Part of the charm of a garage gym is that nothing’s quite *perfect*, maybe you’ve got old rusty plates you were given for free, or a flickering light bulb that makes you feel like you’re training in an underground Russian boxing gym.
Having said that, there’s no shame is doing an incredible job and putting together a gym that is truly something special. Whether you want it to have that hardcore gym feeling, or to be something a little more inviting, you should strongly consider including at least some variation on the following things…
Keep in mind: It can be daunting to go and buy a ton of stuff at once, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and your gym doesn’t need to be, either. Take your time, shop around, check out the local classifieds, talk to friends and family… you’d be surprised how many people have some extra fitness equipment in the shed they’re happy to get rid of it.
In our estimation, no serious workout space is complete without the following gym essentials:
Wrist wraps are an absolute essential if you want to have the best workout possible. Some guys want to lift more weight, while some simply have dodgy wrists or old injuries. Check out our best wrist wraps picks for 2019.
You want a BPH Free water bottle so you can drink as much as possible during your gym session.
One of the massive pros to having your own gym is that you don’t need to worry about hippy policies like not allowing chalk in the gym. Chalk can help you grip better without doing so much damage to your hands. It’s a no brainer / absolute essential.
If you like getting sweat in your eye then don’t have a hand towel. But I’d recommend it.
An assortment of plates is crucial. Plates are food for your bars, so the quantity you get will depend on their appetite. If you do a lot of heavy lifting, you’ll want to think about getting some larger plates. Smaller ones are good too.
You can save about 50% by getting just the amount you can lift and then 25-50lbs extra (in smaller plates) for when you gain strength, as opposed to having a ton of extra ones laying around. If you don’t mind racking and de-racking your weights a bit more often to switch them between bars, you don’t need to buy as many plates.
There are also dumbbell bars that you can add plates onto, or you can get fixed-size dumbells, often hex shaped. Again, it’s really up to you, but by using plates for your dumbbells you can save a bit of cash. If you expect that each pound of weight is going to run you anywhere from $1-$1.50 on average, then you’re saving about $50-$75 just by not needing to get a pair of 25lb dumbbells, not to mention the rest of the sizes you won’t need to buy.
Standard weight plates have a 1 inch hole, Olympic plates have a 2 inch hole. Cast-iron plates that are coated in rubber with built-in handles for grip are some of the better ones you can find for a lower price, you can also use them as free weights for a number of exercises.
The cheapest ones you’ll find are made from stone coated in plastic. They don’t hold up great to the test of time, but you can often find people selling them for very cheap or just looking to give them away for free – so that’s always a plus. You can also look for weight sets which often get you good savings because you’re buying in bulk.
The bars hold your plates in place. Whether you want to get the smaller bars, or larger olympic ones is up to you. If you already have some plates and don’t want to replace them, go with the appropriate sized bar.
The bar is one area where it’s worth spending as much as you can to get quality, upwards of $100-$200 will get you something great.
In addition to a regular bar that you’ll use for squats, deadlifting, and bench press, you could consider picking up (as previously mentioned) dumbbell bars, which is a cheaper option compared to buying fixed-weight dumbbells. An ez-curl bar is a great addition, especially if you have a preacher curl bench or a curl attachment for your regular bench.
We’ve gone over this already so we’ll keep it quick. Weights are the most important part of any gym. Of course, there are gyms more geared towards cardio, and people who stick to bodyweight fitness, and that’s all good – but for a real garage gym setup for somebody who is bodybuilding from home, weights are 101. Go with fixed, or bars, or whatever suits you – we’ll look at some other options like kettlebells, too.
Plates and dumbbells cost about the same amount, give or take, so buying plates is more versatile and saves you money. But having fixed dumbbells is more convenient, and adds to that overall gym feeling, also they’re more compact so you’ll have a bigger range of motion for certain exercises.
If you’ve got some extra cash, buying a sturdy weight stand is nice to have, but the floor also does the job just fine.
You’ll often see pull-up bars recommended in a garage gym, and there are different ways to achieve that. From using one that posts-up in the doorframe, to one you mount on the wall… but getting a power rack that has a pull-up bar built in is the more practical approach.
This rack will primarily be used for squats, but you can also buy a bench and use it to rack your weights for bench pressing, too. It’s good to get one that has safety bars, ideally adjustable ones, because that’s just good to have when you’re working out alone without a spotter or anyone else nearby.
Your power rack is the meat and potatoes of a home gym, this station opens up the doors for bench press, deadlift, and barbell squat. If you’re looking for a decent power rack you should check out our guide here.
A regular flat bench is great to have with your powerrack, it’ll open up the doors to working a lot more muscles. It’s nice to have a rack and a bench that aren’t attached, since you can use the rack for more than just presses, as opposed to ones that are just one piece, which don’t really allow you to squat and don’t offer the same backup safety precautions.
An adjustable bench is a good choice, one that you can lay flat, or add an incline, or even a decline bench. They’ll work different muscles, and can play an important part in your routine.
Some benches allow you to purchase attachments that go on the bottom end. From leg extensions, to curls, and a lot more, if you’re looking for a compact garage gym, consider a bench that’s expandable or one that comes with extra attachments in the first place.
At the end of the day at some point you’re going to want to upgrade to a heavy-duty weight bench as they’re best for heavy lifting.
Whatever your fitness goals may be, there should be some room for cardio. If it’s your main focus, we’d like to see you get yourself a nicer machine. If it’s just something you want to smash out for 5-10 mins before or after your weight training to get warmed up, you can get away with something more basic.
A rower is a great way to get your heart rate up quickly, and it gives you a full body workout in the process since you are also engaging your arms and legs. A high-end rower will run you around $1200, but you can find some very serviceable options in the $300-$500 price range, not to mention used for even less.
Spin bikes are another option, you’ll want to opt for something with a heavy flywheel for a smoother ride, anything over 30lbs should be just fine. You can choose between chains or belts, with belts typically costing a bit more but also being quieter.
Elliptical machines, recumbent bikes, treadmills… there are a lot of popular machines for cardio, and it really comes down to what you jive with the best. You could keep it simple, too, and just go for a jog around the block to get warmed up, or jump rope, or even just ride a regular bike around for a bit.
This might not be entirely essential like some of the other suggestions, but the garage is a great place for a punching bag. If you were to have it indoors, you’d want to look at a punching bag stand, which can cost a couple hundred dollars for something decent, and you’ll need a few hundred dollars worth of plates to secure it in place. In the garage, you can just hang it with a $15 mount and not have to worry about it.
Other: Kettlebells, Sandbags, Medicine Ball…
These are some other heavy objects that can give you a change of pace from your dumbbells. They open up the doors to working just about any muscles you have, without needing any huge machines. A commercial gym will have a giant machine for every muscle you could imagine, but that’s not only unnecessary, but very overkill for a garage gym.
Gymnastics rings are very popular, especially on the Crossfit side of things, and can serve as an excellent alternative to a pull-up bar if you have a place to put them. You can train rows, dips, pushups, and more.