How to Build a Home Gym on a College Student's Budget

By Chelsea Jackson on April 20, 2017

Exercise and an overall healthy lifestyle are vital to any adult’s physical and mental health. For college students particularly, working out can be remarkable stress relief. According to a study done at Purdue University, exercising in a gym setting can improve students’ grades, based on their overall GPA. However, not every college student feels comfortable working out in a gym.

Thankfully, you don’t need to travel to a gym or CrossFit facility to get your sweat on. Instead, you can create a gym in your own apartment. After all, if you rely on gyms outside of your home to work out, then you can easily make excuses as to why you can’t go to the gym. “It’s raining out” or “I don’t feel like leaving the apartment” are examples of ways that we’ve all tried to talk ourselves out of exercising and being healthy. If you create a home gym, you can easily use it to supplement your workout routine or to replace a standard gym altogether.

Regardless of your desired exercise plan, there is a simple and cost-efficient way to create your home (or dorm) gym without spending thousands of dollars.

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The Proper Space

The key to any home gym is setting aside the appropriate amount of space. Although apartments and dorms have limited floor space, you can keep the main area of your bedroom open for an exercise or yoga mat (to remind yourself to work out) and store larger weights and equipment on a shelf or in your closet. Storing equipment away will help declutter whichever space you dedicate as your gym.


Your equipment can range from a medicine ball to an elliptical depending on how much space you have to store your equipment and what exercises you are capable and willing to do.

While you can get some cardio in by running across campus when you miss the bus, it’s important to exercise for at least 150 minutes each week, which breaks down to about 30 minutes of exercise five days out of the week.

Exercising in a gym setting, whether it be at an on-campus gym or your home gym can help stimulate brain cell activity, according to the New York Times.

Your weekly exercise plan should consist of moderate aerobic exercise to maintain your weight and reduce stress. However, if you would like to lose weight, gain muscle mass or just exercise more and then you can combine your aerobic activity with strength training. Strength-based exercises can vary from weight training or resistance training, or even a combination of the two.

It’s important that you check with your primary care physician before starting any strenuous exercise plan. A routine physical can help determine any medical issues that could limit or deter types of exercises. Even if you don’t suspect yourself of having any limiting medical conditions, it is still wise to schedule a physical every one to three years.

While your primary care physician may or may not be able to recommend exercise equipment for your desired plan, here is some common exercise equipment and their uses.

Elliptical Machine

Elliptical machines are an exceptional way to get some cardio in without actually running, for those of us who hate running or can’t run for medical reasons. Plus, elliptical machines also help to target your arms and core because you are actively moving your arms and abdomen as you pseudo-jog.

While traditional ellipticals can cost thousands of dollars and take up precious space in an apartment, The Foldaway Full Body Elliptical is a great portable alternative. This specific elliptical does have arm attachments; however, they move up and down versus back and forth like a standard elliptical. The difference in motion simply means that it exerts your arm muscles in a different way.

If you want to save even more money and have no need for arm attachments on your elliptical, you can opt for a Stamina InMotion E-1000 Elliptical Trainer instead. This elliptical could be challenging for those of you who don’t have the gift of balance. However, you can use this device in a seated position and gradually build yourself up to a standing position. Regardless, this can be used sitting in an office chair while you study. Studies show that exercising while you study or shortly afterward can aid your memory in retaining learning material.

Exercise Mat

Gym mats can come in all shapes and size, but it’s important that you find one that fits your home gym’s area and your fondness. After all, you will spend a lot of time on your exercise mat stretching, kneeling, jumping and everything, so it’s important that you find a mat that is comfortable.

Even though extra thick exercise mats are often more expensive, spending the extra cash on a cushiony mat will help protect your joints during a rigorous workout.

Personally, my favorite workout mat is the HemingWeigh Extra Thick Foam Exercise Mat, because I focus my workouts primarily on my abdominal muscles. The aforementioned mat, as well as other extra thick foam exercise and yoga mats, help prevent damage to your joints, ligaments, and tendons.

Medicine Balls

A medicine ball is a rather versatile piece of equipment. You can use them to help build up resistance during lunges, squats, sit-ups, Russian twists, and much more. Medicine balls can be made from soft or hard material and they range in weight, which means there is a perfect one for nearly everyone’s preferences and needs.

If you don’t know which size to purchase, you could always just ask your relatives to get you an entire set for your upcoming birthday. How could they say no when you’re trying to improve your health and strength?


Sometimes, you can use objects that aren’t intended for exercise. For example, you can use a stationary chair in your exercise routine to complete a few reps of abdominal lifts, chair squats, or curls.

Jump rope is also an entertaining tool for some aerobic exercise, and it’s extremely inexpensive. You might annoy your downstairs neighbor, but I’m sure they’ll understand that you’re jumping rope for your own health.

Other than the equipment that is mentioned above, there are hundreds of items that you can include in your home gym. Before you invest in copious exercise equipment, research what routines you are comfortable with and what equipment you are comfortable using on your own or with minimal supervision. Because you will be putting your home gym to good use, it’s crucial that you know how to use your equipment beforehand so that you don’t cause any harm to yourself.

A lot of university gyms offer free or discounted training services to either learn how to do a workout routine and/or learn about difference exercise equipment. Otherwise, ask one of your friends majoring in kinesiology or exercise science to help you learn about new routines and equipment.

I live in Iowa now, but I was born and raised in Florida. When I'm not writing, I'm probably drawing or cooking.

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