As we start a new year and everyone resolves to get fit, gyms are on everyone’s mind these days. If you’ve got a bit of space in your garage, here’s what you could do with it!
Lifting is one of our favorite hobbies (both of us!), and we’ve always wanted to set up our own little home gym. Home gyms don’t have to be expensive or huge – ours cost less than $2500 for everything in it, thanks to buying our major equipment on Craigslist. (If $2500 sounds crazy, the home gym we priced out at Precor’s store was well over $6000.)
In this lengthy post, I’ll show you everything that’s in our gym, why it’s awesome, and where we got it. If you’re interested in setting up a home gym in the garage, read on!
Setting up a Home Gym
We like to lift. Everything else is fluff! Obviously, the thing we both wanted for the home gym was a squat rack, a bench, a 45 lb Olympic bar, and a collection of plate weights to go with it. Throw in a set of adjustable dumbells and you’ve got all your major lifts covered!
Power Rack + Olympic Bar + Weights
Power racks are awesome: this simple cage positions the bar so you can do squats and bench presses. You can also do deadlifts, pull ups, and dips – heck, you can even stand in the rack doing curls. (Don’t do curls in the rack at a commercial gym. :P)
This PowerLine Power Rack isn’t the exact same rack I have, but it’s got the same features that make mine awesome:
- pull up bar
- adjustable safety bars
- separate set of hooks for squat mode
- plus, it’s well-reviewed on Amazon!
The only thing I’d miss are the numbered stickers, but you could easily add your own with some tape. (My power rack is a discontinued Tuff Stuff brand power rack.)
Find your 45-lb Olympic bar and weight plates at any local used sporting goods store. These equipment pieces are durable and easy to find secondhand for big savings.
Power Rack Workouts
A power rack is extremely versatile, and a safe way to set yourself up for the three biggie lifts: squat, bench press, deadlift. (Links go to YouTube videos showing proper form). A rack is also good for pull ups, barbell lunges, and tricep dips.
Bowflex SelectTech Adjustable Dumbells
Adjustable dumbells rule because they take up so little space. It’s like collapsing that long row of dumbells at the gym into just one set. Bonus: the only sweat on them is yours.
I have a set of Bowflex SelectTech adjustable dumbells and they’re worth every penny. They feel great in my hands, change easily, and haven’t broken after several years of near-daily use. (The pictured dumbells are a slightly newer version of the set I use.)
- Go from 7.5 lbs to 52.5 with the turn of a dial.
- They take up almost no space
- Rugged as hell (though I don’t make a point of dropping them)
- Flat “bottom” edge so they don’t roll away on you
- Safe to hold over your head – the plates won’t fly or fall off the dumbell
There’s literally no shortage to the variety of workouts you can do with dumbells:
- dumbell bench presses
- bicep curls
- upright rows
- tricep kickbacks
- one-armed rows
… the list goes on and on, it’s ridiculous. Check out www.dumbbell-exercises.com for like, a billion dumbell exercise ideas, complete with cute animations.
One last note: Don’t buy those “hand in a box” dumbells, they’re too restrictive on your range of motion and the variety of exercises you can do. You want dumbell-shaped dumbells.
Body Vision Power Tower
At first glance a power tower it looks sort of like a seatless chair, but the power tower is a versatile and efficient piece of equipment for your home gym. Back at the commercial gyms, I’d see ripped guys doing dips and chin-ups on these things with weights hanging from their waist – you never outgrow a power tower. It doesn’t have any moving parts – that’s because you’re the weight.
Do push-ups, pull-ups, knee-raises, and dips to give your upper body and “core” muscles a pretty brutal workout. When I first got the my Body Vision Power Tower, I could barely hang from it for more than a few seconds – now I use it for pull-ups and dips.
- chin-ups and pull-ups with multiple hand positions for arm strengthening workouts
- leg and knee raises for leg and core workouts
- dip station for tricep dips, working your triceps and chest muscles
- foot grips / push up bars near the bottom for pushups (not that you can’t just do these on the floor…)
- just plain hangin’ around because even that’s pretty tough after a while!
This power tower is height adjustable on assembly – it’s not adjustable once it’s put together. At 5’8″ and 170 lbs I fit on it great, but my 6’4″ husband at 210 lbs finds it a bit rocky.
PS: I can’t believe I got to write “power tower” in complete seriousness!
Home Gym Cardio Equipment
Precor EFX 5.23 Elliptical
Precor is basically the king of elliptical machines, owning most of the patents and the best commercial models. Precor is by far my favorite brand: I’ve tried other brands in gyms and on showroom floors, and they’re just not as good. They wobble, or feel weird, or are missing great features like adjustable incline. My Precor 5.23 is a commercial model with static “arms”.
Here’s an official photo of it:
And here’s mine in the garage, looking quite a bit more cluttered (but you get the idea!). I set it up to face a multi-tiered shelf, which used to hold a TV (until the TV mysteriously stopped working). Also on the shelf are my speakers, weight lifting gloves, and some household storage.
If you’re shopping for an elliptical, plan to spend a good deal of time figuring out your preferences.
These are my preferences:
- Adjustable incline – Good way to get some variety into your workout
- Adjustable resistance – Don’t even consider an elliptical without the ability to crank up the resistance
- Sturdy design – When testing, get on an elliptical and go full speed – half the models I tested wobble in a good HIIT workout, but my Precor is solid
- No swinging arms – I’ve been smacked by swinging arms enough, and they become especially dangerous on high speed “runs”. I often carry weights when using the elliptical, anyway.
- Water bottle / iPod shelf – Essential for a $1500+ piece of equipment, I think
- Magazine shelf – for leisurely workouts :)
Home Gym Accessories
Cyber Acoustics Subwoofer Satellite System
This Cyber Acoustics speaker system is the same one I bought for my garage gym 2 years ago. It’s been a #1 best seller on Amazon forever, and for good reason: the base is thumping, the volume goes louder than most noise ordinances allow for, and it sounds fantastic. The deluxe speaker system hooked up to my computer cost 5x more than this system, but I’ll let you in on a little secret – this one’s better!!
My favorite features:
- AWESOME BASE – my #1 requirement in a sound system. I hate flat sound!
- Volume adjuster “pod” is on a long wire, making it accessible unlike, say, a knob on an out-of-the-way speaker
- Base can be adjusted separate from volume
- Works with iPod/iPhone/smartphone – plug one end of an aux-in cable into your device’s headphone port and the other end into the control pod’s “AUX IN” port
I collected a number of resistance bands over the years, but if I was starting from scratch I’d get this set of resistance bands by Black Mountain Products.
This set is awesome because multiple bands can be combined with one handle. If you’ve ever tried to use multiple handles at once, you know how frustrating (and silly) it can get trying to wrangle ’em into alignment. If you’re new to working out with bands, you’re in for a treat – bands are great at working smaller groups of muscles that get overlooked in larger lifts, travel easily, and can be used while idly doing something else (I often use mine while watching TV or going for a “float” on the elliptical).
- Multiple resistance levels
- Combine bands with one handle
- Convenient storage / travel bag
- Ankle strap for leg workouts
Bowflex Adjustable Bench
This adjustable Bowflex bench is the exact same one I have in my home gym. I think it’s awesome – if you’re considering a bench, invest in an adjustable bench and open up a huge variety of free weight workouts. Combine with a set of adjustable dumbells and there isn’t much you can’t do with just these two pieces of equipment.
- Four positions – straight upright, leaned back, flat, and decline
- Sturdy with a rugged vinyl cover – if you’ve read this far, you know how obsessed I am with durability!
- Leg pad attachment – holds your legs in place, essential for some lifts
I got mine free – I found ’em in a neighbor’s remodel garbage heap. Try yard sales or back-to-school season sales for cheap mirrors.
Cork Bulletin Board
I mounted this simple cork board near our home gym to hang lifting logs and write down rack settings, and a weight cheat sheet.
Advantages of a Home Gym
There are sooo many advantages to having a home gym. Here’s just a few:
- Always open – I used to get mad when I couldn’t work out on a holiday!
- Private – I can make all the silly lifting faces I like, no one’s watching.
- Shower and dress at home – Showing at the gym sucked, especially for Jim because the showers were open. EW.
- Eat breakfast at home – I used to have to eat breakfast at the office because it wasn’t economical to drive back home before work.
- No waiting for equipment – That guy curling in the squat rack is not my problem anymore! :D
- Use it for as little or as much time as you like – Sometimes I go down for just 10 minutes – not worth driving to the gym for, but easy to do at home.
- Post logs and records on the wall – A cheap cork board mounted on the wall near our rack gave me a place to record workouts
Disadvantages of a Home Gym
Naw, just kidding – the biggest disadvantages of a home gym are the cost to set it up and the space it requires. At $2200, we were essentially buying a 3-and-a-half-year gym membership upfront. I do not recommend building a dedicated home gym unless you are already an avid gym-goer. We were somewhere in our fifth year of near-daily gym use when we put our home gym together.
Some other (minor) disadvantages:
- Negotiating gym time – There’s only one of each thing and two of us, so Jim and I coordinate who is using what and when
- Less space in the garage – Many people here in the Pacific Northwest use their garages the way people in the Midwest use their basements – packed to the brim with stuff!
- Garage can be kinda cold – but that’s just motivation to lift harder!
But I’m on a Budget! (Or In a Tiny Space)
I feel for you – I used to work out in my little apartment with equipment that could be tucked away when not in use. Here’s what I used – for less than $300 you can put together a respectable home gym with the following equipment:
- Iron Gym door frame chin-up bar – Exact same model I have, has yet to damage a door frame or fall apart in 4+ years of use
- CAP Barbell Adjustable Dumbell Set – Goes up to 40 lbs, and you’ll run out of steam long before you run out of dumbell workouts
- Black Mountain Resistance Bands Set – Combine ’em for extra resistance!
- GoFit ProBall Stability Ball – Newer version of the stability ball I’ve used for four years (including a couple years of use as a desk chair)
- Valeo Deluxe Speed Rope – For bursts of cardio (heck, jumping in place is pretty effective too, but I like the threat of a spinning rope to keep me going)
The best part? All this stuff is super durable – you’ll use it for years, even if you put together a larger home gym later on. I think small equipment like the above is a great way to get started with home gymming – start small, and work your way up to a larger gym. If you don’t already like to exercise, jumping right into the deep end of a $3000+ home gym might not change that. I’ve seen much nicer home gyms than ours going unused, and I’ve seen crazy buff people whose only equipment is the sidewalk and a few dumbells.
Where’d you learn all this?
Bodybuilding.com’s forums are my absolute favorite resource for nutrition, lifting techniques, equipment recommendations, and motivation. I’ve been a regular reader for six years and I highly recommend this community.