The DIY Gym: 8 Pieces of Equipment That Will Get You Strong & Save You Money

by Brett & Kate McKay on April 23, 2009 · 35 comments

in Health & Sports



Editor’s Note: In response to my call for suggestions for manly crafts (and in response to a couple of reader emails-by crafts I wasn’t referring to stuff like carpentry and blacksmithing, which are of course quite manly-but to specific DIY projects that men could take on), Tom Pehrson wrote me a great article about building your own fitness equipment. Tom lives in Alaska, reads AoM, and works out with fitness equipment he built himself. Now there’s a man.

There’s nothing manlier that working out in your garage. In fact, many men have relinquished their useless globo gym’s memberships and used that money to buy equipment for their own personal garage gyms. This saves time, and instead of paying some jerk’s expensive car payment, you keep the equipment.

Get a good weight set, a bench, and hopefully a squat rack, and you’re halfway there. There are several other components to the home gym that make it even more functional and can help you take your fitness to the next level. Below are 8 pieces of equipment that will increase your manly strength and save you money in the long term.

Plyometric boxes


Nothing builds explosive strength like jumping on a plyo box.  However, plyo boxes from most fitness distributors are extremely expensive. The good folks over at Crossfit (THE anti globo-gym entity) have published  plans on how to make your own boxes. I’ve made two: one 18″ high and one for my son at 14″ high. You can add this as a finishing exercise into any circuit for a truly taxing lung and muscle burner.



Sandbags are an extremely versatile piece of equipment. You can do cleans, carries, snatches and strongman type loading with them. The best part is they cost next to nothing to make. All you need are an old duffel bag (preferably an army/navy rucksack), contractor’s bags, and some pea gravel. Double-bag the pea gravel in the contractor’s bags, and tape them up securely. Each smaller bag can be at the weight you think is prudent for loading.

I have one large Navy sea bag and I made 5 different 25 pound small sandbags that fit into the large Navy bag so I can alter the weight as I see fit.

Another great exercise is to take your sandbag and some additional 45 pound plates and load up your trusty wheelbarrow. Quickly walk 100′, make a quick turn and head back to the starting point. Who needs shrugs when you got this exercise?

Lifting Platform


If you’re a fan of the Olympic lifts (and who isn’t) you need a lifting platform. This is a handyman’s project and a little too complex to detail here. I got my plans from Ironmind Enterprises. You can see them here.

Pulling sled/tires


Pulling a sled is one of the best exercises for increasing work capacity and general physical preparedness. This piece of equipment will make good use of your welding skills.  It requires a length of 1.25 square steel tubing (approx. 13″ long), an 18″x 24″ piece of  steel, and a towing strap.

First, take the 18″x24″ piece of 1/4″ thick sheet metal and bend a 2″ lip bent to 45 degrees at one end. Next, drill a hole through the lip for the tow rope. Then, take the tubing and cut (3) .25″ pieces off. These will be the spacers that the weight plates will sit on. Weld the piece of 12.25″ long tubing into the center of the flat steel surface. Finish the piece by welding the spacers equidistant from the pole in a circle so that your weight will sit on them in a stable manner.

**This is a very manly sled, but if you don’ have a welder (or the skills) you can use the tow rope on a large tire and pull that around.



Kegs are another implement that we’ll use when doing strongman type exercises. You can clean and press, distance carry, or do loading exercises with them. (Side note: loading exercises require the athlete to take a heavy object and place them on a surface that is head height or higher. The atlas stone is probably the most popular of these types of events.).

Dave Lemanczyk has a fantastic site for all things kegs. Kegs are easy to make, but they have to be empty first. Basically, you remove the inner device and replace with liquid or sand to personal preference. Once you have it filled to your liking, you clamp a rubber clamp over the opening.

Giant Tractor Tires


Although you don’t construct anything, just having one of these around the house gives off an aura of manliness. Also, they’re usually F-R-E-E, but you’ll have to use your moving skills to transport it home. I got my tires from Les Schwab, but check any tire yard or heavy equipment shop and they’ll likely be more than happy to give you one. Both Even-esh and Elliot Hulse have their athletes flip tires on a regular basis.

The prime exercise is flipping these beasts, but you can also attach your tow rope to the lip and use it for pulling as well. Additional exercises include the farmer’s carry (stand inside the tire, lift, and walk a predetermined distance) and glute-ham sit-ups (sitting on the tire with your feet inside the hole, hook your toes inside the lip and lean back to parallel and up again).

Slosh Pipe


Don’t let the easy design of this piece of equipment fool you. Work out with one of these and you’ll feel the abdominal equivalent of 100 crunches and 50 military presses. Take a 5 -7′ length of 2′ pvc pipe, fill it up to 2/3 with water, and cap the ends. You can do cleans & presses, overhead carries, drags or deadlifts with these for a very intense, short workout.

You can’t lift what you can’t grip


The guys over at Diesel Crew have fashioned a number of homemade grip tools. I’ve made the thick grip wrist roller and my next project is the rotating pull- up bar. Luckily, Joe Hashey put together the definitive Diesel Crew Grip Strength document.

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

1 alfred April 23, 2009 at 8:10 pm

thanks, the only equiipment i have is
a barbell and weight plates for deadlifts
a kettle
a jump rope
a doorway pullup bar
i think some commercial gym equipment are way overrated

2 Anthony April 23, 2009 at 8:46 pm

Cool DIY tips. Not a bad way to save on Gym Membership cost.

3 Shaun April 23, 2009 at 10:17 pm

Nice article…not too sure where I’ll store those tyres though :)

BTW the Crossfit link is broken. It should be

4 >Hammer April 23, 2009 at 11:01 pm

this article makes me want to go work out right now.. I love the tire and sandbag and I will be getting one tomorrow!

5 Coupon Trunk April 24, 2009 at 12:08 am

I’ve been looking to a more intensive workout, but I don’t have any kegs or giant tractor tires around the house.

6 chainzaw April 24, 2009 at 2:42 am

y’all should check out … this site’s got great stuff about getting great results with minimal equipment and most of his equipment are homemade anyway so y’all will get a kick out of it… plus i know they work cause i do some of them myself

7 David Hohl April 24, 2009 at 3:16 am

The most useful piece of fitness equipment I use is a splitting maul. If you’ve got a wood stove, it’s great for keeping you in shape, and moving around a couple cords of wood a year helps too.

8 Ken Hunt April 24, 2009 at 7:07 am

Don’t forget the basics that don’t require any equipment; 1 minute doing as many pushups, 1 minute doing as many situps and walking/running 3 miles a day.

9 60 in 3 - Health and Fitness April 24, 2009 at 7:33 am

Great ideas, but I’m not sure my garage has room for all of these things. :)

I’ll stick to my dumbbells and running shoes. Best exercise equipment I ever got!


10 JasonTX April 24, 2009 at 7:36 am

Crossfit is the way to go. Every workout I did or was doing before was BS. I would only add a pullup bar to this list. I made one from pipe purchased at HD for about $25. will teach you everything with demo videos and workout of the days..

11 Nick April 24, 2009 at 8:59 am

Every time there’s a fitness post people line up to sing the praises of Crossfit. So today I finally looked up the Crossfit gym in my town, and learned they charge $55 a month for membership! For that price, the weight plates better be made out of gold. Who would pay that kind of money for a workout you can do in your garage??

12 DC April 24, 2009 at 9:25 am

You can get a pullup bar with all the hardware to mount it in a doorway for $20. If you can turn a screwdriver, you can install this, and it works great for pull-ups, chin-ups, and other exercises. Many come with a low mount that can act as an anchor for your legs or arms for sit-ups or leg lifts. Visit your local sporting goods store, or the sporting goods department at places like Wal-Mart or Target to get one.

13 Keenan April 24, 2009 at 11:56 am

good stuff. I personally think that you still need a barbell, plates and a pull-up bar. It really bugs me when i go to the gym and i see a bunch of guys using all the machines and pushing weak weights. They just go tot he gym to say they went, not to actually work, and it pisses me off.

14 MG April 24, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Good post… good equipment list.
I know these aren’t DIY, but kettle bells, Olympic bars/bumper plates are a good addition as well. And someone mentioned pull up bars/rings.

Check out for some intense “hybrid” work outs posted 3x/week (intended to supplement and improve your performance for things like climbing (rock/ice), mountaineering, etc.
Or try for military/tactical fitness workouts 5x/week.

Both are run by a solid guy named Rob, who owns “Mountain Athlete”… two gyms, one in Jackson Hole, WYO and one in Boulder, CO.

These work outs are tough, so give yourself time to work up to the daily routines… and don’t get frustrated.

15 Dave | The Intelligent Workout April 25, 2009 at 3:58 am

Gymnastic Rings For Pushups and Kettlebells are both magical…

16 BK April 25, 2009 at 4:14 am

Gymnastics rings are a great add-on for working your upper body & core. Official ones are way overpriced, so just make your own with a pair of 10′ cambuckles and loop the bottom through a small pipe that fits your grip.
Lets you do anything from muscle-ups to freehanging dips and perfect-pushups, costs about $14

17 Eli April 25, 2009 at 5:57 pm

I love these articles. This site has changed my views on a few things, and I thought I should contribute on this one. I saw this “device” a long time ago in a Martial Arts magazine. It’s easy to build one and can really increase grip and forearm strength. I wouldn’t buy one, but making one would go along with the article and the items in here.

View a commercial one at:

Thanks again for this and the other fine articles on this site. Keep up the good work!


18 Matthew Jarsky May 5, 2009 at 10:31 am

I am an architect. I live in a tiny house (960 square feet) with my wife and two children.

A little more than a year ago, I decided I had to get in shape. I looked around and found CrossFit. The right-wing politics aren’t my bag, and Pukie the Clown is a real turn-off, but I could see that the randomized workouts and functional movements made for an effective program.

But where to put all that equipment in my small house?

I kept looking and stumbled upon SimpleFit (SF). SimpleFit is built on three bodyweight exercises: the pull-up, push-up, and squat. The only equipment required is a pull-up bar and a few square feet of floor.

It doesn’t have the random workouts of CrossFit, but it keeps me motivated with its system of levels and weekly “Judgement” workout.

I have been at it for a little over a year. I am happy with the results (which you can see by visiting my site). I wanted to share SimpleFit with your readers because it is the perfect workout for those who might be kicking the tires of Crossfit, but can’t commit to the necessary equipment or getting themselves to a gym (CrossFit or otherwise).

19 Joshua M May 14, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Great article though I am seeing some text errors revolving around the use of abbreviations like can’t etc with strange characters showing up. Keep up the good work!

20 Bart May 20, 2009 at 8:03 am

I slightly disagree with the authors home gym choices.

When I think of home gyms additions, I think of bang for your buck. Stuff that doesn’t cost a lot, doesn’t require a lot of space, serves multiple purposes and still is very useful for fitness. In addition, when getting a new piece of equipment, you want to make sure that you are branching out in an area that isn’t already covered by your other stuff.

I agree with the sandbag and plyobox choices. IMO, lifting platform, kegs and slosh pipe could go out the window.

Most of the slosh pipe and keg goodness can be had with a well constructed sandbag.

Tire sleds are decent, but I think you can get similar training effects with heavy sandbag carries, so to me, it doesn’t offer a sufficient amount of unique benefit to include it as top priority.

If you had to, I’d at least add a sledge hammer to the tire sled ensemble, or just skip the sled and get one tire and use the sledge on it. The sledge can be used for some awesome grip work (as well as being something you already have) too. The tire doubles for a light keg that you can safely throw – either on concrete or on your grass that you don’t want to wreck.

I’d add a decent pull up bar (or gymnastic rings).

I’d consider a tough stretch band/stretch cable.

21 kanok July 30, 2009 at 8:30 pm

I find that exercise helps all body parts for those who can exert little
The exercise highlighted the arms and legs.

22 Roderic August 24, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Great article. I’ve become a big fan of my own garage workout and have even got buddies joining me now in my garage in the morning. Why they want to come puke in a bucket my garage is beyond me, but the male bonding time is good and the workout is funner when someone else is suffering too.

Couple of suggestions… Ross Enamait has a GREAT book on this kind of training called “Never Gymless”. It’s very down-to-earth and practical and he shows you how to do everything. The guy is a beast, but as I said, very practical. Take a look at his site:

Meanwhile, in my garage I have;
1. A bench (with bar and weights as well as a preacher-curl setup at one end)
2. Dumbbells
3. Resistance bands
4. A self-made bodyweight strap device that can be used over a door or cliped onto a tree branch (etc)
5. Push-up bars (for going past the plane)
6. Floor pads for doing crunches and such on (concrete floor can be a little unforgiving)
7. A piece of 2″ dowel that I’ve drilled a hole through the center of and attached a 6′ length of heavy chain to. We use this for forearms. Roll the chain up onto the dowel and roll it off.

23 BullFrog October 7, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Gymnastics rings.

24 Joe Hashey December 11, 2009 at 8:04 pm

Ha, I was searching for some homemade plyo boxes – I already made the ones above and they came out great. I did only use 3/4 in plywood to save money – have lasted years.

and it linked to an article I wrote on the Diesel Crew site! Thanks I appreciate the shout out.


25 Eric G December 29, 2009 at 11:50 am

The link for the sled plans does not work!!!
Great page though.
I made my own DIY forearm work out bar. The one were you wind up weight on a cord onto a bar.


26 Dave Lemanczyk March 6, 2010 at 10:24 am

Thanx for the shout, the doors always open over here! Great site!

27 Tyler March 19, 2010 at 7:12 pm

good article, I just found some tires…

@Nick, CrossFit for $55 a month is actually a pretty good price. And you’re not paying for the use of their equipment, you’re paying for coaching. When you do CrossFit, you don’t walk in and plug in your headphones and do your thing on your own, you do group workouts with a very hands-on coach who makes sure you are keeping form and safety in your workouts.
You can do CrossFit alone, but I would bet more than half of the people who try suffer from lack of discipline in their form and probably don’t finish the workouts with as much intensity if at all.

28 Mike March 20, 2010 at 10:41 pm

You need to add a pullup bar,

29 Eddie April 12, 2010 at 7:59 pm

I like the idea of making your own exercise equipment. I am always on the road, so I got to make something portable, light,and strong.I am making a Push/Pull Cable Exerciser. It is basically a bicycle security cable that you use with a lock to secure it to a pole or bike stand.I am only using the cable, two springs, and two stirrup handles. Of course, I got creative- one of the springs has to be a little loose and give me some game, while the second one has to be tougher. Some of these springs are calibrated for 400 lbs., so more or less that means that if you are strong and manage to extend the spring you could calculate the force you use by the number of inches the spring extends.Again, some springs are weaker. Always warmup with pushups, crunches, dips, and squats. You may cover the spring with that kind of plastic hose you can buy at an industrial shop. The hose prevents the spring from pinching your skin, give yourself enough hose material and maybe use thinner cable to run through the see through plastic hose. Best wishes, Train hard or Die!!!

30 Jason M Struck April 16, 2010 at 11:34 am


totally awesome post.

31 James Johnson August 18, 2010 at 2:07 am

Back in the ’70′s a fellow who worked in a tire repair shop in Jersey City routinely carried 2 truck tractor trailer tires (one under each arm). He was at least 6 foot 7 inches tall and 260 pounds. That’s a strong working man.

32 TheOzMan October 2, 2012 at 5:34 am

Great Article. After reading it a couple of weeks ago and studying up on Crossfit. I have decided to cash in my gym membership and focus on developing my own shed gym that i have dubbed the “House of Pain”. I have since made a Slosh Pipe out of 6″ about 1.5 metres of pipe, that weighs 20kg or 44 lb but discovered tonight that the keg that i have, which is great for throwing around is also perfect for a makeshift “plyobox” after making a suitable lid that locates snugly in the top. And thanks to eBay i now have a great cheap Sandbag and a TRX kit on the way. All for what I would have been spending on my membership. Cheers from Down Under and Stay Manly.

33 Mathew October 28, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Being a strong man does not mean you can escape death.

34 rachael December 12, 2012 at 8:12 am

question – i’m not a man, or building a gym in my garage, but rather in my attic… I’m assuming your garage isn’t insulated, so should i be weary of my un-insulated attic being the final resting place for my kettlebells and such?

35 Ray Janzen February 17, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Thanks! Thanks! Thanks!
Whiners… move on down the road!

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