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How to build a basement gym for $500

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Jul 31, 2019 9:00:00 AM

Basement gym idea for 4 people

How to build a basement gym for $500

The truth is that $500 will not get you far for a first class setup, unless you use the Rogue Boneyard, Ebay and Craigslist. You can get very lucky when you are willing to wait. This article is aimed at giving you ideas while the basement is being planned or built. You can then decide what you want do once the rooms are actually ready. 

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Measurements for your basement gym


Remember the days of "highway to hell", "Black Betty" and when Queen started out to become big? Back in the 70s, the average new built house in the US was between 1200 and 1600 square foot. A lot has changed since then.
While the average families are getting smaller the average house size has more than doubled from the 70 until now. An average new built house is between 2200 and 2600 square foot when it is built nowadays. 
When I read books like the price of inequality I wonder how much these numbers are skewed by the mansions of the super-rich. I mean in New York they are piling floors on top of each other to make more money around Central Park. But anyway, that is just me. These numbers mean that the US currently has the highest space per capita in its history. The US comes in second in a study on house sizes from 2017 behind Australia and followed by Canada. If you are Chinese you only live with 1/4 of the space a US citizen has.
While this means that you probably live in abundance, be aware that this surplus of space could be the reason why you are not financially independent yet. Your house is one of the main factors in building or destroying your wealth. The higher the mortgage the more crippling the interest on this mortgage. Think of this dynamic before adding a lot of rooms which you don't use.
If you are lucky enough to have a basement it is usually a full or a half basement. A full basement means that all of your house has an extra layer down in the ground. A half-basement means that only half of your house has been equipped with basement. Based on the current average numbers we, therefore, assume that your basement gym can maximally fill 2200 to 2600 and minimally 1100 to 1300 square foot. 
When you plan your basement/basement gym make also sure that you do not forget to place a staircase in. You will need access and this is usually via a staircase placed along one of the walls of the basement, depending on the layout of your house. 

Why a home gym? 

There can be several reasons why you might consider a home gym over a subscription. In some cases, you might want to save the subscription fee. In my experience that only computes of you are a celebrity who has to pay a couple a thousand dollars for a gym membership to have their peace or if you stay at the same spot for a couple of decades in case the membership is lower than $50 a month. Here are some other considerations apart from the total cost of ownership: 
  • Distance to regular gym 
  • Time constraints 
  • You are a weirdo 
  • Lack of equipment 
  • Celebrity status 
If you live in a rural area the next gym might be miles away. In this instance, it is likely that you will have space on your real estate to build a home gym and improve your lifestyle or one of your children. Having a gym at home will save some valuable not spend in a car. 
Time constraints can be another reason. Your local gym might be close, but it is crowded or not open at the times you want to go. You could also be stuck in traffic for half an hour even though when you first signed up it seemed like the gym was only five minutes away. Time is the only commodity we can not buy back, so make good use of it. 
If you are like me, you might be just fed up with commercial gyms. You want to hang from the ceiling with your balalaika and sing Russian songs while doing a backflip. In most gyms, you will be banned fairly quickly. Some don’t even allow you to deadlift. Also, if you want to run a YouTube channel it is usually better to own the place you are training in. More often than not you otherwise get in trouble with the owner. 
Another reason can be that your local gym simply does not have the equipment you need to be successful. If you deviate from the mean and want yokes, atlas stones or the equipment for gymnastics, you usually won’t find them in your local gym. If the trip to your local high school is far, you don’t want to do it again after you left the place to train. 
If you are a celebrity or concerned about safety you most likely have not many other options than a home gym. Your lifestyle will demand that you can step in at any time have the necessary equipment ready to go. You also can not be around other people as you then might not be able to train in peace. 

Multi-purpose use

When you have a gym at home you will have to come to terms that the basement might not be exclusively for your gym. Some other functions of the house might share the basement with you such as
  • Storage
  • Washing 
  • Car (depending on layout) 
  • Guest bedroom 
  • Playroom / Den
Think of all the things that are currently stored in the basements will be stored in the basement. Can they be sold? Are they of sentimental value? If they are, how can they be put on display in the house? What can be thrown out? Marie Kondo’s book about the Life-changing Manga of tidying up can help. 
The washing machine and the dryer might be in the basement at the moment. To be honest this is often not ideal as the washing has to be carried another flight of steps for a routine task. Maybe talk about where to move these appliances instead. Maybe near the kitchen or under the central flight of stairs of the house. 
If you have a house that has the garage in the basement, where will the car or cars go in the future? How often do you actually park them I the garage? Will it affect your insurance payments if you have no more garage? How much space is left in the basement when the cars are parked in there? 
Once the basement will be developed there often comes the question of a guest bedroom. While these can be a bone of contempt the key question here is: How often do you actually have guests? How often is the already existing guest bedroom being used? How long will your children be living in the house, as their bedrooms will turn into guest bedrooms after they move out? The argument that you will have more guests once there is an additional bedroom usually does not hold. If you are not brimming beforehand, it is unlikely you will afterward, unless you are planning to open an Air BnB. 
The last thing to consider is whether the basement should be partly or fully developed into a group rather than just an exercising space. You made want to place a billiard table or other entertainment pieces in there. Again think about how often you actually entertain people before eating up space.
Think about these competing interests for space before you lay out your basement gym. Otherwise, you might have to compromise on the fly, which usually won’t make you too happy. 

List of exercises

Here is a list of exercises you possibly want to do in your basement gym. Make your own to be sure that your equipment covers what you want to do. 
To squat heavy, at home, the ideal solution is a squat rack with security pins. This will keep you secure while you push yourself. The options you have for the barbell squat are full racks, half racks, and squat stands depending on your space and budget. 
To bench press, you will need a bench. A bench can also be used for step-ups, barbell rows and a multitude of other exercises. Depending on your budget you can choose between flat benches and various options of adjustable benches
As long as you have a barbell and some flooring, you can deadlift. Options to upgrade on the deadlift are a deadlift platform, wagon wheels, and trap bars. 
The pull up is one of the most basic and effective bodyweight exercises. For this, you need a pull-up bar. There are variations which can be hooked up to the wall or a rack depending on the solution you pick. 
Box jumps are a great tool for conditioning and explosive strengths. You can also use boxes as storage, chairs and for box squats. You can get stackable and multi-sided versions of boxes depending on your budget and need. 
Lat pulls are a big help to develop your back or if you are not able to do pull-ups yet.  You can either get a free-standing lat pull down or attach one to your rack. The attachments come in many levels of price and quality. 
A sled can also be helpful for conditioning. These are very popular with football and rugby players. If you can not use it outside, make sure your basement has the free space to push and pull one. 
Wall balls are also great for conditioning. They usually need a higher ceiling to be done right. To do wall balls you can get either medicine or rubber medicine balls. 
To row or run indoors you usually need a machine. There are options like treadmills and Airbikes. They all come at a considerable cost. So if you can do your runs outdoors, this would be the best budget option. 
Basement gym idead for 4 people
Basement gym example 2200 square foot
Basement gym example 1100 square foot
Above you find three different layouts which are mainly aimed at giving you an idea of how much space you would actually need for your home gym.
I free-styled a gym that would accommodate four family members at the same time for heavy lifting and getting on an Airbike. For a home gym, this is completely over the top. For a dorm house basement of the college football team, this would be a good start. The first picture is a 2200 square footprint while the second is 1100 square foot big. The main message here is that you will have more than enough space in your basement for a gym if you have an average-sized American house. If you are looking for ideas which take up less space review these posts. They are aimed at garden gyms but also get the idea of a smaller footprint for your gym across: 


Basement gym example 160 square foot

Basement gym example 160 square foot bird eye view
This example would only take up 160 square foot and leave you with more options for the rest of the basement conversion.Before you fill the gym, draw the complete layout of your basement up. You can use the Rogue Zeus software for this. Be careful about where you will put doors and lighting. The infrastructure can’t be moved and orbits also unlikely that you will move the rack once it is installed. Take some time to think about where to place it and how your basement will evolve over time. 
When you plan your gym remember that barbells are wider than racks. Avoid placing a rack flush against a wall as you then might not be able to move the barbell freely. Also, leave some space around the rack that you can easily move around to get the plates on and off the bar. Take some time to know where you will store your plates, medicine balls and little equipment like jump ropes and boxing gloves. 
Once you have drawn up the footprint, placed the doors and decided where to store things, it is time to film the white space with equipment. 

List of equipment

A good option to start you off for $500 is the Socal Econ Bar & Plate package. You will get Rogue quality for all the material that you can not pick up at your local fitness supplier as they usually don’t stock plates or bars. Pick up some Kettlebells and a pair of running shoes from the next paycheck and you are ready to go. 
Package price $483

Overview of the Socal Econ Bar and plate package

The SoCal Econ bar and bumper consists of the following pieces. 
  • Rogue echo bar 
  • 160LB bumpers 
  • Spring collars 
This makes it the cheapest equipment package you can get from Rogue trimming all edges. 

Items of the Soca

Here the items of the Econ bar and plate package in more detail: 


The Rogue echo bar is the low budget version of the Rogue Ohio bar. You are stripping it to the bare minimum with this model.
If you want to save as much as possible lookout for the boneyard sales and the Black Friday sales from Rogue. 


The echo bar and bumper set comes with the following plates included 
  • (2) 10LB
  • (2) 25LB
  • (2) 45LB
Bumpers are great as you can either use them indoors or outdoors. They are also quite forgiving to any body parts which come into direct contact with them. The only disadvantages are design, precision and space requirements. 
Bumper plates only come in one color which is black. That is great for the price but might. not look the best. If this any to you can look into the RR plates, colored training plates, calibrated steel plates or competition plates for color-coded alternatives. 
In terms of precision, bumper plates are also not too great. They allow for more variance to the weight stated on the plate to keep production cost lower. This can mean up to 1kg up or down from the stated weight on the plate. If you want to be really sure go with the precision-manufactured steel plates, calibrated steel plates or competition plates. 
The last point is the space requirements. Bumpers will take up more space on your rack or barbell sleeve for the same weight than bumpers. If you have a lot of 500-pound deadlifters in your gym, get some steel plates. 


Spring collars are the low cost option to keep your plates in place. They will leave more scratch marks and will be harder to get off and on the barbell than HG collars. 

Pros of the Socal Econ

Price, Price, Price 

Cons of the Socal Econ

You will get the least amount and cheapest from Rogue. This is still better than many other vendors, but this is an investment for life. You might even want to go a bit up market. 

Summary of the SoCal bar and bumper 

Good as a gift to get someone else started who wanted to build a gym for years. 
The items you will be missing with this will be a rack, bench and conditioning equipment. Once you have the next 500 ready you can get the 3WC rack from Rogue. Another 500 would take care of the bench. Of course, you can always look for a deal on Craigslist or eBay but that usually means you have to pick up the things from somewhere or wait until something comes up that you can afford. 

Why Rogue

I personally recommend Rogue to anyone who is in the market to build a home gym and want to work with free weights. They might not have the best machines, but when it comes to free weight training and racks they have found a great niche and perfected their products. 
Delivery with Rogue is usually top-notch. It depends on how much you are buying and whether it is in stock, but delivery times are somewhere between two to six weeks. Racks and other big equipment usually ship for free. This is not a standard across the industry. The packaging is great and the material you get will mostly be unharmed and stack well to be transported. The last thing you want is that your 5000 dollar home gym has chips and scratches already on arrival. 
Rogue is committed to quality which reflects in their portfolio. If the design of a product is off, it will be updated. Products are not flooded into the market, but carefully tested and refined to get it just right. You can find examples of this in the lat pull-down50 cal armsRhino Belt squat, and cerakote barbells
Rogues first version of the last pull down got complaints about its functionality. After this, it underwent a major update to improve the pulley system and how you attach different bars. 
After going to market with the Rogue arms as an attachment to their racks Rogue realized that it can be a pain to adjust them to the right height. Combining ideas from the military with their engineering they came up with the 50 cal lever arm which is easily adjustable. 
The Rhino belt squat has been tested and refined to create the best belt squat on the market to date. For this special attention had to be laid to the pulley system to get it as close as possible to a 1:1 ratio of weight on the bar to the lifter. Based on the general feedback in the market this is something Rogue achieved and hasn’t been done before. Belt squats and leg presses usually inflate the numbers on the squat by a considerable margin to put the same stress in the lifter. 
Last but not least the Cerakote coating which was applied to rogues barbell arsenal. Rather than keeping the product, the same Rogue looked for ways to make barbells more customizable. The result was to use cerakote in the production process to be able to apply more colors and even elaborate designs to barbells. 
Most of the equipment you can buy at Rogue is American made in Columbus Ohio. Rogue produces and employs local to give back and ensure quality. If they have something in their portfolio they have to source from abroad it usually does not take long until it is adapted to be produced locally.
All racks and rigs of Rogue are modular. This means you can take them apart and put them together in other ways to upgrade your home gym over time. You do not have to throw out the old equipment and rip and replace your gym.
Based on the modular design and the good brand buying Rogue will protect your investment. The resell value will be higher in case you have to give up your gym and you will not lose as much money as on lower quality equipment. 

Pros of a basement gym

A basement gym is right at your home. You only need to step down and get going. It will be mostly out of the way of your children and has a door that you can easily lock up. Chances are slim that you will have to give the space up, once a gym has been established. It will also be mostly out of sight for guests. If you already have a basement you also do not have to give up parking space or building an additional structure to provide for your gym. If you have the basement running beneath the entire building you also have considerable space to play with. 

Cons of a basement gym

Basements often lack light, heat, air and tend to be damp. These are cons which are hard to fix. The lighting adds to the cost and training in a basement can feel stuffy at times. If you love in a very cold part of the world and you need to get hearing down there this will also considerably add to the cost of your project. A basement gym also seldom has nice views to make your workout a little more interesting. 

Alternatives to a basement gym

Alternatively, your gym can be 
  • In the attic 
  • In the garage 
  • In the garden 
  • In a rented unit 
  • In a community center 
Some attic conversions are used for gyms although this is not the go-to. More often than not these conversions are used for an extra bedroom for the younger members of the family. 
The garage is a very popular alternative to a basement gym as many garages are not used and filled with clutter. The main project will be to get the funds and agree on what can be thrown out if the car is not already parked in there on a regular basis. 
The garden can be a good option for your gym and the popularity of garden rooms is on the rise. The garden has the benefit of more light and nicer views. The challenge will be to erect a new structure to get your gym into. 
Some people decide to put their gym into a rented unit. You might be able to rent an unused garage in an apartment block to put your gym in. Just make sure that the unit is closer than your local gym, otherwise, this does not make a lot of sense unless you need to train outside regular opening times. 
Another alternative, especially in rural areas, is to get together in the neighborhood and invest in a community gym including a building. This brings the cost per household considerably down or buys a very fancy gym if everyone chips in with the intended budget for their own gym. The downside is that all parties have to agree on what to get and that there will definitely be one person who gets a lot more out of this than the rest.

Summary for the $500 basement gym

$500 will not get you far for your basement gym, but you can start with a barbell and some plates to get the most basic resistance movements in. If you were to carve out $1000 of your basement conversion budget can get a fully functioning gym including a rack.

Topics: Rogue