In a land where the government has closed all public gyms, the man with a garage gym is king. The fact that the planet is all but shut down at the moment may be great for the environment, but it can have a disastrous effect on a person with strength and performance goals. When the shelter in place order first rolled out you may have thought to yourself this is a good time to take a break, rest some injuries, and deload. And maybe you convinced yourself that was true, but as the days and weeks continue to pass the ticking of that clock in the back of your head continues to get louder and louder. You can feel all the gainz starting to slip away, and you start to realize that putting off buying that piece of garage gym equipment until you found it on sale may have been a mistake.
So once the panic sets in you realize that you have to come up with a plan. You HAVE to get your training in somehow. So you start clearing out your garage, or maybe move some things around in the basement. Once you have decided what size space you have to work with then you have to make decisions to get the most bank for your buck with regards to garage gym equipment.
When it comes to outfitting a home gym on a budget you have to make sure you are prioritizing the right garage gym equipment. Sure there might be pieces of equipment that you have always wanted, but if you are starting from scratch you have to make sure you have the basics covered first.
Plates and Dumbbells
Unless you have a substantial budget you are probably want to look for used plates and dumbbells to get started. There are few things prettier than a brand new set of matching plates, but the cost of them including the outrageous shipping rates quickly dampens their beauty. Unfortunately right now, everyone seems to be scrambling to find plates and dumbbells, so they are harder to find used than normal. Having said that places like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are good places to start. When budget is an issue, only purchase what you need for now. It is important to get as many 45 pound plates are you think you need. Then you should only need (2) 25 lb plates, (4) 10 lb plates, (2) 5 lb plates and (2) 2.5 lb plates. Do not waste your money on 35 lb plates unless they are the only thing you can get.
When it comes to dumbbells, the same rules apply. Only buy the dumbbells that you actually need, and as you get stronger you can add to your set. Obviously, the Pro Style dumbbells tend last longer, that longevity comes at a premium price. Hex dumbbells tend to be cheaper but have a tendency break on a long enough timeline. You may be temped to get adjustable dumbbells. While they may be the cheapest option you tend to pay for those saving with rattling plates and dumbbell posts sticking out ready to rub you the wrong way.
Obviously, the barbell is at the top of the list for outfitting your home gym. A good barbell is worth spending a little extra for, if you can afford it. When it comes to good all-around power bars the is only one Texas Power Bar. It is hands down the best all-around bar you can get. Having said that, if you simply cannot afford a Texas Power Bar then Rep Fitness has a Blues City Power Bar and Rogue Fitness has an Ohio Power Bar that are slightly less expensive and comparable quality.
Once you have your workhorse power bar, you are going to want to acquire at least one beater bar. With all the pin pulls and pin presses that you will be doing you want to get a bar that you can beat the shit out of. A bar that doesn’t matter if it gets bent some, or a lot for that matter. You don’t want your new power bar taking all of that abuse, so find the cheapest used beater bar you can find for this role.
If you want to get strong in your gym, then a Power Rack is a non-negotiable. It is a staple in any serious weight room, or home gym. A power rack gives you the ability to squat, bench, good morning, pin pull, pin press, overhead press, floor press, shrug, etc. If it has the proper attachment it will allow you to do chins and pullups. It also gives you a place to attach bands for reverse band bench, squats or deadlifts. The most important thing a Power Rack does is keeps you safe, or at least as safe as training maximally will allow.
When it comes to Power Racks you get what you pay for. If your budget is limited, you may be tempted to try to find the cheapest rack possible. In my opinion this is a huge mistake. You don’t have to buy a $3,000 Power Rack, but a $100 Power Rack isn’t going to cut it unless it is used. If you can find a Power Rack with a sumo base like the Titan X-3 Power Rack it will allow you to squat with a wider stance. If that is out of your budget then the REP Fitness PR-1100 Power Rack is an economical choice.
Another reason to choose a solid power rack is that if floor space is a limiting factor you will likely be doing your benching in it as well. To do that you have to find yourself a solid utility bench. The Titan X-3 comes matching adjustable bench.
Whether you buy a rack combo, or purchase the bench separately be sure to pay attention to the height of the bench. This seems to be something that people forget. Many utility type benches tend to be much higher than this, especially if you pick up one with the new fat pads that are very popular. The Rogue Utility bench with a Fat Pad is over 20” tall. A bench that is too tall can make it hard to generate any leg drive and can lead to problems on meet day. A competition bench is between 16.5”-17.5”, so that is the height you want to be training with.
The importance of GPP cannot be overstated, and one of the simplest to improve your general physical preparedness is with sled work. Not only will sled work improve your overall conditioning it will aid in recovery. There are several different types of sleds. The dragging sled is the simplest, and likely cheapest option. Having said that, a push pull type sled will offer you more variations for your conditioning work.
Box Squat Boxes
If you train using the conjugate system then you are familiar with dynamic effort and the use of box squats. Having stackable box squat boxes allows you to change box height easily when you have multiple lifters squatting. It also allows you to vary the box height for max effort work. The good news is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on a fancy adjustable box. In fact you can build 24x24x4 boxes yourself, or have someone do it for you. Each 4″ high box consists of a 2×4 frame with a supporting 2×4 running through the center and a 1/4 inch piece of plywood on top. These 4″ boxes are stacked on top of each other with a 1″ rubber mat to between them to avoid slipping. As an added bonus you can use these boxes to stand on for deficit deadlift, or as pulling blocks for various pulls.
Since you are going to need at least one rubber mat to cut up for box squats, now is a good time to decide if flooring should be on your garage gym equipment list. These are kind of a luxury item, and something that can be acquired as you go along unless you have a pressing need for them. Having said that, the place to get them is a Tractor Supply or a local Horse Supply Store. You want horse stall mats, that are 4×6 1″ thick mats. You can expect to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $45 per mat. However, sometimes you can get lucky and find them used for slightly less.
Board Press Boards
Another DIY project for your new garage gym is board press boards. You will need 2×6’s for these, and the good news is that if you get your wood at Home Depot they will cut them for you for free. A one board should be 18″ in length, 14″ board length with an extra 4″ for a handle. You’ll have to use a saw to cut the handle. The handle should be 2″-2.5″ wide. For a two board you need (1) 14″ board and (1) 18″ board. Cut the handle in the 18″ board and attach the 14″ with wood screws. Repeat the process for 3, 4 and even 5 boards. All boards will be 14″ in length except for the handle board.
Bands are one of the most versatile tools in your garage gym equipment tool box. Not only can they be used to accommodate resistance and build tremendous explosive strength, they can also be used for prehab, rehab, stretching and conditioning work. They are relatively inexpensive for how much use you will get out of them, and they don’t take up any extra floor space.
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list. If you are working with a larger floor space and have a larger budget there are plenty of other toys that you can outfit your gym with. In follow up article we will discuss some of the next tier equipment that you should consider. While I am sure we all are just counting the days until our regular gym opens back up and we can train with our crew again, now is the perfect time to start building that garage gym you always talk about. In a world where the future is so uncertain your garage gym equipment will always be there for you. So now it is time to get #GarageGymStrong
If you are looking for an example of a fully functional garage gym
check out Kevin Kuzia’s Fierce & Mighty setup.