The perks of an at-home fitness center are plenty: time saved on commuting, money saved on memberships, distractions from other gymgoers eliminated, and excuses for not working out reduced. For some, these pluses are major enough to forgo a public gym entirely.
“I do all in-home training,” celebrity trainer Erin Oprea, whose famous clients include Carrie Underwood and Kelsea Ballerini, tells SELF. “Having a home gym allows you to fit exercise in where you can.”
That’s why when Oprea moved to a new home in Nashville last month, the first order of business was constructing a functional fitness space in the detached garage that sits next to her house. “My house still looks like [a disaster], but at least my workout center is complete,” she says.
Though her fitness center is admittedly larger and more extensive than what most of us could feasibly construct in our own homes (it has its own mini relaxation area, which basically resembles a living room), she reassures that it is possible to create a functional at-home workout zone—that you (a) like, and (b) will actually use—with much less.
No matter your budget or space, “I want people to realize they can do it, too,” Oprea says. Here, her advice for making it happen.
Note: Product links below are to the items Oprea purchased for her home gym, not necessarily the least expensive options.
To start, consider your available space and the surrounding flooring, lighting, and mirrors.
Though Oprea’s garage turned fitness oasis is undoubtedly dreamy, as mentioned, you don’t need that much space—and you certainly don’t need an entirely separate area—to create a functional exercise center. You can use a spare bedroom, your basement, or even an alcove or corner of an existing room, says Oprea. The only requirement? Enough room to fit a standard yoga mat and a half, lengthwise. “You can get a great workout with that amount of space,” says Oprea.
When surveying your options, keep lighting in mind. Oprea suggests a spot with either lots of natural lighting (if you like working out during the day, that is) or bright bulbs that will invoke energetic vibes at any hour. “When it’s dark, I’m not motivated to work out,” says Oprea. “A lot of times my workouts are late at night, and having the brightest place still gives me a cheery feeling.” Her space is illuminated by a three-arm floor lamp, mounted lighting, and a chandelier, but of course you don’t need that many different fixtures to set an energizing scene. Just steer clear of fluorescents and any other harsh types of lighting that will strain your eyes. (Oprea uses soft white LED bulbs in her lights.)
Flooring is also important. Whether you're building a space from scratch or just trying to choose the best area to dedicate to your workout space, opt for a hard, nonslip surface, like wood, laminate, concrete, or vinyl, says Oprea. “Then, throw a mat on it when you want to lie on the ground,” she says. Steer clear of carpet—it will prohibit you from doing certain moves (like jumping rope), could give you carpet burn, and also is tougher to clean if/when you drip sweat on it. Oprea chose a wood-patterned vinyl.
Lastly, if feasible in your space, consider a full-length mirror. “That’s how you watch your form,” says Oprea, who took a 9.5-by-5-foot mirror that previously hung in her living room and spray painted the silver frame black to better match the decor of her fitness center. In terms of ideal mirror size, “the bigger, the better, but do what you can,” she says.
Once you’ve settled on a space, you’ll need to stock it with the right workout equipment.
Oprea says her social media followers ping her every single day with questions about building a home gym. The most common inquiry: “What type of equipment do you think I should have?” Her philosophy on this is simple: “I don’t like cluttered,” she says. “Who wants a ton of equipment at their house? I wanted it to be functional, with only stuff that I truly need on a daily basis.”
Her essential pieces include a jump rope (great for cardio), BOSU ball (good stability training), two sets of dumbbells (one light and one medium; ideal for weight training), mini looped resistance bands (versatile resistance training), a mat (for stretching and on-the-floor moves) and a foam roller (a great between-workout recovery tool).
With these items, “you can work your whole body,” says Oprea, and “get a killer workout.” This equipment, she adds, lends itself to “simple, yet effective” movements. “That’s my style of training. I don’t like fancy moves and moves that will take you an hour to teach.”
You may also want to consider specialty pieces of equipment if you have additional space and funds.
On top of the essentials listed above, Oprea stocked her new at-home gym with specialty items that, though they aren’t required to get in a great workout, can add diversity to your routine. These include a pull-up bar that she wraps with TRX-style bands. “It’s so versatile,” she says. She also has a slam ball that she uses for slams (duh), squat presses, and cross-body chops. Though many of the weight training benefits of a slam ball can be replicated with dumbbells, “there is nothing like the stress reliever of slamming a ball down,” she says.
She also keeps an ab wheel, an intermediate-to-expert-level piece of equipment that’s “killer for abs” and “one of my favorites for the hamstrings,” says Oprea, as well as battle ropes, ankle weights, and an exercise ball. Lastly, she does box jumps and step-ups on a box that her husband constructed from leftover decking wood.
Once you've determined which pieces of equipment you want, you can save money using these resources.
Oprea loves both SPRI.com and Amazon for budget-friendly workout equipment. Walmart, Target, and Jet.com are also reliable bets for more affordable workout tools. If you're looking to save even more money, you can find great gear at local secondhand stores. With the exception of bands, which can wear out easily, Oprea says practically all other types of workout equipment are OK to buy used. “Dumbbells are dumbbells,” she says—whether they’re $ 50 from a speciality store, or $ 2 from Facebook Marketplace, they'll serve the same purpose.
From there, consider spending some time on decor to make your fitness center inviting.
Make your space as aesthetically pleasing, inviting, and comfortable as possible, says Oprea. No matter the size of your workout zone, you should construct it so that it “actually makes you want to be there,” says Oprea. “If it’s in the corner of a room, so be it. Make it pretty.”
This can be accomplished, by and large, through thoughtful design. When decorating her gym, Oprea borrowed inspiration from her actual home, using the same colors—gold, black, and white—and similar accent pieces, including black chairs, a modern chandelier, and marble coffee table. She then jazzed up the walls with black and white patterned wallpaper, and sprinkled plants and framed photos of her two kids throughout the space to "make it feel homey." She also added a dog bed for her Bernese Mountain dog because he is “my right hand man, my trainer, and my cheerleader,” she says.
The common link between these design elements: They bring Oprea joy. “If you create a spot that gives you that feeling, you will be willing to stay [and actually do a workout].” You don’t need to spend a lot of money on decor to create this atmosphere. You can print your own feel-good photos, repurpose items you already have at home, and buy inexpensive decor at discount stores like HomeGoods, T.J.Maxx, and Marshalls.
One other thing to consider when decorating your space is smart storage. This will keep your workout area clean and decluttered, which can contribute to an overall more appealing and inspiring space. Oprea used a basic storage unit filled with baskets to store her gear, though TV cabinets, dresser drawers, and bookcases work well, too. When you’re ready to work out, “just pull it out as you need it,” says Oprea.
Lastly, make sure you have a good music system, says Oprea. “What would a workout be without Nelly radio on Pandora?” she asks. You don’t need anything as elaborate as the music system Oprea mounted in the rafters of her garage—a Bluetooth speaker, or even a playlist blasted from your phone, can do the trick.
The bottom line: With a little creativity and thoughtful planning, you too can have a great home workout space.
Let Oprea be your inspiration. “I don’t have the time to do a full hour workout most days,” she admits. But with her home workout space, “I can do 20 minutes here, 10 minutes there. It’s so convenient to have the stuff on hand that I need to have a killer workout.”