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. The only problem? All of the gyms are closed.
We are going to talk you through a basic but highly effective set of garage gym essentials.
With these essentials, 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 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 equipment, and machines you might find in a regular gym. Unlike a normal gym, the selection will need 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 gym equipment can become a home gym. Most people tend to use their garage, which is the reason for the term.
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
The first place that you should start is with the flooring. Installing heavy-duty foam floor tiles is the perfect way to protect your floors and your equipment from damage.
A foam floor also allows you to do core workouts and ground workouts where you will be lying on the floor for an extended time.
They are simple to assemble and fit together seamlessly with precision cut tongue and grooves protected from splitting and breaking apart.
They are also waterproof, so it doesn't matter how sweaty you get during your workouts. To clean them down, simply use a damp cloth and mild soap.
A good set of Dumbbells should be the foundation of any gym. A light set is perfect for lightweight workouts and circuit training.
For heavy lifting, adjustable dumbbells are incredible, letting you adjust your weight from 2KG to 20KG with an instant push-pull design.
Adjustable dumbbells are one of the most versatile pieces of exercise equipment that you can buy. They force your muscles to work to stabilize, which can correct and prevent muscle imbalances.
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.
Dumbbells are also a lot safer to use during lifts, like the bench press and overhead press. If you train until failure, you can always drop the dumbbells sideways. Recovering from failure when you drop a bar is a lot harder and can cause much more severe injuries.
Need a dumbbell rack to hold them securely? Learn more here.
A good adjustable bench will allow you to make use of those dumbbells that you have just purchases.
They can provide a great level of support, allowing you to isolate the muscles you really want to work on.
When you are lifting weights having this secure foundation will not only help you progress, it will also reduce your chances of injury.
With a decent adjustable bench, you also have a lot of added versatility for core and fitness training. You can do crunches and bridges to really hit those tough muscle groups.
A good weight bench is a necessary purchase for a new home gym. Our particular favorite is the Iron Master Super Bench.
4. An Olympic Barbell
The king of the gym, the Olympic barbell, is the piece of equipment that most of us think about when you mention the word gym or weightlifting.
A good barbell will be the center point of many of the compound lifts and strength training exercises that you will be doing in your gym.
Studies have shown that high-frequency strength training, the kind you do with a barbell, provides a massive increase in lean mass. This means that barbell training will make you both stronger and bigger.
The higher the quality, the better, and the general consensus being that bars with a tensile strength of over 100,000 are the best. They should have a deep diamond knurl designed to give perfect grip and control, and the ends should be designed to fit any 2" Olympic weight plates.
5. Olympic Weight Plates
The perfect pairing to your Olympic bar is a good set of Olympic weight plates specifically designed to work together. You will want cast-iron plates that will last longer than any other material.
Most commercial gyms are full of complicated machines designed to work muscles in complicated ways.
After a period of training, most people begin to see that these machines are practically useless.
The best way to obtain that body of your dreams is to use free weights and weight plates.
As well as their use with barbells, many gym-users are starting to use Olympic weight plates on their own. This can massively improve both your grip and your core. This means that you get double the bang for your buck.
If you are on a tight budget and have to decide between weight plates and kettlebells (more on this later), then you will be better off buying weight plates. Many kettlebell exercises can be modified, swapping the kettlebell for a weight plate.
Kettlebells have exploded in popularity in recent years, and top athletes and cross-fitters around the world regularly preach about their incredible versatility.
Kettlebells are so effective because of the way they require both strength and balance as well as a decent amount of core for stability.
This means that kettlebell workouts target a large number of different muscle groups.
In particular, kettlebells are incredibly efficient at improving your balance via your stabilizer muscles. These are muscles that don't get trained during static exercises like bench press and bicep curls. They also give you a huge boost in 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.
Kettlebells just keep getting better too. Kettlebell workouts burn an insane amount of calories. This means they make you stronger as well as burn fat. If you are the kind of person that turns and runs the other way at the mention of cardio, then kettlebells might be the perfect tool for you to get your cardio in.
One final way that kettlebells are incredible is their ability to train your grip strength. Grip strength is often an aspect of training that we forget about, but a strong grip will allow you to lift more weight, so training with kettlebells will improve your other lifts.If you want a really versatile piece of equipment, you can't go wrong with a high-quality kettlebell.
7. Squat Rack/Power Rack
If you are serious about your home gym, then you will already be considering buying a good power or squat rack. This is going to be the most expensive piece of kit in your gym.
You can set it up in a variety of different ways giving you control over your workouts.
Each power rack bar should have the capability to hold 800lbs of weight and can be altered to allow for pull-ups and dips too via a range of different height levels.
The squat is a powerhouse of a move. This compound lift is going to activate the most muscles in your body out of any exercises. Both your upper and your lower body are going to have to work in harmony here.
Here are some of the benefits of adding a weighted squat to your routine.
8. Pull Up Bar
The simple pull-up. Hard to execute and requires an adequate level of upper body strength, the pullup is the king of the upper body. Both your shoulder, arms, and back will take a real beating during a pull-up workout.
If you are looking at the other items on this list but don't have the budget, our advice would be to start with a pull-up bar. For the price and per dollar, you won't find a better piece of equipment than the humble pull-up bar.
If all you have is a pullup bar, that is all you need to start working on that dream body.
Pullups are a multi-joint compound exercise. This means that they work with heavyweight, and a large number of muscles are activated at once during the movement.
Once you are comfortable with the movement, you can tweak your pullup to target specific muscles too. A pullup with a close grip, for example, targets the biceps and lats. A wide grip targets the traps.
Pullups are also a lot easier on the joints than many exercises. You can do a pullup workout every single day, and as long as you are eating well and sleeping well, you won't damage your tendons.
Finally, pullups are the ultimate "V" body shape creator. They increase explosive power, and they burn a lot of calories.
If you can only afford one piece of equipment, this is what we would spend our money on.
Home Gym Cardio Equipment
When it comes to a home gym, your cardio equipment will usually be less of a priority. Many of us opt for natural cardio like running or circuit training inside. If you want to really focus on your cardio and conditioning, the following equipment will give you the most for your money.
Air bikes are the perfect blend of strength and cardio. By utilizing a mix of both upper and lower body strength, your calorie burning will skyrocket.
This makes it the perfect choice for cardio haters. By bolting on a simple 10-15 minute session on an air-bike, the fat will melt away.
Air bikes are also a lot cheaper than the much more popular spin bike.
They are also a lot simpler. You don't need fancy buttons and resistances; the harder you pedal, the harder the resistance so you can take it at your own pace.
10. Skipping Rope
Using a skipping rope is one of the most beneficial exercises on the planet. Let's look at why.
Firstly, skipping is good for the brain. It improves coordination, as well as your reflexes. Skipping requires spatial awareness and un-conscious decision-making to keep your balance.
Skipping causes you to focus on your feet. This mind-muscle connection means that even when you are not skipping, you will be lighter on your feet and more aware. This is why boxers skip so much.
Skipping also trains you on how to utilize your breathing correctly. Not only are you getting fitter, but you are becoming more adapted to breathing correctly.
According to studies done in Japan, jumping up and down gives your bone density a boost too.
Finally, skipping is perfect for those that want to prevent foot and ankle injuries. By increasing the strength of the muscles that support your ankles, you reduce the chance of injuries.
11. Medicine Ball
Medicine balls have been a staple for gym-goers for a long time. Bouncing these weighted balls may seem like a simple task, but the benefits of doing a medicine ball workout are huge. Paired with a couple of resistance bands, they should be a staple of any gym.
Firstly, using a medicine ball correctly will sculpt your body like nothing else. When you are in the cutting stage, using medicine balls will give you that ripped shredded look in half the time.
They are also great for coordination and balance and will massively improve your other lifts. Adding a medicine ball routine into your normal split is a great way to bust through plateaus.
Finally, medicine balls are the ultimate core trainer. From boxers to swimmers, if you want that coveted six-pack, this is a guaranteed way to get there.
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:
12. Plyo Box
Plyo Boxes are used for movements like the Plyometric Box Jump.
According to Kim Goss, 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.
Training with Plyometric box jumps will give you a huge boost in explosive strength. They also make the perfect warmup for those that are about to lift heavy on the squat rack.
The box jump is not just for strength; it also places a massive amount of cardiovascular intensity on your body. This means that you will burn fat like never before if you incorporate box jumps into your workout.
13. CrossFit Power Mace Hammer
When you want to build core strength and rotational strength, you will struggle to find an exercise that is as effective and as fun as using a power mace.
This is the ultimate exercise for building grip strength, too, with a knurled section in the middle to ensure you don't lose your grip during swings.
One of the best things about a CrossFit hammer is that you can change the resistance that you feel simply by moving your hands up and down the bar.
This means it takes up little space yet provides a tremendous amount of variability.
For a simple sledgehammer workout, simply spend 5 minutes swinging the mace at the floor or a tire and do 3 sets. By the end of it, I'm sure you will agree that this is one of the best exercises for a full-body workout.
Finding some cheap mirrors for your home gyms can be a really easy way to improve your form and make space seem larger than it actually is. You don't need to fork out a fortune for expensive gym mirrors, and you can get some simple adhesive mirror panels for relatively cheap. This makes a good set of mirrors one of the best pieces of gym equipment.
Working out with a mirror is especially helpful for those that do things like Yoga and Weightlifting as you can use them to watch your form and see muscles that you would not be able to see without them.
A mirror can also help turn a darkened space into one that is full of light with the right setup. This will improve your mood, which has been proven to improve both motivation and ability.
The Benefits of Building a Home Gym
One of the biggest benefits of the home gym 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.
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 exercise, 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 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, 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 get 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.