In a time when the world is dealing with a pandemic, and many commercial gyms have shut down, interest in creating a gym at home has swelled. Whether working out at home is something you’ve been mulling over for a long time, or that you’ve just started to think about, this show will help you decide if and how to move forward on the idea.
My guest today is Cooper Mitchell, the founder of garagegymreviews.com, a website and social media community dedicated to reviewing personal gym equipment and inspiring people to work out at home.
Coop and I begin our conversation unpacking the many benefits of having a home gym, and also talk about one of its potential downsides. He then explains why it’s generally a big mistake to go all-in, all at once on a home gym, and how he recommends making the transition instead. We then get into exactly what the start-up costs for a home gym are, and how it’s likely less than you think. Coop shares specifics on what he thinks are the essential pieces of equipment to get, the cost breakdown on each, and the companies that manufacture solid equipment at an affordable price. We then turn to the issue of space, and Coop shares the minimum size footprint you’ll need for your gym, as well as solutions if you’re working with a very small area or live in an apartment. We end our conversation with suggestions for exercising even if you have no equipment at all.
If reading this in an email, click the title of the post to listen to the show.
- How CrossFit brought about the barbell revolution
- The numerous benefits of having a home gym vs. a commercial gym membership
- What are the downsides of a home gym?
- The biggest mistakes people make in starting a home gym
- Why you shouldn’t ditch your gym membership right away
- Specific costs of outfitting a beginner home gym
- The items to spend money on, and those you can get on the cheap
- Can any equipment be done DIY style?
- What’s the gimmicky equipment to avoid?
- How much space do you realistically need?
- Why you shouldn’t buy a treadmill
- Working out outdoors
- The future of home gyms
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- The Garage Gym Athlete
- The Pros and Cons of Commercial vs Garage Gyms
- How to Build a Home Gym on the Cheap
- Turning Your Garage Into a Home Gym
- How to Clean and De-Rust a Barbell
- How to Choose a Barbell
- Why Barbells Are Better Than Machines
- The History and Culture of CrossFit
- How to Instill a Love of Fitness in Your Kids
- Rogue Fitness
- CAP Barbell
- Fringe Sport
- DIY Plyometric Box
- PRx Folding Rack
Connect With Cooper
Garage Gym Reviews on Instagram
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Listen to the episode on a separate page.
Subscribe to the podcast in the media player of your choice.
Listen ad-free on Stitcher Premium; get a free month when you use code “manliness” at checkout.
Click here to see a full list of our podcast sponsors.
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. In a time when the world is dealing with a pandemic and many commercial gyms have shut down, interest in creating a gym at home has swelled. Whether working out at home is something you’ve been mulling over for a long time, or that you’ve just started to think about, this show will help you decide if and how to move forward on the idea. My guest today is Coop Mitchel, he’s the founder of garagegymreviews.com, a website and social media community dedicated to reviewing personal gym equipment and inspiring people to workout at home. Coop and I begin our conversation unpacking the many benefits of having a home gym and talk about one of its potential downside. He then explains why it’s generally a big mistake to go all in all at once on a home gym, and how he recommends making the transition instead.
We then get into exactly with the startup cost of a home gym are and how it’s likely less than you think. Coop shares specifics on what he thinks are the essential piece of equipment to get, cost breakdown on each and the companies that manufacture solid equipment at an affordable price. We then turn to the issue of space and Coop shares the minimum size footprint you’ll need for your gym, as well as solutions if you’re working with a very small area or live in an apartment. We end our conversation with suggestions for exercising even if you have no equipment at all. After the show is over, check out our show notes at aom.is/garagegym.
Coop Mitchel, welcome to the show.
Cooper Mitchell: Happy to be here, Brett. Thanks for having me.
Brett McKay: So you are the owner and proprietor of Garage Gym Reviews, the website, social media, accounts, Instagram, where you review gym equipment for your garage. How did you get started with this?
Cooper Mitchell: Yeah, so my dad had a garage gym growing up and it’s actually the house that I bought and live in now. So I have a garage gym in the same place my dad had a garage gym. He was a powerlifter. I started to train for hockey and basically fell in love with the training and started to get into competitive type of training environment, so like powerlifting, CrossFit that sort of thing. I realized I was paying 150 bucks or something to go to this gym that I didn’t love the equipment. The coaching was just okay and I realized, “Man, I actually have a tweet from 2012 or something, and it was like, if I only had a 1000 books I could build an incredible home gym.” Well, fast-forward, I asked… I think my wife, at the time she was my girlfriend, man, I asked her if I… For a basic setup to get started for Christmas and it was a squat rack, a Rogue SML-2 squat stand, a Rogue Ohio bar and some Rogue HG 2.0 bumper plates. That was the first thing. But I realized I’m very eccentric and I like to… I don’t do things halfway. So I was like, “I’ve gotta figure out a way how to get more of this stuff and how is that gonna happen, how can I make that happen?”
And I started doing research and I realized nobody’s really writing reviews or talking about gym equipment on the internet. Everybody’s talking about tech, doing reviews on phones, tools, that sort of thing but very few people were doing it, nobody was doing it really on home gym, starting home gym and the equipment involved in it. So I decided, “Okay, this is what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna create a WordPress blog. I’m gonna write basically my best articles, best reviews on products, be as honest as I can, and then I’m gonna send these to companies as my “Portfolio” to basically get products, so people would send me products and say, “Hey, I’ll write this review for you.”
Well, I started off by sending it to the biggest companies. I still have emails from big companies like Eleiko saying like, “What would we need you for?” Like, “No, we’re not sending you any product.” But I would get a couple of jump ropes or massage balls and things like that, and I was like, “Okay, this is awesome. I’ll just do my best work and maybe it’ll get better and better and better.” And over time it just grew. I’d write reviews and then I’d get another product or I’d buy a product, I’d write a review, we’d talk about on it Instagram, started a YouTube channel and the YouTube channel kinda blew up. Started the website, started putting more money into the website and creating a community around it, and then started a Facebook group. The Facebook group started blowing up and growing and just over time, it just kinda like a mass to this point that now we just help people not only find equipment but also be inspired to start a home gym, help them find the training they need for their home gym and everything around it. But honestly, my goal in the beginning, I’d love to say it was just to help people and I just wanted to really do the right thing and help people, but in reality, I just wanted a garage full of gym equipment. And over time, that grew to the point what I can help people now and I could provide a lot of advice on the equipment that’s out there.
Brett McKay: Does Eleiko now send you stuff?
Cooper Mitchell: Yeah, yeah, yeah, [chuckle] it’s kinda funny. We actually did a video recently where they came out with a new spinning dumbbell and we dropped it off a 75-foot parking garage, ’cause they were trying to prove like, “Although it spins, it’s also incredibly durable.” And they had this awesome marketing video where they were dropping it off all these things and they edited this video where they dropped it off a building and I would message them. I was like, “There’s no way you dropped that off the building.” They’re like, “Yes, we did.” I was like, “How about we recreate that?” So they sent the dumbbell, we dropped it off the parking garage and everything ended up okay, it’s pretty cool.
Brett McKay: And for those who aren’t familiar, Eleiko is like this… They make high-end competitive weights, steel weights that are really expensive.
Cooper Mitchell: Yeah, yeah, so they make… The most expensive barbells, they’re basically like the Ferrari of gym equipment. So the barbells that you see on the platforms for the Olympic trials or on the Olympic stage are often Eleiko, same with bumper plates, everything like that, very expensive, very high-end and good quality, yeah.
Brett McKay: Alright, so right now we’re in the middle of the COVID pandemic and we’re talking before the show, the interest in garage gyms has skyrocketed because gyms across the country are shutting down to encourage social distancing. So besides social distancing in the time of a pandemic, what are the other benefits of a home gym?
Cooper Mitchell: Yeah, so I like home gyms because there’s no excuse for not working out. I’m trying to remove as many barriers to me reaching my goals, and I think other people should as well. So in some regards, it’s like I’m kind of… I recognize the areas in which I’m lazy, and one of the areas in which I’m lazy is I don’t really like to leave my home. I have an office at my home, I like hanging out with my kids in my home. That’s where I spend most of my time, and I think most people are that way. So why would I have a membership where I have to drive somewhere and have to be around people that I don’t know or don’t necessarily like, I’ve gotta pay to use it, they have bad equipment, I don’t get to choose the equipment I gotta use, I gotta wait for somebody else to use it, when I could build a basic setup that’s gonna accomplish 90% of the training I need to do for under 1500, 2000 bucks? So one of the greatest benefits, I think, is you’re saving time and by saving time, you’re saving money, right? So you’re saving time in the fact that you’re not having to drive somewhere.
You’re saving time in the fact that you get to get through the most efficient workout you can because you’re not having to wait on people. You’re saving money because… I know you’ve had Mr. Money Mustache on the podcast and he talks about this all the time, but you’re not having to spend the resources to go somewhere which involves getting in your car, and you’ve got car maintenance, you got gas, you also got the opportunity costs that are associated with spending time in the car when you could be spending that time on working out.
So you’re adding on average, most people, around 15 to 30 to an hour of extra time that you could be spending just on working out and then at home but you’re having to go to the gym. So one of the big benefits I think is not wasting time, not wasting money, and also it’s always there. So the home gym is always calling your name, you walk by it all the time. If it’s in a separate room or if it’s in a basement or garage, it’s right there, so everytime you walk by, it’s calling out to you, “Hey, you can improve,” “Hey, you can become better,” “Hey, come and get a workout in.” You don’t have an excuse. No longer can you say… Like right now with COVID going on, people are saying, “I can’t go to the gym.” That’s a great excuse for people to make because they literally can’t, but it’s not a good excuse if you have this set up at home. And here’s the thing, you’re never really gym-less. You can always work out at home. There’s always something you can do at home. There’s some movement you can do. But having the tools in your toolbox in order for you to accomplish your physical goals is a great way to accomplish them and I think a huge benefit to having a gym.
Brett McKay: Well, that point you made about, it removes the friction out of working out, there’s no longer an excuse. Whenever we had guests on the podcast to talk about how to form good habits, that’s one of the key things they talk about is make it as easy as possible for you to do the thing. And by having the gym right in your home, you’ve made it as easy as possible for you to go to the gym.
Cooper Mitchell: Oh, without a doubt. Yeah, yeah, you’re removing those barriers to entries. I know Duhigg has talked about that in Power of Habit. Atomic Habits, they talk about that. Removing the barriers to entry in order for you to progress, move forward, you have to recognize your limitations in the way in which you’re lazy, and I think having a home gym helps you achieve that. And the thing is it doesn’t have to cost as much as people think. I think that’s this barrier in people’s mind is like, “I can’t afford it, I can’t afford it. I can afford payments, but I can’t afford a gym.” When in reality, I think a better idea to look at it would be cancel your gym membership now, do body weight work while you save the money you would be spending on your membership for a year or so, you can be just as healthy doing that, and then buy a home gym, and I think you’d be much better off. You’d have an asset that you could sell later on if you wanted, and you’re not paying the man, you’re not paying a membership, you’re not financing your gym habit, it’s at your house.
Brett McKay: And we’ll talk about the startup cost for a home gym here in a bit. But another benefit that I found of having a home gym and you talked about this a little bit, too, in your answers is that you get to customize what you have in your gym. I know when I worked out in a gym, that was one of the more frustrating things, like there was a piece of equipment that I wanted to use but they didn’t have, so I couldn’t do it. Or they wouldn’t allow certain exercises, right? They wouldn’t allow like Olympic lifts or powerlifting. So if you wanted to do that, you couldn’t do it, but at a home gym, you can.
Cooper Mitchell: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, you can do any type of training in your home gym. It’s really only limited to the equipment that you buy, so your budget and also your creativity. So here’s the thing, there are more companies today selling gym equipment than there was at any time in history and the reason is largely thanks to CrossFit, which created the barbell revolution, which then created this functional movement. So less machines, less machines, they take up less space, they cost less, so you can have more in your garage gym or your home gym. And then beyond that, it spurred this home gym revolution where now all these people, they’re breaking free from their memberships and they’re customizing their gym to their training style. So, if like you, you like to do powerlift or strength lift, I know you follow Barbell Logic. That type of training, you mostly squat, deadlift bench, overhead press, and you have some accessory work. It’s all centered around a squat rack, a platform, a barbell, and some weights and a flat bench. That’s a pretty basic setup. You don’t need all the things that you would pay for at a membership gym. You don’t need a cable curl machine. You don’t need a preacher curl machine. You don’t need a ham curl.
All these isolating movements, you don’t need that to get strong. What you need is willpower and some basic tools. And so you can buy whatever level of quality that you can afford or want to. So if you wanna buy a barbell with volcano-type knurling, that’s 200k tensile strength steel nuts are super stiff, and put it on a rack with three by three inch uprights with one inch holes that are just massive, you can do that, but you could also get away with just buying a super simple setup. It just depends on how you’re training. And that’s not limited to just people that do basic training because there’s a lot of people that body build and do that type of training in their gym, they just get unique with the way that they come up with their movement. So they’re building… Like we just posted two days ago, a DIY cable setup on YouTube. So, for 25 bucks you can build a lat pulldown that attaches to your rack, you can build all that stuff so you can accomplish what you want to, but yeah, it all depends on your goals and what type of training and you can create that in your own home.
Brett McKay: And another benefit you tout on your Instagram page a lot is that a garage gym, if you have kids, you have a family, it allows you to spend time with your family while you’re working out. So before, if you’re going to the gym, that wasn’t time you were seeing our kids. Now with the gym in your house, you can actually do this stuff with them and foster a culture of physical activity in your family.
Cooper Mitchell: Yeah, certainly. Yeah, I mean, I wanna live… I’m a father, I’ve got two kids, I’ve got a one-year-old and a soon to be three-year-old. I’m a husband. I’m sure a lot of you people listening are similar to that. And my main goal in life at the top of my hierarchy of priorities is not fitness, it’s a little bit down the list, but what is high up there are my kids and my wife and I wanna make sure they know that I care for them, that I love them and I don’t wanna just tell them what to do, I want to show them what to do. So it’s a leading from the front type of feeling. So, I don’t want them to get older and me tell them, “Hey, you should work out.” When they’ve never seen me put an effort, they’d never seen me work out whereas now, my kids are gonna grow up just being around it just like I did. They’re just gonna grow up being around it, getting used to it. Hey, mom and dad work out in the garage. It’s a part of our lifestyle, we hang out there. It’s not like I… “Oh, I have to go to the gym today and get this workout. I don’t complain about it, I enjoy it and they’re a part of it.”
So my son, I’ve got like a 3-pound kettlebell. He’ll come out there and do a couple of swings. I’ve got these little cute two-pound dumbbells, he’ll come out and do some deadlifts. He’s like, “Look, Dad, I’m exercising,” and it’s just awesome to see and it just allows me to have more quality time with them. I don’t want… I believe that it’s not just quality that matters, it’s quantity. And so, I wanna spend as much time with them as possible and if that’s the case, then why not bring my workouts home? It’s not like they’re bugging me, I do a set, and then I hang out with them, it’s not too difficult. So yeah, for being a better father, being a better mother, I think a home gym, I think it’s one of the best things you can do because you’re taking that time that you would be spending hours at the gym you’re now spending with your kids in an environment that’s healthy for you and healthy for them.
Brett McKay: Alright, so we’ve been touting the benefits of garage gyms, home gyms, so it saves you time, save you money, removes the friction from exercise, you can customize your gym how you want it to be and it helps your family and social distancing. What are the downsides of a home gym?
Cooper Mitchell: Yeah, so here’s some of the downsides. One of the downsides that I think a lot of people don’t think about because they’ll see we post on Instagram like Cool gym setups. And so it’s exciting. They get excited about having these things but they forget that oftentimes you’re working out alone. Now you don’t have to work out alone, but I think a lot of home gym owners, they end up spending a lot of their time working out is by themselves, okay? I always suggest inviting people over, inviting your neighbors, friends, training partners, all that kind of thing is gonna help you but a lot of the time, you may be in there alone. So what that means is if you’re used to going to a crossfit gym or any type of group exercise program, where you’re motivated by the other people you’re training against or motivated by Larry who’s on the cable machine, he’s got big biceps and he looks over you because he likes the movement you’re doing and he thinks you’re looking swell or whatever. If that kinda stuff motivates you, you’re not gonna get as much of that in the home gym.
I think there’s a disadvantage there where it’s less motivating and it’s harder to do, because there aren’t people watching and it can also often be cold or hot depending on if you have your gym climate control, if it’s in a garage, a shed, outdoors, things like that. But on the flip side, it has benefits to it, because you’re doing… I know this is something you talk about, Teddy talks about this, voluntary hardship, so you’re voluntarily doing something that’s harder than I think you would ordinarily do. It’s harder to work out by yourself, it’s harder to work out alone, it’s harder to have that motivation but because you’re doing that, you’re not only increasing your physical strength, you’re also increasing your mental strength. So I think one of the biggest disadvantages to home gym is you are working out by yourself and you have to motivate yourself. But I think if you spend it properly, it can be a very good thing. And a lot of people, to be honest, they like spending time alone, so it’s not a big deal.
Brett McKay: Alright, so let’s talk about starting a home gym. One, you’ve been doing this for a while and you’ve seen people start home gyms in themselves and you probably get lots of questions. What are the biggest mistakes you see people make when they start a garage gym or home gym?
Cooper Mitchell: Yeah, I think the biggest mistake is spending just inordinate amount of money from the very beginning. Just going over the top and just buying as much as they can, buying it all at once because they think they’re gonna enjoy it. I like the idea of just dipping your toe in the water, trying to decide if it’s something you’re actually gonna stick to and like, and then making your purchases. If you’re just gonna stay at a commercial gym, never work out at home, if you were spotty at working out at commercial gym, chances are you’re probably gonna be spotty working out of your home gym, too. So don’t also make a bad financial decision by buying all this equipment just because you want your garage or your home to look cool wherever your gym is. So, I would suggest trying going out in your garage or wherever you’re gonna work out and just doing some body weight stuff, buying some basic stuff like a pull-up bar or some dumbbells or something, and just getting used to working out on your own while you have your commercial gym membership, and then once you’ve decided, “Hey, I’ve got the mental fortitude to make this happen. Hey, this is something I enjoy. Hey, I’ve got the money to make it happen.” Then drop in some money in building your home gym.
Brett McKay: I think that’s one of the biggest mistakes I see, just people spending too much from the beginning. However, there’s also the flip side of that and that is, because this equipment is so heavy, it costs a lot to ship, oftentimes. So, I’m kind of the opinion, dip your toe in the water, decide that you like to do it and then buy the equipment you want to make it happen because if you just buy a little bit at a time, you’re gonna be paying extra for shipping whereas if you buy, say, if you got a Rogue Fitness or Rep Fitness or some of these other companies, if you buy a rack or a certain amount of weight, oftentimes, they allow it to ship for free. So then, you can also throw on your plates, your bar. I mean, we’re talking about thousands of pounds worth of equipment and you can end up getting shipping for free whereas if you did it separately, you’d probably pay an extra $500 to $1000 just to have it shipped to your door.
What’s that saying about crying once, cry twice, whatever?
Cooper Mitchell: Buy once, cry once. Yeah, buy once, cry once. So if you buy right the first time, your wife slaps you once, right? So if you buy right the first time, you won’t have to continually go back and upgrade or sell stuff on Craigslist or have stuff break and you have to buy something new. If you buy right the first time, you’re not gonna have to do it again, you’re gonna have a better, more enjoyable experience, you’re gonna like using your space. That’s something… That’s another mistake is people not making a space that they enjoy to go to. You should make your gym a space that draws you, that you wanna spend time in. So some people, they like, it’s not a home gym unless it’s grungy and there’s rust and shock everywhere and dirt on the floor. Well, personally, I don’t like going to places like that. I like order and I like it to be kind of clean, I like it to be bright so I can see what I’m doing. So I try to make my space accordingly so that I spend more time there. Whatever helps you spend more time there, I think is gonna be beneficial.
Brett McKay: Alright, so the big mistake, don’t go all in right at the beginning. And then also you made, I think, an interesting point. Don’t cancel your gym membership right away if you’re thinking about doing this, sort of transition there.
Cooper Mitchell: Yeah, definitely. So Dave Tate, he owns Elite FTS, he’s a powerlifting coach. He used to train at Westside Barbell which is the strongest gym in the world. He has a suggestion which I really like and that is just do some of your accessory work at home. So if you’re on a training program, let’s say, you’re powerlifting and you want to… You have weak hamstrings or weak quads or whatever and you wanna bring those up, or you have weak abs, let’s say, then buy an ab roller and use that at home for your accessory work, just dip your toes in a little bit at a time, and then after you’ve decided “Okay, I really wanna do this.” You can build up over time. I think, canceling your gym membership and going cold turkey, that’s difficult for a lot of people. There are people that can do that. And if you can do that, you know you can do that because you do that in other things. But there’s a reason [22:40] ____ is out there, it’s because people like… They need to slowly wean off, they need to slowly change. So I think, keeping your commercial gym membership and also having a home gym, building it up over time, I think that’s a smart decision.
Brett McKay: Yeah, that’s what I do when I started a home gym, I kept my gym membership and eventually phased out of it once I realized that, “Yeah, the home gym is what I would be doing.”
Cooper Mitchell: Yeah, yeah, I think it’s what most people find themselves doing. When you built your home gym, did you buy it all at once or did you kind of just get some basic items slowly?
Brett McKay: No, I got the basic setup. So, squat rack, barbell, plates, that was it.
Cooper Mitchell: Great, and that’s probably kind of what you have now. Do you have anything additional to that?
Brett McKay: I’ve added some barbells like some specialty barbells. We can talk about that when we talk about what do you do beyond the basics but it’s pretty much the same, not much. I’ve added a platform that I DIY-ed but that’s it. It’s the same setup for the most part.
Cooper Mitchell: Yeah, I think that’s how most people are. You realize like, “Wow, I go to the gym and there’s 500 machines. Well, it turns out I only really use 10 of them or five of them.” It’s like, “I don’t need all these extra stuff.” And that’s where you can save money and have a home gym that’s like a minimalist or a budget style.
Brett McKay: Alright. So let’s start. All those listeners are probably thinking… If people think of garage, they’re probably thinking cost. You say you can save some money doesn’t really… It isn’t that expensive to start a gym. What are the startup cost for starting a home gym?
Cooper Mitchell: Yeah, so one, it depends on your training and on your goals. I would say, first, outline what your goals are. Is it to lose weight? Well, you probably don’t need as much strength equipment, if you’re trying to lose weight. Are you training for a marathon? That sort of thing. So first, dial in your goals. Once you have your goals lined out and the style of training, then you can decide your essentials. But this is what I think the essentials for most people are. I think most people should have a squat rack. The reason you should have a squat rack is because one, it allows you to lift safely. Two, it allows you to do some of the most beneficial movements in history, which is like a back squat and overhead press, a bench, those sorts of things and it also allows you to do pull-ups. So it’s another place that you can do pull-ups. The squat rack is where a lot of your training is gonna happen.
So you can buy a squat rack. You can get squat racks that… Honestly, I would recommend as cheap as $300, $200. In addition to that, I think you want a nice barbell, a nice Olympic barbell. Because of the increase in barbell training, they’re much cheaper today. So you can get a high quality, made in the USA barbell for around $250. If you don’t want a made in the USA barbell, you can get them on Amazon for around $150 or $200 and it’d still be quality. In addition to that, I think you should have a bench. A bench allows you want a place to flat bench. It also allows you a place to do dumbbell rows and shoulder presses and sit on in between sets, that sort of thing. You can buy an AmazonBasics bench that we reviewed and honestly, it can hold up to 600 plus pound benches for $50 shipped to your door.
Okay, so, super cheap. And then, in addition to that, I think you want some weight plates. So you want some weight plates to go on your Olympic bar. Weight plates, you can get iron or you can get bumper plates for most people who aren’t doing Olympic lifts, they’re not doing clean and jerks and snatches. What they’re doing is they’re doing squat, deadlift bench, overhead press, and some rows and landmine, some other like ancillary lifts. I think you’re fine getting iron. And honestly, I would suggest most people looking on Facebook marketplace or Craigslist for iron plates because iron is iron. Yeah, they can ship and break over time, but most of the time, they’re gonna weigh what they do today the same that they weighed 10 years ago. They may be a little bit heavier because they’ve had some shock on them and some blood. Other than that, I mean, they’re pretty much the same type of thing. So, I suggest looking on Craigslist for iron plates, getting a set that is a little bit more than your max lifts so that you have something to shoot for, and then as you get stronger, you can buy more plates. So I suggest buying iron plates, looking for iron plates for about 50 cents a pound on Craigslist. And then if you wanna do addition to that, there’s a lot of other things you can buy like dumbbells, incline benches, all those sorts of things. But I think in the beginning what you need is a squat rack, a barbell, a flat bench and Olympic plates.
Brett McKay: And you actually, you wrote an article or was that a guest post last year about how to build a home gym on the cheap and you lay out exactly what you can get for a basic gym setup and it costs about $850, which I mean if you do the math, like most gyms they cost what $59 to $79 a month, I mean, in a year-and-a-half, you would have paid for that by quitting the gym and just buying the stuff, working out from home.
Cooper Mitchell: Oh, without a doubt. And that’s just… What I like to get across people is that just factoring in the cost that you hand over to the gym owner, right? That doesn’t include the cost of the fast food that you often buy when you’re going home because you feel good about yourself, you did this work so I might as well stop in here real quick and get some food or the protein shakes that you buy at the gym or the extra equipment that you have to buy to use at the gym or the time you have to spend to drive there or the money you have to spend for the gasoline in your car, the car maintenance all those sorts of things. So, although, like an average gym membership is around that cost that doesn’t include everything else that people don’t think about. So in reality, you can end up paying for your gym without losing money and probably about nine months worth of gym membership. You can have a full setup of a home gym, and if you buy right you’re gonna buy things that you can resell later on if you don’t like it or if you wanna upgrade.
Brett McKay: So there’s lots of… As you said, there’s lots of companies out there making gym equipment for the home, like five years ago, there wasn’t this many. For someone who’s budget-conscious, say, they can’t drop thousands of dollars to build a home gym. What specific companies do you recommend they check out to find quality affordable gym equipment?
Cooper Mitchell: Yeah, so I suggest a few items that they spend money on. And then other things don’t matter as much. So, a barbell, I think is really something that you should buy that’s quality, you should save up for something that’s quality. Thankfully, today, that doesn’t mean thousands of dollars, like I said earlier, you can get a made in USA barbell from Rogue Fitness who I would often suggest for barbells. You can get a Rogue Ohio bar or a Rogue Ohio power bar or a Rogue bar 2.0, those are all of the best Olympic bars, best value powerlifting bars that we often suggest. You can get those for around 250 bucks shipped to your door. That’s a company I would suggest looking for barbells. For squat racks and that sort of thing I would suggest looking at Rep Fitness, FringeSport, or Titan Fitness, not because I don’t like Rogue Fitness for those things, but I think you can get a Chinese-made rack and it’s gonna get you pretty much a long way there and it’s gonna be safe in work and everything like that but it’s gonna be a lot cheaper.
So Titan Fitness, FringeSport, Rep fitness for that sort of thing. Plates, same thing. So I would actually suggest if you want iron plates CAP Barbell on Amazon, that’s a cheap company that makes… They’ve been making standard barbell iron plates for decades, okay. The design hasn’t changed, there’s not really much innovation to happen with a 45-pound plate of steel. I would look to CAP Barbell on Amazon or some of those other companies for those and then benches, again, Rep fitness, Titan Fitness, FringeSport, Bells of Steel is another company. If you wanna go to a higher end, you can go to some of those like Rogue Fitness, Sorinex, Eleiko, Prime Fitness, those sorts of companies. But I think for most people, those lower cost options for those items, I would look to like a Titan fitness, Rep Fitness, FringeSport, Bells of Steel those sorts of companies for those items.
Brett McKay: When I started my garage gym, it was pretty much all FringeSport, I got introduced to them via Atomic Athlete, they’re based in Austin and FringeSport, Pete, the owner of it is also based on Austin. That’s how I got introduced, got my rack, it was no frills but it kept me safe. I had hit lots of PRs on it, it worked. Barbell, I used great, I got the rubber plates from them as well, still using those. It’s been five years, fantastic.
Cooper Mitchell: Oh, that’s… The thing is, to be honest, a lot of the upgrading that happens, is it because you necessarily need it? It’s like a car, for instance. Most people that drive jeeps, they’re not going off-road with them. They just like them because they look cool, they can take the top off, that sort of thing. It’s the same thing for gym equipment. The more you spend, the benefits that’s gonna come from it, it’s not gonna be as much as going from a $5-barbell to a $100-barbell, right? So if you wanna spend more money and you want those features, they’re cool to have and they can be helpful, and you like looking at them and they feel better, they may be able to hold a little bit more weight. But to be honest, squat racks, most of them are 2×3 or 3×3 uprights, made of 11-gauge steel with some holes in them. There’s really not that much variance between them so you can buy something cheap and honestly, get away with it for the rest of your life and upgrade if you want to. I just know most people, they like to have nicer things, they like to have things they can show off, and things that they can enjoy using more so they’ll end up spending more money, but you don’t have to. It’s not a need, it’s just a want.
Brett McKay: Well, I upgraded my squat rack recently. And the only reason I upgraded was ’cause my… Reynolds, my barbell coach, had started having me do stuff with bands as weightlifting. So I needed pegs where I could loop the bands through and then put them on the barbell. And I couldn’t do that with the French sport rack. So now I have the rep rack and it’s fantastic. I like it a lot, it’s awesome. And I gave the rep, my French rack to a buddy and he’s still using it.
Cooper Mitchell: Oh, yeah. And the thing is you got that rack because you wanted to use band pegs. But the fact of the matter is you could get by not doing banded lifts or you could get heavy dumbbells and secure the bands to the heavy dumbbells, and then secure them to the bar if you really wanted to. So it’s just like you don’t have to do those things. They add nice, convenience features but really a home gym, you’re limited to your creativity less than you are to your budget.
Brett McKay: I was actually using dumbbells for a while, and it was getting annoying having to do that so I went for the pegs.
Cooper Mitchell: Yeah, band pegs are definitely helpful, more secure.
Brett McKay: Alright, so you don’t have to spend a lot, 850 bucks, that’s less than an iPhone. Well, here’s a question. You mentioned a lot of these brands like affordable brands; Fringe, Titan, Rep; they’re made in China. Are they seeing issues with the COVID thing disrupting supply chains, etcetera?
Cooper Mitchell: Oh, without a doubt, yeah. So pretty much… I mean, all of these companies are importing some form of equipment like Rogue Fitness, for instance, the bumper plates they’re selling, they’re made in China. Nobody really in the US is making bumper plates due to the working conditions required to make them. So all of these companies, all these home gym companies or just gym equipment companies, in general, they’re gonna be feeling some sort of heat. So they’ve got orders probably that in China, they’re not shipping, they’re not being made as quickly, they’re sitting on the shores because they’ve had… China’s had quarantines out for a while. So there is going to be a stock issue, especially with how much demand is happening. Home gyms right now in March 2020, more people are buying gym equipment than really any other time of the year except for maybe Black Friday.
So it’s basically a Black Friday in March. But the issue is there’s more limited stock because there’s difficulty getting it into the country. So if you’re gonna start a home gym, right now, if you wanna start one, it’s probably best to order now. And I’m not saying that ’cause I’m just trying to get you to buy stuff. I’m saying that because if you want one, you may not be out of luck on a lot of items because we’re already seeing a lot of bumper plates and bars and racks that are coming from China, they’re already going out of stock because companies, they didn’t foresee this happening. Who did, right? They didn’t foresee this happening, so they don’t have a stock to keep up with the demand.
Brett McKay: So we mentioned stuff, you can buy affordable gym equipment. You, on the site, and on your Instagram page, you talk a lot about DIY equipment. Is there any stuff that you recommend that people build themselves that they can get away with and use?
Cooper Mitchell: Yeah, I think anything that you see that’s fun or adds an extra movement to your training, you should try and make a DIY version of it, see how you like it before you buy one. So for example, some cheap ones that are off the top of my head, a slam ball, okay? A slam ball or an Atlas stone, you can make a 100-pound slam ball using a 16-inch four square ball. So we’ve got DIY instructions for all this stuff on the website. But if you have a four square ball, you can buy off Amazon, 16 inches for maybe like, I don’t know, 12 bucks or something. You can fill it with 100 pounds of sand, use a tire repair kit to repair the hole. You can wrap it in duck tape if you want. You got a 100-pound bag of sand, there’s a lot of stuff you can do with that. Another one is a cable pulley system. You can make a cable pulley system with a simple pulley, some cable, some 1/8 inch cable, and a plate post that you make out of black iron with a pipe flange on it. There you go, you have a DIY plate post.
An axle bar, that’s another one. You can get a Schedule 40 pipe from Home Depot. Get some flanges, some plastic like two flanges to basically be your Olympic sleeve collars, and then you have an axle bar. Things like that, I think, are great to build. There’s all sorts of stuff I would suggest building for storing items, like storing your dumbbells. Most people shouldn’t buy things to store items. They can just make them out of wood or things like that. And you can have fun time doing it as well. Chop your wood and it will warm you twice. So those sorts of things are things that I would suggest making. I wouldn’t suggest most people making a squat rack, although, we do have DIY options for that. I just think the safety there, you’re better off buying one and they’re cheaper.
Brett McKay: I’ve seen some pretty nice DIY squat racks made of wood on your Instagram page.
Cooper Mitchell: Oh, yeah. They’re cool. The issue is, what happens is those holes that are used for the J-cups and the spotter arms, if enough weight is put on there, they end up getting loose and that bar can end up falling off. I feel safe in a wooden squat rack. It’s just the amount of lumber required to make a power rack that’s safe, you could get a squat stand delivered to your door for not much more.
Brett McKay: Are there any piece of gym equipment you think are just gimmicky that you think people should just skip?
Cooper Mitchell: Oh, there’s so many people trying to capitalize on this market that they come out with stuff that’s completely you don’t need so I wouldn’t fall into it. You have the obvious ones like Shake Weight and some of those other As Seen On TV type pieces of gym equipment that obviously I would avoid. I think anything that I wouldn’t categorize as an essential could be seen as a fad. So there’s a couple of things like lever arms or jammer arms. Personally, I like jammer arms, they are these arms that attach to the front of the rack and allow you to do these movements, similar to a landmine. They work well, the difficulty is most people should not be buying those until they have a full-on-squat rack barbell and all the other basics. And then even then there’s other attachments they should buy. So I would be weary… I wouldn’t say there’s so much fads, but I’d be weary spending a lot of money on things like belt squats, jammer arms, monolift attachments, different things that attach to your rack, because you’re probably not gonna use them as much as the other things and your money is better spent on buying a nicer barbell, a nicer squat rack, that sort of thing. Once you have those laid out, then you can go after the more fun, cool, fad type stuff.
Brett McKay: And that’s what I’ve done with… I haven’t had really fad stuffs, but over the years I’ve added specialty barbells whenever my training has, not necessitated, but it would be nice to have, so now I have a deadlift bar. So it’s a little bit longer, so it has more bend to it. I’ve added a curl bar. What do you call the thing that’s like the curly cute looking thing?
Cooper Mitchell: Yeah, the E-Z curl bar?
Brett McKay: I got an E-Z curl bar now. I’ve added the Duffalo bar.
Cooper Mitchell: That’s a good bar.
Brett McKay: It’s really nice, it’s great for squatting. Whenever my bicep tendonitis flares up, it kind of takes some pressure off the elbows and I got a safety bar. It’s that thing where you got the handles there. I also have that and that’s pretty much all I’ve added. I’ve also added a… What else have I added? The box squat thing? So I’ve added that and again when I buy this stuff, I try to find affordable options. So the box squat, I got from some website in New York. I don’t know the name of the company. But their website, it looked like it was built in 1995.
Cooper Mitchell: New York Barbells.
Brett McKay: New York Barbells. I love that, I got it from there. It was super affordable. I love their website because they haven’t changed at all and it works great. It was a lot cheaper and a lot… It weighed less than the rogue version so shipping was less, too.
Cooper Mitchell: Oh, without a doubt, yeah, things like that. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on, cause you’re just looking for a place that you can sit down on. There’s not a lot of safety involved. I mean it’s just a square box. So spending as little money as possible on those things, that’s super smart. I have the Rogue Squat Box, and to be honest it’s pretty annoying, because it’s so big and heavy, you don’t want it moving around. You’re gonna get an injury trying to deadlift that thing and move it around. So yeah, I think cheaper items like that is a great idea. And there’s so many smaller companies out there now where I mentioned some companies, and there’s just hundreds of others that are selling either one-off products, or have specialty stuff like you’ve mentioned The Duffalo Bar. Kabuki Strength are making some of the best specialty bars in the world. That’s another great option. But really, that’s after you’ve decided like you did like, “I’ve committed to this. I really enjoy it. This is a great part of my life. I want to add some items. Let me start buying these specialty bars.” That can increase your experience, hit your body a little bit differently. But in reality, you could probably get by and get just as strong and fit using a barbell.
Brett McKay: Yeah, it took me about three years before I started buying specialty barbells.
Cooper Mitchell: Yep, yep, that’s it. I mean, that’s more than most people. Most people, it’s like a couple of months, six months, they’re buying them. By that time, after three years, you know you’re committed. And yeah, there’s no reason or no issue buying a bunch of extra stuff.
Brett McKay: Alright, so, let’s talk about another issue that people might have. So we’ve solved the money problem. Isn’t it expensive? $850, you’re paying that a year at the gym. What about space?
Cooper Mitchell: Yeah, so here’s what I’d like to say is the more space you have, that’s the more options you have to train but you don’t have to necessarily have a ton of space. So I’ve got a friend, his name’s Jon Call. His Instagram name is Jujimufu. He’s got a few million followers on Instagram. One of the reasons he got popular in the beginning was because he was working out in his kitchen. So he literally off the dining room… He lived in an apartment, off the dining room, right behind his dining room table, he had a squat rack. And that’s where he stored all of his stuff, it’s where he did all of his workouts, and he has a 650-pound deadlift. So, he got really strong in a very small space. Honestly, really, the amount of space you need is about a 9 x 9 room.
You need 9 x 9 because a barbell is about seven feet long, you need about a foot on each side to put plates on and you need some room out in front of the rack to work. Other than that, you’ll probably want height, depending if you’re doing overhead press. You can do a short ceiling room, you just can’t stand up and do overhead press, you have to sit down for it. But I think in a small room if you have an apartment or things like that, there’s also options that allow you to fold things up into the wall. So there’s a company called PRx Performance based out of Fargo, North Dakota and they have these racks that fold up four inches, they stick four inches off the wall when they’re folded up. And then you can fold them down to use them. So if you have a garage that you like to park in, you just fold it up, it’s got shocks on it. It helps you fold it up, sticks up against the wall. You can park your car when you’re ready to use it, pull your car out, pull the rack down, you’re ready to go.
So I would say having about a 9 x 9 room and buying essentials again, buy a squat rack, buy a barbell, buy plates, buy a bench. You can get extra stuff as you have more space or as you have more money, but you’re gonna get just a fine workout in there. For cardio, that’s something I haven’t really hit on yet. Most home gym owners, they don’t have a lot of cardio pieces, you can have things like air bikes, rowers, treadmills. However, those all take up quite a bit of space. When most people you can just go outside and hit hill sprints or go for a run, do a jump rope, things like that. That’s what I would start with and then if you wanna add some things like an air bike, a rower, go for it. I would suggest that most people don’t buy treadmills because they take up a lot of space, they’re expensive and they absolutely suck to work on, they break all the time. If you go to a commercial gym, they have a maintenance man there on staff, I guarantee you whose sole job is to fix treadmills, they break down that much.
Brett McKay: So you mentioned Jimunjifu was that…
Cooper Mitchell: Jujimufu.
Brett McKay: He’s the guy, the really buff guy that does backflips.
Cooper Mitchell: Yeah, and he does splits on chairs with barbells over his head, things like that.
Brett McKay: This is what happens in the age of Instagram. [chuckle] So, he did this in an apartment. What if you live on the second floor of an apartment? Can you barbell lift there or is the deadlift bar gonna go through the ceiling, through the floor?
Cooper Mitchell: No, no, most… You gotta understand, the way that, at least in America, the way that buildings are coded, they have to stand up to a lot of weight, so although if you’re on a second floor I probably would suggest dropping a barbell overhead, I don’t think you’re gonna have much of a problem doing deadlifts. And also, there’s lots of platforms available or different rubber tiles that can suppress the sound and the vibration. We actually have a DIY one we posted on Instagram not too long ago of basically using carpet pads to create these different layers of a platform, so if you drop the bar, it’s not making a ton of noise, shaking the house, bugging your neighbors, that sort of thing. But I see it all the time. People have gyms in their second floor of their apartment and they’re just doing squat, deadlift, bench, that sort of thing, some basic barbell exercises. As long as you’re setting the weight down gently and you’re not squatting over 1000 pounds, I think you’re gonna be fine.
Brett McKay: And if worst comes to worst, say, if you don’t have the budget for $850, your space is limited, or your apartment doesn’t allow you to have barbells on the second floor you can get away with, and you’ve written about this stuff on your site, a kettlebell, some rings you hang up in your doorway, some bands, there’s things you can do and have a garage or a home gym, and get a great workout without having to have a full setup.
Cooper Mitchell: Oh, without a doubt. I think the best minimalist gym options… There are guys that do calisthenics, bodyweight type training that are incredibly strong, have incredibly good body control, and have amazing physiques, would honestly… They would, in many regards, would look better than many bodybuilders. So, I don’t think you have to have a ton of stuff. You can get by with Olympic rings like you mentioned. I love Olympic rings. There’s a lot of things you can do with those, pull-ups, muscle-ups, levers, all different sorts of upper weight body stuff, and then you can get by with kettlebells for lower body doing swings. You could have a single kettlebell and some Olympic rings and get incredibly strong, incredibly fit.
You can also just go outside and lift things. I know that’s kind of hard for some people to view but a lot of our ancestors, they didn’t get strong by having a climate-controlled gym in their garage. They went outside and they were working in the fields, they were lifting railroad ties, they were doing all of this manual labor to get strong and you can do the same thing. Go pick up a big rock, go pick up some logs, go move some, I don’t know, hay bales, whatever. You can get fit and strong without doing the conventional way of going into a box gym and working out. And I think that’s what home gym owners are starting to realize is I don’t have to bring the whole gym into my home, I can bring some things into my home, and then the rest of the time maybe I’ll go outside and go for a hike and lift things outside and enjoy nature.
Brett McKay: You can still hike even in the age of COVID.
Cooper Mitchell: Exactly, yeah, you can hike and bike. Nobody’s quarantining you there yet.
Brett McKay: I learned shelter in place, you’re hearing this phrase. I was like what does that mean when you’re stuck… You can still go outside for exercise, you just gotta stay six feet away from people.
Cooper Mitchell: Exactly, exactly, yeah. So, go for a hike, go down to the river, go for a bike ride, those sorts of things. Those are now open to you right outside of your gym door.
Brett McKay: So, what do you think the future of home gyms is gonna look like? I mean, I think this thing or this moment right now, I think it’s gonna cause a change.
Cooper Mitchell: Oh, without a doubt. This one is super fun. We’ve seen the rise of companies like Peloton. Peloton now, they basically brought a Spin Cycle class into your home. If you haven’t used the Peloton and you like spin classes, you’ve gotta try one. They are amazing. You literally feel like you’re there live in the class, but you can be wearing your pajamas, doing it at home, okay. But I think companies are starting to take that idea and do it for other types of equipment as well. So, there’s a company called Hydrow that’s making a similar model but it’s for a rower, similar to Peloton. There’s a company called Tonal. We have a Tonal actually, in my bedroom right now that my wife uses a lot of times. She absolutely loves it.
And the idea is they use cables for all the movements. You can do up to 100 pounds in each arm, but it’s like basically a video screen where you’re having a trainer train you through movements. It automatically calculates your reps, automatically dials in how much weight they’re putting on the cables, and it works just extremely well. You don’t have to think about it, you just go in, turn it on, and you can get an incredible workout. There’s other companies like Mirror that are doing this. I think the idea is, again, removing barriers to entry. It’s making it so people can work out in their home, get just as good of a workout as they could with a personal trainer. I also own a personal training gym, that’s the thing. I have a gym where we train people. I have a commercial type gym, but the thing is, the future is home gyms, and the future is bringing that experience home. And so, all these companies are making ways where they can train people at home via video, all the technology that we have, and get just as good of a workout. So, I think that’s only gonna increase. It’s only good as a snowball. It just started but it’s gonna grow dramatically.
Brett McKay: Well, Coop, where can people go to learn more about what you do?
Cooper Mitchell: Yeah, so, I’m @garagegymreviews on pretty much every platform. So, that includes Instagram, Facebook, on YouTube, @garagegymreviews, and a lot of what our stuff… It happens on the website, garagegymreviews.com. So, if you want reviews, you want to be inspired, all those sorts of things, we have a lot of stuff coming out, would love to help you. And then if you wanna join a community of people, we have a Facebook group called the Home Gym Community that you can join and get inspired and find other people that are training and be accountable, too.
Brett McKay: Fantastic, Coop Mitchell, thanks for the time. It’s been a pleasure.
Cooper Mitchell: Thanks, Brett, appreciate it.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Coop Mitchell. He’s the founder and owner of garagegymreviews.com. Check out his website, garagegymreviews.com. Also, check him out on Instagram @garagegymreviews and also check out our show notes at aom.is/garagegym, where you can find links to resources, where you can delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the AOM podcast. Check out our website at artofmanliness.com, where you can find our podcast archives as well as thousands of articles we’ve written over the years about pretty much anything you can think of. If you’d like to enjoy ad-free episodes of the AOM podcast, you can do so on Stitcher premium. Head over to stitcherpremium.com, sign up, use code MANLINESS at checkout to get a free month trial. Once you’re signed up, you can download the Stitcher app on Android or iOS and you can start enjoying new episodes of the AOM podcast ad-free. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on Apple podcast or Stitcher. It helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or a family member who you would think would get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. Until next time, it’s Brett McKay, reminding you to not only to listen to the AOM podcast but put what you’ve heard into action.