Last updated on March 16th, 2021 at 01:31 pm
Everyone should have the ability to work out at home. That simple idea is why I built GymCrafter. With recent events (This article is being written in mid-March, 2020, right at the beginning of a shelter in place order where I live in Illinois), people who previously relied on commercial gyms for their fitness are coming to the same realization.
The problem is that too many people (and to be honest, I’m one of them) make home gyms out to be some big, extravagant investment that takes up half of your basement or garage. While I’ve chosen to have a full weight training set up at home, that does not mean that’s what everyone needs.
Not everyone wants or can afford a full squat rack, bench, barbell, and bumper plates in their home (for those of you that do, head over to my article on the nine essential items all great home gyms have). For so many reasons, a fully equipped home gym is just not going to happen for a lot of people.
What is someone to do who wants to train at home but doesn’t have the room or the budget for a full gym? Luckily, there are a ton of answers! That’s because the question is “how to train at home with limited funds and space”, not “how to build a home gym with those restrictions”.
Training at home doesn’t have to cost a lot. With a small space and an investment of under $100, you can train effectively! And I mean effectively! You can choose to build an amazing body or simply stay in shape without ever touching a single piece of expensive gear!
What are your goals?
Let’s start with what your goals are. Knowing that will help you get the right things for the job. If your goal is to become more mobile, you’ll probably need a different setup than the person trying to get jacked and strong.
Of course, I’m a massive believer that strength should be the foundation of all fitness pursuits. Getting stronger literally makes everything else easier or unnecessary! Strength aids fat loss, endurance, body recomposition, cardiovascular health, and any other fitness goal you might have.
While your goals may be different than the next person, don’t forget to add a strength component to your home training.
Start by figuring out your goals before you spend a penny. The following guide should have something for everyone, but it’s all pretty effective if used consistently.
If the goal is to spend less than $100, we need to be sure that the minimal amount of things you buy will best help you reach those goals.
Step two is to be honest with yourself. What will you actually use? I’ll share a story of my own wasted money to illustrate.
I used to be a huge fan of unconventional training. Mostly because I didn’t have access to weights, but also because a lot of it is enjoyable. Kettlebells, clubs, maces, and the like are all things I’ve used and very much enjoyed. I still incorporate a good deal of it to this day.
So I thought it made sense for me to buy a sandbag. No, make that a battle bag! Doesn’t that sound cool? There are a million things you can do with them too. In fact, it’s one of my recommendations below. For the right person, this implement is impressive.
I’m not the right person, though. I’ve got a bad back. Training with a sandbag is a ton of bending over and picking up. Then, for good measure, you often lift it over your head. All while the weight shifts and slides and is sometimes very hard to hold.
That’s not ideal for someone with 4 bulged discs in their back. Especially without an in-person coach to help with my form so I don’t hurt myself!
Now I have a sandbag, or, um, battle bag, that never leaves it’s home up against a wall and behind my dumbbell stand. Maybe I’ll get back to it someday, but I doubt it.
Know yourself! What will you actually use? What won’t you use? Don’t buy a treadmill if you hate to run! Don’t buy a weighted vest if you hate pull-ups! You get the idea.
Train at home for under $100!
I’m going to break your options into three groups. The first will be bodyweight training options. Don’t discount this (many people do)! Take a look at the recommendations below and you might be surprised at just how intense and effective this can be made to be with a simple addition or two.
The second group will be inexpensive ways to resistance train. You don’t need dumbbells or a barbell to resistance train at home. I’ll review a few of the best options under $100 in that section.
The last options will cover cardio. Since virtually all machines are over $100, I wanted to give you two killer options that are well under our price goal.
Taking bodyweight training to the next level
Every article I read about training on a budget starts by talking about bodyweight and calisthenics being free. Duh! We all know that. Yet almost no one readily drops down and starts doing push-ups every day. If that were the answer, no one would be buying gym equipment.
Now I’m not knocking this approach. In fact, I’m a huge fan of it. I just think we should skip past the trivial advice of basic calisthenic movements and get you something a little more effective.
So, how do we up the effectiveness and impact of bodyweight training? There are quite a few options! From great programming to some basic gear, you can train for years with just your body weight and make consistent progress the entire time.
There are two crucial components to getting the most out of bodyweight training. Movements and programming.
While most of us can figure out that we could be doing push-ups, we don’t realize the sheer number of push-up variations available or why we would use them. This is true for every bodyweight movement you’ve heard of as well as the large number of them you haven’t.
Knowing those movements is only half the battle. How do you put them together into a program that gets you results? More importantly, how do you program them to get you results that match your goals?
This is where turning to an expert comes in handy. Seeking the advice, counsel, and programming from someone who has years of experience getting results for people is one of the most important things you can do. Especially when moving to a type of training you haven’t done before.
When it comes to bodyweight training, I’ve tried a bunch of different programs. Freeletics, Chris Heria’s training, Gymnastics Bodies, GMB, and a variety of others. Of the programs I’ve tried, there is only one that I still use and recommend. It’s called MAPS Anywhere and it’s by the guys over at Mind Pump.
If you aren’t familiar with them, Mind Pump is the top-rated fitness podcast in the world. It’s run by 3 guys who are not only entertaining but have almost 50 years of experience in real-world training between them. I have purchased and used several of their programs and they are all top-notch.
MAPS Anywhere is their bodyweight-only program. It can be scaled to 3 different levels so it can be used by just about anyone. It can serve as a maintenance plan or it can serve as a muscle-building program. It’s up to you.
At the time I’m writing this (mid-March 2020) they are offering half off this program using the coupon code MAPSWHITE. Head over to this link to check it out as well as take advantage of the discount! If you miss the discount, don’t worry, it still comes in under $100!
Even once you can get back to your commercial gym, this program is great to have in your pocket for vacations or other times you won’t have access to a gym. I use it for that and when I want to deload for a month and step away from the barbell.
Another big tip for those of you used to training hard at a commercial gym is that this might be the perfect time to back off a little and work on your mobility and joint health. Mind Pump has you covered here two with two of the best programs addressing this concern.
MAPS Prime (check out all the details on this program here!) will get you ready to train effectively every day. It will keep you healthy as well as enable you to get the most out of each training session.
MAPS Prime Pro is a complete diagnostic tool for your body. Do your own checks on mobility for every major body part. Identify your areas of opportunity and then address them with full corrective programs. Take a look at MAPS Prime Pro here. It’s been a virtual life-saver for me!
You can save money and get both programs bundled by clicking here. These are programs that ALL lifters should have in their arsenal regardless of where you are training. Grab them both now and thank me later!
Speaking of something you can use now when you don’t have access to a gym but also keep on using once things are back to normal…
Resistance bands should be a regular part of everyone’s fitness regimen.
From warm-ups to adding resistance to calisthenic movements, bands are a versatile and useful piece of gear to keep on hand. The MAPS Anywhere program I listed above recommends their use and I can attest that combining the two will more than multiply your results.
The problem with buying bands is how many there are to pick from. There are a lot of cheap options as it’s easy for a company to rebrand a cheap, made in China option. I can tell you from experience that having a band snap mid-movement, leaving a huge welt across your face, is no fun at all!
It’s also important to make sure that the bands provide resistance that is challenging. Many of the band sets out there are used for physical therapy and don’t provide much resistance at all.
It’s not necessary to spend top dollar. A lot of higher-end fitness companies offer bands at a premium price. You can get premium-quality without spending premium dollars.
The company I know, love, and repeatedly recommend is Rubber Banditz. They make high-quality bands that will last you a long time.
There are a lot of different options available from Rubber Banditz, but if you are looking for a home training under $100 option, I’d suggest getting 2 red, 2 black, and a purple from this specific page on Amazon.
Adding resistance to calisthenic training via resistance bands is a great way to kick you bodyweight training up a notch or two. Another really solid option is adding a weight vest. If your first reaction to bodyweight training is that it’s not challenging enough, a weight vest can address that problem immediately.
A weighted vest can be used with almost every bodyweight movement. A good vest allows you to vary the weight, as well. Throw in a place to do pull-ups (I’ll mention this one a little later) and you can build some serious strength with this implement.
As with bands, there are a lot of options. Most of them are junk. The key to a great vest is the fit. It needs to fit well so as not to distract from the movement you are performing. Comfort is key here.
For a budget option, the vest by Cap Barbell is a great choice. Cap is a great company known for making reputable low-cost fitness options. Their OB86 Beast barbell is my recommended budget barbell as an example.
Cap’s weighted vest is relatively well made and provides up to 20 lbs of additional weight. It won’t last you forever, but it will last until the gyms open back up again or if you just want to use it 1-2 times per week. See the exact Cap weighted vest I’m referring to here on Amazon.
My top choice for weighted vests is made by Mir. While it is more expensive than the CAP, it still comes in under $100. And it’s totally worth the higher price tag.
First, you can load it with anywhere from 20 to 60 lbs. The weights come in 3 lb increments and are made of solid metal. This is enough extra load to challenge you no matter your current level of strength. As a note, the option I link below is their 20 lb kit.
Second, it’s incredibly well made. You could use this vest daily for years and never have a problem. From the fabric to the stitching to the padding this thing is top notch.
Third, it’s comfortable. It keeps the weights up high on your torso and sits comfortably on your shoulders. This is one of the most comfortable weighted vests I’ve worn. Check out what it looks like along with pricing and availability here on Amazon.
Pull-up bar and rings
Suspension training has been a staple of in the field military training for years. Jocko Willink calls rings the one piece of fitness equipment he would buy if he could only have one. I’ve used them for years and would probably agree.
I want to start by clarifying. I’m recommending rings, NOT a TRX suspension training system. I wrote an in-depth comparison of the two here, but the short version is that rings are better in almost every way.
The TRX are nice, but you can only do pulling movements on them (to see what I mean, I detail this in my comparison article here). No dips and no push-ups. Without those movements, you are missing out big time!
TRX is also much more expensive than a nice set of rings. We are on a budget here and TRX just doesn’t help with that.
Why a pull-up bar AND rings? You need a place to hang the rings from. It’s a simple set up and much more versatile than the over the door mounting of a TRX system. Using this combo, you can do an almost unlimited amount of movements that hit every major muscle group in your body!
Even having a fully equipped home gym, I use my pull up bar and rings multiple times every week. They never fail to challenge me in every plane of movement.
The first part of this duo is a pull-up bar. To keep you within the $100 budget, I recommend a door-mounted bar. Since we are trying to do a lot with a little, I’d recommend the bar I own and use. It’s the multi-grip bar by GoFit. This gives you a multitude of ways to train with it aside from supporting your rings!
I’ve had mine for almost ten years and it’s still going strong. Get yours here on Amazon!
If a door-mounted bar isn’t a viable choice for you, or you want something a little beefier, this wall-mounted option by Titan Fitness is an amazing choice and will still leave you room to buy rings and still come in under $100! Not sure where to hang a pull-up bar? Check out my full explanation and recommendations here.
The second part of this duo is a basic set of gymnastics rings. You don’t need anything fancy here so don’t overspend!!! This set by Fit Beast that you can get quickly on Amazon is the perfect option.
There are a couple of things that are really great about that set of rings. First is that there are markings on the straps that allow you to easily set both straps at the same height. Second is that these come with a door mounting system allowing you to skip the pull-up bar if you want.
Any of the above options will optimize calisthenic and bodyweight training for you. But what about those used to lifting weights? Many of you go to the gym because that’s where you have access to weights. When I built my garage gym, it was so that I could train with resistance, not just my bodyweight.
For those that want to continue with resistance training at home while they don’t have access to a gym, there are a lot of options. There are even two amazingly good ones that come in under our $100 budget level set for this article.
My first real “home gym” was a single kettlebell. I trained with it regularly for almost a year. It’s amazing how versatile this piece of gear is! All you need is some floor space and a single kettlebell and you are set to go!
There are a million different kettlebells out there. I wouldn’t go with a cheap option. You only need one kettlebell, so it doesn’t make sense to go super cheap. Get a nice one and it will last you forever!
Stay away from the shiny coated kettlebells (see this Amazon basics kettlebell for an example of this). That coating will chip off over time and leave sharp edges behind. It is also slippery with even the least amount of sweat. You don’t want your kettlebell flying across the room because you lose your grip on the handle!
I would also stay away from kettlebells that have a protective sleeve or coating on them (see here for an example). That will also come off over time and doesn’t actually benefit you in any way. Not to mention that coating is hiding a pretty crappily made kettlebell to start with. Just skip these.
One last type of kettlebell to stay away from is the adjustable one (see an example of that here). It seems like a good idea on the surface, but it’s not. Part of the effectiveness of kettlebells is their shape and balance. Adjustable models don’t do either of these things right.
A good kettlebell doesn’t need to be crazy expensive. You can see my full article on kettlebells here, but my current recommendation has changed since I wrote it. While the options that I recommend there are great, I’ve come across something better.
The best bang for the buck kettlebells out there right now are made by Rep Fitness. The finish is excellent, they are superbly made, and they are priced fairly. Check out Rep’s assortment of kettlebells on their site here. Order directly from them for the fastest shipping and the best overall service!
I’ve said several times that you only need one, and that will get you started while keeping you under the $100 budget level. But you may want to progress and add additional bells.
So how do you know what weight to buy? For this, we look to the “father of kettlebell training” Pavel Tsatsouline.
Here are his recommendations for men and women in both kg and lbs. I understand there are those of you that don’t fit directly within this chart but use it as a guideline.
|Sex & Strength Level||Start with||Progress towards|
|Avg. strength woman||8, 12, 16 kg||20, 24 kg|
|Strong woman||12, 16, 20 kg||24 kg|
|Avg. strength woman||18, 26, 35 lbs||44, 53 lbs|
|Strong woman||26, 35, 44 lbs||53 lbs|
|Average strength man||16, 24 kg||32 kg|
|Strong man||24, 32 kg||na|
|Average strength man||35, 53 lbs||70 lbs|
|Strong man||53, 70 lbs||na|
While you are at it, I highly recommend Pavel’s book “Kettlebell: Simple and Sinister” (check it out and look inside here on Amazon). That book outlines a two-movement training regimen that will cover you for the next year. It’s the exact training I did when I started and I can’t recommend it highly enough!
If you want to double down on kettlebells, then get two of the same weight. Having a matching pair opens up a ton of possibilities. It will push you over the $100 limit, but it’s certainly a nice thing to have.
I mentioned above that I don’t use my sandbag, but that’s specific to me. There are a ton of people out there who do and love them.
A sandbag is one of the most versatile resistance training tools you can buy. Every major movement can be performed using one. And you can do a ton of things you can’t do with standard weights.
Not only that, but the unstable nature of a sandbag adds an element of stability to your training. It can truly challenge you in ways that a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells cannot.
My recommendation here is to get a sandbag with easily changeable weight as well as a variety of handles. These two features add greatly to its functionality.
If you are an Amazon shopper, I’d go straight to the bag made by Rubber Banditz. It has a ton of handle options and you can easily change the load in small increments up to 50 lbs. It’s super durable and incredibly well made. Check out a full description here on Amazon.
I personally like the options over at Rep Fitness a little bit better. Rep makes 4 different sizes, each coming in 7 different colors. They are built incredibly well and will last you a lifetime. See what all those options look like here on Rep’s site.
What about cardio?
You can’t go to a commercial gym without running into a sea of treadmills, ellipticals, and rowers. These expensive machines are one of the biggest draws for any big box gym.
The models you see and use at those gyms can run anywhere from $5,000 – $12,000 each. Home versions start at around $800 and decent units are $1500 and above. This puts those types of cardio workouts well outside of our $100 at home training budget.
As an aside, if you are longing for your time on a treadmill and want to do it on a budget, this model by Horizon is your best bet. It’s well over $100, but it’s one of the lowest priced treadmills you’ll find without buying junk.
This doesn’t mean you need to give up on cardio, though! Even if you don’t want to leave the house to run, bike, or walk outside, you can get a killer cardio session in for well under $100.
While there are a ton of options here, I’m going to give you my favorites only. These will be versatile, inexpensive, and things you’ll continue to be able to use long after you are able to go back to your normal routine and hit the gym.
Boxers have known for decades the intense cardio training that a jump rope provides. It can be used for low-intensity steady-state sessions, fast-paced high-intensity sessions, and everything in between.
It also helps develop hand-eye coordination, endurance, and will give your calves a great workout!
Believe it or not, you can easily spend more than $100 on a good rope, but I really don’t think that’s necessary. You want a set with comfortable handles, decent bearings, and a durable rope.
I think this rope by WOD Nation is perfect. You get two different weight cables, one pair of handles, and it comes in six color options. Bonus, it comes in way below the $100 mark! Get your set on Amazon here and don’t miss a single day of cardio!
If you want to add some upper body work to your rope training, picking up a set of battle ropes is ideal. My favorite thing about using battle ropes for training cardio is that it’s over in no time. Battle ropes are an amazing way to get in a quick HIIT session and get on with your day.
When you are done with them, coil them up and stick them in a closet. They take up no room at all when storing them. You will need a bit of room to use them, though. You may need to pull your car out of the garage or clear a path in the basement.
I can’t believe what some companies charge for battle ropes. So many are so overpriced! I highly recommend the nylon sleeved set by Rep Fitness. Great grip on the ends and a nylon sleeve over the entire rope to prevent wear and abrasion. They are priced perfectly too. Check out both available options here at Rep Fitness.
The silver lining
One of the best ways to get your body to respond and progress is to change up your training. With all the craziness going on in the world and with the current pandemic closing down all the gyms, many of you have been thrown off your training schedules.
That may turn out to be a good thing. You are now forced to do a couple of things that you may not have done before.
First, you are training at home. Many of you for the first time. I firmly believe that everyone should be able to train at home. That’s the whole reason I started this website along with my YouTube channel. Once you start doing that, you may never want to go back to your big box gym.
Second, you are forced to be creative. Times are also tough financially for many, but I think that with the options above, many of you will be surprised at just how effective some of these simple options can be.
The most important thing is to keep training!
Don’t just sit around on the couch and watch Netflix if you are stuck at home. Take this time to double down on your health. Train more often than you used to. Don’t skip a workout. Treat yourself right.
That’s what I’m doing. I’m in my gym every day now. Sometimes twice a day. I’m putting my health first and I hope you will do the same. I also hope that these suggestions help you do that in a way that fits your home and your budget.
Stay safe and healthy, everyone!