The Best Equipment To Build A Home Gym Under Low Ceilings


You want to build a home gym but are afraid the ceilings are a bit too low to do it right? Here’s how you can create the best home gym in a space with low ceilings.

Building a home gym under low (7’5 or less) ceilings is perfectly possible as long as the right equipment is picked. With the right equipment choices it’s possible to build a very complete home gym that has cardio machines, a full free weights setup, and even thins like a cable machine or leg press.

Find out exactly which equipment works for this situation.

Building a home gym under low ceilings

Many home gyms are built in the spaces that are ‘left over’. The places you can’t really build a full room in or aren’t the first choice to convert into a bedroom. This is often a basement and the basement often doesn’t have the highest ceilings. 7’ or 7.5’ high isn’t uncommon. Many pieces of gym equipment are taller than that or need more height to be used properly.

That means you are limited in the types and models of equipment you can choose. But don’t worry, below you can find the types of equipment that will build a complete home gym under a ceiling that is 7’ high.

The key is to be very aware of how much space you have exactly. Measure the ceiling height precisely and measure it more than once. Take the flooring into account. Do you want to add gym flooring after measuring? Deduct the thickness of that flooring from the total height you have available. Now you’ve got a number. Only buy equipment that’s 2” shorter than that. You need to leave a little bit of space for measuring errors and assembly. It’s also not a good idea to have your equipment rubbing against the ceiling.

Parts of a home gym for low ceilings

Home gyms come in all different shapes and sizes. From a single piece of equipment to warehouses that rival most commercial gyms. Below you can find the types of equipment that are commonly found in home gyms and are an option under low ceilings;

  • Cardio machines
  • Free weights
  • Functional trainers
  • Strength machines

Find out exactly which equipment you can choose in each category below.

Cardio

The most popular type of gym equipment to have at home is a cardio machine. The treadmill is the classic choice but not the right one here. Cardio machines often have you stand up on them. So if you’re taller than average, stepping on top of a treadmill might cause you to bump your head.

The best cardio machines to use under low ceilings are;

  • Exercise bike (any type; spin, recumbent, air, upright, etc)
  • Rowing machine (all)

Both exercise bikes and rowing machines have you sitting down on them. The seat of a rowing machine is only about 18” from the floor so you can make that work under 5’ high ceilings if you could even find such a thing.

Exercise bikes have their seats a bit higher but even the tallest exercise bike has their seat at a little above hip height. So when sitting upright on one you’ll be about as tall as when standing up. Spin and upright bikes are the tallest versions. Recumbent bikes have their seat a bit lower so they won’t prove any problem at all.

Any of these cardio machines will be possible to use as long as you can stand up in the space without bumping your head. No need to have more headroom than that.

Free Weights

Next up are free weights. Free weights are things like barbells and dumbbells. Dumbbells and the rack they are stored on aren’t the problem. Most dumbbell racks are only thigh high so if that doesn’t fit under your ceiling you’ve got bigger problems.

The barbell itself is not a big problem either. The most common barbells are 7’2 long. So this could be a problem to get under a low ceiling vertically but who uses a barbell completely vertically? And it’s pretty easy to find shorter barbells as well. The problem is to use a barbell to its full potential, you want a power cage and those can be quite tall.

Luckily you can find power racks in all shapes and sizes and there are short power racks available pretty commonly.  Finding a power rack that measures around 82” to 84” tall is pretty easy and some are even as short as 71”.

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Picking the right power rack is the key here. Squat stands are even shorter but since in a home gym you’re often lifting alone, I personally really prefer the safety a full cage can provide. So if you’ve got enough space, you can place a power cage and dumbbell rack without problems. Add a bench and you’ve got yourself a complete free weights home gym.

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The only issue you might run into is if you want to do overhead exercises like an overhead press. Because the weight plates stick out higher than your hands, even if you can’t reach the ceiling standing up, the weight plates could hit. If this is the case, that’s pretty easily solved by doing seated overhead presses. Not exactly the same exercise but close enough.

Functional trainer

A functional trainer is a big piece of gym equipment. These are the machines that have two weight stacks and two pulleys so you can do pretty much all cable exercises you can think of. Most of them are quite tall but some can just fit under a 7’ tall ceiling.

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The shortest functional trainers are 82” high which is just under 7’. You’ve even got space for (thin) rubber gym flooring. Functional trainers are incredibly versatile and can be used for pretty much all exercises. If you combine them with a bench and the right cable attachments it’s even possible to do barbell squats and bench presses.

Again the choice of equipment is key here. Don’t pick a random functional trainer because many of them are a bit too tall to fit under 7’ high ceilings. The best option is the BodyCraft HFT or PFT. Both of those are 82” tall but don’t compromise on exercise options or build quality.

Strength machines

Most home gym owners don’t use many separate machines because they take up a lot of space and they are quite expensive for the option to perform one exercise. The most popular machines for a home gym are the leg press and the hack squat. Most of those machines fit perfectly fine under low ceilings because they are about 60” tall.

On some leg press and hack squat machines the height doesn’t include the weight plates and they tend to stick out. So keep that in mind. Standard size weight plates are 17.7” in diameter and at most half of that can stick out above the machine.

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A few machines that are used to train shoulders and back can be taller than 6’ but most are shorter than 7’. Make sure to check the specs of the specific machine you want to buy though.

Other

There are some other things that might not be listed above but which are perfectly suitable for a home gym. Things like resistance bands and kettlebells don’t take up much space and height at all. The only problem with them could be how you use them. Using some common sense will tell you pretty quickly what you can and can’t use.

Summary

It’s a bit hidden in all the information above so here is what you can build your home gym with if you have ceilings less than 7’5 high;

  • Any exercise bike
  • Any rowing machine
  • Dumbbells
  • Bench
  • Short power racks
  • Short functional trainers
  • Leg press
  • Hack squat
  • Most other strength machines

So as you can see there are plenty of choices and most of the restrictions are in the cardio machines.

Which gym equipment is not suitable for low ceilings?

Some machines are just too tall to use. You can easily measure how high your ceilings are and check the specs of the equipment to see if it will fit. Leave about 2” for measurement errors but that’s not the hard part.

However, the height of the equipment itself isn’t the only thing to keep in mind. You also have to use the equipment and some gym equipment has you stand on top of it.

Think about a treadmill. In general to use a treadmill you need a ceiling height that is your own height + 21”. That means a little under 8’ tall ceilings to use a treadmill if you’re 6’tall.

The following gym equipment is not suitable for low ceilings (7’5’ or lower).

  • Any equipment that’s taller than your ceilings are high. Take any gym flooring into account.
  • Treadmill
  • Stairclimber
  • Elliptical trainer

Difficult exercises under low ceilings

Any ceiling you can almost touch if you’re standing up and reaching up with your arms is low. Most exercises are perfectly doable though. As long as you can lift up your arms a little higher than your head without hitting the ceiling, you can perform 90% of the exercises you want in a home gym.

There are a few exercises that can be difficult though;

  • Pull ups
  • Overhead press
  • Overhead triceps extension
  • Other overhead exercises

The good thing is, most of the overhead exercises can be performed sitting down. Sitting versions are usually more isolation exercises instead of compound exercises. Sometimes you have to make compromises though. The ceiling isn’t going to move and if a movement isn’t possible standing up, the closest alternative is to do the same thing sitting down.

Pull ups are difficult. You need about 16” of headroom above the pull up bar to do a full range pull up (bar to the top of the sternum) without hitting your head. Often you’ll have a pull up bar on the power cage or a functional trainer but since those are already close to the ceiling, you won’t be able to do a good pull up without hitting your head.

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An option is to get a separate pull up bar and mount it lower but this has its own issues. There are alternatives like lat pulldowns and rows that mimic pull ups but it’s not exactly the same. There is no good solution for this if you don’t have high ceilings.

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