Now that summer is officially over, many Canadians are likely looking to renew their gym passes — but there's another way to stay fit and flush with cash, says Jeff Woods, a long-time personal trainer and fitness lifestyle commentator on the Canadian Learning Channel.

Building a home gym can save you both time and money if done properly — and the convenience of having your own designated work-out space can't be beat.

Here are Woods' four steps to setting up your own safe and effective home gym:

Step 1: Setting the stage

The first thing you must do when contemplating setting up a home gym is justify the value and find the right spot to set it up.

Jeff Woods

Jeff Woods is a long-time personal trainer and Edmonton AM fitness columnist. (Custom Fit)

"Obviously if you use it and you don't have to drive yourself to the gym you're going to save money on transportation costs," Woods said.

Likewise, you can say goodbye to gym fees — which can add up if your household is paying for more than one person's workout time.

But to make the cost expenditure worth it,  "you have to use it," he said.

That starts with picking the right location for your home gym — ideally, in an unused or underused space.

"You're looking for a room that's … going to be a minimum of eight feet tall, 10 feet is kind of ideal if you'll be standing or doing any overhead work," Woods said.

In terms of footprint, you're not going to want to go below a 10 foot by 10 foot room. That will leave you with enough room to manoeuvre even a seven-foot-long Olympic bar with room to spare.

If space isn't an issue, the ideal home gym size is 25 x 25 feet, he said.

"It is big, but if you're going to work out more than one person … you're going to need that space," Wood said.

"You want to be able to work safely — that's kind of the key," Woods said.

It's also important to consider accessibility, Woods said. Easy access not only help cut down service and equipment installation costs, but can actually make your home gym safer, Woods said.

"In case of a medical emergency, if you have to get a gurney down there because somebody's had a problem, you want to have accessibility and some room to work.

Other factors to consider when picking and kitting out your new home gym:

  • Air flow: The room needs a window or air conditioning to help you maintain a healthy body heat
  • Flooring: Consider installing something durable like interlocking rubber sheets, which typically costs about $100 for a 4 x 6 foot piece
  • Mirrors: These should be set up about 24 inches off the ground so you can check your form
  • Stud check: You may want to re-enforce the room's studs to make sure they can hold up a TV or any necessary equipment
  • Electrical upgrades: Treadmills and the like are a big power draw, so you may want to install a dedicated circuit

Step 2: Picking your equipment

Equipment is a subjective decision, said Woods, but there are a couple of classics you should consider.

Jeff Woods home gym

An Olympic bar with bumper plates sits on a half power rack, with a medicine ball in the foreground. (Jeff Woods)

Old school dumbbells, barbells and rubberized bumper plates offer the greatest potential for strength training, and can also be used for multi-joint exercises specific to your live, professional or sport activities.

Unlike their cast-iron counterparts, rubberized bumper plates (used in Olympic deadlifting and often dropped on the floor immediately afterwards) offer a bit of cushion for your floor and will also last longer.

There are two different types of weights you should consider: a standard, one-inch diameter bar or an Olympic two-inch diameter bar.

"The Olympic ones are going to stand the test of time. They're stronger, so I'd highly recommend going in that direction."

While the larger bars do cost most — about $1 to $3 per pound — they can be found on sale or used for a fraction of the cost, he added.

The next thing on your list: a power rack with safety arms that can spot you while you work out alone. Power rack cages also often come with versatile add-ons such as chin-up bars that you can add as needed.

Dumbbells are the final item on Woods' must-have list. These are essential for ISO lateral work as well as isolated limb exercises.

The downside: they can take up a lot of space. If you've got the money, companies like Bowflex offer a compact adjustable dumbbell set that can go from 10 to 90 lbs for about $500.

Step 3: Adding in some aerobics

Here, the possibilities are nearly endless and the best buy depends on what you will use the most, said Woods.

Jeff Woods Home Gym

Here, a woman demonstrates a deadlift using bumper plates with a full cage power rack in place. (Jeff Woods)

"I would recommend a treadmill because it closely duplicates things you do in your day-to-day life — we run and we walk every day," he said.

"The other pieces of equipment are not specific to those biomechanical patterns."

Treadmills can range in price from $1,500 to $20,000, Woods said.

Step 4: The odds and ends

Once you've got the basics covered, Woods recommends a couple other training aids:

  • Quality multi-angle bench: This should be able to hold at least 1,000 lbs (you and your weights) safely and you'll use it forever. This will cost between $750 and $1,500, Woods said.
  • Medicine Balls: Softer-style medicine balls come in a variety of weights and are less likely to do damage to your body or your walls if you miss
  • Skipping rope: Bar none, the most compact aerobic exercise tool there is, skipping builds fitness and coordination quickly
  • Pulley and strap system: To be used when you want to supplement traditional weight training with bodyweight training. It also travels well, said Woods

Jeff Woods is Edmonton AM's fitness columnist. He also owns Custom Fit, a personal training gym in Edmonton, Alta.