top of page
  • Writer's pictureMark Edwards

How to Create the Best Minimalist Home Gym to Crush Your Strength and Fitness Goals

Updated: Jun 9



No Gym? No Problem! Creating the Best Minimalist Gym.


Strength training doesn't require expensive gym memberships or thousands of dollars of equipment. In fact, building a home gym doesn't require much space or money at all, and it can be the perfect solution for guys with time constraints, space issues, or simply those who don't want to spend a ton of money.


It can even be built using only a few pieces of relatively inexpensive equipment.


A minimal-equipment home gym is great for people who live in small spaces or those who prefer to keep things simple. They're also perfect for beginners who want to start working out without spending a lot of money.


And having your own minimalist setup is also great for guys who are too busy to get to the gym, or simply don't want to join a gym at some point in their journey. Working out at home, for many people, is a way to move forward without the hassle and time commitment of heading into a gym facility several times a week.


A minimalist setup can be a great way to unlock strength at middle-age too.


I live and coach in Tokyo, so believe me, space in this city is limited. If you're from the US or Canada and have ever visited a gym in Tokyo (like a CrossFit box) you know what I mean.


And if you haven't been here, you'll be in for a shock when you do.

The upside is that living here has taught me that limited space is really no excuse for not getting a fantastic workout. A minimalist gym is a perfect solution.


I'm not talking about a thousand-dollar barbell rig here.



Outdoor kettlebell workout Minimalist Nutrition
Yours truly 9 weeks out of shoulder surgery


"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." - Steve Jobs

Question: "What kind of bench should I buy?" Should I buy a power rack? A CrossFit rig?"


Answer: For a minimalist setup, you don't need any of that. Don't complicate things. We'll talk about setting up a CrossFit setup/Powerlifting setup/Oly setup in a later post. RIGHT NOW, a minimalist setup is simple and easy.


When it comes to getting in shape, many people think you need to have an expensive home gym setup to see results. This is simply not the case! You DON'T need a complete home gym to get in the best shape of your life.


In this article, I'll talk about the best home gym equipment for a minimal setup. I'll discuss why kettlebells, dumbbells, and a pull-up bar are essential pieces of equipment for any minimal home gym that will enable you to program a great fitness routine.


A truly minimalist setup doesn't require benches, power racks, or any other pricey extras.


So, whether you're just starting out or you're experienced and looking for some new ideas, read on for the best minimalist equipment recommendations!


Let's get to it.


What Are the Steps to Create the Best Minimalist Home Gym?




Kettlebell in gym


1. Choose a Space.


You'll need a place to work out. If you have limited space, consider using an area with a door that closes. This will help prevent distractions and allow you to focus on your workout.


You need enough room to be able to move without hitting any walls or the ceiling. Seems like a simple thing, but you'd be surprised at how many people measure out a space without considering the true space needed to move a barbell, kettlebell, or dumbbell at various angles without knocking a hole in the wall, or taking out an overhead lamp.


One thing that needs to be said: for me, the perfect space is outside. If you have space in your yard, on your patio, driveway, or in your garage, that's the best. Tokyo? Nobody has a real "garage." But our apartment complex has a really nice outside space that is sheltered, and the weather here is never too cold to get an outdoor workout.



"Is it possible to have too much room?"


Too much room is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you're free to throw as much fitness equipment in there as you like.


On the other hand, too much of a good thing is going to make it harder to focus your plan on the things that really matter. And that's the opposite of a minimalist set-up.


Limitations are often a good thing.




Kettlebells, dumbbells, yoga mat


2. Choose equipment that's suitable for your space and goals.


It's important to consider this one before anything else.


You should NOT yet be thinking about the "type" of workout that you want to do. It's a given that you'll be doing some sort of resistance training and cardio training. The real issue, if you want to have a minimal equipment gym, is what is the minimum equipment you need for your space and your goals.


So that leads us to the most important aspect of this topic after you've decided what space you can use.




3. What equipment should I buy for a Minimalist Home Gym?


Google "best minimalist home gym" and you'll see setups that run the gamut from a simple exercise mat and jump rope to a dedicated space that requires a frickin' carpenter and several hundred if not thousands of dollars of equipment.


If that's the setup you need, you're in the wrong place. That's not a minimal home gym setup.


You need some basic items that will enable you to train some strength, mobility, and cardio.


You need the biggest bang for your buck.


You'll need equipment to train your arms, legs, and core. You don't need a lot of equipment to train your entire body. A combination of strength training, body weight movements, core strength, and cardio can all be done effectively right in your home, office, backyard, or driveway.


The equipment and combinations that I'll discuss can be used by people of any fitness level, whether you're a beginner or advanced. These are the only essential pieces you need.


Then we can look at some different combinations that you can choose from to create a minimalist setup that's going to enable you to crush your workouts and get in great shape, whether you're setting this up for days that are too busy to get into the gym, or whether you don't have access to a gym, or simply don't want to join a gym because of the distance, cost, or some other reason.


Here's our list:


First, a clarification. You don't need everything on this list. We're going to go over various combinations from this list and see where it goes.


One more addition that isn't a "necessity" but is a great piece of equipment, especially if you have a minimalist setup with limited maximum weights, and that's Blood Flow Restriction Bands (BFR Bands).



4. What can I do with this equipment?


Here are a few examples:

Really, with this minimal amount of equipment, the sky is the limit.







Kettlebells


A single kettlebell is arguably the ultimate minimalist piece of equipment, equal in versatility and just plain badassery to the training sandbag. With some planning and guidance (from a competent coach, that single kettlebell can put you through some of the toughest workouts you've ever done and get you in the best shape of your life.


Kettlebells are great for a full-body workout. You can do everything from kettlebell swings to goblet squats to Turkish get-ups to cleans to snatches. In my opinion, kettlebells are the king of simple gym implements. These are the perfect implements for strength development and athleticism. And your grip strength will increase by leaps and bounds.


Want to do movements that are less dynamic and focus more on strength? Kettlebells are versatile and can be used for a variety of exercises, both upper body and lower body, such as bicep curls, shoulder presses, triceps extensions, and squats. Yes, squats.


Most kettlebells are fixed-weight, but that’s not necessarily a disadvantage. By manipulating the repetition tempo, any movement can be made more or less challenging.


And if you want to go non-traditional, there are several brands of "adjustable" kettlebells.


"Bells of Steel" are one of the best, if not THE best.




Dumbbells


One or two dumbbells will serve you pretty well. If you buy adjustable dumbbells, I recommend getting two. The vast majority of movements that you’ll be doing with a minimalist setup will be using a single dumbbell, so having two allows you to have two different weights for different movements in the same workout.


If you buy a fixed-weight dumbbell, one will do but two are better. If you opt for two, then get two different weights.


You can do almost anything with a dumbbell that you can do with a kettlebell. There are some movements that are better suited to kettlebells though, like kettlebell swings.


Other movements feel easier with dumbbells simply because some dumbbell movements are less technical than the same movements done with a kettlebell.



Training Sandbag

The sandbag has been around forever, but it's only recently that this absolute minimalist piece of equipment has gained more widespread popularity.


It really doesn't get any simpler than this. The sandbag is exactly what the name says: a tough canvas or cordura bag filled with sand or pea gravel, usually with some type of handle so that it can be handled in a number of ways.


You can get these from a number of sources, including Amazon.


Both GoRuck and Rogue make excellent training sandbags.


Or if you don't mind a bag that leaks a little sand, make your own.


Deadlifts, cleans, carries, snatches, back squats - even Sandbag getups (a variation of a Turkish Get-Up) - can all be done with a sandbag. Your imagination is the limit.






Pull up Bar


If you have a space to install a pull-up bar, do it. Pull-ups are a foundational movement and absolutely essential for any serious training program. If you can’t install a pull-up bar, there are ways to get around that limitation.


A pull-up bar can be in the form of a rig-type that will fit in any corner of a room to the type that fits into a door frame.


The nice thing about a rig type is that it will usually have parallel bars to do dips. There are other ways to do dips, of course, but having an all-in-one is a good setup.


Don’t neglect pull-ups. They're foundational and the perfect complement to that other foundational movement, push-ups.




Yoga mat with dumbbells, jump rope, and foam roller


Yoga Mat (exercise mat)


Why an exercise mat? It serves several purposes.


First, it’ll keep you from destroying your floor if you put the kettlebell down too hard.


Second, it’ll provide some cushion to muffle noise if you happen to live in an apartment. And third, you’ll be using it to do some stretching and mobility exercises.


Of course, you can do without one, but it’s going to make your setup far better.



Photo by Charlotte Karlsen on Unsplash

Jump Rope


A jump rope is essential to any minimalist setup. Cardio, mobility, plyometrics, coordination, stamina - a jump rope on its own can give you a fantastic workout in the absence of all else.


And really, that’s the essence of all of the equipment for a minimal equipment setup. You could literally choose a single piece of equipment from this list and go with that.



Resistance Bands


Resistance bands are a great piece of equipment to have simply because they require no space, they're cheap, they're durable, and they're easy to pack if you want to take your workout with you to the park or on a short trip.


You need virtually no space to use them. With two or three bands, you can have a very challenging workout in a hotel room when you're on the go, traveling, or even at the beach.


If I had to choose only ONE piece of equipment, above all else, I'd choose 2 or 3 resistance bands. In my opinion, they're the SINGLE most versatile piece of equipment that you can own.



Foam Roller
The Best: Trigger Point Therapy Foam Roller

Foam Roller and Lacrosse Ball


A minimalist gym setup isn’t just about pushing and pulling heavy weights. If you want to make your body fitter, you have to warm up, cool down, do some pre-hab, and take care of maintenance. And if you've been injured as many times as I have, your warmup might not only include pre-hab but also rehab.


That’s where the foam roller comes in.


A foam roller is one of those pieces of equipment that most people don't think of when they think of buying equipment for home gyms. You'll see everything BUT foam rollers: a dumbbell rack, an adjustable bench, and everything else that a gym can use.


But none of those things are necessary for a minimalist home setup.


If you want to make sure that your muscles, joints, and overall physical state stay in healthy condition, pre-hab and after-care with a foam roller are essential. Your muscles will thank you.


The same goes for the lowly lacrosse ball. If you've never used one before, you'll be in for a surprise. Got a knot in a muscle that's causing discomfort? How about a tight hamstring? Working on that knot with your bodyweight and a lacrosse ball will often take care of that knot or tight muscle. And by the way, it's not going to be pleasant. Get over it.


What About Training Shoes?


"Good grief, there are so many choices out there, what kind of shoes should I buy?" Yeah, just Google something as simple as "best shoes for CrossFit" and you'll get nearly a dozen choices, if not more. What do you actually need?


Some people will tell you that you need one pair for your running workouts, another pair for your HIIT workouts, another pair for your lifting workouts, etc etc.


I'm not knocking having different pairs of specialized shoes for specific training demands. But the very nature of a Minimalist Home Gym setup dictates that we're not specializing. We're generalists (for the most part).


So in that sense, we've got a lot in common with the old-school CrossFit mentality. We might do some lifting and some metabolic conditioning in a single workout. Maybe heavy Goblet Squats and Kettlebell Snatches. Throw in some box jumps.


So a Minimalist shoe has to be a sort of "Jack of All Trades." When I say "Minimalist" shoes, I don't necessarily mean Vibram 5 Fingers or Merrell Barefoot shoes. I'm using the term "Minimalist" to mean a single pair of shoes that can effectively serve multiple functions.


This last piece of equipment, training shoes, can take up an entire article, but for now, I'll give you my top 3 choices.

  1. Goruck Ballistic Trainers (my favorites)

  2. NoBull Trainers (my wife's favorites)

  3. Merrell Barefoot

These 3 choices are no-nonsense shoes. Tough, versatile, comfortable, and nice visual appeal. Nothing fancy here. No ridiculous color combinations (well, the NoBulls have some, but nobody's perfect).


I know people are going to ask "where's INOV-8?" Where's Reebok, etc etc.


We're not going to get into shoes that have gone the way of pricey specialization. As for INOV-8, they tend to have a very narrow toe-box and run small. Not optimal. If you find them comfortable, your feet are probably already beginning to adapt to an unnaturally narrow toe.


Fair warning.


There's a lot of current research on long-term harm to your feet of wearing shoes with a narrow toe box. Narrow toe-box shoes can significantly impact foot and ankle health, leading to decreased blood flow, increased pressure, and the development of deformities such as hallux valgus.


Besides that, you could walk straight out of the gym in any of these shoes and go about your day in them. THAT'S real versatility. None of them look out of place with a pair of jeans or chinos.



5. What Are Some Useful Combinations of Equipment?


Here are a few setup combinations that can work for anyone. Choose one and get at it:


Setup A - The Spartan

  • Two kettlebells

  • A sandbag

  • Pullup bar


What can I do with this setup?

  • Presses (bench, incline, overhead, floor)

  • Kettlebell swings

  • Turkish Getups, Sandbag Getups

  • Rows

  • Curls

  • Triceps extensions

  • Lateral raises

  • Snatches and Cleans

  • Jump rope for cardio

  • Farmer's Carries, Overhead Carries


Kettlebell swings are also a great cardio workout.


You can also use the kettlebell for goblet squats, single-arm rows, overhead presses, and weighted situps. A kettlebell can be used for arm exercises, just as a dumbbell can, although some find the ergonomics a little more challenging.


The mat is versatile and can be used for stretching, mobility work, or bodyweight exercises like planks and pushups. It provides cushioning and a grippy surface for floor exercises such as sit-ups, crunches, and push-ups.


And it'll give some limited protection to your floor if you put the kettlebell down a little too hard.


The pullup bar is great for pull-ups, of course, but you can also use it for inverted rows and hanging leg raises.


Remember this: pull-ups, push-ups, and squats are the foundational movements of ANY strength/fitness program.


One small caveat - although you can get by with a single kettlebell, the optimal setup is THREE kettlebells. Why?


One light kettlebell for technique work.

One medium-weight kettlebell for dynamic work like cleans and snatches.

One heavy kettlebell for strength work like deadlifts, goblet squats, and floor presses.


So with this minimal setup, you can get in fantastic shape in your own home!



Setup B - The Spartan Plus

  • Two dumbbells (different weights if fixed weight, or two adjustable dumbbells)

  • A single kettlebell

  • An exercise mat

  • A jump rope


What can I do with this setup?


Everything noted under setup A, but with one difference: if you buy 2 equal fixed-weight dumbbells, you can do movements with a dumbbell in each hand.


For example, double front-racked dumbbell squats or lunges instead of single-arm.


If you opt for two dumbbells of different weights or adjustable dumbbells, that will give you even more versatility.


Setup C - The Swiss Army Knife

  • Two kettlebells and one dumbbell

  • An exercise mat

  • A sandbag

  • A jump rope

  • A pullup bar

  • A foam roller and lacrosse ball


What can I do with this setup?


You can do everything that can be done with setup B, plus you've got the bar to do pullups. This gives an added dimension to your workouts.


I would add that if you have the space, the pullup bar should be included in any home setup.


The foam roller and lacrosse ball are going to allow you to do some self-massage and pre-hab. Check out Kelly Starrett's "Ready State" website, or any of his free resources on Youtube to see what I mean.



Setup D (The Ultra Minimalist)

  • Resistance bands

  • A Yoga mat

  • A foam roller and lacrosse ball

  • A jump rope


What can I do with this setup?



With resistance bands, you can do a variety of exercises, such as bicep curls, shoulder presses, squats, and lunges.


The exercise mat is versatile and can be used for stretching, mobility work, or bodyweight exercises like planks and pushups.


The foam roller is perfect for self-massage and rolling out muscles after a workout, as already mentioned.


The jump rope is a great cardio workout and can be done in a small space.


Conclusion


Don't have time for a full workout? No problem! Just pick one or two exercises and do them for ten minutes. Even a short workout is better than no workout at all! So get up and get moving! Your body will thank you for it.


With minimal equipment, you can get a well-rounded workout that builds strength, increases conditioning, and improves mobility. So don't think you need a lot of equipment to get in shape! Start with the basics and build from there.


One last thing: the foundation of a killer body is laid in the kitchen, so don't neglect your diet! There is a wealth of conflicting information out there, but a good place to start is with one of my articles, such as my primer on intermittent fasting.


If you found this article useful, please share it with someone who might benefit from it!


Need more guidance? Click here to Book a coaching call with me and let's see where we can go.


Want to know more about building muscle and strength in middle age? Learn more here.



Disclaimer: All information provided on this website is for informational purposes only. No information provided is to be construed as medical advice. If you have medical issues, always consult your doctor..


Movements mentioned in this post:


Russian Kettlebell Swings








American Kettlebell Swings





Single-Arm Kettlebell Cleans







Kettlebell Snatches



Goblet squats





Pushups





Dumbbell Rows




Pullups





Single-Arm Kettlebell Press




Floor Press/bench press





Turkish Getups




Forward Lunges



Reverse Lunges





Russian twists





2 Comments

Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
terencehedley1
terencehedley1
7 days ago

Great Post! Thank you, stopped me from starting with buying a bench,

You mention buying a single kettlebell, what weight do you recommend?

36 male

Like
Mark Edwards
Mark Edwards
2 days ago
Replying to

Thanks for the comment! The weight you purchase depends on a lot of variables: your own bodyweight, experience level, etc. For example, if you're a 6-foot-tall male, at 180 lbs and are just starting out, you'd want to go light so that you can learn the basics without getting injured. In that particular example, a 12 kg kettlebell might be a good place to start.

Like
bottom of page