6 Ways to Create a Great Home Gym For Less

By Linsey Knerl on 16 January 2009 21 comments
Photo: Dave Herholz

If your New Year’s Resolutions involve exercising a bit more, you’re not alone.  While the fitness industry won’t see as big a boom as they are used to this year, there’s still lots of money to be made.  Before you sign up for the next big fitness trend, consider checking out these six ways to buff up at home for less.   

Use Your Television – Personal trainers come and go (and cost a pretty penny, too!)  If you have a little self-discipline, and love the variety that fitness videos offer, you can use the tube as your instructor!  I personally use the Roku Netflix Viewing Box (highly recommended) to access dozens of unique and inspiring fitness videos through my Netflix account.  For the $99 it costs for the Roku box (which plays Starz movies and will soon also have access to Amazon Unbox VOD) plus the $9 or so I’m spending on my Netflix account anyway, I get to work out a hundred different ways in the comfort of my own home.  My favorites include 10-minute Dance Cardio Blast, the yoga selections, and the Salsa dance videos.  (My daughter enjoys it too – we sometimes use them for home school physical education activities.) 

Use Your Body – Natural resistance training is perhaps one of the most effective (and affordable) methods of getting in better physical shape.  By using your own body and some affordable resistance bands or small free weights, you can get quite a workout.  (Not to mention the amazing effects that it can have on a woman’s bone density.)  For the beginner, or a small gal like me, a few hand weights and a resistance band will cost you no more than $20-30 (less if you hit the clearance rack or second-hand shops.)  Many health clinics give out the bands for free!  An inflatable exercise ball is another good way to build strength through this training, and they can be picked up at a retailer for around $10-15. 

Use Your Realtor – This may sound a bit predatory, but with all the foreclosed homes in our area, many people we know have been offered more than their share of free to low-cost exercise equipment.  When home owners are pressured to leave quickly, they often can’t take their bulky weight machines or treadmills with them.  This leaves you with an opportunity to help them out and benefit, too!  If you are aware of the hardship that exercise equipment can cause, offer a fair price for the equipment (many times fitness machines have also been given as payment for moving services.)  By buying it directly from the homeowner, they are getting a better deal than if they sold it to a second-hand exercise shop, and you will pay far less, as well.  You can also talk to realtors and “stagers” in your area, as they often use equipment in walk-throughs and model homes.  Once they no longer need it, however, it often gets thrown away or put into storage for a lofty fee. 

Use Craigslist – Many of these same homeowners use Craigslist for listing their equipment.  Others times, avid New Year Resolution makers find that their newly-purchased $1000 equipment investment has not been worth it, and they try to dump it on Craigslist.  Watch for items that you really want, and don’t be afraid to make a lower offer.  If something sits there long enough, you may get your price!  (And don’t forget to check the “free” section for last-minute “you pick up” items.) 

Use the Internet – I wrote awhile back about how much I liked the Food Pyramid website, and how it can save money over club programs that require weekly meetings or weigh-ins.  My new favorite tool, however, is About.com’ CalorieCount.  It’s totally free, pretty accurate, and completely motivating.  (Plus it’s web-based, so you can use it at home or at work with no software installation.)  I can enter all the information for my body type, desired weight, and activity level (among other factors) and watch my calorie intake against my burn level.  The best part of the program is the recipe feature.  If I’m not sure how many calories are in a meal I’ve made, I just cut and paste the recipe into the form, and it tells me!  I’ve avoided so many “empty calories” by using this program, and I’ve resisted the urge to spend money buying popular diet guides or “points” calculators online.  (You can also find support groups here, as well.) 

Use Your Insurance – Are you aware of all of the health programs available to you under your health insurance plan?  Maybe you are eligible for an employer-specific initiative designed to give you access to health tools and fitness discounts.  If you’re not already taking advantage of these resources, you may be missing out.  Many insurance plans offer free perks like smoking-cessation prescriptions and programs, gym equipment rentals, and discounts on active wear and vitamins.  While the savings may not be great, it could help you make that initial investment into your own home gym.  And don’t forget the most valuable service of all – the annual physical exam.  Knowing that you’re healthy enough to begin a diet or exercise program is the best first step in getting fit, and for many plans, its not subject to a co-pay or deductible. 

If money’s been holding you back from your health goals, get creative and get moving! 

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Guest's picture

Wow, some of these are things I never would have thought to try. Like asking realtors about left behind equipment. That could possibly be a small business in itself. I know about buying equipment later on in the year since everyone bought stuff for their New Year's resolutions and end up getting rid of the equipment because it wasn't being used. I'm still very pleased with my Total Gym. It kind of works with natural resistance since your body weight works with the incline feature. It doesn't take up a lot of space and it really does help my body to be more flexible and strong. Now if I could just get my husband to stop putting things onto it as it takes an extra 10 minutes just to unload it when I finally persuade myself to use it!

Guest's picture

I forgot to say, I really love that recipe calculator at about.com, too!! I don't really count calories because it just makes me messed up in my head, but like you mentioned, I like to enter my made from scratch meals, like casseroles, etc., to get an idea.

Guest's picture

I see equipment on craigslist and freecycle all the time. People get bored with it or want their living space back. If your really dedicated there is always plenty of equipment at garage sales in the spring.

Yoga is another great workout that doesn't require any gear and you can do it at home.

Guest's picture

Be sure to also check the "free" section of your local Craigslist. And sign up for your local Freecycle group to check for freebies or post your "wanted" items. http://www.freecycle.org/

Myscha Theriault's picture

We've been wondering about that box to use with online Netflix. Sounds like it's been working for you?

Linsey Knerl's picture

The box is totally worth it!  We got it before the announcement that they would be adding the Amazon Unbox movies and TV shows to the players capabilities.  As it stands now, we use it in place of cable.  Granted, you won't get all the new shows on it, but many of the shows we watch now are on there the very next week.  There are lots of kids movies and TV shows (Disney channel stuff) and educational shows (lots from the Discovery channel and PBS).  We use it for homeschool lessons and for afternoon entertainment.  They are adding new instant viewing movies all the time, too.  Anything that shows on Starz pretty much ends up on the box.  It's really cool, and we have no cable bills!  (We have slower internet connection and the buffering capability is excellent.)

If you see every new movie the week it comes out, you may be disappointed.  But if you are like us, a bit homebound and thrifty, you'll appreciate the variety of indie and foreign films, along with releases from 2007 and 2008.  (Plus classics.)  We also like watching older TV shows like Family Ties, Leave it to Beaver, and MacGyver.  LOL

Any questions on the box, just let me know!

Linsey Knerl

Myscha Theriault's picture

Thanks, Linsey! My husband's downstairs for lunch break right now and is eating this up as an idea. Does it need to be close to the ethernet connection? That might be a pain for us. And are the other movie places you recommended free or for fee like Netflix?

I'm sure it's totally worth it if you say so, because it's pretty obvious you guys make your financial decisions very similar to the way we do. We are even wondering if those other options come without fee, if it might be worth it to bump down to one Netflix disc out at a time rather than two.

Linsey Knerl's picture

We use our wireless connection from our home router to work off of.  It's a bit more slow, though (lower video quality.)  If you want to take advantage of the higer video qualities and the HD movies, you'd probably want to use a CAT5 ethernet cable directly into the box. 

Netflix requires you to subscribe to the $8.99 plan or above to get unlimited instant viewing.  The $4.99 plan only gives you 2 hours.  We like getting two new movies out at a time, which comes out to about 2-3 newer movies a week, in addition to the movies in the instant viewing plan.

The Amazon Unbox program will require additional fees for viewing most movies (it would be a lot like pay-per-view.)  What I like about this, however, is that they offer free movies and discounted 99cent promotions throughout the month, so if we really want to see something right away, we don't have to wait for it to arrive in the mail or drive to the video store or library.  We can also order premium cable shows from channels like Sci-fi and such with an ala carte method (per show.)  I can't wait for it to be availble on the box!

Linsey Knerl

Myscha Theriault's picture

So that would include the new start up season of Battle Star Galactica? Although that one will probably be online. There are a few shows we haven't been able to find online and so have to wait until Netflix offers them by season. Dexter comes to mind.

We were talking over his lunch break that we might get this box as a sort of Valentine house gift to ourselves.

Guest's picture

Sparkpeople.com has the calorie counter, the exercise tracker, free workout videos, free low-fat recipes and a whole lot more. Free to join and it has an interface that's minorly competitive (you earn points for doing various things around the site) which is very motivating to me. I'd check it out if you're interested in this stuff.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Thanks for the good review, Erin!  I've been browsing over there for a while, and I love the idea of having everything in one place.  The videos look good, although I have no way of watching them in my living room where I work out.  Great resource!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

Great post!! I just wanted to knock another vote up for sparkpeople. It's an incredible site and has just about anything anybody would need for working out or losing weight.

Guest's picture

If you want to do anything with your lower body, get a rack with an olypic bar and weights, you can do lunges, squats, good mornings, followed by some straight legged dead lifts and you wont be able to walk for a week

woman will only gain muscle tone and burn fat, men will build more muscle doing these same lifts, this is due to testosterone

Guest's picture

I'm against paying for a gym, not only for the fact that there monthly fees are pretty expensive, but also they try to tempt you with additional services you have to pay for.

Another way they try to extract money from their customers is by locking them into long term contracts.

So it's nice to see a great post about the alternatives.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I admit that I was a gym junkie for many years.  I loved the atmosphere of the gym, the friends that I made there, and the chance to have the gym daycare center watch my kiddos while I worked out and took a break from life for a bit.

Now that I live rurally, there are no such options.  I HAD to come up with a home gym scenerio, and with the brutal Nebraska winters limiting my outdoor activities, it just made good sense.  I am saving money, too, so I thought "why not pass these tips along?"

Thanks for all the great comments!

Linsey Knerl


Guest's picture

I think the sixth tip is becoming unrealistic for now, especially with people losing their insurance along with their jobs. The thing with realtors is quite new to me. I never thought about that so I might as well ask around the neighborhood. Thanks for these tips, Linsey!

Linsey Knerl's picture

Tip number six is fading for many, I'll agree.  But it's a good reminder for those that DO have insurance (and fail to use it) to take advantage while they can.  Too many times I hear from folks who've lost their job:  "Boy I wish I'd gotten that physical, filled that prescription, had my smoking cessation program completed, etc BEFORE I lost my job."  As someone who buys their own self-employment plan, I only dream of the awesome perks that I had under my health insurance plan that I had while working for the government.

Many times people take these things for granted.  It's a wakeup call for many to actual use their insurance plan to the fullest... after all, they're paying for it!

Thanks again!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

Excellent post! Keep 'em coming!

These are really helpful tips! With the financial problems we have right now, it sure helps to find tips which can ease the strain on the budget.

Guest's picture

I think this was a great post! I love the Netflix idea. I also believe that most people completely disregard bodyweight only exercises, and it's a real shame. You don't need to buy any equipment to get in great shape.

I've posted a similar article here if anyone is interested.


Guest's picture
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Guest's picture
Bill Rice

I scored my treadmill from a foreclosure. It's kinda sad, but the price was right :)

I've seen a couple more sheriff sales with a lot of valuable stuff on the front lawn. It always leaves me curious why they didn't try to sell that stuff.

Back to the home gym topic--never buy this stuff new. Most don't have the discipline to stick to a fitness program (and you might not either) so the Craigslist suggestion is priceless. You can get a deal on others' attempt to recover their failed investment and save yourself a lot of money as you start-up your program.