How to Turn Your Garage Into a Home Gym

by A Manly Guest Contributor on October 4, 2013 · 38 comments

in Fitness, Health & Sports

Garage Gym 2



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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Jerred Moon.

Are you sick of all that is involved with getting in shape — with becoming stronger and fitter?

Training and getting in shape can be a chore at times, but is it really the training you don’t enjoy? With a little observation, or self-analysis, you may find the chore is often not the training itself. Of course, you may not love to exercise, but is it really that bad?

The worst part about fitness is all that comes with it: a long commute to the gym, crowds of people, occupied equipment, hygiene concerns, monthly fees, and much more. You have a job, family, and all of life’s chores and tasks to worry about. Who wants to start or end their day with what feels like another chore? A trip to the gym involves changing into appropriate clothes, driving, waiting, more driving…and the routine simply takes you from one climate-controlled box (work) to another (the gym) with your only chance for fresh air coming from walking across the parking lot. Not to mention that every day that you “just don’t feel like it” and decide to skip the gym, it costs you money!

Commercial gyms are designed for the masses — TVs, isolation machines, and a bunch of stuff you don’t really need. It may make you feel better to have “gone to the gym today” but wouldn’t you rather train effectively and efficiently?

Your head should be nodding at this point.

The solution to all of your fitness problems is a garage gym!

Perhaps when you think of a garage gym, you think of Rocky Balboa chasing chickens and lifting logs. Or maybe you think of a version of your commercial gym stuffed in your garage.

The reality is somewhere in between. A garage gym can be an effective and efficient world-class training facility. It is built to suit your performance. Some of the fittest people in the world train in garage gyms regularly because they know the secret. Less equipment, fewer isolation exercises, less junk, but more efficient training.

The thought which will eventually cross your mind is, “I don’t have the money or time to make my own garage my gym.” While certainly not dirt cheap, you can do it for as little as $500, which is the equivalent of about a year and a half of the cheapest gym pass. If you use your garage gym for just two years, you will have made money on the investment. In addition, it only takes about two weeks to complete. And that’s if you take your time.

Are you convinced yet? Ready to start a garage gym? Let’s get started!

What I Started With: 

  • 45lb. Olympic Bar
  • three kettlebells (35lb., 55lb., and 70lb.)
  • two 45lb. bumper plates
  • two 35lb. bumper plates
  • two 25lb. bumper plates
  • two 10lb. bumper plates
  • two 5lb. plates
  • a power rack with pull-up bar*
  • parallettes*
  • weight rack storage
  • rings
  • a plyometric box*
  • a 20lb. medicine ball*
  • a tire for dragging and odd object lifting
  • squat/press stands
  • bench press stands
  • a bench
  • a reverse hyper
  • a speed rope

*DIY projects shown below

bag

A few additions to consider: Powerful fan. Bike. Bag. I like to mix things up in my training so I do a little bit of everything. I love to run with the bag, or do any number of other sandbag workouts. I am new to cycling, but it isn’t too bad.

Step 1: The Big Purchase

The big purchase has to be the first thing you do when you are starting a serious garage gym. It means you are fully committed and the big purchase will help keep you accountable. This is the stuff you cannot build yourself or may be too challenging to find used, like a barbell, plates, kettlebells, etc.

Another reason the big purchase is what we do first is because it can take two weeks for the order to come in. This will give us time to set up shop in the garage and get ready for some serious training once the weight is delivered.

First, you have to decide what you need. My list above works really well for most. However, do you want or need rubberized bumper plates? Do you want only iron plates? Do you care if you have new or used equipment? I didn’t go the least expensive route when I first started my garage gym. I bought it all new and I bought the colored, rubberized bumper plates (expensive). If you buy plain black or go the used route you can get it all for much cheaper than I did. You don’t need ALL bumper plates for a garage.

bar

If you can only afford one piece of equipment right now, make it a barbell.

You may be asking, “What is a bumper plate good for?” These plates are good for overhead lifts and quick, high-intensity workouts in which speed is of the essence. This way you can drop the weight. You really only need two 45lb. bumper plates as a base and you can add smaller iron weights that don’t touch the ground for everything else. When squatting or deadlifting, just use iron. I recommend getting more than just two 45lb. plates, depending on your strength level. If you are really strong you will need a combination of bumper plates and iron plates. If you are not as strong, some of the plain bumper package deals will be perfect for you.

rower

Another thing to consider: how will you do your cardio? You can jump rope, run, cycle, etc. This rower is the most expensive piece of equipment I have purchased for my garage gym…but I love it. I hate running, so I do a lot of rowing. Worth the money if you like rowing. Very durable.

Luckily, the popularity of CrossFit and the sport of weightlifting have exploded in recent years. This popularity has made getting high-quality barbells, plates, and other equipment much more economical.

Step 2: Get the Garage Ready

Embrace the idea of street parking!

Now that the big purchase is made and we are waiting on delivery, it is time to get to work on the garage itself!

When it comes to garage gyms, there are two options. Option one, you can have a garage with a gym in it, or, option two, you can have a gym that is in the shell of a garage. In other words, you can either maintain a garage for storage and all your household items, or you can fully dedicate your garage to being a gym and nothing else. The more viable option for most will be option one. Either way you are probably going to have to declutter. Organization and storage are your two priorities at this point.

Storage Ideas:

If you are not an organized person, it is time to change. If you want a garage gym, that is. If you have a lot of stuff that you need to keep (yes, getting rid of stuff is a real option) you will have to get creative.

  • Hang storage containers from the ceiling
  • Have a dedicated wall for stackable containers
  • Move things to a storage unit (not ideal, due to the monthly cost which you’re trying to save by doing this in the first place)
  • Throw things away
  • Garage sale

If you have a lot of stuff in your garage that you would not mind getting rid of, have a garage sale. This does two things for you, obviously, the first thing is it gives you room for a garage gym. The second awesome thing a garage sale can do for you is it may completely pay for your equipment! Now you really have no excuse.

Bottom line is you don’t need a ton of space, but you will need a dedicated portion of the garage for lifting weights. Clean up, clean out, and keep it clean. You will have to get creative and organized. I recommend having one side of the space for “garage” items and one side for gym items. However you do it, just make sure there is enough space for you to workout, which requires a little planning.

Luckily, the planning for this gym is as easy as scrolling through all the DIY projects we are planning to build (shown in step 3, below). Make sure you have enough space for them and make sure you want all of them. You can cherrypick which projects you like and do not like. Once you have made up your mind you can sketch it on paper, draw it on a whiteboard, or even tape it out on your garage floor. The more realistic you can picture it, the better off you will be. This way we do not work ourselves into a corner here. Do not skip planning — make sure you have a good idea of where absolutely everything will go.

Oh, and if you are married, like me, be sure to run all this stuff by your wife. Maybe that should have been step one…oops.

Step 3: Do It Yourself Projects

Garage Gym 1

(Click the image to see a larger version.) If you’re wondering where my power rack is, unfortunately, when I moved into my current house, the ceiling was too low to install it. So it is dismantled and in my attic waiting to be reassembled.

You certainly have the option of just buying everything for your gym. To really make it yours, however, and to save some cash, you can build a few pieces on your own. I recommend, to start, building these four projects:

  • Plyometric Box
  • Power Rack
  • Medicine Ball
  • Parallettes

These first few items will help you get started with a core garage gym, and you could get it all done in one dedicated weekend. However, if you are interested in even more projects, there are over a dozen garage gym DIY project tutorials at the DIY Corner.

Plyometric Box

Plyo Box

The first project is a plyometric box. One sheet of plywood, six cuts to suit the size you need, some glue, and screws and you are done! A plyometric box can be used for box jumps, dips, step-ups, box squats, and any other creative exercise you can think of. It is a very quick and easy project. It will only cost about $20, take you about 30 minutes, and is not very difficult to complete. Click here for the full tutorial.

Power Rack

Power Rack

The second project is a little more difficult and time consuming: a power rack. However, if you build this project, and take care of it, it will last a long time and give you a great training capability. You will be able to squat with safety bars and make use of a pull-up bar. You can make any modification you like to suit your needs. If this project is too advanced for you, I recommend some cement buckets and 4x4s — you can find that project here. For the full power rack project, check out the instructions here.

Medicine Ball

Medicine Ball

The third project is very quick and easy: a medicine ball. Just cut open a basketball, fill it with pool salt (not sand) and patch it up. Now you have a medicine ball! A medicine ball is great for wall ball shots (squatting with and throwing to a target 10 feet away), weighted sit-ups, medicine ball cleans, and many other exercises. It is a must when starting a garage gym, and you can check out the full instructions here.

Parallettes

Parrallettes

The fourth project is also quick and easy: parallettes. Parallettes are great for deficit push-ups, L-sits, dips, pass throughs, and many other exercises. This project just takes a few cuts of PVC, some PVC cement, and you are good to go. Very easy and a great addition to a garage gym — you can check out that project here.

These projects are just the start, but with a solid foundation and these few items, you will have enough equipment to have a very simple and effective garage gym. As you become more experienced and learn more about how you operate in a garage gym you can slowly expand your DIY arsenal or purchase the additional items you need.

As with any do-it-yourself project, unfamiliarity with the tools and process can be dangerous. If you are at all uncomfortable or inexperienced working on DIY projects (especially projects involving dangerous tools), please reconsider doing the job yourself. It is very possible on any DIY to damage your property, create a hazardous condition, or harm yourself or others. Be careful!

Conclusion

Ready to get extremely fit, at home? Are you ready for a garage gym?

It is time to take a stand. It is time get rid of all the supplements that don’t work and that you don’t need, time to trade in the crazy-expensive gym memberships, and throw away the fitness magazines that push useless products and programs designed for people who aren’t you.

It is time to start making some decisions for yourself, and decisions affecting your health should not be taken lightly. Thomas Jefferson put it this way, “Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning.”

Good luck on your garage gym!

Do you have a garage gym? What do you have in it? Share with us in the comments!

________________________________________

Jerred Moon is a strength & conditioning addict, wanna-be adrenaline junkie, loving husband and proud father. He runs a fitness website for the “other guys” called End of Three Fitness and is also the creator of the One Man One Barbell program.

 

 

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sam V October 4, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Great post!
One thing I will say, though–I wouldn’t trust that power rack very much. Perhaps that picture isn’t doing it justice, but 2x4s, bolts and hope do not a safe power rack make.

2 Chris October 4, 2013 at 6:51 pm

I agree with Sam. Good advice in the article, but I think a steel power rack would be a perfect “big purchase;” if $175 for a barbell doesn’t get you off the couch and into the garage to use it, $900 for a power rack certainly will.

3 GusT October 4, 2013 at 11:38 pm

Great article. I have found a kettlebell, a jump rope & a place to do pull-ups are all you need. This includes bodyweight exercises & cals. After that pick what you like and have fun.

4 Elijah October 5, 2013 at 1:12 am

You can make a fairly sturdy power rack from steel as a DIY project. I managed to build the one featured in Starting Strength. The plans are available here:http://startingstrength.com/files/starting_strength_rack.pdf

5 Gilmoure October 5, 2013 at 7:02 am

Yeah, I’d go with new bar, used weights (Play it again sports) and metal power tower or combo squat rack/press rack. I don’t have bumpers but I did put down horse stall mats. These things are 3/4″ thick heavy rubber. Layer 2 of these and concrete floor is safe.

6 Tim October 5, 2013 at 9:06 am

Good article, and good advice. The homemade medicine ball is a great idea.
You can buy new equipment, but it’s very expensive. My garage gym consists of barbells, dumbbells, a lot of extra plates, a bench, and an old squat rack. I bought them all on Craig’s List, and spent less than $500.

7 Vince October 5, 2013 at 9:08 am

I have been looking at making that power rack for a few days now and looking at multiple sights. From other people’s testimonies it has supported 405 lbs. I have not personally tried it but I have read multiple articles with people saying the have put sufficient weight on it.

8 Kyle October 5, 2013 at 9:14 am

I’ve got to agree with the two comments above. Getting a real rack, used if possible, seems like a good investment, better even than bumper plates for most people.

For the price of a couple Eleiko 20kg bumpers, you could get 4 inches of rubber matting for your dealift/oly lift area and most of a used power rack.

Other than that, great article Jerred!

9 Matthew October 5, 2013 at 9:36 am

Helpful article, for those that want to workout at home. I prefer going to a gym for several reasons.
1. I enjoy the social aspect and comradeship.
2. The variety of equipment.
3. I often play squash or tennis for cardio there, as the lifecycle and treadmill do not produce a dynamic workout (but you can want watch tv or read the newspaper).
4. I absolutely enjoy the steam room after my workout.
5. Sometimes after my workout I’ll read in the library or enjoy a beer in the tap room in the club.

My gym, in Downtown Los Angeles, is on the way home of my commute. I usually start my workout between 5-6pm. Although I enjoyed working out at home for a few years in late high school, I prefer getting out of the house where I am free from the interruptions of my family. I first started weightlifting in 9th grade for freshman football; I’ve never stopped and am 44 now. Although, I stopped heavy lifting in my 30′s.

10 Dave October 5, 2013 at 11:32 am

I wouldn’t trust that rack for nothing. I bought some steel, made a rack for less that $200. I ended up buying the cups from Rogue. My rack isn’t as pretty as a Rogue, but its every bit as strong and I don’t worry about it collapsing. I use some heavy duty saw horses for safety bars when I’m squatting or benching.

Craigslist is a great place to find used equipment.

11 Darren October 5, 2013 at 4:38 pm

Just squinting at the power rack, it looks like there’s about 80-100 bucks of steel. If you have a friend who can weld… :-)

12 Jim Weston October 5, 2013 at 5:15 pm

This looks like a great idea. I’m a big fan of doing home workouts and having a home gym, it saves a lot of money in the long run. Once I buy a house, I’ll definitely be doing this.

13 Evan October 5, 2013 at 5:24 pm

That is very cool. I need to do that to the garage. Maybe ya’ll could make a workout schedule? The DIY projects are great! Keep them coming for those of us with limited bank accounts. : )

14 brandon October 5, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Great post. Just added building a plyo box to my plans for next saturday morning.

15 Oliver Popple October 6, 2013 at 4:25 am

I agree I would not trust that wooden power rack especially as I am now squatting 130kg (286pounds) & I bail a fair bit.

16 Paul October 6, 2013 at 5:25 am

Excellent post! One of the great things about a home gym is that it can be as simple or elaborate as you want. I have just 2 barbells, 2 dumbells, a sturdy wooden picnic bench, chin-up bar, DYI sandbag, DYI chinning weight belt, PVC parallettes and about 250 pounds of weight. I didn’t spend anywhere near $500 (maybe $100), then again I’m don’t train with extremely heavy weight, so I don’t need squat racks, bench for bench presses, etc. But I still get a great workout with this setup.

17 mike October 6, 2013 at 6:19 am

I can only second the home gym idea. I turned my back on commercial gyms 10 yrs ago and have never looked back. All I have is a set of bowflex dumbells, some rubber resistance bands, a door frame chin up bar and a yoga mat. The results speak for themselves.

18 Dom October 6, 2013 at 6:45 am

I’ve found that a place to do pullups, a general knowledge of distances around your house and a sandbag will provide a great workout.

I’ve put a medicine ball on the list of gear to get though, seems like it can provide some suck to the workout.

Goruck will give some great workouts as well for those with minimum equipment.

19 Native Son October 6, 2013 at 9:57 am

OK. Now that we’ve learned how to convert the garage into a woodshop/smithy or a gym, how about one on how to convert a garage that’s been converted form a garage into a laundry/pantry/craft space BACK into a garage with a work bench?

20 Mark Dissel October 6, 2013 at 10:15 am

I love to work out at home, it is better than going every week to a gym. That will get boring. Maybe i will use my garage for it, great option!

21 Richard October 6, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Excellent post. My gym is just a pair of plastic rock-climbing-hold-like-things and a separate loop of webbing hung from over my garage door, and a single 1/2” thick piece of wood over the door. This lets me do all the pullups and ab exercises I want, as well as build grip strength. The rest is just on-the-ground bodyweight stuff.

22 Levi October 7, 2013 at 12:40 am

While a power rack is a good idea, a squat rack is a good lower cost replacement. When I moved, my power rack was too big for the basement and I didn’t want to bolt anything to the floor, so I bought a squat stand (S-2 from Rogue fitness) which has a pullup bar as well. It was the same height as the ceiling so I cut about 5 inches off the support lengths, and now it is the perfect size. I can squat, bench, and do pullups on it, so it is the foundation of my garage/basement gym.

23 Erik Weldon October 7, 2013 at 10:48 am

It’s important to note that while you could buy everything at once you don’t have to.

I started off with a few core exercises and bought/built the equipment to get them done. As I added more weight and different exercises I bought more stuff.

This approach is cheaper on your wallet (at first) as you don’t have to make a huge down payment.

24 Dave October 7, 2013 at 9:53 pm

As far as weights go, most used fitness equipment stores will have cast iron plates for between $0.25 and $0.50 per pound. Even if they’re a little rusty some steel wool and spray enamel will have them in basically new condition. Cast iron plates are more or less indestructible and damned expensive if you’re buying a few hundred pounds of new ones, so I’d definitely buy used and refurbish them. I’ve got about 120 lb of plates which I bought used and spent less than $50. I wouldn’t bother with the rubberized plates either. Putting some rubber matting on your floor, or even just cutting up an old tire and stapling it to some plywood will work just as well and be far less expensive. Also people need to be careful with those kettlebells; if you don’t know what you’re doing with those you can really screw up your back if you use them incorrectly.

25 Jon October 8, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Around 4 years ago I got fed up with the commercial gym thing and decided to cancel my membership and use that money to slowly put together my garage gym (RV parking gym actually, I live in So. Nevada so I don’t need to contend with snow and can exercise outside year round). Best fitness decision I ever made. Since then I have amassed enough equipment (craigslist is your friend) to keep thing fresh while maintaining focus on the big lifts — squats, deadlifts, bench and press.

While it may appear daunting at first, if you take it a day at a time, buy what you can when you can, and focus on a few core lifts to get you through until you have enough for more variety (if that’s what you want), in short order, you will have a much better environment to train then you ever would at a commercial gym.

26 N.Vest October 8, 2013 at 2:43 pm

I would throw in a mace bell and some club bells as well

27 cbp October 10, 2013 at 8:35 pm

I’ve had a gym at home for a few years. Here’s a few things I’ve learnt:

* Take it easy at first. Unless you have had a lot of personal training before, its very easy to injure yourself with incorrect technique. If you drop a heavy weight on your foot or dislocate your shoulders, there’s no one around to offer medical attention.

* I found an exercise ball to be one of the best investments – unless you are already doing very heavy weights, I would get a ball before a bench.

A lot of internet articles focus too much on “getting huge”, but personally I don’t think this should be the primary concern for most people. Much more important is excellent core strength, stability and healthy level of body fat. 90% of my workout is using the exercise ball, pullup bar and dumbbells.

28 Matt October 13, 2013 at 5:45 pm

Get horse stall mats at a Tractor Supply Warehouse. 1″x 4′ x 6′ costs about $40. They make great rubber flooring for your home gym.

29 Steve October 14, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Starting small and building piece by piece is perfectly acceptable. And we’ve found that with just five pieces you can actually have enough gear to keep yourself very well challenged.

Here’s five pieces that are perfect for the home gym:
1. A pullup bar
2. A Set of Gymnastics Rings
3. 1-2 Kettlebells
4. A jump rope
5. A Medicine Ball

Put 3-4 Exercises together for 3 or more rounds. Keep it varied, short but intense.

30 Eric October 15, 2013 at 3:44 pm

I built a power rack using these plans about 9 months ago, and between my son and I we have done hundreds of pull ups, toes to bars, ring dips, and muscle ups, and we have used it to squat 350lbs. without incident. My son is new to lifting and he has banged the heck out of the wood racking and unracking the weight, but as long as you don’t bail on a lift you’ll be good to go.

31 Kyle October 19, 2013 at 12:58 am

Check out CrossRope.com. The first interchangeable jump rope!

32 Trevor November 22, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Jerred,

Love the squat rack!. I was looking at designs of these years back hoping to make one, but that never ended up happening.

I have a concept 2 in the basement of my house and like you said it wasn’t cheap, but they are awesome :).

- Trevor

33 Donny Shotwell December 8, 2013 at 2:02 am

Did the Jonathan Ames letter come yet? I signed up in January and that i genuinely definitely hope I didn’t miss it. Is there a way I’m able to study it if it did already come?

34 Darrell January 5, 2014 at 4:41 am

Thanks for the tip about the horse stall mats. I’ll definitely check those out.
I’ve got a fairly descent gym set up in my shop behind my house if I could just keep my wife from piling it up with boxes and other junk. Just about once a week I have to move something else out of my workout space.

35 John March 2, 2014 at 9:49 am

Great article, i was thinking of making a gym in my garage. This tips will help me, thanks!

36 Michelle March 3, 2014 at 10:01 am

Great Read, this is what we did with our garage!!

http://myjourneyrx.com/2014/03/03/how-to-build-an-epic-garage-gym/

37 james March 8, 2014 at 6:00 pm

I’ve always wanted to put together a home gym, never had the money or space to do it though. Definitely on my list of things to do when I finally buy a house though!

38 John April 18, 2014 at 8:22 pm

Great post! Is there a way to get a plan for the “A” frame?

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