The best home gym flooring ideas

One of the most important, but often overlooked, components of a good home gym is the floor. Whether you’re building a gym inside a house or apartment, or out in the garage, you want flooring that will:

  • Protect the underlying floor in your property from damage.
  • Protect your gym equipment from damage.
  • Reduce noise – either from dropped weights, or cardio machinery such as treadmills or elliptical trainers.

It’s also important to create a smooth, flat surface to work out on so that you don’t risk tripping or slipping while you are carrying heavy weights. On top of this, the right kind of flooring in your home gym will add to that intangible feeling of having a nice work-out space – if your home gym is a comfortable environment, you’ll be more motivated to spend time in there. So a good floor covering will make it feel like a real gym, instead of just a room with some fitness equipment in it.

Think about the last commercial gym you visited. You might not have paid much attention to the floor, but most of them have a good, thick rubber covering. This provides protection from noise and damage, but also gives you a good non-slip surface which is important for your safety. Again, you don’t want to risk any kind of slip or trip while you are lifting heavy weights or just exercising vigorously.

The good news is that you can easily install the same kind of rubber flooring in your own home gym, without having to spend a lot of money.

Foam rubber tiling home gym mats

The best solution for a home gym is to get some interlocking high density foam rubber mats, which are available from most DIY stores or Amazon. These will allow you to easily cover a floor area of any size without costing the earth – but do be careful to buy good quality mats. You want to make sure they are of a good thickness (at least half an inch or 6mm, preferably thicker), made from non-toxic rubber, and also that they are well made and durable.

Beware of very cheap floor mats, they might be made of poor quality material that will not withstand a lot of wear and tear. You should avoid a type of foam rubber called EVA, as this is too soft for home gyms and won’t offer the same protection as tough, heavy rubber. If you’re buying online, be sure to check out reviews from other customers before making a purchase.

So, let’s say you’re building a home gym in a spare room in your house, or in a garage. Your existing floor surface might be concrete, wooden floor boards or any number of other things. Before you lay down the rubber mats, I recommend putting down a layer of plywood boards to go underneath them.

This is useful for several reasons. First of all, if the underlying floor surface is at all uneven, the slightest bumps and dips will be exaggerated as the rubber mats settle into them over time. A plywood base will provide a completely flat surface for your mats. It also helps spread the weight of your fitness equipment, improving the life of the mats and further protecting the base surface. You’ll also get additional noise reduction and insulation, so it’s well worth doing – and plywood is not expensive.

Where possible, secure the plywood base to the existing floor by nailing it in place. Then, lay out the rubber mats on the floor to make sure everything fits perfectly. DO NOT cut the mats or glue them in place until you are absolutely certain that you’ve got them laid out correctly. Remember the old handyman’s rule – measure twice, cut once.

Once you have the mats laid out exactly how you want them, and you’re sure they all fit properly, you can make any necessary cuts to fit them into corners or other awkward areas. You should use a utility knife to cut rubber mats, but be careful and always cut away from your body – I remember screwing up and slicing through my thumbnail down to the bone doing this a few years ago!

It’s a good idea to glue the mats in place, because you’ll be subjecting them to a lot of pressure and they’re likely to start moving around over time. You can buy specialist rubber flooring adhesive for this.

Rubber flooring rolls for larger rooms

If you have a larger area to cover, or just don’t like the idea of using interlocking mats, you can buy rolls of rubber floor matting. Again, these come in varying thicknesses, but it’s best to pick one that’s at least half an inch thick, and you should still put down a plywood sub-surface wherever possible.

It can be a little trickier to to cut these rolls to fit around awkard spots, because they are bigger and more cumbersome, so be careful when laying them out. You can also glue these rolls to the floor, but it’s not really so necessary because they won’t move around as much as smaller mats. However, you should use double-sided carpeting/flooring tape along the edges, wherever the rolls sit next to each or a wall, to stop the edges from curling up and presenting a trip-hazard.

Exercise mats for small homes

But what it you you’re short on space and need to clear away your fitness equipment when it’s not in use?  Putting down fixed rubber flooring isn’t the best solution.

For those situations I recommend a large exercise mat, like the one shown here. It measures 8 by 6 feet, so it’s large enough for most people, and you can fit an Olympic weight lifting bar on it for deadlifts.

The mat has a textured, grippy surface to help reduce the risk of slipping. While it’s thick enough to protect your floor and reduce noise, it can still be rolled up for storage.



7 tips to improve your squats

The squat is one of the greatest exercises you can do for building all round strength and athleticism. It works a huge number of muscles throughout the entire body, makes you stronger, and gives you a juicy butt that people will want to sink their teeth into.

If you can squat well, you’ll benefit in lots of different areas and other exercises will be easier. Here’s our best advice for improving your squat:

1) Get your squat form perfect before you go heavy. You might want the kudos of putting a lot of weight on the bar, but that means nothing if you’re not squatting deep. Lower the weight as much as you need to perform the move correctly, then you can slowly increase the weight without bad form.

2) Warm up with just the bar, or very light weights – this will help you think about form before you do your full sets.

3) If your thighs aren’t parallel to the ground, keep going down. Some people will say that you need to get your ass all the way to the ground, but that’s not for everybody. You need to get your thighs parallel, at least, otherwise it doesn’t count – but how much deeper you squat beyond that is up to you.

4) If you don’t have specialist weightlifting shoes, kick off your shoes and squat in your socks/barefoot – this will give you a much more stable base. Lots of people wear inappropriate shoes for lifting (running shoes are the worst) so for squats, and deadlifts, going barefoot is better.

5) Adjust your stance  if you need. There’s a lot of dogma about how far apart your feet should be, whether your knees should go over your toes, what angle your feet should be pointing at. But a lot of this depends on your personal body-shape, so feel free to experiment with a different stance if it helps you squat.

6) Use “hip-drive” – focus on pushing with the hips, not the knees. There’s a detailed explanation of what hip-drive means here.

7) Don’t be intimidated. Squatting is easy with practice. I remember the first time I squatted with just an empty bar – my body felt destroyed for a week afterwards, and I couldn’t imagine ever being able to squat serious weights like the meatheads. But I progressed, and after just a few months I was already squatting far heavier weights than I ever imagined I’d be able to. Feels good, man.

Keep at it, and one day you’ll be squatting like this lady…

Girl does a 140kg back squat

I don’t want to do weight training because I’ll get too bulky and muscular!

You are NOT going to look like this without years of extreme effort and strict dieting.

I’m a big fan of weight training to help people achieve their fitness goals. It’s good for getting strong, it’s good for losing body-fat, it’s good for looking buff, and it’s good for staying healthy and active into old age.

But sometimes it’s hard to convince people to share my love of iron. One of the biggest reasons people don’t want to get into weight-lifting is that they don’t want to become too muscle-bound. This is usually a fear that women have – they don’t want to look too butch – but also I often hear men say that they don’t want to get overly muscular.

Here’s why that’s ridiculous: it takes an insane amount of work to build that much muscle, you are not going to get ‘big’ by accident. Those people you see, men and women, who have large, well defined muscles, put an awful lot of time and effort into looking that way. It takes years of dedication, regular training and strictly controlled diet to achieve that kind of body.

You are never going to get too muscular. If you work hard and diet correctly, you’ll notice that within 6 months your body will look pretty good – the muscles will start to take on a nice shape and grow a little bigger, and your body fat will drop to the point that it will be easier to see those muscles. You’ll start to look ‘fit’ but you won’t be anything close to too muscular.

The people who work hard to build huge muscles are called body-builders, and to them it’s an art form which requires a lot of dedication. Not only do they spend years building up all of the muscles in their body, they also diet hard to get their body fat down to very low levels. This is good for showing off the muscles, but for most ordinary it’s unsustainable to carry that little body fat because it means they have very little energy. It’s actually pretty unhealthy to have so little body fat for too long – fat is an essential part of the human body, it can’t be entirely eliminated, you’re literally starving yourself to death.

Serious body-builders cut as much fat as possible before a competition, but most of the time they are “bulking” – which means they are eating a lot of calories needed to grow muscles while they train, so they carry more body fat.

Don’t look at a body-builder and assume that’s what you’re going to look like if you do weight training – it’s simply not going to happen unless you put in the same kind of work that they do.

And the bottom line is that if you ever look at yourself in the mirror and feel like you’re getting too muscular, all you have to do is scale back your training until your body looks how you’d like it to.


How to define your fitness goals

What are your fitness goals?

Whenever you join a gym or speak with a personal trainer, this is usually the first question they’ll ask you, but the answer isn’t obvious to everybody. Other than a general sense that getting fit is a good thing to do, does anybody really consider what they’re actually trying to achieve by working out?

On one level it doesn’t really matter, just getting started with any kind of fitness activity is a good first step. Jut pick something you enjoy and keep at it – you’ll start to look and feel better in a month or two.

But it’s always good to have a plan, and if you think a little about your real motivations for working out then it will be easier to achieve what you want.

If we’re honest, the main reason most people think about getting fit is simply that they want to look better – but this could mean different things for different people. Maybe you’re overweight and want to be skinny, or maybe you’re too skinny and want to look more athletic.

How to look more athletic and build muscle

So, first of all, if you’re skinny and want to look more athletic then you need to build muscle. This doesn’t necessarily mean getting completely jacked or overly muscular (and that would take years of commitment and hard training) but just working the muscles so that they clearly visible and well defined.

To achieve this you’re going to need to do a weightlifting program. This means focusing on lifting heavier and heavier weights at between 5 and 10 repetitions per set for each exercise. If you’re able to perform more than 10 or 12 repetitions of any exercise, then the weights probably aren’t heavy enough to help you build muscle. It’s all about lifting increasingly heavy weights.

For a beginner, you can easily do this in three one-hour training sessions per week, and expect to see results within a month or two. I highly recommend a 5×5 training program like Stronglifts (it’s free – everything you need to know is in the linked blog post).

To do a program like Stronglifts at home you will need a barbell, some weights, a bench and some kind of rack that can hold the barbell at different heights (for squats and bench-pressing) like this one.

For any fitness goal, diet is really, really important. To gain muscle you need to eat a lot – your body will need extra protein (the stuff muscle is made of) and energy in the form of carbohydrates (bread, pasta, etc). This is where a lot of people go wrong, they eat protein but neglect the carbs because they’re worried about getting fat. The bottom line is that it’s very hard to build muscle without putting on some body fat at the same time. Strong Lifts has some great practical advice on how to eat for muscle-gain.

If you reach a point where you have too much fat, then you can switch to a weight-loss routine, which will strip away the fat so that your underlying muscles will be more visible.

Programs like Stronglifts are primarily designed to increase your physical strength, and for a novice that will also produce some pretty impressive muscle-size increases all over your body. After a while (six months to a year for many people) you might want to switch to a body building program (designed specifically to improve aesthetics of your muscles, rather than your strength), or continue getting stronger with a more advanced strength training program. But that’s advanced stuff, not for this article.

Getting skinny by losing body fat

Real talk time. If you want to lose body fat, the most important thing you need to do is control your diet. There are lots of different approaches to dieting, and I’m not a nutrition expert, but try to avoid fads and simply follow well established  rather than this years hottest diet trend. Cut out sugar and processed (white) carbs), eat smaller portions, eat more protein, try not to drink wine and beer (Get Drunk Not Fat has some great tips on how you can still booze without gaining weight).

If you’re not prepared to get your diet under control, you’re wasting your time here – you can’t out-train a bad diet. Got that? Good, now, for the next step, read the above paragraph on weight training. That’s right – a good weight training program will help you lose weight more easily than cardio exercise. Why?

The body needs more energy to build and maintain muscle. So you lose weight by building muscle in the first place and, once you have that muscle, you’re constantly burning more fat/energy even when you’re not doing anything. The best exercise you can do to lose weight is the squat – because it works the biggest muscle in your body; your butt (gluteus maximus). Not only will you lose weight, you’ll have an amazing ass. It’s also great for the thighs and the rest of your legs – whether you’re a man or woman, squats will make your legs and butt look good.

Don’t get me wrong, cardio is a great and important exercise that you should definitely do, but when you run, swim or cycle, you only burn the calories it takes to do that work. Once you’ve finished, the fat burning stops. With weight training, you’re constantly increasing the amount of fat your body burns at rest.

So, when you think about it, whether you’re a skinny person who wants to bulk up, or a fat person who wants to lose weight, the exercise approach is pretty much the same.  But what other fitness goals might people have?

General fitness, stronger heart and lungs

I mentioned cardio is important earlier. Cardio-vascular exercise (also called aerobic exercise) is good for improving the function of your heart and lungs, so you can do more physically intensive activity without getting out of breath or too tired to continue. It also helps you live longer and enjoy better health into old age. These are common fitness goals for many people, especially those who are starting to feel the effects of aging a little and perhaps realize that they need to make some changes in order to stay healthy.

So, if you’re happy with the way your body looks but you just want to be healthier and more capable of physically demanding activity, cardio is what you need. Cardio will not help you build muscle, but it will help you burn fat (although not as effectively as weight training).  That said, good cardio-vascular fitness will help you to do other exercises – so in an indirect kind of way, you will find it easier to build muscle if your cardio health is good.

Cardio exercise can be any kind of activity that increases the heart rate and your breathing (I know what you’re thinking, and yes, sex counts as cardio). Popular aerobic exercises are walking (for very unfit beginners), running/jogging, cycling, swimming, hiking, and dancing. There are also sports like tennis, squash, soccer, that require a lot of running and moving around. But really, anything that gets you moving for a sustained period with an increase in heart rate counts as cardio.

Some serious weight-lifters will scoff at cardio exercise because it burns valuable calories that they would prefer to be spent on building more muscle. If all you care about is muscle, that’s fair enough, but if you want a good level of all-round fitness then cardio is essential.

Why workout at home?

I’ve been going to gyms for years, mostly because I liked having a nice, well equipped place where I could do my workout. Also, paying a membership fee acted as a kind of motivator – if this place is costing me a chunk of cash each month then I feel like I have to show up and get my money’s worth.

That was fine back when I didn’t really work out properly. I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t have a routine. Some days I’d use one of the cardio machines, some days I’d try out the fixed weight machines, and if I couldn’t get onto the fitness equipment that I wanted to use – no problem – I’d just do something else.

The problems started when I got serious about fitness, and started following a program that used free weights, so whenever I went to the gym I needed to use specific equipment like the bench press or squat rack. Most commercial gyms don’t have a lot of this kind of equipment, they prefer fixed weights and cardio machines, so there’s often a wait to use the gear that I need. Sometimes it’s even hard to just get hold of a bar to work with, never mind a rack or bench.

When you’ve got limited time (I liked to work out in my lunchbreak at a gym near my office) that becomes really annoying. It’s tough to stick to a fitness program if you can’t get onto the equipment you need at the time you want.

That’s when I started thinking about how much easier life would be if I had all the gym equipment I needed at home. I wouldn’t have to wait for my turn on the solitary squat rack, I wouldn’t have to rush my sets on the bench press because somebody wanted to train in with me, I could just do what I needed when I wanted.

But other people have their own reasons for preferring to work out at home. If they’re just getting started on their fitness journey they might feel intimidated by gyms. Or perhaps they’re just a little self conscious about their bodies and would rather not work out in public. It’s easy to understand the attraction of working out at home instead.

For some people it might just come down to a simple financial issue – commercial gyms can be expensive and they often want to lock you into 12 month contracts, which doesn’t suit everybody. Or maybe there just isn’t a good gym near them.

Some commercial gyms can be great, I’ve certainly used one or two which have been great for my needs. But they’re hard to find and usually they’re expensive, so for a lot of people working out at home is a much better alternative.

People at the start of their fitness journey often feel like they need to join a gym because that’s all part of the process of getting into shape. But, really, you can start with exercise that requires no specialist fitness equipment at all, so long as you can motivate yourself to keep at it.

Want to improve your cardiovascular health? Start jogging, cycling, or even just brisk walking – it costs nothing to get moving, and you can do it anywhere. Want to start building muscle? There are plenty of body-weight exercises you can do with very little fitness equipment, or even none at all.

Once you start to get in shape you might feel ready to move things up to the next level, and that’s when you’re ready to start buying the gear you need to build a home gym that’s perfect for your needs. But if you’re an absolute beginner, there’s nothing stopping you from getting started today.