How I Turned My Tiny NYC Living Room Into a Fully Functioning Home Gym For Less Than $150
Once upon a time, my weekly exercise schedule consisted of three to four days at my office’s gym plus anywhere from one to three boutique fitness classes. All in, this cost me a little bit over $200 monthly, which I felt was a pretty good deal for New York City. I made the most of off-peak pricing, a discounted ClassPass rate through my employer, and the rock-bottom monthly membership fees at my company’s in-office gym, which, for the record, rivaled any Equinox or other high-end gym in the city.
However, when the pandemic hit, I went from never exercising at home to having to shift my entire routine to at-home workouts. The first few months were rocky — I desperately missed the equipment I was used to at the gym and especially missed my favorite yoga, spin, and dance cardio classes. The motivation I once had to wake up on work days at 5:45 or 6:00 to make it to the gym or that day’s scheduled class all but vanished.
Then in May, a friend introduced me to a resistance-based workout program that is designed to be done at home or at the gym and all of that changed. By getting creative with furniture and household items I already had, using gift cards strategically, and knowing when and what was worth investing in, I learned that I could get just as effective of a workout from my tiny NYC living room as I could at the gym — all for less than $150.
Let’s start from the top. First, I like to begin each workout with a quick 5-minute cardio warm-up to get my blood flowing and my muscles loosened up. Where I once would have walked on the treadmill or did a quick spin class on the gym’s Peloton bike, I now use no equipment at all. Lucky for me, I live on the 15th floor of a high-rise building, so many days the cardio warm-up is a few trips up and down several flights of stairs. Other days, when I have a little bit more time and it is not freezing outside, I’ll do a few laps around the block. Another fun (and free!) cardio option is to watch Youtube videos of dance-style workouts. While it’s not the same as being in the studio with a live DJ and flashing lights, it reminds me of the “before times” and I always end up having a fun time.
The biggest investment I’ve had to make as far as equipment goes is dumbbells. Over the course of several months, I’ve acquired a set of 3, 5, 8, 10 and 20 pound dumbbells. If I had to do things over again, I might have chosen to purchase adjustable dumbbells rather than so many different individual sets, however, when I was first starting to gather equipment the upfront cost seemed preposterous as I (wrongly) assumed my home gym setup would be used only briefly. I was able to get the 3 and 5 pound sets completely free, as my roommate already owned the 3 pound set and my mom generously donated the 5 pound set from her home gym. I used a Target gift card to purchase the 8 pound dumbbells, so while not technically free, I was able to get them for no cost, to me. The 10 and 20 pound dumbbells were $42 and $63.58 respectively. While they were the priciest purchase of my entire setup, I bought the 20 pound set from a local sporting goods store, so for me, the blow was lessened significantly by knowing that I was helping to support a small business.
DIY “Cable Machine”
The best purchase by far and the one that has made the biggest difference in replicating the gym experience at home has been my DIY “cable machine”. I purchased a set of pull-up assist resistance bands and an over-the-door anchor for $25.95. For months, I was using this setup as-is to do a variety of back, chest and tricep exercises. I would say that it was maybe 60% of the true cable machine experience. Recently, I saw a hack in which you can loop a PVC pipe or wooden dowel through the bands to better mimic the handles of a cable machine and this has made all the difference. The $3.52 I spent on the PVC pipe and end caps has brought the my at-home DIY “cable machine” experience close to 100% of that at the gym.
In addition to my main equipment, I also have a few accessories that have enhanced the overall at-home workout experience. A set of mini loop bands that I bought for $10.95 help to add extra resistance without needing additional weight for a tough glute workout. A yoga mat is a must for me, given that my apartment has hardwood floors, but a towel on top of carpeting would also suffice. I was gifted a Lululemon yoga mat that retails for $78 for my birthday a few years back, but I think that a cheaper mat would work just as well. Finally, I have moved the oscillating fan and over-the-door from my bedroom to my living room to help keep me cool and my form in check while I work out.
Furniture + Finalé
Finally, I have gotten creative with my existing furniture to replace a bench. My couch frequently serves as a rest for my back as I do hip thrusts. The shoe storage bench in my entryway works well for step ups. Sometimes I will even use my kitchen counter to do modified push ups and a variety of other exercises. I have come to realize that it’s all about imagination. While nothing will ever compare to a gym in which every space and piece of equipment has been designed specifically to maximize a workout, I would rather make the most of the current situation and do the best I can. I recently heard the expression “don’t let perfect get in the way of good” and that certainly applies to my makeshift home gym. Would a real gym be better? Of course. Is it worth risking my health and that of my loved ones? Not a chance.
GRAND TOTAL: $145.90
Images via author