Building an Awesome Garage Gym for Under $2K
Garage Gym Equipment and Training Routine
Here we are. We’ve been on lockdown for over a month. Your gym is closed, and it may not be opening anytime soon.
You’ve been treading water and maintaining a baseline level of fitness with bodyweight exercises. Doing what you can is certainly better than doing nothing, but you’re serious about your training and you’re itching to return to slinging real iron.
Fortunately, you can get back in the game now if you have a modest 100 square feet of space available in your garage or basement. All it will take is a reasonable investment in a basic garage gym training set-up.
Even absent a government-imposed quarantine, a garage gym can be a great insurance policy for those times you need to squeeze a workout into a tight window and just don’t have the commute time to your usual commercial gym to spare. Let’s dive into the nitty gritty and tell you exactly what equipment you’ll need, what exercises you should perform, and what sort of schedule you should follow.
Garage Gym Equipment
Since most garage gyms are constrained by budget and space, you’ll be well-advised to start with basic equipment. If you have money leftover, and a large enough training area, you can build out your gym with specialty pieces that provide more training variety.
Foremost, you’ll need a seven-foot Olympic weightlifting bar and a selection of weight plates to match. That “Olympic” designation doesn’t mean you’re going to be training for the Olympics, unless, I suppose, you get really good at this. It just refers to the diameter of the end of the bar and the hole size in the plates, both of which will be very close to two inches (50mm). Weightlifting bars and weight plates are also manufactured in “standard” sizing of approximately one inch, but those aren’t nearly as versatile.
You can buy your Olympic bar and plates together in a 300-pound cast iron Olympic weight set. Your weight set will include a 45-pound bar and the following plate sizes with the number of each size in parentheses: 45 (2), 35 (2), 25 (2), 10 (2), 5 (4), and 2-½ (2).
Next, you’ll need an adjustable squat stand. Though it might be called a “squat” stand, this versatile piece of equipment will be the cornerstone for much of your garage gym training in addition to squatting, including overhead and bench press variations.
Adjustable Squat Stand Feature Highlights:
- Your adjustable squat stand includes J-hooks to hold your barbell in the racked position on the uprights. These uprights have holes cut in them about every 2” on center to adjust the starting bar placement for different exercises.
- The adjustable safety catches / spotter arms are an absolute necessity. Their function is to catch the barbell so that you’re not seriously injured by a free-falling weight if you overestimate your strength and miss a rep.
- Rubber feet and rear plate storage pegs are important stability-enhancing measures. Since the rack is heavy enough to stay in place without bolting to the floor, you won’t be stuck with one configuration for your garage gym’s layout.
- The dip handles, which can be used with the stand’s adjustable uprights pushed in, are a nice addition that don’t often come standard. Dips are often called the “upper body squat,” meaning they’re as effective for heaping slabs of muscle onto your chest, shoulders, and triceps as squats are for building your thigh muscles. As long as your shoulders tolerate dipping well, working dips into your garage gym training routine is a great idea.
If all this sounds a bit confusing, review the photos of the adjustable squat stand and the descriptions should start to make sense.
The final piece in your garage gym equipment arsenal will be a flat to incline adjustable weight bench. Your bench offers easy pop-pin control for a range of adjustments between 0° and 90°, a triangular 3-point frame design for better stability on uneven floors, high density foam padding for maximum support and comfort, 11-gauge steel frame tubing, and an inconspicuous handle under the seat and small wheels at the opposite end for easy mobility.
To protect concrete garage gym floors and to provide a tacky surface on which to stand while training, 4’x6’x3/4” rubber gym flooring mats are also a smart purchase. Four mats will cover an adequately-sized training area of 96 square feet.
Affordable Garage Gym Pricing
|Olympic Weight Set with Bar||$669.00|
|Adjustable Squat Stand||$431.99|
|Flat to Incline Adjustable Weight Bench||$650.00|
|4’x6’x3/4” Rubber Gym Flooring Mats (4)||$221.00|
Garage Gym Training Routine
Walking into many commercial gyms, you’re confronted by long rows of different types of gym equipment. The myriad choices allow you to work your muscles from every conceivable angle. They can also be confusing and overwhelming.
With garage gym training, your choices will be much more limited. Before you begin grumbling, you should see this narrowing of focus for what it really is: a blessing in disguise.
Your equipment limitations will force you to concentrate on a handful of basic lifts, and guess what? The basics are what you should have been emphasizing all along anyway.
Training on compound movements is by far the best way to pack on muscle and strength. Chosen wisely, they also cover all the major muscle groups and movement planes to ensure a balanced training program.
Most people new to weight training will probably think they need to live in a gym in order to see results. It’s no wonder. Decades of marketing slogans like “Just Do It” and “No Pain; No Gain” have inundated us with this all-consuming commitment jargon.
It’s well past time we lose the nauseating bravado of these hard-line stances. “Just Do It Sometimes” and “No Discomfort; No Gain” won’t sell many shoes, but the message they convey is a lot more practical for fitting training into busy lifestyles where jobs and families usually take precedence.
You’ll be shocked to know just how little you need to train to make good progress, and how easily a regular training program can fit into most people’s schedules with a bit of time management. A total weight training time of three hours a week will get the job done. Plan to allocate time in your schedule for three weight training sessions of an hour each.
You’re going to train on a simple upper/lower split, meaning that you’ll divide your exercises into those that train the upper body musculature and those that train the lower body. The upper body lifts will all be done together on your “A” training day, and the lower body lifts will all be done on your “B” training day.
You’ll train on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, taking the weekends off to rest and recover. Simply alternate the two training days. Week one will be A-B-A, week two will be B-A-B, and so on. Notice that the upper body and lower body are each trained three times every two weeks on this schedule, providing both balance and adequate muscular stimulation for growth.
People who train more frequently divide body parts up any number of ways, devoting entire training sessions, for example, just to chest or back or legs. Not only is that not necessary, but it may not even be superior to just training on a simple upper-lower split. Certainly, if you’re just hoping to build some muscle and shed some fat in order to look and feel better, you don’t need to follow a competitive bodybulder’s training split.
Here’s the exact layout of your garage gym training routine:
|A — Upper Body||B — Lower Body|
Begin each training session with a thorough mobility-based warm-up for about ten minutes. Something like Joe DeFranco’s “Limber 11” would be a good starting point from which you could modify to address your own particular movement issues. After warming up, spend about ten minutes on each of your four lifting movements. Complete three sets of eight repetitions each, resting for two minutes between sets.
Progressive poundages (adding weight to the bar when you’re able to in good form) are one of the keys to weight training success. When you can complete all twenty-four repetitions for any of your lifts with no degradation in form, add five pounds the following week and drop the sets and reps down from three sets of eight reps to three sets of five.
Over the next few weeks, slowly add repetitions back as you can until you’re again doing three sets of eight, add another five pounds, and start over at three sets of five. Beginners can often keep a slow progression of an additional rep or two a week going for a year or more.
Finish with a ten-minute cooldown before jumping back into the rigors of your regular life. Deep breathing exercises and foam rolling are excellent for cooling down.
The Rest of the Week
Though you’ve used up your weekly three-hour allotment for weight training, I don’t recommend just sitting around the rest of the week. Staying active is even more important during quarantine when we’re required to maintain more sedentary lifestyles that prevent us from completing our normal number of daily steps.
Ordinarily, you could pick from the cardio equipment found in most commercial gyms for what’s commonly referred to as “Long Slow Distance” (LSD) conditioning. For now, however, you’ll be limited to a brisk walk or jog unless you also invest in cardio equipment for your garage gym. Either way, do the best you can with what you have available.
As a guide to how hard you should be working, move at a pace that allows you to maintain sixty to eighty percent of your age-adjusted maximum heart rate. For a forty-year-old, seventy percent is calculated as follows: (220–40) x 0.70 = 126 beats per minute. If you dislike the joint pounding of jogging but are in pretty good shape, walking with a weighted rucksack may allow you to reach your target heart rate zone more easily.
One garage gym article certainly isn’t the be-all and end-all of weight training guidance, but you could do far worse for a starting point. If you purchased the recommended garage gym equipment and diligently practiced the outlined routine for a year, you’d end that year much stronger and with more muscle than you started it.
If you also did the conditioning and followed a reasonable diet in line with your caloric requirements, you’d have a leaner physique to show for your efforts. And if we remain quarantined and you never have the opportunity to show those new muscles off in person, you always have the pathetic validation of social media as a fallback.
You may also be interested in the following garage gym equipment (click to follow the link):
Garage gym photo credit Zach Kirchner @zrawkirch
About the Author: Visit Chuck Miller's website for more of his writing on a variety of topics, including his strength training book, Inside the Mind of an Iron Icon (foreword by IRON COMPANY featured writer, Marty Gallagher).