Expert Advice: Tips for Setting Up a Home Gym

Home is where the workouts are these days. As a follow-up to the home gym story in the October 2021 issue of Better Homes & Gardens, we tapped fitness pro Gretchen Zelek for tips on finding a spot to sweat it out and gear to put new life into any at-home routine. Plus, she shares her top virtual workouts.

Gretchen Zelek, a Los Angeles-area trainer and co-owner of Donuts & Pie Fitness, has always been game for trying whatever is new and now in fitness: goat yoga, boxing, and indoor rowing, to name a few over the years. When the pandemic kept her at home in 2020, she dove right in to find virtual classes and new equipment to keep her motivated. With at-home workouts still on the upswing, we asked Gretchen to share some of her insights, go-to gear, and favorite virtual offerings for exercising at home.

Q. First off, how do you define home gym? How elaborate does a room need to be?

“A home gym is any place in your home where you have the space to workout. It can be as little as 4 feet. It could be a bedroom, office, living room, walk-in closet, or garage. People have also transformed their basements with success. When I take live virtual classes, it’s fun to see everyone’s home gym spaces on the screen. In one class, the instructors are teaching in a shed in their backyard.”

Q. What does someone need to consider when scoping out exercise spots in the home?

“You have to be realistic about your options. The most important things are: Is it a safe setting? Is it a place you’ll want to use on a regular basis? Do you have an accessible place to store equipment if you’re unable to leave it out? Also, you need a spot where you won’t get distracted, embarrassed, or interrupted. Beyond that, you need enough space to move comfortably, good ventilation and lighting, and dependable Wi-Fi if you’re planning to do anything virtually.

Whatever that place is, designate it as your workout spot. Even if you need to put your equipment away every day, make it the place you go to exercise. If you get into the practice of using a specific spot, it will become a routine. If you have a garage, basement, or other dedicated exercise room where you can leave things set up, it makes it easier to work out regularly. Adding a mirror or motivational posters or sayings is always helpful, too.”

Q. Let’s talk equipment. What do you consider to be the basics?

“My affordable must-haves start with a mat, like a yoga mat. No matter what is already on the floor, use a mat—even on carpet. It will provide cushion, support, safety, protection, grip, and cleanliness. It will become your designated workout spot. My other musts are light weights (2 pound, 3 pound, 5 pound); resistance bands and loops; yoga blocks, which are helpful for exercises and stretching, not just yoga; a jump rope; a small (9-inch) exercise ball; and a designated water bottle. While you certainly can use things found around the house to substitute for bands and weights, if you can invest in a few ‘real’ gym tools, it may be safer and feel like a more serious workout.”

Q. What if someone wants to move beyond the basics?

“If you’re going to invest in a piece of equipment, you need to make sure to get something you’ll actually use. Some splurge items that would put your gym over the top and also be the most versatile would be:

•Treadmill. It’s great for walking or running. Look for one that has incline/decline. A variety of treadmill training apps are available to give your workout some structure, too.

•Spin bike. I like the rush that comes with a spin class. You can get that at home with livestreamed classes, recorded classes, or guided ‘tours’ where you ride with an instructor through a scenic destination.

•Stall bar [see below]. This looks almost like a wide wooden ladder. It needs to be safely attached to a wall, so you need adequate ceiling height and wall space. Stall bars are great for stretching, flexibility, and pull-ups—and even as an anchor for suspension straps.

•Portable ballet barre [see below]. This is great for barre classes and stretching. It’s very sturdy, yet folds up and fits under a bed or in a closet when not in use.

•Fitness trampoline [see below]. These mini trampolines can be used anytime, and the workouts are fabulous for high-intensity interval training, aerobic workouts, and bone density. It’s low impact. Some trampolines even fold up for easy storage.”

Q. Virtual classes and apps have become almost the norm these days. Any recommendations?

“First off, think about what you like to do for exercise. You need to find something you’ll look forward to using or doing. If you’re not sure, start slowly by checking out virtual classes or Instagram and Facebook to see what’s out there, what appeals to you, and what the equipment requirements are.

Personally, I’ve found that after 18 months of trying a variety of different online classes, my favorite—without any doubt—is CoreBarreFit. Having been relatively

new to barre before the pandemic, I discovered that the CoreBarreFit virtual classes were more challenging and enjoyable than any in-person class I had taken. It’s a great combination of strength and flexibility. The instructors call you by name and make corrections, encourage you, and provide positive feedback.

Some others I like:

Peloton. Great instructors, engaged members. It calls itself a community, not just a fitness platform. The official Peloton member page has 432,000 active members! The nice thing is you don’t have to own a Peloton bike or treadmill because the app has thousands of workouts available. In addition to spinning, there’s strength training, yoga, running, meditation, boot camp, and stretching.

Amanda Kloots offers unique dance cardio and jump-rope toning workouts. What’s not to love about getting a workout by jumping rope and playing like a kid? It’s one of the most effective ways to get a full-body workout. Her dance classes mix dance and cross training, and are fun and challenging. With a streaming subscription, you’ll get new videos added weekly.

Essentrics provides a gentle full-body workout that combines strengthening, stretching, and toning to increase flexibility and mobility. Its Classical Stretch series is the longest-running show on public television. Watch the show on PBS, or subscribe to get live classes or choose from hundreds of recorded classes.

JumpSport Fitness TV. Jumping on a trampoline is always a blast and a good workout. JumpSport has more than 200 on-demand workout videos from different boutique studios around the world. Classes include cardio, balance, high-intensity interval training, dance, yoga, Pilates, barre, and sculpt.”

Q. The big question with any home gym—or really any piece of equipment you buy—is how do you make sure you use it? What advice do you have for that?

“Make going to your home gym a real event. There’s something motivating about changing out of your street clothes to exercise, so dress like you’re going to the gym—water bottle in hand and phone on silent or left in another room. Plan your workout time as you would if you were going to a brick-and-mortar gym or studio. Sign up ahead of time for live classes, schedule on-demand classes, and stick to your schedule. For extra motivation, tell friends about classes you’re taking and make plans to take them at the same time. And have fun!”

In addition to being a certified group fitness instructor, Gretchen is a functional aging specialist. Follow her on Instagram @donutsandpiefitness, or find out more about her at

Go-To Gear: From Basic to Splurge

Consider these options for equipping your home gym or spicing up your workouts. 1. Exercise/yoga mat Gretchen (that’s her taking her home workout outdoors for a change of pace) calls a mat a must. Performance Printed Yoga Mat, $40;. 2. Fitness trampoline Bounce yourself to better health. JumpSport Fitness trampoline, starting at $199;. 3. Stall bar Stretch, do pull-ups, or exercise with the included trainer strap. Limitless XVP Fitness Swedish Ladder Wood Stall Bar, $309; . 4. Stability ball Work abs and balance. TheraBand stability, exercise, and physical therapy ball, $27;. 5. Dumbbells Light hand weights are part of any basic home gym setup. These are vinyl coated for better grip. Basics Vinyl Coated Dumbbell Pair, $20 set of two;. 6. Portable ballet bar (with integrated weight rack) Turn any room into a barre studio; use for cardio, sculpting, and more. Booty Kicker, $79;

Photo credits: Gretchen Zelek, JumpSport Fitness, Amazon, Booty Kicker

Posted in

Leave a Comment