For this I’m focusing mostly on lifting weights in an apartment, as that’s what most readers of this blog are into. After that I’ll go over some possibilities for doing cardio and other workouts.
Table of Contents
Deadlifts & Olympic Lifts
These are the noisiest barbell lifts you could possibly do. A layer of 3/4″ plywood and 3/4″ rubber will help protect the floor. It doesn’t do much to reduce the noise and shaking.
Fortunately, there is one good way to cut the noise by an impressive amount.
A couple 5″ thick crash pads like this are ideal. They are hard enough to hold several plates up and to spread the load when you drop the barbell. Feedback from users indicates that these do indeed work very well to silence the drops. These are so good that you can not only do deadlifts but cleans as well.
Some gyms have used 6″ foam plyo boxes as crash pads. It’s basically using them like a soft version of pulling blocks. I don’t know how much that’s going to damage the plyo boxes. Anyway, the crash pads above are engineered specifically for this purpose so ought to hold up better, and they’re lower priced.
Ideally you’ll want something to put in between them as a platform to stand on and get your feet to the same height. Normally that’s a couple layers of 3/4″ plywood. To get to 5″ it’s going to take a lot of layers.
Power Rack or Squat Stand Noise-Reducing Features
Barbell exercises with a power rack or squat stand can still work, such as squats, presses, lunges, etc.
UHMW lined J-hooks on your power rack or squat stand will reduce noise significantly. UHMW plastic holds up very well to having a barbell slammed on it, and their purpose is partly to stop the noise of steel-on-steel clanging. This will make it more of a soft thud. The plates will be louder. See more below on that.
The same goes for the safety bars on your power rack, or the outside safety arms sticking out of a squat stand. They can be either lined with UHMW plastic or be pin-and-pipe safeties. Both work the same in reducing noise, with the layer of UHMW or PVC between your bar and the steel safeties.
Strap safeties are a much quieter alternative to safety bars. The bar falling on the straps avoids the thud sound of hitting solid safety bars, but the straps do have steel shackles that could make a little noise if we’re being picky, depending on the brand and how snug the shackles fit on the uprights.
Dumbbells or Kettlebells
Kettlebell workouts are potentially even quieter. With heavy enough kettlebells, you can get a really good session in, potentially even more so than dumbbells because of the kind of movements that the shape is made for.
Obviously it isn’t quite the same as barbell movements and won’t involve as much weight. Don’t dismiss it until you’ve tried it. The benefit of unilateral (ie: one-handed) training is something you don’t get with barbell workouts. It does tremendous things for your stabilizer muscles and doesn’t require as much weight.
Okay, you can do a 300lb back squat. But can you weighted pistol squats with even a 50lb kettlebell? Oh, not so strong anymore, are you?
Pull ups are invaluable for incorporating a pulling movement to balance out the muscles used in your workout.
If you don’t have a power rack, a pull up bar above a doorway works good, about 7ft high. Most people will need to bend their knees.
Even if you can’t do a full pull up, there are ways around it. Stand on a bench and do leg-assisted pull ups, or hang a resistance band for band-assisted pull ups. On the flipside, very strong people can do weighted pull ups with a weight vest, plate carrier vest, or dip belt.
Hanging knee raises are an option, or toes-to-bar if you’re athletic enough, although those are both easier to do when you can get a full hang on a higher bar.
Weight machines are generally not as effective as freeweights. The ranges of motion don’t always fit your body well, and you lose out on using your supporting muscles to keep the weight balanced. A heavy squat on any kind of weight machine, whether it’s a Smith machine or a leg press, is not nearly as satisfying as accomplishing a heavy barbell squat with no assistance.
That being said, weight machines can be fairly quiet.
You will get bored of using a weight machine quickly. While some are designed to accommodate several exercises, they are inherently limited in what exercises they can provide, while with any kind of freeweights you have more freedom of movement and can do potentially dozens of exercises.
Rowers Might Be Out
As cardio equipment goes, a rower is low impact. At least there’s no pounding noise. The noise is still there, whether it’s an air rower like the Concept2 or a water resistance rower like the WaterRower. This kind of noise will go through most residential walls pretty easily, making a rower a somewhat bad choice.
Magnetic rowers are marketed for use in apartments because they’re much quieter than an air or water rower. The thing is, they feel way different than an air or water rower. The magnetic resistance is consistent no matter how hard you pull, making it actually easier to do the faster you go. With an air or water rower, the resistance increases as you pull harder, just like on water, forcing you to really work for any extra speed.
For this reason, magnetic rowers are not respected by experienced rowers, Crossfitters, or pretty much anyone who has used a better rower. Magnetic rowers are more cheaply made and won’t last very long under daily use. Note how magnetic rowers priced new at around $200-300, while good rowers are $900+. There really isn’t any good model of magnetic rower, no matter how much you want to spend, because that type of resistance doesn’t do well.
Hydraulic rowers are not a good choice either. Like magnetic, they are quiet; that much is true. They use hydraulic pistons for resistance. It results in a motion that is not as smooth as a magnetic rower and doesn’t simulate the resistance of real rowing, making it just as bad of a choice as a magnetic rower.
Other Cardio Equipment
There’s no way to silence running on a treadmill. That’s out. A “treadmill mat”, aka: a 1/8″ rubber mat, cuts down on the vibration transmitted somewhat, but it’s the slamming of your feet down that causes noise with a commercial treadmill that doesn’t wobble (which is the only kind you should be using).
Or run in enormous slippers.
Then there’s bikes…
Indoor bikes of all types are an option! I think all of these are reasonably quiet if they’re made well, including fan bikes like the Rogue Echo Bike, upright or recumbent exercise bikes, spin bikes, or an indoor bike trainer stand for your road bike. You can get some fan noise or a mechanical whirring sound, depending on the type of setup, but not as bad as a rower. Unless your walls are paper thin, these are reasonable.
Likewise, ellipticals and steppers are fine. No impact, and just some whirring sound.
Unless you’re training for an endurance sport, you might not need cardio equipment as much as you think. A moderate or high intensity workout will do a lot more in less time to burn calories and fat, as well as build muscle to eat up calories over time.
Bodyweight exercises like burpees, any calisthenics, pushups or yoga are all pretty quiet. Yes, burpees involve jumping, but do it without shoes and focus on a smooth energy-efficient movement that is low-impact.
If you’re blessed with a high ceiling, box jumps on a foam plyo box are fairly quiet if you step down softly instead of trying to hop up and down for reps. This doesn’t make for a good conditioning workout, but it is fun to do for working on your max-height jumps.
For an good HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout, see this video tutorial below. Whether for a hotel or apartment, this will do in a pinch.
Communicate with Your Neighbors
Just talking to your neighbors about what you’re doing can avoid potential complaints or hostility. You don’t know exactly what they’re hearing. It might turn out that there’s only a certain noise that they notice the most, and everything else is fine. Or you might be able to conveniently schedule your workouts for when they aren’t home.
Preventing Floor Damage
Apartment buildings and houses have building codes and weight considerations that make a lot of home gym setups okay, even if you’ve got a lot of dumbbells or weight plates. In some cases the added weight is not much different than having a party at your house with several people and isn’t an issue.