Building your very own garage gym can save thousands of dollars in gym membership fees and it’s a convenient place to work out. From selecting equipment, to DIY squat racks and home workout plans, this is the ultimate guide to building a garage gym.
There are three keys to selecting garage gym equipment:
- Space saving – Is it compact?
- Versatile – Can be used for more than one exercise
- Creativity – Can you build it or use an alternative instead of buy it?
Space is always an issue when it comes to garages. Avoid getting giant machines. Not only will these take up space, but they are uni-taskers and will be difficult to move. Uni-taskers can only perform one exercise, and thus their usefulness in your garage is limited. In a big box gym, they have the space for it. For you, a piece of equipment that can be used for dozens of exercises is much more valuable. Do you think Sandow had a fancy Leg Extension machine? Of course not! He squatted his ass off. And you should too.
There are a few pieces of must have equipment to get started.
First, you’re going to need a set of dumbbells. To save space and money, I’d recommend purchasing adjustable weights. Olympia sports and Dick’s Sporting Goods have a low-cost set of dumbbells with threaded bars. This allows you to adjust the weights by screwing a special nut on the end of the plates.
While this option is inexpensive, you have to have the patience to be able to swap them. It takes some time to screw the nut on because it has to go all the way down the threaded bar, which can totally kill your pump. Fortunately there are two alternative options for adjustable dumbbells.
The first is the Bowflex SelectTech dumbbell set. These are pretty cool in that all of the plates are attached to a special stand. You simply select the desired weight by twisting a dial, and then the weights that you aren’t using are left on the base!
Something I did notice about this though is that the dumbbells are very wide. The heavier weights are wider, whereas with normal dumbbells they simply get longer as you go up in weight. This limits your range of motion for some exercises such as dumbbell flyes or rear delt flyes.
The other drawback to these is that they are pretty expensive compared to the other kinds of adjustable dumbbells. However, when you figure out the math of purchasing traditional dumbbells, you’d need to buy 17 pairs which would cost more than $500. Plus, there’s the cost of getting a dumbbell rack. Those are surprisingly expensive because they are built out of solid steel in order to hold all of that weight. But, that’s the price you pay for convenience. They are definitely the fastest option for changing plates out of all of the adjustable dumbbells.
There are two varieties of SelectTech Dumbbells. The 1090 Dumbbells adjust from 10 to 90 pounds (duh) in 5lb increments. The other kind is Selecttech 552’s. A lightweight model, these adjust from 5 to 52.5 lbs. The first 25lbs are in 2.5 increments and the rest is in 5lb increments. The 552s cost $350. Keep in mind that the stand is not included for these, although it is not necessary. You could just use the base that’s included and pick the dumbells off of the floor.
Finally there are the traditional adjustable dumbells with clips. This is a nice in-between option. They are much faster than the screw on weights, but are limited in how big you can go. For example, you wouldn’t be able to safely add a 35lb plate to a dumbell with clips. However, there is another big advantage to using these. The plates are interchangeable with our next essential piece of home gym equipment: an adjustable barbell.
This might be the most manly piece of equipment in your garage next to the socket wrench set and lawn mower. The classic adjustable barbell is an extremely versatile piece of home gym equipment. Here are some of the olympic exercises that you can perform with it:
- Barbell Row
- Overhead Press
- Clean & Jerk
Not to mention isolation exercises like front raises, one-armed press (or corner press), ab rollouts and shrugs. Add a squat rack and an adjustable bench to double the amount of exercises you can do with a barbell like:
- Flat bench press
- Incline press
- Decline press
- Front Squat
- Back Squat
- Hack Squat
- Rack pulls
OLYMPIC VS. STANDARD BARBELLS
Commercial gyms will use olympic plates and barbells. They stand up better to the abuse of heavy use and can safely support more weight than their skinny standard brethren. They are also easier to grip for people with bigger hands and you will never outgrow them. Standard barbells are lighter and less expensive. For these reasons, standard barbells could make more sense if you are a female lifter or someone who is just getting started.
HOME GYM BENCHES
As we see above, an adjustable bench combined with dumbbells or a barbell can really open up the possibilities of your workouts. Make sure your bench has both straight up, incline, flat, and decline settings. A mistake that I made was purchasing an adjustable bench that lacked a foot attachment. Without this, I was straining my back to prevent myself from sliding off the bench. I probably should have gotten injured from this silly attempt at frugality.
In reality, it would have cost a lot more in medical bills if I did get injured. So, you’re better off springing the few extra bucks for a bench with the foot extensions. Having them also means you can do decline ab situps. Here are some of the other possible exercises that a bench ads to your repertoire:
- Incline / Decline Chest Press
- Dumbbell Rows
- Seated Shoulder Press
- Seated Lateral Raise
- Incline Dumbbell Curls
- Seated Spider Curls
- Incline or Flat Dumbbell Fly
- Seated Reverse Fly
- Decline Situps
- Tricep Dips
- Step Ups
- “Box” Jumps
- Overhead Raise
- Seated Tricep Raise
Cardiovascular equipment such as exercise bikes, ellipticals, treadmills and rowing machines can get fairly expensive for decent-quality models. So long as you are somewhat-fit and don't suffer from joint pain, the reality with cardiovascular exercise is that nothing beats going for a jog. You can save yourself hundreds by pounding te pavement over buying a piece of cardio equipment.
In saying that, if you have the funds available,
DIY GYM EQUIPMENT
Even if you’re on a really tight budget, there’s still hope! Here are some ideas for Do It Yourself (DIY) equipment, that might already be in your garage. Use these to build a cheap home gym.
- Two milk jugs filled with water
- Paint buckets
- Tractor tires
- Bricks or cinder blocks
- Weight vest or jacket filled with rocks
- Backpack w/ books
OPTIONAL, BUT NOT REQUIRED
They are cheap but are borderline uni-tasker. You can do decline sit-ups, exercise ball sit ups, and chest press on them.
HOME GYM FLOORING
I bought some rubber gym mats because I didn’t want to damage the floors when dropping or placing weights down. You should especially consider this if you’re using heavy weights or don’t have rubber weights. Cracks in your garage floor could be very expensive to fix when the time comes to sell your place or move out. The cost to cover your bench area is about $30, though you may want more in order to fit a barbell or dumbbell set. Most home gym flooring is easy to expand upon as you add equipment. Look for the puzzle piece mats that interlocks and allow for future expansion.
A PULL-UP BAR
This is a cheap add-on that allows you to really target the lats without an expensive lat pulldown machine. In addition, some bars can also be used for push-ups and tricep dips! There are a few types of pull-up bars. Avoid the kind that twists to increase the length of the bar. They are dangerous and can easily slip out of the frame over time. A better option is the kind that uses your own weight to hold it in place of the door frame. Make sure you measure your door frame before purchasing a pull-up bar. Some door frames are too wide or narrow for the bar to fit properly.
It’s no secret that constant tension training is effective at building muscle. One of the best ways you can do this is by using cables. However, for the typical garage cable machines are clunky and take up a ton of space. Exercise bands are a lightweight, cheap alternative. Some resistance band sets like the one by Black Mountain Sports even have door anchors for flies and rows!
There isn't much that feels better than a good massage. What feels slightly even better is when it doesn't cost you a penny. Foam rolling has increased in popularity over recent years because it is a fantastic, low cost way to stretch your muscles and literally roll away the aches and pains. Your foam roller will be one of the least expensive items in your home gym set-up, but it'll be one of the best investments you can make.
DIY SQUAT RACK
Wooden squat racks can be built for as little as $150-$200. Building your own squat rack has two main advantages. The most obvious advantage is that it’s cheaper than buying one. Second, commercial power racks tend to be really tall, and might not fit in your garage. You may want to consider purchasing a steel power rack if you plan on doing some really heavy lifting. They’re simply much stronger and more durable than the homemade wood versions. The total time to build a DIY squat rack is 4-5 hours.
Here’s what you’ll need to build one:
- Safety/Pull Up Bars
- Power Drill w/ Wood Boring Bit
- 2x6 lumber
- 2x4 lumber
- Plumbing parts: end caps, washers, 4" pipe, 45 degree street elbow
- 5" & 3" wood screws
The best home workout plan for you is really going to depend on your goals and home gym budget. Here are a few examples:
You don’t necessarily need to buy a bunch of equipment for your home gym. There are plenty of exercises you can do with just your body. Here is an example full body home workout:
- 3 sets of 15-20 Pushups
- 3 sets of 12-15 Situps
- 3 sets of 8-10 tricep dips (on the side of stairs or a box)
- 3 sets of planks for 20 seconds each
- 3 sets of 5-8 Burpees
- 3 sets of 5-8 box jumps
- 3 sets of horizontal rows (you can use a table for these as shown in the video below)
At Home Workout Plan
This home workout plan requires you to buy a basic set of weights, dumbbells, a barbell, pull-up bar and an adjustable bench.
- Dumbbell flat chest press 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Dumbbell chest fly 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Dumbbell incline chest press 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Diamond Pushups 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Tricep Dips (on the bench) 3 sets of 10-12
- Overhead Dumbbell Tricep Extension 4 sets of 8-10
- Barbell Rows 3 sets of 5 reps
- Pull up Bar 3 sets of 6-10 reps
- Dumbbell Overhead Pulls 4 sets of 8-10 reps
- Barbell Bicep Curls 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Dumbbell Hammer Curls 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Legs & Abs
- Dumbbell or Goblin Squats 3 sets of 8-10
- Box Jumps 3 sets of 5-10
- Barbell Calf Raises 3 sets of 10-12
- Dumbbell Lunges 3 sets of 10-12
- 3 sets of 12-15 Situps
- 3 sets of planks for 20 seconds each
Whether you’re building the ultimate garage gym or just working out on a budget, there are so many alternatives to commercial gyms. From bodyweight exercises to push and pull routines, you can hit every muscle group from the convenience of your own home. Just remember: the best garage gym ideas are space saving, versatile, and creative.