You have finally decided it's time to turn that spare tire into abs of steel, those pencil arms into overfed swans and your chest into two chiseled peaks of glory.
To make this transformation, you're going to need a home gym. We walk you through a basic but highly effective set of garage gym essentials.
With these must-have pieces of gym equipment, you will be able to lock yourself in your garage, like the lowly caterpillar.
Then with some hard work, blood, sweat, and tears, you will emerge a beautiful butterfly.
Table of Contents
- What Exactly Is A Garage Gym?
- Garage Home Gym Essentials For An Epic Setup
- The Benefits of Building a Home Gym
- How to Build a Garage Gym on a Budget?
What Exactly Is A Garage Gym?
A garage gym is exactly what it sounds like, a space that you have cleared out at home and filled with weights, cardio machines, and strength building machines you might find in a regular gym.
Unlike a normal gym, the equipment you need for a home gym space will have to be hand-picked specifically for you. Unless you have a mansion, your garage is probably a lot smaller than your local gym, after all.
A home gym does not necessarily have to be in your garage. Any space that you can find at home for some weights or exercise equipment can become a home gym.
Garage gym enthusiasts make it their purpose to fit out their gyms in the most efficient manner possible.
This has led to a huge community of home gym builders that are always innovating and creating new ways to improve their home setups.
Garage Home Gym Essentials For An Epic Setup
The first place that you should start is with the flooring.
This may seem odd as most people want home gym equipment but one of the most common questions asked in facebook groups like ours is 'what type of flooring should I use?'
Installing heavy-duty rubber floor mats is the perfect way to protect your floors and your exercise equipment from damage of dropping weights, dumbbells, kettlebells and everything else.
A rubber floor also allows you to do core training exercises and ground workouts where you will be lying on the floor for an extended time.
Learn More - Ultimate Guide To Gym Flooring
There are several options on the market but these 2 are most common.
1. Horse Stall Mats - Large sized rubber mats that are bigger and thicker than home gym mats so they can handle more weight.
Per square foot, they offer better value for money when compared to those made specifically for gyms.
There are several ways to keep these mats clean, we cover in our horse stall mat cleaning guide.
2. Foam Mats - These come in many different forms and are simple to assemble. They fit together seamlessly with precision cut tongue and grooves protected from splitting and breaking apart.
These mats are also waterproof, so it doesn't matter how sweaty you get during your workouts. To clean rubber foam mats, simply use a damp cloth and mild soap.
These can be purchased in gym stores and all major online retailers. See our favorite option from Amazon below.
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- FLOOR COVERING WITHOUT LIMITS: Made for...
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2. An Olympic Barbell
An Olympic barbell is one of the essential pieces of garage gym kit and it's what you should look for next.
Using an Olympic barbell is the key to strength training and studies have shown that high-frequency strength training, the kind you do with a barbell, provides a massive increase in lean mass. 
Olympic barbells aren't just for building mass either. They can be used as part of your circuit training and are key for cross training exercises.
With a good quality Olympic barbell you can train your entire body using isolation movements and compound lifts. This includes exercises like deadlifts, squats and bench presses.
If you use the barbell correctly then won't need much else in your home gym, but it's important to choose the right Olympic barbell.
What To Look For In A Barbell
- High Tensile Strength - Look for a high tensile strength of between 170,000 and 190,000, with a weight capacity of at least 700lbs.
- Good Quality Grip - Your Olympic barbell should have a deep diamond knurl to give you perfect grip and control.
- Choose Olympic, Not Standard - Olympic barbells are stronger, tougher, and higher quality than a standard barbell so they're generally better for your garage gym.
3. Olympic Weight Plates
A good set of weight plates is essential for strength training in your home gym, and it's what you should invest in next.
Olympic weight plates (sometimes called bumper plates) can be used with your Olympic barbell to provide resistance, or they can be used with other gym machines.
You can also use Olympic plates on their own. They are typically designed with hand holds and using them in this way can massively improve your grip.
Weight plates are essential for strength training and vital for key exercises, including:
- Bench Presses
- Power Cleans
If you have a tight budget you may have to choose between kettlebells or plates. They're both useful, but you will be better off buying olympic weight plates as they offer more versatility and can be used in conjunction with your Olympic barbell.
Many kettlebell exercises can also be modified, swapping the kettlebell for a weight plate.
Also See - How Many Weight Plates Should I Buy?
What To Look For In Weight Plates
- Tough Materials - look an iron or steel core, with a thick layer of rubber on the outside.
- 2 Inch Diameter - anything smaller won't fit on an Olympic bar.
- A Range Of Weights - Olympic plates come in 1.25kg, 2.5kg, 5kg, 7.5kg 10kg, 15kg, 20kg, 25g, and 50kg sizes. If you're a beginner it's worth looking for starter kits which contain a selection.
Ream More - Olympic Vs Standard Weight Plates
4. Squat Racks/Power Racks
A good power or squat rack is essential for serious strength training.
Squat racks allow you to do all of the major lifts safely. They eliminate the dangers of falling weights and allow you to handle more weight than you usually can.
A good power rack will usually have a pull up bar attached too so you can work pull ups into your routine.
If you have a small garage gym then you may struggle to fit a full rack. However, half rack and full rack options exist and they can be set up for a range of different heights.
A squat or power rack is likely going to be the most expensive item in your home gym, so if you still need convincing here are a few key reasons to get one:
Versatile Strength Training
With a power rack you can safely bench and squat, and do bodyweight exercises like pull ups and dips. Power racks are perfect for upper and lower body training, and having one will take your routine to the next level.
Squat racks allow you to do pull ups and weighted squats which, research has shown, are more effective than planking so a power rack can help you get a core of steel.
Power racks aren't just for experienced lifters and athletes, they're great for beginners too. They let you lift safely without a spotter, and help you to get the right form.
What To Look For In A Power Rack
- High Max Weight - look for a max weight of over 800lbs.
- Solid Construction - if in doubt, look for solid brands like Rep-Fitness or Force USA.
- Storage Hooks - these will save you valuable gym space.
Also See - Power Rack Accessories For Better Lifting
5. Weight Bench (Adjustable)
A good quality, adjustable bench opens up a wide range of exercises.
It lets you make the most from your Olympic barbell, plates, and power rack, and can help you build your strength quickly.
Weight benches provide support during your workout. They allow you to isolate muscle groups effectively for targeted workouts. They're generally used for bench presses, core training exercises, and leg movements, but the list goes on.
An adjustable weight bench can also help those recovering or rehabilitating after an injury by helping them target specific muscles.
If you use it correctly, good weight bench (with a set of weights) removes the need for gym machines and lots of other garage gym equipment. You can perform compound lifts, isolation exercises, and they're useful for lifters of all levels.
Select The Right Type Of Bench
There are 6 main types of weight bench:
- Adjustable bench
- Flat bench
- Olympic bench
- Folding bench
- Abdominal bench
- Preacher curl bench
Each of these benches have their use, but the adjustable bench is the most versatile.
As the name suggests, it allows you to move the weight bench into the right position.
This allows you to do decline and incline exercises to engage muscles as you need to.
What To Look For In A Bench
- High Weight Limit - look for over 600lbs.
- High Quality Foam Padding - to make it comfortable to use.
- Folding (if space is at a premium).
Also See - On a Budget - DIY Weight Benches
A good set of dumbbells should be the foundation of any gym.
Dumbbells can be used for strength training or cardio workouts, and lightweight dumbbells are great for circuit training.
You can use dumbbells to build lean mass, burn fat, and increase your functional strength. A set of dumbbells removes the need for bulky garage gym kit, and can save you a lot of space and money.
Many people ask whether you need dumbbells vs an Olympic barbell. You probably don't need both, though the barbell is better for heavy compound lifts.
However, dumbbells are often safer for beginners though because they're easier to handle, and they're better for isolating some smaller muscle groups.
In one study, researchers studied the muscle activation in the triceps and biceps during both a bench press with a barbell and a bench press using dumbbells. 
They found that the biceps and triceps were both activated more during the lift. This is due to the stabilization needed to control the dumbbells.
There are several types of dumbbells different types of dumbbell:
- Traditional Adjustable Dumbbells - loaded with weight manually and best for those lifting heavy.
- Modern Adjustable Dumbbells - these are best for small gyms because they take up the least space, though they are the most expensive.
- Fixed Dumbbells - these are fixed individual dumbbells which give you a full range of resistance, but you need a full set so they can take up a lot of space.
- Studio Dumbbells - these are small dumbbells coated in textured neoprene or rubber. They come in 1-10kg weights and are best for beginners.
What To Look For With Dumbbells
- Tough Materials - steel, rubber, pvc, or urethane coated steel is the toughest and most durable dumbbell material.
- A Range Of Weights - If you're more focused on toning and cardio then a light set of studio dumbbells is best. If you're looking to build muscle and strength then adjustable dumbbells are better.
- Compact - Adjustable dumbbells take up less space, or you can invest in a dumbbell rack to hold fixed dumbbells securely.
- Cost - More weight means higher prices so learn more about pricing dumbbells before buying.
Kettlebells are a great asset in a home gym because of their versatility.
They can be used for strength and conditioning, cardio exercises, and burning calories which is why top athletes and cross-fitters around the world are using them.
Kettlebells are so effective because of the way they require both strength and balance as well as a decent amount of core for stability.
In particular, kettlebells are incredibly efficient at improving your balance via your stabilizer muscles.
They can be used for all the major lifts and compound movements, but also have their own unique movements - like the kettlebell swing - which gives you a full body workout.
Kettlebells don't just support isolation and compound movements, they help to build explosive power.
In one study, after 6 weeks, explosive strength improved by 19.8% on average, and 1RM strength improved by 10%; those are some pretty incredible numbers. 
You don't need dumbbells and kettlebells in your home gym, however, kettlebells are better for increasing your grip strength, and can be used to burn a lot of calories quickly.
High-quality kettlebells are relatively cheap, and suitable for users of all experience levels.
There are two main types:
1. 'Russian Style' Cast Iron Kettlebell
These cast-iron kettlebells and are usually a bit rougher around the edges. These kettlebells don't have a consistent size, and the heavier they are the larger the dimensions of the kettlebell.
These kettlebells are more affordable and better for beginners doing two handed movements.
2. Competition Kettlebell
These kettlebells are generally made from steel and have standardized measurements. The handles tend to be slightly smaller than cast iron kettlebells, but the size of the kettlebell won't change no matter how much it weighs.
These kettlebells are better for experienced lifters and athletes who want to do one armed movements.
What To Look For In Kettlebells
- Good Condition - check for any scuffing or sharp bits of paint.
- The Right Weight - if you're a beginner you only need a few light kettlebells. Experienced lifters will need more weight.
Also See - Guide To Sizing Kettlebells
8. Pull Up Bars
Pull ups are the ultimate bodyweight workout, so having a pull up bar in your own garage gym is recommended.
Pull ups engage your core, lats, biceps, deltoids, rhomboids, and core in one movements. They're generally considered a measure of fitness and a part of many strength and cardio routines.
Pull ups help you create the "V" body shape which everybody longs for. They increase explosive power, they burn a lot of calories, and can help improve your form for other exercises.
They're also very low impact. This makes them useful for anyone carrying lower body injuries, or looking to train without putting too much strain on their joints.
Once you are comfortable with the basic pull up movement, there are alternative exercises you can incorporate to specific muscles. A close grip pull up targets the biceps and lats, and a wide grip targets the traps.
Fitting a pull up bar in your own garage gym is an inexpensive way to give you access to all of these exercises safely.
It also won't take up much space, though make sure you have enough vertical room if you are exercising in a small or low ceiling garage gym.
There are 5 main types of pull up bar:
1. Ceiling Mounted - best for small gyms because they don't take up floor space.
2. Wall Mounted
3. Freestanding or Power Towers - the most stable option, but take up a lot of space.
4. Doorframe - the cheapest option.
5. Joist Mounted - give you the best range of motion for dips and muscle ups.
Related Article - How To Build DIY Pull-Up Bars (Free Standing)
Home Gym Cardio Equipment
When it comes to purchasing your own garage gym, cardio machines will often be less of a priority.
Many of us opt for natural cardio like running or circuit training inside rather than buying extra garage gym equipment.
If you want to really focus on your cardio and conditioning, the following equipment will give you the most value for your money.
9. Air Bikes
Air bikes are the perfect blend of strength and cardio and provide a full body workout.
Air bikes (sometimes called assault bikes) work in a similar way to an elliptical, with handles to work your upper body and the standard pedals for your legs.
They've become a popular component in CrossFit programs and they're perfect for HIIT or interval training.
As well as burning a lot of calories quickly, you can use an air bike to build your strength. It's low impact, and suitable for users of all levels.
Related Article - Muscles Worked On Exercise Bikes
Air bikes are also more efficient than a traditional exercise bike or other cardio equipment.
People don't have time for long, drawn out cardio sessions, but you can use an air bike for just 10-15 minutes to get a fat burning workout which burns over 300 calories.
What To Look For In An Air Bike
- Stability - choose a sturdy, heavy gauge steel machine that won't wobble when you use it.
- Belt Resistance - these mechanisms are quieter and more durable.
- Adjustable Saddle - this makes the seat of the bike more comfortable to use.
- Wheels On The Base - this makes it easier to store when it's not in use.
Also See - 5 Best Air Bikes On The Market
10. Skipping Ropes
Skipping has become a staple part of a lot of athlete's training routines and it's now a key piece of equipment to have in your garage gym.
Scientific research has shown us that using a skipping rope increases co-ordination, improves agility, and offers a full body workout.
According to studies done in Japan, jumping up and down gives your bone density a boost too. 
However, the most impact aspect of this cardio equipment is that it burns a lot of calories - up to 300 in just 15 minutes.
Skipping is often used by those recovering from injury or looking to avoid foot or ankle injuries which can come from other cardio exercises. It also helps you to build mind muscle connection with your lower body.
Skipping ropes are cheap, effective, and take up very little space - but you should choose a gym jump rope, not just any skipping rope.
What To Look For In A Skipping Rope
There are 3 main types to choose from:
1. Basic Jump Rope
These are for complete beginners to help them get used to the movement. The cable is a little thicker so it's easier to grip.
2. Weighted Jump Rope
These are for more advanced users looking to improve their strength training. There is additional weight in the handles and cables so you have to work a bit harder on each rotation.
3. Speed Jump Rope
These are used to improve footwork and conditioning, and are often used by boxers and other athletes. They are thin and light so the rope moves more quickly. This forces you to work harder and burns a lot of calories.
Get the right size jump rope with our complete guide.
11. Medicine Ball
Medicine balls are an effective way to enhance muscle strength, power, co-ordination, agility, balance, and speed at home.
Bouncing these weighted balls burns a lot of calories while improving your core strength and they are often used by athletes to improve performance.
Medicine ball slams are the most common exercise and they engage your whole body. They can help you sculpt a six pack and are particularly useful if you're in a cutting phase.
Plus, you can pair them with your dumbbells, barbell, or kettlebells or even a couple of resistance bands for more effective strength training.
Using your medicine ball as a bench or seat forces your core to become more engaged during each movement. It also engages smaller muscle groups to maximise the benefits throughout each exercise.
There are 3 main types of exercise ball:
1. Slam Ball - designed to be thrown at the ground. These are smaller with a heavy duty rubber shell.
2. Wall Ball - designed to be thrown at a wall. These are the largest medicine balls and used for a lot of cardio movements.
3. Standard Medicine Ball - designed for exercises and to support other movements. They come in a range of sizes but aren't as tough as slam or wall balls.
Related Article - Slam Vs Medicine Balls
What To Look For In A Medicine Ball
- Tough Materials - look for durable rubber or leather which is comfortable but tough.
- Easy Grip - if your medicine ball is a main part of your cardio routine then look for one with handles.
- The Right Weight - medicine balls range from 2 pounds to 50 pounds. Beginners should aim for a 6-12 pound ball and increase as their fitness improves.
12. Rowing Machines
Using rowing machines are one of the best ways to burn calories and improve your cardiovascular endurance at home.
They work by engaging your legs, core, arms, and back in one movement. This forces your upper and lower body to work together, increasing your heart rate and strengthening your whole body.
Not only can a rowing machine help you burn 300 calories in 30 minutes, it builds power and endurance.
Athletes often incorporate rowing into their training because it improves their cardiovascular capacity. This means that by using it regularly you can see a big increase in your overall fitness.
Rowing is also lower impact than using a treadmill and better suited for those who don't want to put strain on their joints or tendons.
Types Of Rowing Machines
There are 4 main types of mechanism used in rowers:
1. Air Rowing Machines
These are the most common and generally cheapest rowers on the market. The cable is attached to a fan in the mechanism which provides air resistance as you pull.
Air rowers can often be loud so they may not be suitable in some home gyms but excellent additions to garage gyms.
2. Water Rowers
Water rowers use a tank of water and paddles to provide resistance. As you pull backwards the chain pulls the paddles and the moving water creates drag.
Water rowers can be heavy and bulky because of the tanks, but give an experience which is similar to open water rowing.
3. Hydraulic Rowers
Hydraulic rowing machines have a cylinder with air or oil and a piston which slides through it. The arm of the piston is attached to the chain, and as you row the air or oil inside provide the resistance.
These don't engage your full body as well as other rowing machines, but they're cheaper and more compact than the others.
4. Magnetic Rowers
Magnetic rowing machines are the most modern rowers on the market. They use electromagnetic technology to provide very precise levels of resistance while you exercise.
Magnetic rowers are very quiet and light, so they're perfect for home use. However, they can be quite expensive so you'll need to have a reasonable budget to afford one.
Related Article - How Long Should You Row For?
Crossfit Garage Gym Essentials
If you are in the CrossFit crowd, there are a few additional items that you might want to look at when setting up your home gyms:
13. Plyo Box
Plyo boxes are a simple and affordable way to increase your upper and lower body strength.
They are used for movements like the Plyometric Box Jump which builds stability, and they make up a key part of CrossFit garage gym routines.
According to Kim Goss (5), who was once the strength coach for the U.S Air Force, the Plyometric Jump is one of the most effective workouts in the world, adopted by CrossFit and bodybuilding gyms alike.
They help to train your glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, chest, triceps, biceps, and abs.
Not only will Plyometric box jumps will give you a huge boost in explosive strength, it will also get your heart racing - allowing you to burn up to 1000 calories in an hour.
They also help to prepare your body for intense strength exercises, and make a useful warm up exercise at the start of your routine.
Plyo boxes are perfect for people of all levels looking to build functional strength. They won't take up a lot of space in your garage gym, and they're really affordable.
Related Article - DIY Plyo Box For Home Gyms
What To Look For In A Plyo Box
- Foam Materials - plyo boxes are made from wood or foam. Wood is cheap but can cause injury, so cushioned foam is generally best.
- The Right Sizing - plyo boxes generally come in 4, 6, 12, 20, and 24 inch boxes which can be stacked. Most beginners should start with 12-16 inches.
Also See - Top Plyo Boxes You Can Buy
14. CrossFit Power Mace Hammer
Steel mace training is amazing for building a powerful, functional body.
This involves swinging a weighted hammer down onto a surface (usually a tyre) repeatedly.
It's amazing for building your core strength, back and shoulder muscles, and grip.
Not only does it build strength, but you can easily burn over 600 calories in half an hour making it a good combination of strength and cardio training.
The CrossFit hammer is one of the most fun ways to train and really does build functional strength. You can also mix up your routine with different strike patterns so you don't get bored.
The mace hammer is small and affordable, so it won't take up too much space in your home gym.
What To Look For In A Power Mace Hammer
- The Right Weight - CrossFit mace hammers are anywhere from 4kg-50kg. Most beginners will only need 4-8kg, and you can upgrade as your strength increases.
- A Good Grip - look for a mace with a knurled grip because this will be easier to keep hold of while you swing.
Gym mirrors let you see your form and make adjustments as needed. This helps you get more from your workouts.
They'll be particularly useful for those doing powerlifting in their gym, and can help beginners get it right without a spotter.
Gym mirrors can also help a small space seem bigger by reflecting light around the room. This is especially useful in garage gyms which may not have many windows.
Also see - Gym Lighting Guide
Plus, you can use the mirror to keep track of your progress and see how your body is changing over time. This can improve your mood and keep you motivated to push yourself.
You can pick up cheap mirrors for your home gyms easily, and they should help you transform the space.
What To Look For In A Gym mirror
- Fitted Mirrors - Standing mirrors can be useful for checking your form, but they take up valuable floor space so fitted mirrors are best.
- Acrylic - There are two main materials to choose from; glass or acrylic. Glass gives a better reflection but acrylic is shatterproof and safer.
- The Right Sizing - Most gym mirrors should be at least 24 inches off the floor, but if you're doing floor exercises (like Yoga) you may need them to be bigger and go lower. Measure your space carefully and buy the right size.
The Benefits of Building a Home Gym
One of the biggest benefits of the home gyms compared to a gym membership is the convenience. You are the boss, there are no opening or closing hours, and you're in control.
Everyone has been there before, looking at the rain or snow pouring outside. Trying to summon the motivation for the drive to the gym in the cold and the wet.
With a home gym, you don't even have to go outside!
Privacy During Workouts
For new users and experienced hands alike, gyms can create a bit of a toxic environment.
When there are a bunch of workout-bunnies, all grunting and lifting weights you couldn't even dream off, it can get a bit intimidating.
No one wants to look foolish, but learning new movements and exercises takes time, and being able to do so in the privacy of your own home is priceless.
You will also never have to wait for a machine again. Do you know that one guy who takes every set of dumbells for his over-complicated bicep workout that lasts 2 hours?
You won't ever have to deal with him again.
Setting up a well-equipped home gym can be an expensive endeavour, but you will never have to pay monthly costs ever again once you have finished.
While it may take a year or two for you to break even, once you have, you will never have to spend money on a gym membership ever again.
How to Build a Garage Gym on a Budget?
Decide What You Want
When you first decide that you want to make a home gym, it's easy to get over-excited.
Unfortunately, buying your own garage gym equipment is expensive, and filling your garage with new shiny equipment is going to take a while.
Decide What You Need
Eventually, you might have all of this, but for the very beginning, focus on what you love and work out what equipment you will use the most.
A great way to beef up your home zone is to keep an eye out for second-hand equipment.
When gyms shut their doors or other home gym enthusiasts move house, they often sell their equipment for a fraction of what they cost new.
Catching this at the right time will mean you can buy high-quality strength training equipment at a great price.
You might find a squat rack or a set of dumbbells; just make sure that they have been well looked after before purchasing them.
A good home gym will take years to perfect. Don't worry if you can't afford that expensive power rack just now or the full range of dumbbells.
Your home gym will grow just like your body. You cant craft an incredible physique overnight.
Make sure you take your time with your decision and spend your money wisely, and you will watch your home workout area grow from an empty space to a well-designed dome of self-improvement.
Hopefully, we have given you some inspiration and helpful advice in this article.
Remember, with a few items like an Olympic bar, some plates, and a power rack, and you can efficiently work out every single muscle in your body.
Don't overcomplicate it, and make sure you take time to enjoy your new home gym sanctuary.
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Last Updated on January 19, 2023