Want to Build a Cheap Home Gym? Here’s How to Spend Less Than $100

A woman does yoga at home.
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With gyms across the country closing to help combat the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, you’re probably wondering how you can keep up with your workout routine while also practicing for social distancing.

Enter the home gym.

Creating a home gym will not only help you stay in shape but could also save you money in the long run, considering the high cost of gym memberships and boutique fitness classes that can cost more than $20… for a single hour.

TPH editor Caitlin Constantine is no stranger to workout-related expenses. As a triathlete, a huge chunk of her disposable cash goes toward racing fees and nutrition. She’s completed two Ironmans, seven marathons and even two ultramarathons.

But those race fees add up, to say nothing of all the time and energy she spends on her extensive training. Why add in extra hours slogging back and forth to a gym?

However, she knows staying in shape can lengthen and improve lives in every way from preventing injury to counterbalancing mental health issues — which is particularly important during these stressful times — so she’s passionate about deconstructing the myth that fitness has to be complicated and expensive.

“It’s our birthright as human beings to be able to use our bodies and make the most of them,” she says. 

So she was thrilled to share the details on the cheap home gym she built to help her cross-train cheaply and conveniently — all for less than $100.

How to Build a Home Gym for Less Than a Benjamin

To ditch the expense of her fitness membership, Constantine built a home gym for under $100. 

If that still seems pricy to you, keep in mind: You might spend that for just five Pure Barre classes or a few months of a gym membership. That doesn’t count activation fees or the gas you’ll spend getting there and back. 

Once you stock your home gym, it’s yours to keep — no membership renewal necessary.

Here’s what’s in Constantine’s workout room, and how she uses it.

Resistance Bands

Cost: $10+

Exercises: Clamshells, leg lifts, almost any bodyweight exercise 

You can amp up nearly every classic exercise you can think of by adding extra resistance. 

The cheapest way to do that? Resistance bands

Constantine found hers at a sports store for $12, but you can find them online starting for less than $10. They usually come in a set of different tensile strengths, so you can customize your workout.

Constantine notes they’re a great addition to any runner’s fitness regime.

“As a runner, I’m constantly trying to strengthen my hips,” she says. Doing resistance-assisted clamshells and leg lifts helps her accomplish that goal, and also helps with her running-related knee issues.

Balance Ball

Cost: $10-$30

Exercises: Jackknife, plank (not actually just for men, despite the video!), bridge, back extension

Ah, the stability ball. Turns out it’s good for more than just replacing your office chair and making your colleagues feel lazy!

“I like the exercise ball because it’s good for doing a lot of core work,” says Constantine. 

And as awesome as the stability ball is for core work, you’ll find you can use it for everything from glutes to arms. Tons of full-body workouts require nothing but a properly sized stability ball. 

Plus, they’re dirt cheap — starting at about $16 and going up to about $30, depending on the size and brand.

Dumbbells

This photo illustration shows a woman holding a dumbbell.
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Cost: About $20 apiece, depending on weight

Exercises: Bicep curls, shoulder press, overhead triceps extension, flyes, deadlifts, the works!

Full disclosure: This is the most expensive item on the list. Dumbbells can go for $8 or more each — and yes, that means a single dumbbell, not a set of two.

That said, dumbbells are awesome. They’re one of the most versatile and long-lived pieces of equipment you can add to your home gym.

Constantine sprung for two pairs — a 10- and 20-pound set, which she uses for everything from chest press lying on her stability ball to deadlifts.

Hers cost about $20 each, but the lighter ones are slightly cheaper if you’re not on Constantine’s super-strong level quite yet. 

If you’re just starting out and aren’t sure where you stand — or squat, as the case may be — you might consider snapping up a set of several dumbbells, or an adjustable version. That way, you’ll have a few options to choose from, and you can scale in either direction if things prove to be too heavy (or too light!).

You can also find them (and anything else on the list!) pre-owned on Craigslist to cut your costs even further. 

This even goes for bigger pieces of equipment if you have a special interest in weight training. 

Constantine says you can find many online from hopefuls who purchased, and then never used, their weight racks. (“They ended up becoming an expensive clothes hanger” instead, she says.)

Other Home Gym Odds and Ends

Although you can craft an effective workout with any or all of the home gym equipment listed above, Constantine also picked up a few more odds and ends.

Since she practices yoga to round out her intense training, she’s got a yoga mat. You can get one as cheap as $20 or get fancy — Manduka mats are pretty expensive, but they do offer a lifetime guarantee!

And her next purchase? A doorway chin-up bar, as long as she can find a good place in her home to install it. They cost between $20 and $40 and work way more body parts than just your arms: core, back, shoulders, you name it.

Staying Fit Might Be Hard, but It Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated

A white woman runs along a path that has trees and water behind her.
Caitlin Constantine supplements her at-home workouts with a strenuous training program involving long runs, swims and bike rides. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

Since Constantine’s a capital-A Athlete, she supplements her at-home workouts with a strenuous training program involving long runs, swims and bike rides. 

(“How long is long?” I asked. “Well, the long run I did on Saturday was like 12 miles,” she responded. So, yeah.)

But you don’t have to be in a competitive sport to be fit and healthy — or to reap the life-changing benefits of a commitment to fitness.

“All the triathlon stuff that I do, that’s way extra,” Constantine says. She considers it her hobby. 

“If I was just trying to be healthy, I would just do some planks, do some push-ups, maybe walk for an hour around my neighborhood each night.” 

“I feel like there’s this tendency to make fitness seem more complicated than it actually needs to be,” she says — partially because fitness is a huge and profitable industry.

But you don’t have to pay a coach or buy a gym membership to be healthy.

No matter what, just do something that’s not sitting for at least an hour every day. It doesn’t have to be intense or unpleasant — in fact, it should be fun! 

“There’s no one specific way to get fit,” Constantine says. “Mostly the body just wants to move.”

So pick an activity — any activity — you enjoy and get moving. Yes, dancing around in your underwear or playfully chasing your toddler around the backyard both count.

Ideally, you’ll get your heart rate up, do some weight-bearing exercises to keep your muscles strong, and stretch enough to maintain your flexibility. But it doesn’t have to be complex.

Constantine’s favorite full-body workout? The humble push-up.

“The push-up is the most amazing workout,” she says. “You do a push-up, you do it with good form, your entire body is going to be feeling it.”

It’s not about losing weight or fitting into your favorite clothes; those are just the icing on the cake. (Yes, you can, and should, still eat cake.) 

It’s about how good it feels to live your life in a strong, capable, not-sick body — and that’s especially important when facing a pandemic like the coronavirus.

“Your body is the only thing that you really get that you’re guaranteed to have for your entire life,” says Constantine. “Everything else can be taken away from you.”

So you should do what you can to take care of it — especially if it doesn’t have to cost very much.

Jamie Cattanach is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder. Editor Sushil Cheema contributed to this post.