Best Equipment for a Home Gym

Whatever your budget, you can get the exercise you need without a gym membership

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person using weights and exercising in living room in front of laptop Photo: Shutterstock

Over the past year and a half, how and where we live our lives have been dramatically transformed. In light of a global pandemic and the stresses that come along with it, the importance of fitness and health has been made clear. During this time, gyms have closed and then opened again, but with certain restrictions and some level of risk. 

Because of all these factors, it’s likely no surprise that home fitness equipment sales have surged recently. People are investing in everything from adjustable dumbbells to high-end treadmills and exercise bikes, and joining online classes that sometimes replicate some of the communal experience of a group workout.

The U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines (PDF) recommend doing a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (half that amount if it’s vigorous) and at least two whole-body strength training sessions each week. That’s achievable at home, even with a very basic setup.

“There’s a misconception that you need all sorts of snazzy equipment at home, like what you see at the gym, but that’s just not the case,” says Michael Piercy, MS, an American Council on Exercise master trainer (he teaches other trainers) and owner of the Lab in Fairfield, N.J. “You can get a great workout with just a couple of pieces of equipment.”

Your Goals and Your Space

Before you start thinking about your budget, there are two key factors that will be different for everyone considering setting up a home gym: your goals and the physical space you have available.

“Start at your fitness goals,” says Peter Anzalone, a former senior test project leader for fitness equipment at Consumer Reports. “You want whatever equipment you’re purchasing to be able to support those goals.”

More on Exercising at Home

While a well-rounded program is important, some people may be more focused on strength or cardio. Or perhaps you just need variety to keep from getting bored. Pete McCall, CSCS, a master trainer in San Diego and author of "Smarter Workouts: The Science of Exercise Made Simple" (Human Kinetics, 2019), suggests trying to recreate what you were doing at the gym, at least as much as possible.

The next thing to think about is space. You can get a lot done in a 6x6-foot area, including strength moves, some general calisthenics, and stretching or yoga.

For most cardio machines, you’ll need about 6 to 8 feet by 4 feet for the machine itself. With a treadmill, you’ll want a couple of feet around the perimeter and 6 feet behind it for safety, Anzalone says. A treadmill also needs sturdy floor support to handle the vibration and pounding.

Once you know what you’re looking to achieve and where you can make a little room to move, you can set yourself up for success at any budget.

If You Want to Spend $20 to $1,000

At a minimum: Invest in a yoga mat (from $20), which you can use for yoga, stretching, and floor exercises. See CR’s guide to yoga mats to find a mat that will best fit your needs.

Then, for strength training, add two sets of dumbbells ($30 and up, depending on the weights), one lighter and one heavier, McCall says. For a little more versatility, he also recommends adding a two-arm resistance band that you can attach to a door frame (from $20). “It acts like a cable machine at the gym,” says McCall. “You can do a lot of exercises from a standing position vs. seated, which engages muscles from your shoulders to your hips.”

Cardio machines are hard to afford with a limited budget, but you can find indoor stationary bikes for less than $500 and rowing machines for less than $800. Quality varies, and CR does not currently test these machines.

You could also consider a set of adjustable dumbbells ($220 and up), which can facilitate a full-body strength-training routine.

If you already have an outdoor bike, mounting it on a bike trainer ($100 and up) lets you easily convert it into an indoor cardio machine.

A jump rope (from $10) is another versatile option with a small price: It can provide an excellent cardio workout (and is good for circuit training), as long as you have outdoor space or high ceilings.

If you’re considering buying a used treadmill, see our tips for choosing one that is likelier to last. Quality treadmills for less than $1,000 can be hard to come by, but if that is all you want in your home gym, CR recommends several treadmills right around this price. The Nautilus T616, $1,000, is durable, well-constructed, and easy to use.

To see more treadmills from CR’s reviews of 34 models from LifeSpan, Nautilus, NordicTrack, Precor, and others, check our treadmill ratings and our buying guide for more information.

If You Want to Spend $1,000 to $3,000

Keep the mat, weights, bands, and jump rope, and add a stability ball or a ball-bench hybrid (you can lift it, use it as a weight bench, or stand on it). McCall also recommends a suspension trainer (less than $200), such as the TRX, which anchors in a door frame and adds an extra stability challenge to body weight exercises.

For cardio, you have a few more options in this price range. With treadmills at this price, says Anzalone, expect a little more horsepower, a slightly thicker deck, a slightly larger running surface, and more connectivity (like Bluetooth) options than you’d get with the least expensive models.

You can get a fully featured folding treadmill (good for tight spaces) like the Sole F80 for about $1,500. It comes with a chest-strap heart rate monitor (key for tracking your intensity and progress over time) and a variety of exercise programs.

An elliptical can be a smart addition for low-impact cardio. In this price range, you can get a relatively heavy-duty machine with options for resistance, a wide variety of exercise programs, and nicer displays than you’d find with the least expensive models, Anzalone says.

The Schwinn 470, $900, is a solid machine that comes with 11 incline levels to help customize your workout. And the price is a relative steal—less than half that of some similar models.

To see more ellipticals from CR’s reviews of 28 models from LifeFitness, Sole, Schwinn, True, and others, check our elliptical ratings and our buying guide for more information.

You could also potentially invest in an exercise bike for your cardio workout. The studio or spin-style bikes that have become popular in recent years mimic the experience of riding a road bike, and many come with a touch screen that allows you to access a wide variety of workout programs.

If You Want to Spend $3,000 to $8,000+

Plan for all of the above resistance training equipment, but expand your weight collection. If space is a concern, look into adjustable dumbbells that range from 3 to 50 pounds in one compact set.

You don’t need a multigym, a large piece of equipment that allows you to do different strength moves with a range of weight (usually in a seated position).

“I think even at high budgets, functional equipment options (dumbbells and a suspension trainer) add more value, versatility, and bang for your buck than a multigym,” says Piercy at the Lab in New Jersey.

If you do want to go the multigym route, he recommends a cable-based machine, which is more versatile and challenging.

Looking for more instruction for your weight workouts? Interactive home gyms such as Mirror and Tonal ($1,500 and up), where a virtual trainer (via a large display) walks you through moves for a variety of workouts—including Pilates, boxing, and yoga—are designed to make it feel like you have a trainer in the room with you.

Add a fitness tracker or smartwatch if you want to monitor your stats during exercise and track your progress over time.

At this price, you can also get a top-of-the-line treadmill. The larger nonfolding models tend to be sturdier and well equipped for running at a fast pace, and many of these models also come with Bluetooth connectivity and interactive programs.

Our treadmill ratings include sturdy, versatile models from Precor and Sole.

Pair your weights, virtual classes, and treadmill with a bike or rower ($500 and up) and you’ll start to wonder why you ever left your house to go to a gym at all.

Maintaining Your Exercise Equipment

No matter what kind of exercise equipment you have, a little regular cleaning helps prevent germs from spreading and keeps your machine in tip-top shape.

How to Clean
Your Exercise Equipment
Step 1
After every workout, go over your machine’s surface with a damp, soft cloth and mild soapy water. Don’t pour liquid cleaners on it; that may damage the electronics inside. Clean hand weights the same way, then wipe them dry.
Step 2
Sharing workout equipment with others in your household? Clean the handles and other high-touch surfaces with a disinfectant wipe between uses.
Step 3
To reduce dust buildup from around the motors of treadmills and other mechanical items, occasionally unplug the machine, remove the motor cover (your owner’s manual can help you find it), and vacuum the visible debris.

Janet Lee

Janet Lee, LAc, is an acupuncturist and a freelance writer in Kansas who contributes to Consumer Reports on a range of health-related topics. She has been covering health, fitness, and nutrition for the past 25 years as a writer and editor. She's certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine and Yoga Alliance, and is a trained Spinning instructor.