DO YOU WANT TO BUILD A HOME/GARAGE GYM?
Warning: This is a LONG post, but it is WORTH THE READ. It is super INFORMATIVE and has everything you need to start building your dream home gym.
Our family has LOVED having a home gym.
We first started with it in a garage across the street from our house. Then we moved and it went in our attached garage. Another move later it went in our basement. AND ANOTHER MOVE LATER we converted what is supposed to be a GUEST BEDROOM into our HOME GYM. Priorities, right? Haha!
We already have a post about how we love Strength Lifting and Powerlifting, but even the most AMAZING lifting program won’t get you anywhere if you are not able to consistently stick to it. Sometimes it isn’t lack of willingness but FRICTION that keeps us from building healthy habits, losing that baby weight, or building a formidable physique.
FRICTION and HABITS
James Clear makes a killer observation, “The central idea is to create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible. Much of the battle of building better habits comes down to finding ways to reduce the friction associated with our good habits and increase the friction associated with our bad ones.”
Shawn Achor found that “the key to daily practice is to put your desired actions as close to the path of least resistance as humanly possible. Identify the activation energy—the time, the choices, the mental and physical effort they require—and then reduce it.”
“If you can cut the activation energy for those habits that lead to success, even by as little as 20 seconds at a time, it won’t be long before you start reaping their benefits… Without action, knowledge is often meaningless.”
As Aristotle put it, “to be excellent we cannot simply think or feel excellent, we must act excellently.”
IF YOU BUILD IT…MUSCLES WILL COME
We are lucky to live in a time where access to premier gym equipment is available to us if we are just willing to find some space and money. Once you have your home gym built and you start working out regularly–with a bit of linear progression–you WILL see amazing changes occur.
Since our original post, many of our closest friends have built home gyms and spoken highly of its impact on their personal fitness and family life. Each gym was entirely unique. There is no one-size-fits-all recipe for a home gym, and that’s a great thing because you want your gym to be YOUR gym.
You will notice, though, that there are common elements in every gym where equipment is concerned. You’ll see a power rack, barbell, bench, and free weights are present every time.
Some were also kind enough to share the WHY behind their decision to build a home gym and I think you’ll see some common themes there as well.
If you’re anything like us, you LOVE seeing people take charge of their health and you enjoy learning from those around you.
Our friends provide some great examples of home gyms.
Jared and Tyan built their gym UPSTAIRS in their less often used BEDROOM and now it is a place of daily use.
Tyan may have wondered if Jared had lost his mind as he hauled barbells and heavy steel equipment to their second floor. But his cute kids looked on with pure excitement.
They all love their gym now and Jared shared, “I’ve always loved the freedom and flexibility home gyms provide. Being able to wake up early or lift in the afternoons if something comes up allows me to stick with a program.”
Main Floor Home Office Gym
Ryan and Kylee’s family moved to a new home in Texas and after a few weeks decided to transform their HOME OFFICE from a place to put a computer desk into a muscle laboratory. There he could experiment with new training programs and teach his strapping young boys the joys of lifting.
Ryan and Kylee said, “The amount of time saved and the convenience of a home gym are huge reasons we made the investment.
Wake up, get your lift in and get on with the day. No time wasted traveling or waiting for equipment to be available.
And more importantly, the home gym provides us with an incredible tool to teach our children the importance of health and fitness.
Kids model what they see, best to give them a front row seat to the show.”
Unfinished Basement Gym
Chance and Anna knew they wanted to optimize the use of space in their new basement. Instead of letting it be a den of clutter and neglect, they invested a bit of time, money, and energy into making it a grade A power lifting space. With a bit of ingenuity, Chance even added a cable pull-down for some bodybuilding fun.
He shared his reasons, “I’m not a showroom lifter. I’m not patient. Every lifting session is on a time clock. If I can’t get access to what I need, when I need it, I end up changing the scheduled program for the day.
I am not a fan of watching “bros” hangout at the only squat/power rack for an hour when that’s all the time I have to hit 3 compound lifts and do some accessory work. I then still need to shower and get to work in time. So many problems solved with the home gym….
Plus, getting the opportunity to lift with my wife gets more than just the endorphins flowing!”
Lifting With Your Spouse
I do have to hand it to Chance on that last point, lifting with my wife is probably THE HIGHLIGHT of having a Home Gym for me.
It has given us a place to bond, counsel, and train TOGETHER.
Here are even more great examples.
ANYONE can transform a portion of their GARAGE, BASEMENT, BEDROOM, even BACKYARD into a solid physical training environment.
COMMERCIAL GYM MADNESS
You certainly do not need to train in a health spa or some hoity-toity fitness center. In fact, most gyms are filled with super expensive exercise machines designed to help frail old people stave off the effects of osteoporosis.
A barbell is always a better tool for building coordination, strength, and size than any hammer-strength machine.
Those cams, cables, plates, and polished chrome devices may seem special and high-tech, but they are distractions. Most gyms are stock full of shiny, time wasting venus fly-traps.
Here is my beef with most gyms. If you can find a gym that doesn’t fall victim to the following shortfalls, then you may be a lucky one.
Most Gyms are Lame
Most gyms are EXPEN$IVE! Almost all gyms require a monthly fee of anywhere from $30 to $150 depending on the services available. Some crossfit boxes charge as much as $175 a month! That’s $2100 a year, over $10,000 in less than 5 years! Since I plan on lifting for a lifetime, that’d be over $50,000 within 20 yrs.
If you’ve done our family finance challenge you know that such spending is ludicrous. I know child care at the gym can be enticing, but then again you could just lift at home while your kids are asleep. I’ve heard that planet fitness only charges $10 a month. That’s a great price, but see issues 2-5 below.
If you’ve ever been to a gym the day after the New Year you know how crowded it can be. Perhaps you don’t mind waiting 10 minutes for the squat rack to open up, or for the benches to be clear. Maybe it doesn’t bother you when you walk over to a bench and find the man-sweat and bodily fluids of previous lifters all over the place.
Some people may appreciate the unsolicited advice from the local bodybuilders or ne’er-do-wells. For me, I prefer where I lift to be a quasi fortress of solitude. I like lifting with my lifting buddy, family, and close friends, not creepy strangers.
Does your gym have a sign that says “no chalk allowed.” If so, rest assured that your gym cares more about cleanliness than your personal safety.
Gyms are full of rules designed to make life easy on management. They don’t let you take dumbbells and plates out of their designated area. They get upset if your heavy sets of deadlifts make a bit of noise, and I’m not even talking about dropping plates.
If you’re in the Army, you better make sure you’re in the right uniform. I’ve seen Soldiers get chewed out for not having their PT belt on INSIDE the post gym. Oh, and gyms have HOURS of OPERATION. I remember dragging my lazy butt to the gym a few years ago only to find that it was closed for the holiday.
I’ve heard that a collegiate study tried to discover the single best supplement to improve performance during a workout. The finding was intriguing. It wasn’t caffeine, or creatine, or any chemical at all, it was music. We all know that the right music can put you into the mood to really push some weight, to give it everything you’ve got.
Pearl-Jam, Metallica, Daft Punk these artists have the uncanny ability to make adrenaline pump through my veins. Alas, most gyms I have been to either play no music, or play the least inspiring tunes imaginable on their speakers. I guess you could wear headphones or ear buds, but if you’re not careful you can damage your eardrums.
Sadly, most gyms forget the simple truism that “less is more.” Walk into a Gold’s Gym and you’ll find cable machines, leg press machines, smith machines, leg extension machines, leg curl machines, calf raise machines, machines galore.
Then, in the corner you might find a few power racks or squat racks, but they are usually occupied by other well-meaning lifters. Check out the strength and conditioning gyms of any Division One football team and you’ll probably find ROWS of power racks and deadlift platforms and open space.
Strength coaches know that there are no replacements for the tried and proven methods of old-school powerlifting and olympic lifting. One of the BEST things about Crossfit is how it proliferated the use of barbells, power racks, and free weights.
So, most gyms are not just crowded with people, they are crowded with time wasting machines and the free weights they DO have are mismatched, misplaced, and mistreated.
Garage Gym Freedom
So, if you are one of the lucky few who have access to a great gym, with an affordable fee, and reasonable rules and equipment, then I recommend you lift there. If not, and you are one of the many lifters eager to work hard but unsatisfied with their training venues, then let’s talk a bit about the unlimited potential of your garage, or basement, or spare room.
For a relatively small sum of money, you can fully equip your garage with everything you need (and more) to crush a world-class strength training protocol. If you are savvy with the internet, you’ll probably find a good deal of the equipment you need on craigslist or on a garage sale page.
I have a bench that we found at a garage sale in Ft. Rucker a decade ago and it is STILL going strong. It was some of the best $20 I have ever spent.
Now, let me give you a snapshot of a simple garage gym and then provide some input on what I recommend you purchase for your own home gym.
In the interest of transparency, we want to let you know that we updated our website to include affiliate links. If you follow one of our links and make a purchase we will get some minor compensation from the seller. It is an attempt to allow the site to cover its expenses, we will see how it goes.
Still, the items we link to remain the items we personally use or highly recommend, we won’t attach our names to an inferior product. So with that out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.
Garage Gym Essentials
The very first thing I recommend you purchase is a set of dumbbells. You can go with a set of cast-iron hexagonal dumbbells as I have, or you can purchase some of the more swoopty power-block adjustable weight dumbells. Although dumbbells may seem pricey at first, you’ll be glad to hear that with even a tiny bit of care they will last a lifetime.
I purchased my dumbbells while was still a West Point cadet and they are still going strong. Dumbbells open up the world of free-weight exercises, providing beginners with a chance to get into compound lifts and enabling more advanced lifters to get creative with their assistance work. Dumbbells are an absolute must for a home gym.
You will want a bench as soon as possible. The bench not only enables you to perform the core compound lift of the bench press, it also allows you to do a plethora of great assistance exercises such as skull crushers, extensions, the dumbbell fly, and more.
Pick a bench that can incline and you are in for even more great training. Benches can get really expensive, but if you choose a generally reputable brand that offers some simple specifications for weight capacity, you will be fine. It doesn’t need to cost a fortune.
My favorite is from REP fitness (a relatively new player on the gym market), the REP adjustable bench is the perfect blend of price and performance, we have had one for over a year and it is fantastic.
Soon enough, you will want to graduate from pure dumbbell work to the big-boy world of the barbell lifts. When you purchase a barbell, do not forget the aphorism, “buy nice or buy twice.” I would steer clear of barbells that come in cheap package barbell deals, unless you’re looking for a bar you don’t mind bending.
Cheap barbells will permanently warp under heavy loads. They will also wear out and the sleeves will not rotate properly causing the weights to become cumbersome during the lift. I would stick with high quality products as much as possible.
Once, for lack of options, I found myself squatting with a really whippy, olympic weightlifting bar. The bar had NO center knurling and the smooth surface of the metal slipped down back, causing me to miss the lift and dump the bar, luckily without injury.
Remember, we are POWERLIFTING. So, get a bar conducive to that training methodology. In fact, REP fitness comes through again with a great power bar and competitive price.
A barbell needs weights like a flower needs petals. It is not complete without them. Unlike a flower, though, you don’t need anything too flashy and colorful. You COULD get colorful plates like these competition bumpers, but you really don’t need them.
All you really need is something simple like these old school York plates. I myself put some money toward some black Rogue bumper plates and I have been absolutely satisfied with their performance. Or if you are looking for something cheaper with less of a brand name you should get Rep Fitness bumper plates. How much weight should you get? It depends.
To save on shipping costs I recommend getting EVERYTHING at once (including barbell and rack) so maybe 2x10s, 2x15s, 2x25s, 2x35s and 4x45s. Of course you’ll want 2×2.5s and 2x5s.
To get into microloading you can buy a cheap set of fractional plates on Amazon too. They are very helpful when you start approaching your physiological limits but want to maintain that linear progression.
The Power Rack is the centerpiece of your garage gym (or ANY gym for that matter). The Rogue R3 Power Rack is, to me, the absolute best rack on the market. It is the gold standard. Its world-class, durable construction, and modular capacity puts it in a league of its own. Plus, Rogue as a company has the absolute best customer service and warranties.
Another major bonus of the Rogue racks are their modularity. Our family’s rack has the matador dip station, and kids pull up bar attachments. Rogue offers many more attachments that will allow us to spice things up down the road.
If your budget is tighter, then you should really consider a REP fitness rack. My brother purchased one of their racks and has been very happy with it.
Rings are a great addition to your gym because they allow you to do dips, pull ups, rows, and muscle-ups all while allowing your arms to operate independently of each other. The increased demand for stability makes for some challenging and highly productive assistance work.
You don’t even need to break the bank for a set of high-end rings. There are tutorials online on how to build your own rings out of some simple PVC and webbing. I made a set back in flight school and they have served us well ever since. You can connect them to the joists in your roof with some Rock Climbing Bolt Hangars.
These solid pieces of iron are a relic of the past, but still highly effective tools for some great training. We have four kettlebells ranging in weight from a light .25 pood to a fairly heavy 2 pood (seriously, that is the name those crazy Russians use to measure their kettlebells).
I love kettlebells for KB Swings, front squats, and Turkish Get Ups. The Turkish Get Up is the best tool for identifying muscular imbalances.
Few exercises rival the dip when it comes to strengthening the shoulder girdle and chest. Weighted dips are even better. I would be wary of attempting weighted dips on rings, but at a dip station or on a matador you can’t go wrong. Body-weight dips on a dip bar are one of the best ways to help your kids go to the next level of training.
Ideally your power rack will automatically provide you with a pull up bar. But if it does not, then you’ll need to probably invest in some metal pipe and get creative. Sure the rings will allow you to do pull ups, but there is something about rigid bar pull ups that help develop the back and lats. You can also switch your grip and do chins.
If you struggle with pull ups you can invest in some bands and do some assisted pull ups. Band-assisted pull ups are darn near impossible to perform on rings.
Now we enter into a bit of the luxury items. A climbing rope is great for a few reasons, but the most important one is that they are FUN. If you want to help your children develop strength and coordination then get them on a rope.
Teach your kids how to perform the lock or grapevine and you will provide them with a life skill that will benefit them for years to come. Another plus-side of having a rope in your garage is it gives you easy access to the attic without a ladder!
I do not think you need a deadlifting platform. There, I said it. Platforms are so doggone popular these days you would think that a gym is not a gym without one. But, truth be told, if you have some horse-stall mats on the ground and you lower your weights under at least some control, you will damage neither your bar nor your floor.
Now, if you are into the histrionics of chucking a loaded barbell from the overhead position then you might need to look into a legit platform. I do admit I think platforms are pretty cool. But for powerlifters, some simple (and affordable) horse-stall mats will do. I recommend buying these things local from a tractor store. They are heavy and will last forever.
Having something to write your workout on comes in handy. When you are going to a gym you’ll want to have your workouts written in your training log. But if you are home, you can write your workouts right on the wall. When Sara and I lift we put our workout on the board and all of our targeted reps, sets, and weights.
When we execute each lift we walk over and put check marks on the white board or write the total number of reps we hit if we are going for an all-out work set. Call it Pavlovian reinforcement, it feels good to check things off, to write down your victories.
It has taken years to cobble together our family’s gym, after all Rome was not built in a day. Nonetheless, it was in late 2015 that I finally became too fed up with Army gyms and decided to get serious about our garage gym. Our gym is far from perfect, but it is perfect for our family.
I am sure you will find something that suits your needs as well. I would just encourage you to bundle your purchases as much as you can to prevent wasting money on excess shipping costs. Rogue sends its equipment via freight and will lump everything into one fixed cost. They really do have the best customer service in the business.
Here is my invoice.
WHAT equipment do I use?
Beyond the gym equipment, there are a few items of training apparel that I wish I had invested in sooner. There is no need to go crazy in this arena, especially for novices, but when you start getting closer to your physiological limits this equipment will help you prevent injury, train harder, and help you be an overall better lifter. Here are my recommendations, in order of precedence.
We are not talking about chalkboard chalk here. Magnesium chalk is the stuff that rock climbers use to keep their hands dry while scrambling up a crag. It is the same stuff that gymnasts use to get good purchase on a pommel horse.
Magnesium chalk helps prevent callouses by drying out your hands, it helps prevent your skin from folding over itself. The chalk also enables you to tighten your grip to vice-grip level, allowing you to recruit more muscle fibers during the lift.
Here is the one that we buy:
A lifting belt helps you increase your intra-abdominal pressure. Thus, it turns your trunk into a rock solid air cushion for your spine, helping you prevent injury and pull more weight. Certainly it behooves you to train without a belt too, but if you start getting into maximal numbers you should seriously consider belting up.
As a lifter well into his thirties I can attest to how FEW injuries I have sustained while belted versus the MANY injuries I have subjected myself to without one. One time, on a moderately heavy work set of unbelted squat I strained a serratus muscle. I hurt my ABS while SQUATTING?! I have never had any such issues when I have been wise enough to put on a belt.
Belts come in a variety of shapes and sizes. There are decent cheap belts of the Harbinger variety and there are the more prime-time belts like the Inzer Forever Lever Belt. As you can see, after ten years of using a regular bodybuilding belt I finally graduated to an actual powerlifting belt. It’s thicker dimensions offer a night and day difference.
You probably do not need anything to fancy, but some wrist wraps will go a long way toward injury prevention. If you are lifting and pushing heavy things, it is not a bad idea to try and stay ahead of highly common injuries such as wrist pain.
During one zealous period of lifting during a deployment I was able to pack on some solid muscle and I enjoyed some increases in strength. Unfortunately, I progressed quicker than my joints could keep up and before I knew it I was dealing with micro-fractures in my wrists.
The Docs assured me that rest would solve the issue, and it did, but I wouldn’t have had to take a big hiatus in training if I had just trained smarter and used wrist straps from the start.
No-one would attempt heavy squats while standing on a mattress, yet everyday there are innocent folks in the gym doing just that when they lift in their soft and cushy running shoes. I admit that I was pretty reluctant to pull the trigger on a pair of lifting shoes because I figured I didn’t really need them.
Truth be told, you don’t REALLY need them. You can slip off your running shoes and squat and deadlift barefoot. RECORDS have been set by guys deadlifting barefoot. Still, for a decent price you can get a pair of weightlifting shoes with a non-compressible sole, metatarsal strap, and laces and take your training to the next level.
When you are giving it all you’ve got to bump up your maxes by even a few pounds you will be glad you have these shoes. I have a pair of Inov-8s.
If you keep your eyes on the internet you can find sales. I bought mine for $75 even though it looks like now they retail for $135. My brother has these Adidas Powerlifter shoes and another friend sticks with good ol’ fashioned Chuck Taylors.
The last piece of training attire that I recommend are knee sleeves. Yes, you can probably do without them. Yes, they are a bit of a luxury. A luxury, that is if you have healthy knees that have not been ground up as a result of years of pounding.
My knees are luckily pretty healthy despite my fair share of ruck marching, running, and jumping out of airplanes. I hope to keep them that way and so far Mark Bell’s Strong Sleeves have helped quite a bit. They offer warmth and stability unlike anything I have ever experienced before. When I get into heavy work sets on squats I am glad to have these bad boys.
Make your HOME GYM and tag us in it @challengemyfamily!
Get started building your own home gym today!
(Detached Garage Gym)
The discipline and tenacity born from strength training will benefit every aspect of your family’s lives. Some hold the misconception that weight training will somehow stunt a child’s growth or hurt their joints. The countless number of powerfully strong farm boys throughout history negate such doubts. I want our kids to be friends with the barbell and to be eager to train hard.
We wish you all the best as you begin your home gym adventure and when you have it all set up, we would love to see it! Let us remove the barriers to our success and reduce the friction that keeps us from reaching our fitness goals. We know you have it in you to become your best self, starting TODAY.