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Selecting Bumper Plates for Your Garage Gym

Time to pick out some Olympic weight-lifting plates for your garage gym. What kind to buy? Bumpers or steel? Where should you get them? Online? New or used? Are they expensive to ship? Should you expect free shipping? I’ve been through all this myself. I’ve done all of the research already for my gym but I’m going to do it all over again today for this article. So let’s see if I can make purchasing some Olympic plates easier for you guys and gals.

Choosing which olympic plates is best for you

Cast Iron Plates, or Bumper Plates? Which choice is best for you? If your budget allows it, purchase bumpers. The price difference isn’t as much as you’d think.

First off, do you buy bumper plates or classic steel/iron plates? Well that depends. If money is really tight, steel might be the way to go. Steel plates are less expensive and much easier to find second-hand. Check craigslist and you’ll be blown away by how many folks are selling plates and bars from local sporting good stores that they’ve used only a few times. Prices on new steel plates are already about 60-70% of the price of decent bumpers, so finding them used can mean major savings.

So why even consider bumper-plates over steel? Simply put, they’re just better. First let me clarify something. When I say bumper-plate in this article, I mean the plates you’d see them using during the Olympics, not those plastic or rubber coated steel plates. They are two totally different things. For those familiar with box gyms, the black hex plates with handles that they tend to have are a good example of the coated plates. Most times, the thickness of the plate gives it away. Non-competition bumpers are very thick compared to coated and steel plates. Check pic below for clarification. FYI: The coated plates are another alternative to bumpers if money is tight. At about $1 a pound, they’re on par with a lot of the steel plates.

the difference between bumper plates and rubber coated steel plates

The plate style on the left is just steel that is coated in plastic or rubber. The plate on the right is an actual bumper-plate. The coated plates are nicer than plain steel plates, but they’re not the same thing as a bumper. Though to be honest, the handles are nice. They allow for some exercises you couldn’t do with a bumper.

Take a look at the thickness differences of these two plates

This is to show you how much the thickness can vary on bumpers. The plate on the right is pretty standard for an average bumper like the Hi-Temps… pretty beefy plate. On the left is a high dollar training bumper from Eleiko. Much thinner. But notice, it’s still much thicker than the rubber-coated steel plates.

Alright so, why are bumpers better than steel? First of all, they’re safer. Safer as in, they won’t smash through your foundation or crack and chip if you drop them accidentally. Consider that if you cannot safely drop a 45 pound steel plate while just transporting it to and from the bar without having to worry about what it would do to your flooring, you obviously can’t drop it from the top of a press or from shoulder-height on a failed snatch. With so many folks these days utilizing Olympic lifts in their workouts (even crossfit uses the clean and the snatch), it makes sense to just go for the bumpers initially so those lifts are an option for you later, even if you’re fitness level doesn’t necessitate them right away.

There is another reason so many prefer bumpers over steel. It may seem a little silly, but for those who have worked out with steel (or still do) you will understand. It’s the noise. Steel is crazy loud on the bar. Even on relatively smooth movements, those giant plates banging against each other is definitely loud. When you let that bar down from even a few inches above the ground or rack, it’s loud as hell. Bumpers don’t clang and bang like that. Just something else to consider.

You don’t have to go 100% bumpers. I have a combination of steel and bumper in my garage gym. While my 35’s and 45’s are all bumpers, I still use smaller steel plates. The steel 25’s and smaller plates never touch the ground so it doesn’t matter what they’re made of. Besides, the 10 lb. and 15 lb. bumpers tend to deform (taco) if they’re allowed to take the brunt of a drop too many times. They’re just too thin to take the same abuse as the large 45 lb. plates.

I want bumper-plates! Who makes the right plate for me?

I’ll go over the different types and brands of bumper plates and also go over what I’ve discovered regarding the best places to buy each type based on price, shipping cost, and overall reviews and feedback.

Standard black bumpers. There are a number of manufacturers out there but I’ve narrowed this down to three different brands: Rogue HG, Troy VTX, and Hi-Temp.

Rogue HG, HI-Temp and Troy VTX

From left to right: Rogue HG Bumpers, Troy VTX Bumpers, and HI-Temp Bumpers. (Incidentally, Troy VTX also is available in colors.)

Troy VTX is probably what you’ll come across more times than not in a sporting goods store or used equipment store. They’re priced reasonably and reviews are overall pretty decent. It’s one of the few options in that price range available in color. Look on Amazon for a deal on these. There is a ton of sellers for Troy products.

Hi-Temp bumpers are solid and the price is great as well. They are on the thicker side of available bumpers, but unless your lifts require over 400 pounds on the bar, I think you’ll be fine with the thickness of the plates. Lots of sites sell Hi-Temps. Rogue has them for cheaper than I could find them anywhere else, and shipping was included in the price. These are the only bumpers I know of that are made in the USA.

Rogue HG Bumpers are my favorite choice for a basic black bumpers. I own some of these plates and I love them. They are slightly less expensive than the Hi-Temps, yet they are a bit thinner and look much cooler. They are warranted for 3 years (25’s and up) and the shipping is included in the price. Read some of the reviews here. These are hands down the best option for getting set up with bumpers.

Competition (& Training) Bumpers Competition bumpers like the Eleiko Olympic plates, the Pendlay Elites, or the Rogue Competition plates for Crossfit are thinner, more durable, and significantly more expensive. The “training” versions of these bumpers pretty much means they are the same plate, only not calibrated. So either way, when compared to a standard bumper, they are much more expensive.

Complete Bar and Plate Eleiko

The Eleiko Competition set. Comes with bar, full bumper set and the collars. Very fancy, very expensive. Probably not what most people need for a garage gym, but if you have $4k to blow, go for it. The rest of us would definitely envy you.

I have lifted with competition plates so rarely that I have no business giving a review on them. Eleiko is used in the Olympics, Crossfit successfully uses and abuses Rogue’s Competition plates, and Pendlay Elites appear to be of the same quality. The weight deviation tolerances on these are so tight that you know you’re lifting the weight claimed on the plate… unlike the super cheap brands (of any plate, bumper or not) where the tolerances are in the form of a percentage rather than in grams.

If you have the money to spend on bumpers this nice, I’m sure that regardless of which brand you buy that you’ll be happy with them. Even though I won’t review them, I’ve still found the best prices online for all three brands for you to check out in case you are considering one of these options. Just click the links on each name in the previous paragraph. (please research prices yourself as well. These best prices are at the time of writing, and I didn’t dig to page 10 on Google when comparing.)

Pricing Summary 

Below is just some pricing to give you an idea of what you will spend to get your hands on some plates (again, at the time of writing this article).

Cast Iron / Steel Plates: Approx $.90-$1.20 a pound. Definitely look for used.
Rogue HG Bumpers: Approx $1.50-$1.75 a pound. Best deal I could find.
HI-TEMP Bumpers: Approx $1.60-$2.00 a pound.
Training Plates: Approx $3-$5 a pound.
Competition Plates: Approx $4-$8+ a pound.

I hope this article has been helpful. I realize there are a ton of other brands and places to buy bumper plates. I looked at a lot of them both online and in local stores, and I’ve been exposed to them in gyms. I wanted to narrow it down a bit. If you want to add your two cents on the type of plates you have and love (or hate), please do.

First Steps to Building Your Garage Gym

So you’re ready to jump on the garage gym bandwagon? Tired of paying good money at the global gyms just to wait in line for one of the few good pieces of equipment they have? Or trying and figure out where the kettle that you want to use disappeared to?

Thanks to some innovative companies and some stiff competition in the fitness industry, outfitting a real gym at home is more affordable than before. Matter of fact, for not a lot more money than you would spend on junk equipment at a chain sporting goods store, you can get your hands on commercial-grade equipment that will probably outlive us all.

Where to start? Let me give a few suggestions based on my own personal experience with my garage gym along with some good information I’ve picked up on the web.

Of course the best equipment to start with will vary from person to person, but I think that there are some essential pieces to consider right out of the gate.

  • 45 lb. Olympic Bar.
  • Olympic Plates: Bumper plates are great, but typically more expensive than standard steel plates. It also depends on what your lifting goals are. Buy as a set to save some money. You’ll want at least one pair of each 45 lb, 35 lb, 25 lb, 10 lb and 5 lbs. You may also consider 2½ lb plates and even fractional plates for more moderate weight increases. When you start looking for plates, take a look at my post comparing the types and brands of bumpers.
  • Power Rack: This will set you back a little. It will likely be your biggest expense in creating a gym. A rack allows you to safely lift without a spotter. Squats, bench, clean, press… you name it, you can do it in a rack. It should also have a pull up bar. If you buy a rack from Rogue, there are accessories galore for it. I personally have a Rogue R4 rack with about 4 add-ons. I love it. *Be sure and compare the ceiling height with the rack height. Especially important for older homes with 8′ ceilings.
  • Bench: This is something you’ll probably want early on as well. Just a flat bench for starters. You can spend a little more and get an adjustable bench.
  • Dumbbells: Do what I do, buy these as you need them. Spreads out the spending a little bit.
  • Jump rope: Jumping rope is just amazing. I’ve bought and then turned around and sold a couple pieces of cardio equipment in the last couple years. Can’t beat a $5 jump rope for true cardio. However, if you’re really big into using commercial gym type cardio equipment, like the Life Fitness or Precor bikes, ellipticals and treadmills, it is worth mentioning that these companies have alternative models of their commercial stuff for a bit less money… but they are still way more reliable and sturdy machines than the box store stuff.
hi temp bumper plates from rogue fitness

Hi-Temp Bumpers from Rogue. A great bumper plate to start with. More affordable than competition plates. They are also thicker than competition plates. Will the thickness affect you? Doubtful, you can still load upwards of 400 lb. to the bar.

rogue r4 rack

R4 Power Rack. This is what I own. I absolutely love it. Many accessories, great price, and as sturdy as any multi-thousand dollar commercial rack. Watch for a review of this rack and accessories soon.

Legend Power Rack

Legend Fitness also make a variety of racks. You can customize colors on all Legend products. These guys outfit some amazing gyms. The Client Showcase pictures on their website will make you very jealous. Check them out!

So if you have a bar, some plates and dumbbells, and get a rack and bench, I’d think you’d be in a great position to get some awesome workout sessions started. Here are some things I think you’ll eventually want to pick up. I have added a lot of this to my original set up as well.

  • Medicine Balls of varying weights
  • Kettlebells of varying weights
  • Some form of plate and dumbbell storage.
  • Dip Station: Rogue racks have an add-on station called the Matador. Very solid.
  • Plyo box(es) (also can be used for dips).
  • Resistance bands: Many racks have band pegs for these.
  • Adjustable bench if you only purchased a flat bench initially.
  • Large mirror (if you’re into that).
  • Punching bag
  • Fan! It gets hot everywhere at some point. Get a good fan. Spend $75 on a high speed metal fan. They’re loud, but they work.
  • Flooring: Dense, rubber flooring is great for your joints and your equipment. Read my post on flooring for a little guidance on that.
  • Programmable wall clock.
  • Dry Erase board. I personally track all my workouts in a book, but having a dry erase is nice for tracking records and other random notes, reminders, perhaps even motivational affirmations or whatever =)

Since we’re talking about garage gyms here, there is another thing to consider: space. You will likely have to get very organized to balance the things you need to store in the garage along with your gym equipment. I use about half the total space of my garage as my gym. In order to do that, I had to get better organized. Some shelves from Lowe’s, hooks for garden equipment, etc. I’ve also considered buying plastic storage tubs that can be hung from the ceiling. There are many resources online on how to construct such a system.

When it comes down to it, you’re going to spend some money to get your gym started. It’s worth every penny. Being able to work out when you want and without having to get in your car is just great. The investment in quality gym equipment is also a great motivator. I myself am very proud of my gym and proud of myself for using it regularly. You will be too. Not to mention, your friends who still go to Gold’s and deal with that mess will be jealous.

Here’s a short video with some good ideas for getting started.

A final thought regarding where to buy a lot of this stuff. There are a lot of places to buy fitness equipment (Rogue Fitness, Legend Fitness, Amazon), including from places that sell used (Craigslist, Play it Again Sports, etc). Used equipment is a great option often times. A lot of these items are pretty hard to destroy. However, price shop. Seriously, some of the used fitness stores are not much cheaper than brand new. A local store near me sells bumper plates for more than I paid new from Rogue, and they’re some off-brand I’ve never even heard of. Just be careful and inspect the stuff closely. Especially if you go the craigslist route.

Garage Gym Flooring Options

So you’re setting up a garage gym, or you’re already set up with a gym, but you’re tired of working out on a concrete slab. In either case, it’s time to consider flooring. Good, durable flooring protects your homes foundation, your expensive equipment, and most importantly, you and your joints!

If you’ve ever stepped foot in a box gym or crossfit facility (as I’m sure you have), you’ve seen the dense, durable rubber flooring they have installed. While this is obviously what the majority of us would like to have, most of us can’t afford to outfit our personal gym with this material. So, we need some other options.

Let’s first look at the commercial flooring I was just talking about. The material you would find in a large, global gym. If money is of no issue, this stuff is about as nice as you’re going to get. It’s called Aktiv by Regupol. It comes in a ton of colors, and as far as pricing goes, everywhere I’ve seen it sold requires you to request a quote. If you’re interested in this option, I would check with Rogue Fitness for a quote first. While I haven’t price shopped this specific product with them, they are very competitive when it comes to pricing all their other products so probably worth hitting them up.

Regupol Aktiv Commerical Flooring

Regupol commercial flooring. Image borrowed from Rogue Fitness website

The next and best option is almost as good as the above-mentioned commercial flooring. Believe it or not, it’s horse stall mats. They are 3/4″ thick 4’x6′ rubber slabs that run about $40 each. You can cover some serious square footage for not a lot of money with these. This is what I used in my own garage gym. They’re relatively easy to cut down to fit your space or when you need to cut holes to secure equipment to the ground. In my garage, my power cage is anchored to the slab. I easily cut around the feet of the cage with a jigsaw. I’ve seen videos of this stuff being cut with box cutters as well.

rubber mat garage gym flooring

Part of my personal garage gym. 4 mats from Tractor Supply Co. in a square

anchored power rack around rubber mats

Cutting the mat around the feet of this cage was pretty simple

A couple of things about these mats. First of all, they are extremely durable. I drop weights left and right on these and never think twice about doing so. I haven’t so much as scratched these things. They also hold their shape. If you bunch four or six of them together in a square, they all line up (see the nice line where the mats meet up in the pic above). They don’t distort like lesser quality rubber mats do. They are extremely heavy though. Get help from a friend when you pick these up at the store (Tractor Supply Company has them for $39.99). They weigh in at about 100 pounds each.

*Update: I heard twice now that if you outfit large enough space with stall mats, drops in temperature will cause them to contract a little bit and you will see larger gaps between the mats. I doubt most garage gyms will have enough of them to notice this. I surely never have.

Finally there is the economical option. CAP Barbell makes interlocking rubber mats that you can purchase from local sporting goods stores like Academy or Dicks, or even online on eBay or Amazon. It’s cheaper than any other option, but you get what you pay for. If you’re going to be dropping bumper plates  and dumbbells consistently, you may want to avoid these. I looked at them when I was shopping for flooring but I didn’t feel like they would hold up for any length of time. Having said that, I didn’t actually buy them so I can’t say how well they will hold up for you. Read some reviews on Amazon for an idea of how people like them.

economy home gym flooring

Interlocking economy mats found at sporting good stores or Amazon.

The hardware stores also sell versions of the interlocking vinyl or rubber tiles. The reviews are hit or miss, and the specs don’t look great for the price (they seemed thin). Still, another option for you to consider.

The more lightweight interlocking mats seem more suitable for putting under a treadmill or elliptical. Something that doesn’t move around much, but will still protect the floor underneath. For explosive movements with bumper plates, especially movements where a failed rep means dropping the bar, I would at the very least go with the heavier duty mats like the horse stall mats.

I hope this helps point you in the right direction. All this talk about rubber, be sure and take a look at my post on bumper plates.