you don’t even stand up straight to use them. You are typically leaning forward or backward while you push or pull the heavy sled across your floor.

You do need some lateral room to use a sled, but ceiling height should be no issue!

There are various sleds available, and my first tip is that you don’t need to go crazy. All a sled is is a way for you to push or drag a variable amount of weight across the floor.

While you could go with a drag only model like this one for under $100, I’d recommend getting something that you can push or pull. My favorite is this four-post push sled made by Rep Fitness.

With just a couple of rounds of pushing and pulling each week, you’ll get more than your money’s worth out of a sled!

Pro tip… A must-have accessory for any sled is a harness

Pro tip… A great accessory to pair with a sled is a rope to pull with. You could easily use a battle rope like this one. Want the best way to train your forearms and grip strength? Pulling a sled and hand over hand from a seated position with a fat rope is it!

Pro tip… You are going to need to install turf to push/pull the sled across. While you could do it on cement or a rubber floor, it really won’t work that well. Turf is the proper surface. Make sure the turf is securely installed and attached to the floor below as well!

Don’t have the ability to add turf to your gym? You are in luck! This wheeled sled option is amazing and works on any hard surface. It’s a little pricey, but well worth it! They aren’t always in stock as they sell out fast, but you can check the availability and pricing here on Amazon.

Go recumbent

I highlighted this option in my article on fitting cardio equipment in a low ceiling home gym. Still, so many people I talked to brought this up as a favorite, I thought I’d list it here too.

Recumbent literally means “lying down.” It can apply to several types of machines, but by far, the most common that I ran into when talking to people who train in low ceiling gyms is the recumbent exercise bike.

They talked about how nice it was to have plenty of headroom over this particular piece of equipment. But more than that, they all seemed to really like the way that a recumbent bike treated their lower back.

Person after person highlighted how while they could never use a standard stationary bike due to low back pain, the recumbent option was comfortable even for everyday use.

If you are looking for a great cardio option and can’t fit a taller machine, a recumbent bike might be perfect for you. This one by True will last you a lifetime and is a great choice for a recumbent bike.

Pro tip… Get a treadmill mat to go under any cardio machine you get. It will keep the machine in place and prevent it from sliding around. I’ve sold many of these to customers at my day job (among many other things, we sell a ton of fitness equipment), and they work really well!

Pro tip… Make it a habit to wipe down your cardio machines after every use, preferably with a fitness or yoga wipe like this one you can get on Amazon. All that sweat and salt can build up on your machine and cause odor, corrosion, and other problems if you don’t clean it off regularly.

Go with a rower

Quite possibly the most effective full-body cardio machine on the market, a rower will also be the lowest to the ground. This makes it ideal for low ceiling applications.

Without exception, every person I talked to who was a CrossFit fan owned a rower. They all swore by its benefits and talked about their love/hate relationship with their rowing machine. I’m guessing this isn’t true of all people that do CrossFit, but the 4-5 I talked to for this article all had the same story to tell.

Not only did they all have rowers, but they all also owned and recommended the same rower, the Concept 2. The Concept 2 is the industry standard and possibly the best rower you can get. It’s not, however, the most expensive, which is nice!

To check out the Concept 2, it’s features, price, and availability, check them out here on the Rep Fitness website.

Pro tip… Rowers are amazing for your lower back… If you use proper form! They are terrible for your back if you don’t. If you decide to go with a rower, take some time to learn proper rowing form!

Pro tip… Go slow! Start with 5 minutes. Really! That’s it. Learn to do that with proper form and intensity and then move up in small increments from there. If you can get to 20 minutes with good intensity, that’s about all you’ll need!

Go with a multi-gym or functional trainer.

I had several people recommend these to me for low ceiling options. Multi-gyms are the all in one cable and pulley based gyms you’ll find in almost every hotel. Honestly, I’ve never been a fan. Just being honest.

I’ve been the proud owner of two, yes, two BowFlex trainers in my life. Both quickly became very expensive clothes racks. But according to my sources, functional trainers have come a long way since then, and I was invited to try one out.

While I still prefer free weights, I was surprised at the quality of the workout I got. Pulldowns, rows, presses, and a seemingly endless variety of movements were possible. And all in a package that stood 83” high. 

That means it fits under a 7’ or taller ceiling. However, a recommended clearance of 8’ or more is needed to use this gym. This will allow pull-ups and overhead presses with no issues.

The unit I used that day was the Life Fitness G7 home gym. It’s pretty much the Cadillac of this type of equipment, so I’m not surprised that I liked it.

I also got to use the Rep Fitness FT-3000 functional trainer. Coming in at 78” high, this shorter model had all the Life Fitness model’s functionality at about half the price.

I will say that the Life Fitness unit had a nicer fit and finish. The cables pulled a tad smoother too. But it certainly wasn’t $1300 better! If I were in the market for a machine like this, I’d go with the FT-3000 in a heartbeat! You can see lots of pictures and all the specs on the Rep Fitness website here.

Pro Tip… Get a nice bench. Check out my recommended bench page to see what I use personally and what I recommend for different people and goals.

Take a cue from Chuck Norris.

When I told my best friend about this series of articles for the owners of low ceiling home gyms, he said, “Don’t forget the Total Gym!”. I thought he was joking.

I replied, “Do you mean the late-night infomercial, Chuck Norris Total Gym?”

“Yeah, man, that thing is awesome!” he shot back.

“How would you know?” I inquired.

It turns out he’s owned one for several years and uses it regularly. He went on to tell me how much he loved it and that it would be a perfect solution for a low ceiling gym or someone tight on space.

He lives in a small one-bedroom apartment and doesn’t have room for much else. He lives almost 2 hours away, but I had to try it out. I’d seen it on TV too many times (and laughed at it every time) not to try it when I had the chance.

Wow, was I surprised! 

Now, it’s no substitute for free weights, dumbbells, or kettlebells. It’s not a great way to lift a ton of weight. But it is just about perfect for what it is.

The Total Gym is an ideal tool for someone looking to get into training for the first time or after a long layoff. Someone who wants to start light (although, you can dial up the resistance to a decent amount when needed).

It’s extremely low impact. It’s very, very safe. It helps work range of motion, endurance, and strength. It was surprisingly good at quite a few things. Not to mention, I had a blast training on it! It was a lot of fun!

When I told my buddy how surprised I was to like it, he replied, “It’s been around since the ’70s! That’s almost 50 years. If it wasn’t any good, there’s no way it would have been around that long.” You know what? He’s right.

And he was also right in that it’s an ideal solution for a room with a low ceiling.

For the right person, this is a really great solution. If you aren’t quite sure about resistance training and don’t have or want to use up a lot of room, this is a fantastic starting point.

Check out the Total Gym, all of its features, price, and availability here on the Total Gym Amazon store.

Pro Tip… If Chuck Norris says something, listen. It’s Chuck Norris, for crying out loud!!!

Pro Tip… I don’t really see a reason to buy anything but the XLS model. It’s reasonably priced and does everything you need this type of trainer to do.

Remember the Rule of 3

Remember the 3 things that all great home gyms have—space to train, resistance to train with, and a way to do cardio indoors. 

Regardless of your ceiling height, you can find multiple ways to satisfy each of those 3 requirements. And that’s all you need!

One last point that was very apparent to me as I talked to the people above was the importance of enjoying yourself. Each of them loved the solutions they came up with and used them regularly.

This is the key to success in any home gym build!!!

While I firmly believe that everyone should have a power rack, barbell, and weight plates, I’m smart enough to know that not everyone wants or will use those. What good is having this type of setup if you never use it?

The one that drove this home the most was Steve and his Total Gym. He loved it. He bragged about it. He used it all the time. For me, that’s the definition of having the “right” equipment in your gym.

So what’s right for you? What will you do in your low ceiling home gym? Whatever it is, I hope you love it, use it, and enjoy your gym for a long time to come!

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