The Bargain Basement Home Gym

The plan is this: No health club membership. Other than free-pass visits to friends' gyms or 1-week promotional specials, you will work at home. Why? Pick a reason.
  • You don't want to spend entirely too much money each month paying to access a dirty, poorly-maintained club where the profits go straight into building more locations (that also get run down, to build more locations).
  • You're sick of clubs constantly trying to upsell you with classes, personal training, and testing services (which are intended to provide results that recommend that you sign up for personal training).
  • You'd rather not feel inferior to The Beautiful People™ who are in maintenance mode, or are just there to strut and chat.
  • You don't want to waste time traveling to a club and back, waiting around for the equipment you want to use, cleaning the aforementioned smelly equipment that others have sweated on ... before finally changing and showering with strangers, and hoping you don't catch any foot diseases from the floor.
Sound familiar? Consider the alternative: Get your own equipment for free (or cheap), then learn how to use it properly. Start with the free stuff, then add what you need in lieu of a monthly membership fee at a club.

My wife collected a bunch of exercise equipment for me I never used for years. Once I had the internal motivation to change and stay committed to it, I started doing the basics with what she'd given me, and then I looked for more equipment.

What did I get for free?

Primarily, my home gym is comprised of stuff collected from other people who gave up on exercise: a Weider home gym (with chest butterfly, press, leg curl, and cable pulldown features) , an exercise bike, a manual treadmill, a weight bench, 8 hex dumbbells and 4 regular dumbbells (from 8-30 pounds), some extra vinyl weights (sadly, no weight lifting bar included) and a padded vinyl exercise mat with exercises illustrated on it.

Craigslist, Freecycle and Kijiji are your friend, in addition to any local web resources (for me: UsedOttawa has provided some gems). Also: the front street the night before garbage day... that's where I grabbed the exercise bike from. Rather than being "garbage", this street find turned out to be better than the one my wife had initially procured through a web ad. My guess is it was taking up valuable space in a home where the owner realized it wasn't going to be used anymore. Or maybe it was surplussed from an upgrade? In any case, it was an upgrade for me.

My brother in law gave me his mega-sized boombox with a busted CD changer that he was ready to ship off to Value Village. I considered the enormous amount of money that people will pay for teenie little stereo systems where they can dock their iPod, then I decided to take it for myself. I already had the required connector cable from Radio Shack (1/8" Stereo MiniPlug Y-Cable to Left and Right Male RCA plug—Don't panic if this sounds like gobbledygook: just tell the store what devices you're trying to connect and they'll find the right cable). Now, I plug my laptop to the AUX input of the boombox and rock out for 40-60 minutes 6-7 days a week.

I looked at the price of weighted vests and thought, "Pfft! Why not just get a used backpack and fill it with my old vinyl weights?" And so I did. Now, I'm looking at the price of resistance straps and weight lifting chains and thinking the same thing: why pay a "fitness equipment" premium for items you can buy at the hardware store? Princess Auto sells chain and lifting straps for cheap.

Most importantly, I collected enough second hand T-shirt and sweatpants outfits on my rack that I could—in theory—only do laundry once a week. In practice, that would be horribly stinky, but there's definitely never the excuse that I can't work out due to lack of an outfit.

What did I actually buy new?
  • I ordered a book with schedules and planned workouts you can do at home with no equipment / modest equipment (~$18). Even if all you have at home are soup cans, milk jugs and a beach towel, this book has exercises you can do.
  • I picked up a discount subscription to Men's Health because I love getting mail and I want something to reorient me to the goal each month ($40 for 2 years).
  • I added a 300 pound Olympic barbell system (for ~$300, now upped to 365 pounds). I could probably have been satisfied with a free barbell system had I found one I liked, but I wanted one ASAP. I got it from Fitness Depot Ottawa, which was fine in a pinch but I don't recommend them. They're a franchise-owned store and their prices are higher than the corporate entity that runs the website. They markup their products significantly higher than the corporate stores, and seem to have problems keeping staple items—like 10 pound plates—in stock. Selection is also lacking. Worst of all, they don't respond to customer complaints.
  • I added a chin-up bar and an EZ curl bar from Fitness Avenue (online), who I do recommend. It was a bit scary ordering a bar over the Internet, but the price was right. If you go this route, order everything you think you'll need because for the shipping cost (which is reasonable) it's better to order several items at once. The EZ curl combo bar was great! 21 pounds of solid, chromed steel. Perfectly balanced. A wonderful bargain for $40! My only qualm was that the included spring collars didn't stay on the smooth bar ends too well. So, I swapped a pair of T-Bolt screwed collars that came from my 7 foot barball. Great idea, because the spring collars were much better suited to that bar (which has threaded ends that the spring collars grip well!). Double bonus! The chin up bar I ordered was $20 (marked down from $60). I'll write more about it after I've tested it more extensively.
  • A stability ball (also known as a Swiss ball or a Balance ball). Using it instead of a flat bench saves space, adds challenge to your exercises, and saves money. A good bench runs $100 and up. My ball (ZoN Balance Ball, Medium size - 65cm - includes pump and DVD) cost me $5.93 on sale (saved $14.06) at Canadian Tire.
  • A heart rate monitor ($30, including tax and shipping). When I started adding hard, daily exercise to my calorie counting regimen, it became less clear what my net calories were. I had stopped losing weight because I was exercising too much for the amount I was eating. Having this monitor makes it possible for me to exercise just the right amount every day. Using the calorie counting function, I exercise until my eaten calories are reduced down to my net target (e.g. 2000 calories eaten - 500 calories burned through exercise = 1500 net calories). And the weight is coming off again.
What's left to add?

I will be upgrading the weight bench to one with a wider spacing and higher capacity (so I can lift more weight on my barbell safely). Right now I have my eye on a bench from Costco. Their Marcy benches are well rated, shipping and handling is included in the price, and I know the return policy will be good if I have a problem. Naturally, I'll keep looking for a used one. However, Olympic width benches are rarer, and the used ones I've seen rival the cost of a new bench at Costco.

What's in your bargain basement gym?