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Sweat on a budget: Top products to build your own DIY home gym

A dedicated home gym is convenient, eliminates excuses and allows you to workout on your schedule

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Being a first responder is a fitness nightmare. Between long shifts, adrenaline dumps and the constant physical grind, squeezing in a gym routine can feel impossible.

Imagine you just finished a 12-hour shift, your fridge is empty, the kids have soccer practice and you still have a mountain of paperwork to tackle. Who has time for the gym on top of all that? Here’s the good news: you don’t have to sacrifice your health! There is a way.

One of the best things I did for my health (both mind and body) was to build a dedicated home gym. It’s convenient, eliminates excuses and lets you work out on your schedule – with no wasted drive time.

Whether you are looking for a budget-friendly starter kit gym or a full strongman gym, this guide has you covered. I’ll show you how to build a home gym specifically designed for first responders, so you can squeeze in effective workouts throughout the week.

Step 1: Assess your schedule, space and goals

First responders’ schedules are anything but predictable. It may be very difficult to find time to workout, but a good starting goal should be a minimum of 30-60 minutes of vigorous exercise 3-4 days a week.

After finding the time, assess your personal goals. Do you want to gain muscle, lose fat, get beach-body ready or are you looking just to improve your overall health? If you want to get “shredded” and “jacked,” then you will need more than just a yoga mat and a few light weights.

The last thing you need to look at before purchasing equipment is your space. Do you have the space to fit the equipment? If you are short on space, you can always find space for a couple of kettlebells.

Your goals and schedule will likely determine the space and money you can devote to buying equipment. Consider where you can realistically carve out some workout space, even if it’s just a corner of your living room.

Step 2: Purchase equipment for your goals and budget

Buy nice or buy twice. Purchase the best quality equipment you can on the budget that you set.

1. Flooring: The first thing I would recommend is buying some type of flooring. Not only does gym flooring protect your subfloor, but it will also transform your space into a designated workout area. It also makes all other exercises safer and more efficient.

Budget-friendly (under $25):

This thick, non-slip mat provides cushioning for floor exercises and yoga. You can easily roll it up to store it and it doesn’t take a lot of space.

Cost-effective ($25 to $100)

Durable, non-skid textured squares and tiles that cover and protect your floor or even carpet while creating a comfortable workout room with exercise accessories. Its lightweight interlocking foam tiles connect quickly and easily.

Professional ($100+)

Available 1/4", 3/8", 1/2" and 3/4" thick, they use a proprietary manufacturing process that ensures these rubber gym mats withstand even the most extreme environments and will always lay flat without curling up.

Pro tip: If you have a lot of space to cover, you can also purchase horse stall mats from your local farming supply company. These work just as good.

Enhance your workout with these fitness tools, perfect for building strength, coordination and core stability

2. Cardio tools: Every good holistic workout plan will use some type of cardio tool. Cardio equipment can be very expensive. Choosing wisely for your specific goal plan is a must.

Budget-friendly (under $25):

The best cardio tool for the price is a simple jump rope. The Champion Sports Leather rope is a great budget-friendly tool for beginners. If you are looking for higher quality jump rope and don’t mind spending a few extra dollars, then check out the Sonic Boom M2 High-Speed Jump Rope.
From classic to high-tech, find the perfect jump rope to match your fitness goals

Cost-effective ($25 to $100)

Even though you may not be able to run on this machine, a walking treadmill is still a great way to warm up and get your heart pumping. This walking treadmill is small and can easily slide under your bed.

Professional ($100+)

There are many different types and weights of heavy punching bags available. Outslayer is a U.S. brand that makes high-quality Muay Thai bags. Hitting the heavy bag, even for just a few minutes, can work up a sweat and get your heart racing.

3. Weights and heavy things: It’s easy to get carried away and buy a ton of equipment for your perfect home gym, but trust me, you don’t need to buy everything out there. Before you purchase, revisit your goals and space limitations or you may end up with equipment that is too big and bulky for your space.

From beginners to seasoned pros, find the ideal dumbbell set to suit your fitness goals

Budget-friendly (under $25):

CAP makes good entry-level weight equipment and dumbbells are a must in any home gym. If you know you want a full set but don’t have the room you can always purchase Adjustable Dumbbells 55LB Single Dumbbell or the higher quality REP Fitness Quickdraw Adjustable Dumbbells.

Cost-effective ($25 to $100)

After purchasing dumbbells, you will need medium-sized weights for more difficult lifts. Yaheetech makes good starter sets but if you are looking for higher quality, then you will need to purchase a separate EZ Curl Bar like the XMark Crowbar EZ Bar with Olympic weights like the RitFit Olympic Rubber Grip Plates.

Professional ($100+)

If you are serious about learning how to weightlift, then most of the products you purchase in this category will cost more than $100. These are the must-haves of any basic exercise room:

When it comes to exercise, supportive equipment is non-negotiable

Step 3: Use it

Here are some exercise routines you can perform with the different equipment mentioned earlier:

Weight lifting:

  • Dumbbell exercises:
    • Dumbbell lunges: 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions per leg
    • Dumbbell rows: 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions per arm
    • Overhead press: 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions
  • Barbell exercises:
    • Squat: 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions
    • Deadlift: 3 sets of 6-8 repetitions (Note: Deadlifts require proper form to avoid injury. If you are a beginner, consider substituting Romanian Deadlifts)
    • Bench press: 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions
  • Power rack exercises:
    • Pull-ups: 3 sets to failure
    • Dips: 3 sets to failure (weighted dips can be added later as you get stronger)
    • Barbell squats: 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions


  • Jump rope: Three 5-minute rounds with 30 seconds rest in between each round. This is a simple but effective way to get your heart rate up.
  • Walking treadmill: A 30-minute walk at a moderate pace is a great way to warm up before your workout or cool down afterward. You can also use incline walking for an added challenge.
  • Heavy Bag: Three 3-minute rounds of heavy bag mitts or boxing with 1-minute rest in between each round. This is a great way to relieve stress and improve your cardiovascular endurance.


Building a home gym doesn’t have to be expensive. With a little planning and creativity, you can create a space that allows you to get effective workouts whenever you have time in your busy schedule. Remember, consistency is key. Even a short, 30-minute workout is better than no workout at all.

Stay safe and stay strong.

NEXT: Before you start lifting weights or setting up your home gym, consider doing these agility and change-of-direction drills to build your resilience. Watch the video below to learn more.

Joshua Lee is an active-duty police sergeant for a municipal police department in Arizona. Before being promoted, Joshua served five years as a patrol officer and six years as a detective with the Organized Crime Section investigating civil asset forfeiture, white-collar financial crime, and cryptocurrency crimes.

Joshua is a money laundering investigations expert witness and consultant for banks, financial institutions, and accountants. He is also an artificial intelligence for government applications advisor and researcher.

Joshua holds a BA in Justice Studies, an MA in Legal Studies, and an MA in Professional Writing. He has earned some of law enforcement’s top certifications, including the ACFE’s Certified Fraud Examiners (CFE), ACAMS Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS) and the IAFC’s Certified Cyber Crimes Investigator (CCCI).

Joshua is an adjunct professor at a large national university, and a smaller regional college teaching law, criminal justice, government, technology, writing and English courses.