Up until the pandemic, commercial gyms and fitness centers were a lot like a market on the verge of a bubble. With no reason to doubt the “solvency” of such places so to speak, exercise enthusiasts continued to depend on them for their weekly workout needs. However, once catastrophe struck — lockdown — and most businesses were forced to shutter their doors, it fell to these now once-gymgoers to keep up their training routines. What commenced was an all-out scramble to get set up with the essentials at home, resulting in shortages, reselling, and price-gouging beyond belief. Granted, the supply eventually caught up with the demand, but there were a rough couple of months when many people were pouring their own plates out of cement just to make sure that they had enough weight on hand.
All that is to say — you’ve now experienced what happens when you’re not fully self-sufficient in your training, so it’s in your best interest to learn and apply accordingly. For many people, garages are the way forward, and understandably so. Saving you time that would otherwise be used for driving to the gym, waiting for a rack, and checking into a locker room, home setups are — above all else — ideal for those with a busy schedule. What’s more, you won’t be tied down to a monthly fee, meaning that purchasing your equipment will actually save you money compared to a traditional membership. Whatever your reasons, there’s good cause to be joining the home gym revolution. And while it’d be difficult to round up all of the right gear for yourself, our handy guide will tell you everything that you need to know. So give that blender bottle a good shake and read on to see how to turn your garage into a home gym.
Setting The Mood
In much the same way that the integrity of any structure starts with a strong foundation, the success of every home gym depends on one’s choice of flooring. Because let’s face it. While you’re more than welcome to lift on top of whatever surface you’d like, it’s not for nothing that commercial gyms tend to run with rubber. On the contrary — between price, protection, and ease of installation, tile-based or roll-out matting is usually the most viable option. Not only that but rubber is also excellent because of its shock absorption, sound insulation, and clean-up properties. Your best bet will be to buy it in bulk from a farm supply store like the offering we’ve featured below. However, we’ve also included a hardwood option if you’d like to make an ad hoc deadlift platform.
3/4″ Thick Rubber Stall Mat
Don’t waste your time with EVA squares and other foam-based materials; they’ll inevitably fall apart. Instead, pick up a couple of these 3/4″ rubber stall mats. Made from 100% heavy-duty recycled rubber, they come in 4′ by 6′ sizes and can be cut to shape, glued together, and fastened to any surface. Just be sure to let them air out before installation — the smell can be a little overwhelming otherwise.
Vinyl Peel And Stick Gym Hardwood Floor Tile
If you’re looking to take your home gym over the top, these peel-and-stick vinyl tiles make for a great way to give it an old-school aesthetic. What’s more, having some hardwood beneath your feet ensures that your floor won’t compress under heavy loads, be it a squat, a deadlift, or even an overhead press. Weightlifters, too, will appreciate the difference, as the harder surface provides better auditory feedback for coaching. In any case, you certainly don’t need to outfit your entire gym with hardwood, but placing a few squares around your squat rack is definitely to your advantage.
Altars Of Iron
Whether you go for a squat stand, a half-rack or a full power rack will come down to three things: space, strength, and budget. As the cheapest and most compact of the three, stands are easily the best option for those whose gym setup is shared with the rest of the garage. However, it’s worth noting that they don’t tend to be nearly as sturdy as a half or a full power rack, for they skip out on features like safety bars and additional support posts in the pursuit of simplicity. As such, if you’re an experienced lifter working with heavier loads, a half or a power rack will be a far better investment. Sure, it might take up more room than a simple squat stand, but the peace of mind and additional accessory potential are well worth what more you pay.
Titan T-3 Short Stand
Just because you’re working with limited space doesn’t mean that your lifts have should suffer for it. Instead, pick up Titan’s T-3 short stand — it’s built with heavy-duty 11-gauge steel and a set of reinforced j-hooks, giving it an impressive 1,000-pound weight capacity despite only tipping the scales at 144lbs itself. And because it comes with a bolt-together construction and a maximum height of 72″, it’s a setup that’s guaranteed to work for anyone, regardless of how low your ceilings are.
Rogue RML-3W Fold Back Wall Mount Rack
Perhaps one of the most innovative additions to gym equipment in recent years, wall-mounted racks give you all of the sturdiness of a full-size power rack in a considerably smaller footprint. Folding inward or outward to maximize room in the garage, this one from Rogue is built around a pair of 3×3″ 11-gauge steel uprights with a durable powder-coated finish. With the vast amount of accessories it has available, it’s super easy to customize, meaning you can turn it into a pull-up rig, add some pulleys, and even attach a landmine.
Rep Fitness PR-4000
If you have the space in your garage and the room in your budget, a power rack is undoubtedly the best you can buy. We like this option from Rep Fitness in particular because it’s a setup that you’ll never have to upgrade. With its dependable four-post support — accommodating 30″ depth — and an ever-growing catalog of attachments, the PR-4000 is one you buy once and continue making better along the way.
Tools Of The Trade
A barbell is easily the most important piece of equipment in your home gym setup; after all, it’s the pillar of practically every primary strength training exercise you’ll do. As such, we’d generally recommend that you spend as much on a barbell as your budget will allow. More expensive options make for a marked improvement over their cheaper alternatives, because the added expense surfaces in things like nicer knurling, better-spinning bearings, and longer-lasting coatings. And besides, with proper care and upkeep, a high-quality barbell can be a practically lifetime purchase. Finally, we should note that your particular barbell needs will vary depending upon your sport of choice. For instance, powerlifting bars will always feature a central knurl, and they also tend to be stiffer and less prone to spinning than barbells built specifically for Olympic weightlifting.
CAP The Beast Barbell
No matter if you’re buying your first barbell or you’re just looking for an option on the low, CAP’s ‘The Beast’ is sure to please. One of the best bars you can find at this price point, it features a cold-rolled Japanese steel construction with medium-depth diamond knurling and 15-inch loadable bushing sleeves. Weighing in at a standard 20kg (44lbs), it’s finished with a black oxide coating and comes rated to 1,000-pound maximum capacity. You really don’t want to spend much less than this on a barbell; any cheaper and the knurling is likely to be pretty terrible, the bearings rough, and the strength questionable.
Fringe Sport Wonder Barbell
However, if you’re able to spend just a bit more, Fringe Sport’s Wonder Bar is well worth the added expense. Available with both bushing as well as bearing sleeves, it allows you to pick your spin based on your sport. And that’s not all; unlike the above option, this bar features a smooth knurl depth, meaning that it strikes the perfect balance between soft nail file and rough cheese grater. Top it off with a long-lasting zinc-plated finish and the result is a barbell that should work for all kinds of strength training applications.
Rogue Ohio Power Bar
Rounding out our barbells is Rogue’s Ohio Power bar, a burly option that’s widely considered to be one of the best value propositions in the sport of powerlifting. Machined in Columbus, Ohio from US-sourced steel, it comes with an aggressive knurling pattern for maximum grip, a stainless steel coating for long-term durability, and a set of premium bronze bushings for a consistent spin. Oh, and as with any Rogue barbell, this one comes backed by a lifetime warranty. Left up to us, we’d have it in silver, but you can also personalize it with different finishes, scripts, and images as part of the Zeus custom program.
Without enough loadable weight to put on the bar, your training will get stale pretty quickly, so it’s important to look at cost with respect to your current strength when considering what type of plates are right for you. Iron easily offers the best bang for your buck, with many options coming in at under $2 per pound. However, it’s not ideal for Olympic compound movements and max-out deadlifts because of the inherent potential for noise and undue damage to your floor. In other words, if you’re a weightlifter, you’re decision’s made for you; rubber is the only way to go. If you’re a powerlifter working on a budget, though, you can usually get by with exclusively iron, but even a single pair of bumpers can make a big difference in distributing some of the impact.
Rep Fitness Old School Iron Plates
At the end of the day, you can’t beat the raw appeal of lifting with iron — it’s an experience as classic as they come. Available in pairs from 2.5 up to 45lbs as well as 240- and 440-pound sets, these Old School plates from Rep Fitness feature a single-sided design with a deep lip and a matte finish.
Fringe Rubber Bumper Plate Pair
Standard bumpers are the next step up on the ladder, quieter than metal because of their virgin rubber construction and also more resistant against drops to boot. For the vast majority of garage gym owners, we’d suggest these rubber plates from Fringe. Sure, they’re not quite as accurate as our pick below (within 1%), but any variance will be inconsequential so long as you use them consistently.
Rogue Color KG Training Plates
Calibrated to IWF standards and classed in KG’s (as weights should be), Rogue’s colored training plates are the cream of the crop. If you’re lifting big numbers or you’re bent on looking like a pro, there’s truly no better bet. They’re color-coded by weight and machined with narrow widths, allowing for easy, at-a-glance measurement and more loadable weight on the bar.
Take A Seat
Weight benches are highly versatile pieces of equipment that can be used for all manner of different movements, including rows, presses, curls, ab- and even legwork. Whether you go for a fixed bench or an adjustable bench depends on what strength exercises you intend to train and what kind of additional support you require. Flat benches are stronger, simpler, and significantly cheaper, but they won’t be of much good if you’re hoping to do heavy shoulder presses. On the other hand, an adjustable bench will give you access to a wide variety of positions, oftentimes from 90 to 180 degrees and occasionally even more.
Rep Fitness FB-3000 Flat Bench
If you don’t plan on doing any incline work, a fixed flat bench makes for a far cheaper buy than one with an adjustable back — just take the FB-3000 from Rep Fitness, for instance. Despite costing just $120, it comes forged from strong 11-gauge steel and fitted with a grippy high-density foam pad for support. What’s more, it’s set to International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) standards, meaning it’s both the right height and the proper width for benching with that aggressive arch.
Ironmaster Super Bench PRO
That being said, if you want to be prepared for any training eventuality, you can’t go wrong with a proper adjustable bench. No matter if you’re doing rows, flys, or any number of different presses, the ability to change the seat and pad angle opens up a world of opportunity when it comes to integrating accessory movements. And thanks to its wide variety of available attachments, the Ironmaster Super Bench PRO pictured here can also be used as a GHR, ab station, or impromptu pull-up rig.
Get Your Pump On
For the average garage gym owner, we wouldn’t recommend buying a complete set of new dumbbells — it’ll eat up too much of your available budget and space. If you can find equipment at cost or even score some used, by all means, go ahead. However, otherwise, we’d suggest you look into a pair of adjustable dumbells like the Bowflex Sellecttech featured below. They’re similar to plate-loading handles in that they’re incredibly compact, with the added benefit of being super convenient to switch weight in the middle of a workout.
Bowflex Sellecttech 553
We’re big fans of Bowflex because of the compact convenience that their adjustable systems afford, and the Sellecttech dumbbells included here are no exception. Ranging from five to 52.5lbs each in weight, they’re intuitive pieces of equipment that require just a turn of the dial to make a selection. Add to that a quiet rubber coating and an exhaustive App-based workout library and the result is a next-level setup that saves you space, time, and money.
In Full Swing
If you’ve never tried kettlebell training, you’re doing your lifts a disservice — it’s a fantastic way to supplement your primary routine with some dynamic strength work. Unless you find yourself needing a wide variety of sizes, we’d suggest just picking up a couple of cast iron bells from Rogue. Although rubber-coated and competition-style options have their advantages, they’re generally not worth the increase in price (unless kettlebell training is your primary sport).
Rogue E-Coat Kettlebell
Unless you intend to participate in some form of kettlebell-specific competition, look no further than this option from Rogue. Cast from ductile iron with a durable E-Coat finish, they’re available in 12 different weights from 9 to 88lbs. True iron disciples will be happy to hear that these bells come stamped with both metric and imperial measurements.
Break A Sweat
Last but not least we have conditioning equipment. While it may be tempting to neglect this section, it makes for a valuable part of a balanced training routine. Of course, how you approach your cardio work is ultimately up to you — the options are practically endless. But if you’re looking to have your bases covered, we’d suggest you get a jump rope, some sandbags, and maybe even a rowing machine. With each one being a complete, full-body workout in and of itself, you’re bound to not just break a sweat but build muscle in the process of doing so.
Crossrope Get Lean Set
Less of an accessory than it is a standalone fitness system, Crossrope’s ‘Get Lean’ set takes the concept of schoolyard skipping and injects it with a bit of interval-based intensity. With two included ropes — a 1/4lb and a 1/2lb — as well as a set of quick-release handles, you can jump for both speed and strength, and even conveniently swap weights mid-workout. In the event that those sizes prove to be too easy, Crossrope also make ropes going all the way up to 5lbs. Good luck trying to double-under with one of those heavy-hitters.
Sandbags offer a challenging form of strength training because they add an extra stability component to the equation; without anything fixing the mass in place, it’s up to you to keep the sack righted. As such, they make for a great way to develop those secondary stabilizer muscles in your shoulders, back, and arms whilst also improving your grip. We like Rogue’s sandbags because they’re simple, tough, and to the point, combining a 1000D Cordura construction with some double-stitched seams and webbing handles.
Concept2 Model D Rower
As the poster rower of the CrossFit community, Concept2’s Model D is a name that’s known throughout boxes far and wide. Offering adjustable airflow resistance, app-based Bluetooth connectivity, and in-depth data recording, it’s easily one of the most well-rounded rowing machines on the market today. But the best part is that, because of its wheels and separating two-piece design, the Model D is incredibly easy to maneuver and stow in spaces with limited room.
The 16 Best Smart Home Gyms
Although keeping it traditional with real-life equipment is one way to transform your garage into a capable home gym, it’s far from your only course of action. For instance, if you’d like to take a more tech-focused approach in our training, be sure to check out our guide to the best smart home gyms.
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