Credit: 123RF

Contrary to what the pushy salespeople at big chain gyms and fitness studios would have you believe, that $300 monthly membership is, in fact, completely optional.

That’s right — you don’t have to cough up a significant chunk of your income for the privilege of queueing up endlessly for the squat rack and bathing in a communal shower. And guess what? It’s actually possible to set up a home gym — tailored just for you — right in the comfort of your HDB flat.

Here’s what you need, where to get the gear, how much everything would cost, and the benefits as well as potential trade-offs of working out at home.

But wait, why would you need to set up a home gym?

Uh… Have you looked at the prices of big chain gym memberships lately? Okay, let’s say you think $250 a month is a reasonable amount to pay for fitness. Fair enough. Health is wealth, right?

But think about it. You pay $3,000 a year and you still have to wait at least 30 to 45 minutes each time for the good gym equipment and the shower. After that, you have to spend another $20 on a hasty protein bowl because you’re too hungry to wait till you get home to cook dinner. (That’s an extra $3,000 a year if you do it thrice a week.)

Set up a home gym instead, and your fitness regimen will look like this:

  • Get home from work.
  • Put on your workout clothes.
  • Stretch and warm up while playing on your favourite music.
  • No need to queue, just start working out right away.
  • Work out at your own pace without feeling like people are staring at you waiting for you to finish your set.
  • You’re done in 45 minutes, as planned.
  • Walk your sweaty self down to the kopitiam and eat $3 ban mian for dinner. Or cook yourself a steak and make a gin and tonic. Whatever tickles your fancy.
  • Take a shower in your clean personal bathroom and go to sleep.

Best of all? It’ll cost you all of $1,000 to $1,500 — half the price of your annual gym membership. And you only need to pay once.

Of course, there are downsides to working out at home. The primary thing is motivation: It can be really hard to get into the “zone” when your sofa/bed is just a few metres away. That can be overcome (somewhat) by making your home gym as conducive as possible, but your mileage may vary.

What do you need to set up a home gym in Singapore?

The beauty of a home gym is that it’s entirely up to you what equipment you want. And you can make your decision based on what you personally like (subject, of course, to your budget). 

If you’ve been lifting free weights at the gym, such as with a programme like Stronglifts 5×5, you’ll know how simple and low-tech it is. No fancy machines needed, just:

  • Barbell & weight plates
  • Squat rack
  • Bench

If you’re into HIIT exercises such as the BBG workout or Ritual Gym-style, your equipment needs are even more minimal:

  • Kettlebells or dumbbells
  • Pull-up bar
  • TRX suspension trainer
  • Plyometric box

Other things to consider are:

  • Flooring (like a gym mat to protect your actual floor) & mirrors
  • Anything else you’d like to add, e.g. battle ropes, punching bag, yoga mat.

Barbell & weight plates (budget $200 to $300)

Barbells come in a wide variety of weights, lengths and sizes — which do you choose?

For beginners to lifting who aren’t too fussed about creating their own modular weight system, it can be quite cost-effective to buy a barbell set together with weights. For example, this barbell comes with 65kg of weight plates and costs $189.

Credit: GymSportz

It’s important to note the weight limit, though. You may not be able to simply slap on an extra 20kg of weights on this thing, because a barbell for home use may not support that much.

Also, check that it comes with sufficiently small weight plates (the smallest should be 1.25kg at most) because you will need them to increase your lifts safely. If your budget allows, it helps to get a set of what’s called “fractional weight plates”, but these are optional.

Powerlifting purists who do lots of deadlifts and heavy squats would want to skip the barbell set and invest in a proper Olympic barbell instead. These are what gyms use because they’re standardised and can handle much heavier loads. You can buy an Olympic barbell for about $50 on Lazada.

You’ll need to choose the weight plates to go with the barbell too. There are even more options here because the price varies hugely with the quality and material of the plates.

Metal plates are the cheapest (starting from about $4 for the smallest, 1.25kg) but you’ll need to make sure your floor is sufficiently protected.

For heavier weights, you might want to spend more on for rubber-coated plates (from $6.50 for 2.5kg) or bumper plates (from $18 for 5kg) which are safer for your floors and are less likely to startle your downstairs neighbours.

DirectHomeGym has a good selection of weight plates of different types.

Squat rack or power rack (budget $700 to $800)

To go with the barbells and weights, you’ll need some sort of squat rack to help you perform all the different types of lifts and work different muscle groups.

The cheapest option is the basic squat rack or squat stand, the one that just looks like two upright poles with small brackets jutting out (where you rest the barbell). You can get a cheap one for under $120 off Lazada or Decathlon.

But because you most probably won’t have a spotter at your home gym, it’s way, way safer to splash out on a power rack – that’s the one that looks like a cage. These have adjustable horizontal bars help catch that heavy barbell at a safe height. You can get one for about $700 to $800; Gymsportz has a good selection.

Credit: GymSportz

This will most likely be the bulkiest item in your home gym — it’s about the size of a wardrobe and you can keep all your gear in it.

If you lift heavy, check the specs of your power rack to make sure that it can support the weight you want to lift.

Weights bench (budget $60 to $100)

If you’re trying to target your chest and arms, you definitely need a weights bench for bench presses and the like.

While you might be tempted to use that old Ikea shoe bench to start with, eventually you’ll probably want to buy a proper bench for better stability, comfort, and ability to support heavy weights without creaking alarmingly.

Benches are relatively cheap compared to the other items on the list, but you will still need to budget for it. The most basic one costs $60 from DecathlonMulti-position benches also exist, but these are more for dumbbell work, so it’s optional.

Credit: Decathlon

One extra benefit of having a good solid bench is that you can use it in HIIT exercises such as tricep dips and step-ups.

Kettlebells or dumbbells (budget $100)

Having a couple of small free weights around is useful for targeting and activating small muscle groups. Let’s have a look at the options:

Credit: Decathlon

Dumbbells are by far the cheapest option. Instead of getting a bazillion of these and cluttering up your home, you can opt for the kind that looks like miniature barbells so you can customise the weight on each bar. Decathlon sells them at $35 per set, so that’s $70 if you want a pair.

Credit: Decathlon

Kettlebells seem like just the trendier version of dumbbells, but they work your body differently. It’s more dynamic: You engage many different muscle groups when swinging or lifting them, and kettlebell exercises can get your heart rate up. The cheapest place to get them is, again, Decathlon, which sells them for $18 (4kg) to $80 (20kg). You can start with just 1 or 2.

Pull-up bar (budget $20)

No one above the age of seven does pull-ups for fun, which is a shame because it’s such a great workout and requires practically zero equipment. In fact, you probably already have a pull-up bar at home.

While gyms like Ritual have fancy, gymnastics-style pull-up rings, a simple bar is enough to get started with. You can very easily find one on Lazada for less than $20 — the no-drill kind which you can simply jam into a doorway.

If you can’t do a single pull-up (no shame there) you can work your way up to it by doing bodyweight rows on your squat rack. It’s easier to go up when your body is diagonal rather than vertical. Or use a chair under the pull-up rack for support.

TRX suspension trainer (budget $40)

The TRX suspension trainer sounds like a crazy high-tech piece of equipment, but it’s really simple, cheap, and actually quite fun.

It’s just a thick stretchy cable hanging from overhead. You grab the handles and perform exercises while hanging from it, which pits your muscles against your body weight (so the heavier you are, the better the workout is).

Credit: Lazada

A set costs only about $30 to $40 on Lazada or Taobao, so even if this isn’t a mainstay of your fitness routine, you can still hang one in front of your TV and goof around on it from time to time.

Plyometric box (budget $50 to $80)

High-intensity exercises, like Crossfit or Tabata-type workouts, tend to involve these large boxes — typically requiring you to launch yourself onto them and back down very rapidly.

Credit: DirectHomeGym

Box jumps are undoubtedly a great workout, but unfortunately, plyo boxes are really expensive for what they are (wooden boxes). Most go for at least $80, but the cheapest one I found is $48 for a 40cm high one from DirectHomeGym.

I wouldn’t go jumping on any old wine crate to save the cash, though. Plyo boxes are reinforced enough to survive your body weight bashing and smashing onto the surface multiple times.

Flooring & mirrors (budget $100 or so, depending on gym size)

If you’re going to be dropping weights, jumping, etc. at home, it’s probably a good idea to protect the floor and cushion loud sounds with some sort of protective rubber mat.

Those interlocking foam mats that people buy for babies’ playrooms are a good option and you can find pretty affordable ones on Lazada. For example, this basic black one works out to be about $13 per square metre while this wood-patterned one costs about $24 psm.

Alternatively, you can line the floor with any combination of rubber mats, yoga mats, training mats etc. which you can get for as cheap as $3.90 per piece. You can secure them to the floor with some humble 3M tape.

Either way, choose something that’s as non-slip as possible because the last thing you want is to break a body part while working out. Speaking of body parts, you might also want to consider adding a mirror to your home gym. Not just for admiring your body, but also because it’s important for checking your form.

Full-length mirrors are pretty expensive, though, so if you’re on a budget you can just buy mirror tile stickers instead, which can cover a 1.2m x 1.2m space for under $20.

Assuming your home gym takes up about 2m x 2m, you should be able to add floor mats and mirror tiles for about $100.

Other nice-to-haves (if you have money leftover)

The sky’s the limit when it comes to building your home gym, so feel free to add anything else you enjoy, like a yoga mat and props, battle ropes, punching bag, etc.

One thing I’d suggest is a little corner with amenities like fresh towels, water. If you follow specific workouts or videos, it makes sense to put your iPad and workout checklists here too, just so you don’t have to go in and out of the “zone” looking for these miscellaneous items.

If you don’t have the entire room to yourself and are occupying a corner of the living space, for example, it’s nice to be able to separate your home gym from the rest of the room to minimise distractions. Moving a bookshelf or hanging some light blinds from the ceiling should help with that.

So, how much does it actually cost to set up a home gym in Singapore?

Here’s how much it would cost to set up a cheap basic weightlifting-only home gym in Singapore:

Credit: Money Smart

As you can see, the bulk of the costs lie in the barbell, weights and power rack. If you’re not keen on lifting with barbells but want to create your own mini Ritual Gym instead, the cost is absurdly low.

Credit: Money Smart

Since the non-lifting stuff is so affordable, let’s have a look at “the works”:

Credit: Money Smart

That’s right – even if you invest in a full-blown home gym, you can break even in 6 months.

You’ll notice that I left out cardio machines like stationary bikes and treadmills, which are of course completely fine to add to your space. These things cost about $400 to $800 each and suck a lot of electricity, so I personally would rather go outside and run or cycle for free.

Bonus: Buying a home gym set off Taobao

If you’re sitting on the fence about dropping $1K on a home gym because you don’t know if you’ll actually use it, you can reduce the cost even further by buying the big-ticket items (squat rack, barbell and weights) off Taobao.

The Chinese phrase for “squat rack” is 深蹲架, and if you want to narrow it down to cage-type power racks, search for 框式深蹲架 (“frame squat rack”).

To give you an idea of prices, I did a casual search and found power racks going for $250 to $300, compared to $800 and up in Singapore. Many sellers also sell the full set (rack + barbell + weights) from about $500 to $800.

But the real killers are (a) shipping and (b) assembling it yourself.

Given that a full set can weigh a monstrous 100kg, I don’t think I need to explain why shipping from China is going to be pretty expensive. But I have a solution: Sign up for EZBuy Prime for 5 days and order it there. That’ll bring your shipping costs down to $9.90 (Prime membership) + $2.99 (flat shipping fee).

As for self-assembly… Well, if you’re the sort who would pay for Ikea installation, I can’t help you there. But I think that since all the parts are very big, it should be fairly easy to see how they fit together. Just make sure you triple-test the result for stability. Good luck!

Text: Clara Lim / Money Smart