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.