Garage gyms are awesome! You can play your own music, you don’t have to wait for equipment, there’s no dress code, and the list goes on. I love my garage gym, and I get some awesome workouts in at home. This is all coming from the Fitness and Wellness Director at a recreational fitness center inside a community college. In fact, our facility cost just a shade under 5 million dollars and it is the best place to workout (but I’m probably a little biased). Still, I get some great workouts in at home and I have been for a long time! I built my original garage gym over 6 years ago and it has grown overtime and has been transported to a few different houses. I’m going to take you step by step to what I think are the bare essentials for getting started with a garage gym.
This seems like a no brainer, but the first thing you need for a home gym is space. Let’s be honest, you can do a lot of work with just a little room to jump around, and do bodyweight workouts. Just get physically active! You don’t have to have a dedicated 2-car garage or a big shop outback (but it would be nice!) You need to make sure you have the space for whatever your fitness program determines you need. If you are doing yoga, you might be more comfortable inside than on a cold, dirty garage floor. If you are going to be lifting weights and using barbells, you will need at LEAST a 10-foot square of open space. This will give you 1 ½ feet on either side of an Olympic sized barbell and plenty of room in front and behind you.
- Pull-Up Bar
Next on the list is a pull up bar. Don’t worry if you can’t actually do pull-ups yet, there is a lot you can do with a pull up bar! While you can get a nice pull up bar set up for a home gym somewhere like Rogue Fitness, or Muscle Driver, you can get all the things you need to make one at Home Depot or Lowes for a fraction of the cost. Just make sure that you secure it really well! You can use galvanized pipe and flanges and get a good set up! You want to look for something like this:
Here is where you can go a few different directions. If you want to buy a barbell, get a good one. It will last a long time if you care for it, and it is worth a few extra bucks. If you buy a cheap bar, that’s ok, but you can plan on buying a few more down the line. Iron plates are iron plates; there isn’t anything special about them. You can find them on Craigslist for decent prices usually. You can also go all out and get some rubber training plates (bumper plates), which are made of solid rubber and won’t hurt anything if you drop them. My first weight set was a bumper plate set and while it was expensive, it’s all I used for about 3 years and I didn’t really NEED anything else.
You aren’t confined to barbells though! You can get dumbbells or kettle bells and get a great workout in. I think a good set of dumbbells can also be very versatile, but they are usually more expensive. Look around for a set of adjustable ones and you can get a good deal.
The power block style dumbbells look gimmicky but there are actually awesome. The ones with the screw on collars always come loose and they are more of a pain than they look like! You’ll pay a little more for the power block kind, but you’ll get more out of them. If you buy some single pairs (used or new) I suggest get some that have a flat side. They will come in handy for things like deficit push ups or weighted burpees because they don’t roll! They’ll also stay put if you garage isn’t level. And it’s probably not.
If you’re going to buy weights, the next thing you will need is a dedicated surface to use them on! Depending on what kind of program you are doing, you will need either a lifting platform (powerlifting or Olympic lifting) or at the very least some rubber mats. If you have all iron plates, this step is CRUCIAL. If you drop them on the garage floor it can break the plates, the bar, the concrete, or all of the above. If you’re lifting at home, chances are you won’t always have a spotter to bail you out. You need to have a bail out option that will include dropping some weight.
The good new is, this step is super easy! You can buy ¾” horse stall mats at places like Tractor Supply or other farmer supply stores. You can also order them but they are heavy an expensive to ship. The ¾ mats are 4 foot by 6 foot and mine cost me about $40. You can use a single mat for almost anything you need to do. One note on the mats: there are two different styles at the place I got mine from. One has a grid like pattern on it and one does not. I like the one that does NOT because it is easier to clean and the plates sit better on them. Both styles are fine, though and they are heavy and won’t move.
If you go the platform route, you will have a permanently designated lifting area. I mean this. You won’t want to move this thing once you build it. If you have a very uneven lifting space, this is a good option because you can shim it up and make it level for a better workout experience. There are tons of plans on building these and you can have a lot of fun designing your own. Just remember that most plans that use full sheets of plywood will be larger than the rubber mats because it will create an 8’x8’ platform. It will go together kind of like this:
- Racks and Stands
I lifted in my garage gym for a long time before I made any kind of rack to hold the barbell (for squats or overhead press). After I made a pair of squat stands that cost me less than $10 I wish I had done it sooner. This is ranked at #5 because it is a luxury, but you definitely don’t have to break the bank on this one! You can certainly buy some stands or a power rack if your budget will allow it! I had my own power rack welded by a friend of mine for about $50. I supplied the steel and drilled a million holes in it, which was a little pricey, and time consuming, but I love it! Here is a sample of what my first wooden squat stands looked like:
- Bands and Accessories
There are millions of accessories and fitness “do-dads” out there. My advice is to invest in some strength bands and resistance tubes. Remember the pull up bar you installed back in step #2? You can use that rig to hook bands to for things like triceps extensions, banded ab crunches, assisted pull-ups, biceps curls, and pec flys and a whole lot more! You can even hook up some TRX straps or rings to your pull up station and do some neat stuff. These items are easy to store and will last along time, but make sure to inspect your bands regularly! They will get old and break. If you see any signs of wear, just toss them and get some new ones. You don’t want to get popped in the nether regions with one of these, I promise. I’ve had some of mine for 4 or 5 years and there are holding up fine.
There you have it! The bare essentials. Of course there are a few other luxuries you might want to consider like something to play music on, a fan, chalk container, or a timer (I just use my iPad with an app called TimersPro which is awesome). Also, get a good broom or leaf blower so that you can keep your workout spot clean! There’s nothing creepier than doing burpees and staring deep into the eyes of some dead bug.