Help me outfit a budget home gym
October 8, 2012 12:58 PM   Subscribe

I have $800 in "stay-fit" benefits to use before the end of the year for my job. Help me put together a simple home gym for going into the winter.

I want to outfit a simple home gym for around $800. I own no exercise equipment other than a Jamis hybrid bike. I have a carpeted basement to put it all in. I'm a single male in my mid 40s, six feet tall, around 185 lbs. I don't have much muscle mass in my arms, my legs are OK. I get bored easily with exercise. I need some cardio and strength I guess. I can do a few pushups at a time, squats are OK. I don't like driving to a gym, generally.

I'm starting with an elliptical that's around $600 (already selected a model so I don't need feedback on that).

So I have $200. Do I get weights? A bench? Some kind of system? Mats? Trainer? What? Bonus points if it's stuff my kids (11 and 10) might be interested in to make sure they have a fit lifestyle.

By the way, the $800 renews again in January, so I can expand it in a few months.

Here's the list of eligible expenses.

Health Club/Gym Membership
Health club/gym membership dues and initiation fees are eligible.

A health club/gym membership that offers the following minimum services is eligible for reimbursement:

Cardiovascular equipment (for example, treadmills, elliptical machines, stationary bikes, rowing machines)
Strength training equipment (for example, free weights, weight machines)
Family memberships at a health club are eligible for reimbursement as long as the employee is also a member.

Group Exercise Classes

Group exercises classes covered under the benefit are limited to:

Aerobics for expectant or new mothers
Cardio kickboxing
Circuit training
Martial arts
Strength training
Tai Chi
Water aerobics

Home Exercise Equipment

Home exercise equipment covered under the benefit is limited to:

Bicycle, custom (new bikes only), limit of one bicycle per calendar year
Bicycle, preassembled (replacement parts for a bike or replacement parts for a custom built bike are not eligible), limit of one bicycle per calendar year
BOSU Balance Trainer
Elliptical machine
Pull-up bar
Skier's Edge stationary ski equipment
Stair stepper/climber
Stationary bike stand
Stationary bike
Stationary rowing machine
TRX system
Universal machine (for example, Bow Flex, Smith systems)
Upper body ergometer
Weights – benches, bars, racks (cables, accessories, repairs are not eligible)
Weights – dumbbells, medicine balls
Weights – plates for bars

Personal Training Services

Personal training services purchased from a certified personal trainer may be submitted for reimbursement.

posted by punocchio to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For strength training:

Get a bench. If you plan on working out alone(not the greatest idea in general, but who cares) probably avoid a bench-press bench. Last thing you need to do is drop a bar on your neck. However, you can do dumbbell flys, rows, etc relatively safely with such a piece of equipment. Something like this or this. You don't NEED an adjustable bench, but just whatever looks good.

For weights, all you really need are dumbbells. Get a range, say 10, 15, 20, 25, 30. You can start almost any exercise at a 10 and slowly work your way up. Unless you get really serious, anything about 30 is going to be excessive and lead to injury. These things are shockingly expensive for just being lumps of metal, but that's how it is. Don't get the stupid "adjustable weight" sets, where you attach a series of weights to a bar with various fancy pin systems. They're a waste and horrible. Just lumps of metal at various weights will do. You should, however, consider getting a bar like such to add more options in your routine.

Lastly, add a pull up bar. This is really the only stuff you need to do a relatively safe and healthy strength workout, and their flexibility means you can try out tons of exercises and routines.

The rest is just trim. Do you want a nice set of gloves? Get them. Want to do situps and your floor feels awful? Get a mat.
posted by Patbon at 1:15 PM on October 8, 2012

Much of this is goal-dependant. What do you want to accomplish? What do you like to do, and are comfortable doing?

If you want to stretch your cash, getting used exercise equipment (generally weights, racks, benches of various sizes and configurations) off of places like Craigslist is a good deal.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:38 PM on October 8, 2012

Get what you'll use. For me, that's a bike trainer. If I had to choose the next thing, it would likely be a rowing machine.
posted by advicepig at 4:24 PM on October 8, 2012

Since you're trying to spend money, spend it on dumbbells and a bench. (possibly some kettlebells, which are less than boring) For the money, I'd pick a rowing machine over an elliptical, especially with the crack about your upper body, but that's me. Maybe a stand that turns your cycle into a stationary bike you can ride in the basement.

Go 'ride bikes' with your kids. Make a local exploration and a game of it by getting a map of your town and coloring in each street you've ridden on; try to fill in the whole map. Spend money on safety gear, spend time with them 'getting lost on purpose' and seeing new places.

Your basement ceiling may be too low, but there is no cardio workout like 15 straight minutes on a $10 jumprope. Unfortunately, you were trying to spend money.
posted by bartleby at 5:08 PM on October 8, 2012

The first thing I got for my home gym was a rowing machine. Having used cheap ones before, I wanted a decent one, so I got a Concept2. I have more than gotten my money's worth out of it. It's a great overall workout, low impact, and the computer gives you enough metrics to allow you to gauge what you've done and compete against yourself.

The next things I got were a weight bench and dumbbells from 5 to 40 lbs. (slowly; after 20 lbs. I bought new ones as I needed them). As Patbon says, if you're going to train with free weights without a spotter, use dumbbells, not barbells.

Finally, I got a set of quality rollers with a resistance unit for riding my bike indoors in the winter. Trainers are godawful boring, but rollers require that you pay attention, or you'll ride off the side. Since you have no forward momentum, you merely have an ignominious fall, but avoiding the fall takes some attention and makes the rollers more engaging. A good bike plus rollers with resistance makes for an excellent workout. You can put cheap slick tires on the bike if you want to save your good rubber for outdoor rides, or even get a second set of wheels to use on the rollers. (If you go for a trainer, extra tires are even more necessary, since trainers tend to wear out tires very quickly.)

Note: if you intend to watch TV or videos while riding on rollers, put your screen/device about 5-10 feet directly in front of your bike. You tend to ride in the direction you're looking, so make sure you're not looking off to the side.

I also have a NordicTrack that was a hand-me-down from a relative, and I try to use it in the late fall/early winter before our XC ski season starts, but I wouldn't have bought one myself.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:35 PM on October 8, 2012

Best answer: The eliptical is a good choice.

nthing a chinup bar, but this might be something more suitable later when you've gained some upper body strength and lost a little weight. Otherwise, it could potentially be discouraging.

I think that a good multi-purpose bench is a good investment. Look for ones with a squat rack and maybe an attachment for leg work. It it also has a floating (or even a fixed) chinup bar bonus. You mention carpets. If you don't want to ruin them, it might be worth the effort to pick up a bunch of 1' carpet squares (either from the dollar store or the cheap sticky-backed carpet squares from the Home Depot or something) to place under the legs of the bench, or something. You'll probably want 2 or 3 layers.

Instead of a series of dumbells, see if you can get a couple of dumbell-sized barbell handles and a whole mess of plates. You're only going to be lifting two of them at any given time. Generally. No need to have a dozen+ dumbells of different weights (which is a bigger headache to move around than a collection of plates). Also, speedbars are quite versatile; most barbell/speedbars are the 1" non-Olympic version so you can share plates.

Iron (plates) cost a lot more than one might expect, so be prepared for sticker shock. Or go Craigslist. Around March, my local Craiglist is flooded with like-new exercise equipment bought during Christmas/New Year's resolution and it isn't warm or close enough to Summer that a lot of people give up and try to get rid of stuff they "don't use."

Will your basement be heated to a comfortable temperature during the times that you anticipate exercising? I'm cheap and don't heat my apartment overnight and my training area is cold in the mornings when I usually exercise. Makes it much easier to skip a session, or give myself injuries from not being warm/warmed-up. Possible to justify spending some of that money on a space heater and timer?

The most important thing, though, is not equipment but a plan and the will to keep at it. Do you have any quantitative goals set for yourself?

Can any of the money go towards training and/or physio/(registered)massage(therapy)?
posted by porpoise at 6:40 PM on October 8, 2012

If you'd like to lift weights and have a small space for storage, I cannot recommend SelectTech 1090's highly enough. Wide variety of weights in a very small footprint. They also make a lighter version that increases in a smaller increment that goes from 5 pounds to 52.5 pounds. That version is also much cheaper.

I've had mine for several years and use them a few times a week. These replaced a whole slew of hex dumbbells that my husband was sick of looking at cluttering up the house. These are seriously one of the best fitness purchases I've ever made.
posted by 26.2 at 7:07 PM on October 8, 2012

I'm going to go a different route, and suggest that rather than buying a bunch of weights, which for most people end up gathering dust, you might want to take that money to invest in a few exercise programs. P90X is pretty extreme if you want to really push yourself to the limit, but there are other programs that won't push you quite as hard. A program like that with a chinup bar and a few resistance bands (or a few dumbells) can get you in amazing shape, if you're willing to put in the effort.

If you've done strength training in the past, and enjoyed it, than buying a weight bench and weight setup may be the thing for you, but pretty much everyone I know with a weight bench has it sitting in their garage unused.

Another option would be maybe to invest in some hiking equipment, which might not help right away, but would make for some wonderful family exercise in the future.
posted by markblasco at 8:38 PM on October 8, 2012

-TRX is definitely a good choice. Not only is it bodyweight-oriented, but it's hella portable. I ghetto'd one together, but would have gotten the Cadillac version if someone else was buying. ;-)

-Are kettlebells covered under "weights"? If so, the most badass kettlebells on the market are surprisingly affordable. A session or two with a certified trainer to help get the movements down properly is often a good thing for people new to KB work. Personally, I love Pavel's Enter The Kettlebell book & DVD.

-Cannot recommend Convict Conditioning highly enough. Even if it's not covered, go out of pocket for the $40. Do yourself that much of a righteous. The perspective in those pages is invaluable to someone looking to get strong in a functional/can-do-stuff-beyond-pose kind of way.

-I'm personally not recommending the weight bench. There's plenty of ink in CC devoted to why bench pressing is long-term bad for joint health and ROM, and why push-ups (progressing up to the 1-armed as well as handstand versions) are the exact opposite. Workout from your feet. Because it's quite rare to find oneself pushing something away while braced from the shoulders, but quite common to have to lift something heavy from the ground up over your head engaging your back and legs.

I too hate driving to the gym. I also do several road-trips for work a year. Portable workout tools are all-they-way good in my eyes. And nothing is more portable than your own body.

Best of luck!
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:45 AM on October 9, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for some great input!

Porpoise - nope, no specific plan other than try to find time every other day or so to work out. The problem is I get bored with exercise - the only way I can even tolerate something like the elliptical is if I'm watching TV while doing it. And I get worn out rather than invigorated. I had heard that there's some endorphin or something that's released with exercise but I don't seem to feel it.

I've had periods where I'll try to build up my pushup and squat routines using something like fitocracy but even then I lose interest. On the other hand, I'm of the mindset to not waste money, so if i've bought something I tend to use it so I don't feel bad about having bought it.

Maybe I should try a personal trainer for the few months left in the year who can direct me personally and motivate me. (I don't want to join a gym with high initiation fees just for that though). And I really feel that at the very least I'd use an elliptical during the winter months, but maybe I could use a stand for my bike instead. I work from home and have become way too sedentary lately. I definitely want to be more functionally strong so I'll look into the Convict Conditioning too.
posted by punocchio at 9:48 AM on October 9, 2012

I highly recommend dumbbells or a barbell. Barbells will require a little more space but I have both and use them quite frequently, and both have been very effective. Also I highly recommend kettlebells, a jump rope has been great and a medicine ball. You could easily pick all that up for $800.
posted by stonecutters88 at 10:20 PM on October 9, 2012

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