Garage Gym Equipment Guide – Build a Kick-Ass Strength Gym on a Budget
A lot of people view having their own training facility as a dream come true scenario.
For a long time, that was my goal as well.
In my role as Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the junior hockey organization I work for, I've gotten a taste of that as I've been involved in outfitting our weight room with plenty of training equipment over the past year.
We wanted to build a bare-bones strength gym without the typical fluff you see at 98% of public gyms these days.
I'm talking about all the cool stuff like...
And tons of free weights to pile on the bar.
Of course, to turn the idea into reality, someone (that would be me) had to pick up the phone and get his hustle going to outfit the facility with some top-notch garage gym equipment.
And let me tell you...
Contacting suppliers and resellers, forwarding quotes to the GM, and calling back and forth with the delivery dude to arrange a drop-off ain't too glamorous.
But the experience taught me how and where to look for to get top quality training gear for affordable prices.
Since I already did all the legwork on that, I decided to write this guide so you can pick and equip your facility with whatever you deem necessary for building some strong, powerful athletes.
In fact, if I ever got the chance to build a weight room from scratch - be it a high school/college/pro weight room or of the home gym variety - I'd follow this plan.
Tier 1 - The Essentials
The bare basics of setting up a garage gym or weight room for athletic strength training.
The starting point for effective barbell strength training.
While many people assume that a cheaper squat stand will get the job done equally as well, that's not the case.
With a squat stand, you can only perform squats.
A power rack, on the other hand, "unlocks" plenty of other strength exercises for your enjoyment.
Floor presses, rack pulls, shrugs... All so much easier to perform with a rack than without one.
Not only well-built and affordable, Rogue's RM-4 Monster Rack also includes a pull-up bar, J-cups, safeties, numbered holes, and 11 custom color options to modify the rack for your liking.
Of course, a top-end power rack would be nothing without a high-caliber bar.
You'll want to go with a multipurpose bar designed for powerlifting and weightlifting.
Its sleeves should spin beautifully, so you can get under the bar fast and avoid unwanted stress on your joints on Oly lifts. The typical crappy bar you find at many gyms will ruin your wrists and shoulders if you clean with it long enough, heavy enough.
If you plan to compete in Olympic lifting, go with an Eleiko bar.
For everyone else, Rogue manufactures some of the top barbells available for squatting, pulling, pressing, cleaning and snatching.
You've got a quality bar? Time to load that sexy lil' thing with some heavy-ass weights.
For top-of-the-line plates, you can't beat Eleiko's beautifully designed color plates.
Rogue's plates also come with some serious eye candy factor - and a less hefty price tag than Eleiko's - which is why I recommend them for most people.
If you bought a rack with a built-in chin-up bar, you can skip this item on the list.
For everyone else, a chin-up bar you can mount safely to a wall or ceiling should be a mandatory purchase if you want to build a strong upper body.
Not only will a sturdy, well-designed chin-up bar allow you to perform various chin-up/pull-up variations with different grips, it's the perfect place to hang your gymnastic rings.
Which brings us to the next point...
I've written about the benefits of gymnastic rings before. And if anything, my love for the rings has only grown more profound over the years.
Simply put, for complete upper body plus core strength and muscle development, you don't want to overlook the rings.
Popular High Quality Wooden Gymnastic Rings
Christian's Fitness Factory
Last summer, I got in touch with a local equipment reseller and put in an order for three of these.
Luckily for me, the company sales rep understood that the trap bars I had ordered were being used by strong athletes moving big weights around.
So he managed to get me three bars with extra long sleeves, which would allow for more plates on the bar, thus heavier loading.
In hindsight, that proved to be just what the Doc ordered. We've got a couple of guys pulling 5 plates and change on trap bar deadlifts, which would be impossible to fit on a bar with the regular, shorter sleeves.
The trap bar is more versatile than most people give it credit for. Depending on the make of the bar and placement of the handles, you could use it to split squat, floor press, overhead press, or row in addition to the more common exercises like deads and farmer's walks.
If you can, pick a trap bar that has got both high and low handles - like the Rogue TB-2 below.
While I dig our bars a lot, not having the low handles prevents us from adding certain exercise variations into our program. Not a deal-breaker, just something to think about before ordering.
For securing your grip on heavy barbell and dumbbell exercises. Go with liquid chalk unless you don't mind small white flakes scattered all over the gym floor.
Tier 2 - Better Than a Chain Gym
Cancel your membership at the big chain gym down the street (if you haven't already) and invest the money you just saved into buying more gear for your own facility.
Here are some great options.
An adjustable bench is a great investment - not only for pressing at various angles, but also for different rows, box squats, or even step-ups.
Make sure you pick a sturdy bench. You don't want to be benching hundreds of pounds on a wobbly bench that could put you in a risky position coming out of the bottom and lead to a shoulder injury.
If an adjustable bench is out of your budget, go with a solid flat bench, which will cover most of your training needs. For incline pressing or rowing, you can stack a weight plate under one end to position the bench at the desired angle.
These could have easily been a Tier 1 purchase.
The only reason they weren't is because purchasing a full set usually requires a ton of capital that many of us don't have.
A stronger guy would need dumbbells from small weights all the way up to 50-60 kg DB's (around 110-130 pounds).
That's a lot of weight in 2.5 kg / 5-pound increments and not exactly cheap. Do the math and you'll soon realize the bill runs into the thousands.
If you insist on having the best dumbbells money can buy, Watson Pro Dumbbells will be your choice. Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin swears by them, as does Ben Prentiss, trainer to numerous NHL players.
As you can expect, they do cost a lot. After all, they're like the Rolls-Royce of dumbbells - beautiful to look at, extremely comfortable, and come with a five-figure price tag...
But are they the best use of your capital?
Only you can answer that.
For a much more affordable alternative that also takes up minimal gym space, go with PowerBlocks.
For progressively overloading chin-ups and dips. Can also be used together with a landmine unit on a bastardized (read: cheap but effective) version of hip belt squats.
Popular High Quality Dip Belts
An inexpensive choice for building upper body power in athletes.
While jumping and Olympic lifting will also work as tools to develop power, med balls allow you to train rotational power, which shouldn't be overlooked in rotational sports like hockey, baseball or golf.
Make sure to go with a ball that has some "give" and isn't too heavy. Dynamax makes the best med balls on the market and the Dynamax 8lb is the one we use.
Grip strength often becomes the limiting factor on heavy deadlifts, rows, dumbbell split squats or high pulls.
While strengthening the grip can't be neglected - especially in combat sports - you also don't want to fail lifts or move light weights because your grip isn't up to par.
Keeps plates locked in place on barbell exercises.
For targeted posterior chain work. Hits the lower back, glutes and hamstrings without beating you up.
- Ab Wheel
Best piece of training equipment you can get for around 10 bucks.
Tier 3 - From Good to Great
With these following garage gym equipment additions, you'll have a weight room far more streamlined yet versatile than your run-of-the-mill training facility across the street.
And most importantly, it's actually conducive to getting strong and in shape as opposed to the above-mentioned public chain gym stacked 30 feet deep and 50 feet wide with fancy treadmills and other machines that do nothing for your appearance or performance.
You won't find many other methods as effective for getting in shape as pushing, pulling or dragging a sled or Prowler.
The only downside is that doing so requires space. You can't really get the most out of pushing a sled five feet on a crammed driveway or backstreet.
Powerlifters implement resistance bands on squats, bench presses and deadlifts on dynamic effort day.
But that's not the only way to train with bands. In fact, you can make pretty much any typical exercise more difficult (and sometimes easier, if that's your goal) by adding in bands.
Just check out the video above for a few ideas on how to apply them to take your core training to the next level.
For unilateral rows, presses, Romanian deadlifts and squats.
Best used for protecting your junk against the barbell on hip thrusts and wrapped around a bar under the back leg on rear-foot elevated split squats.
Also a viable option on bench presses to limit range of motion and save your shoulders at the bottom.
As I've said many times before, any sound athletic development program will utilize jumps to improve rate of force development.
Max strength is great, don't get me wrong, but jumps are a must for teaching the nervous system rapid acceleration and deceleration, and for long-term knee health in change-of-direction sports.
Unfortunately, the typical metal plyo boxes you see in commercial gym settings don't lend themselves well to jumping onto.
Too often the landing surface is not big enough, and they're either too low or too high for many trainees.
Not to mention how you can easily bang your foot against the metal railings sticking out from underneath the box.
However, they're great if you're ever in search for a quick way to donate some shin skin following a missed box jump attempt.
(Ask me how I know)
Padded plyo boxes are easy to set up at various heights, take out the mental fear of missing a jump, and dramatically decrease injury risk.
Innocuous piece of equipment that doesn't require much space - but can kick your ass. Best used for leg curls, push-ups and core training variations.
Tier 4 - Let's Get Fancy
With the basics in place, you can splurge a little on some cool extra stuff.
If you've dealt with shoulder issues in the past (like I have), you probably shouldn't flat barbell bench.
But - if you're a meathead (like I am), you can't help yourself. So the least you can do is benching with a Slinsghot, since its benefits are two-fold:
1. It forces you to keep the elbows tucked in. Letting the elbows flare out under load isn't optimal for long-term shoulder health.
2. It gives some assistance at the bottom, which is the most vulnerable position for the shoulder joint, so you can bench pain-free.
Gives extra support for the wrists when going heavy on barbell bench press and overhead press variations.
Cheap and effective way to bring up your grip strength.
A thick, strong neck is the best antidote to concussions in sports like wrestling, boxing, football and hockey where heavy contact with the neck/head is a part of the game.
- Log Bar
Now's the time to start adding some specialty bars into your facility.
Ever watch a strongman contest on Eurosport or ESPN? Without a doubt, the log clean & press is one of the cooler events.
Look at the dude above pressing that big wooden log overhead.
The neutral handles force you to keep the elbows tucked in, making pressing variations safer for shoulders.
Another benefit of a Swiss (straight handles) or football (angled handles) bar is that you can't use as much weight as with a regular straight bar.
You still get a great training effect, just with lighter loads, which is never a bad thing for someone with existing shoulder issues.
Back squatting with a regular bar can irritate the shoulders if you have poor shoulder external rotation.
Not only that, the body has to compensate for the lack of shoulder mobility by hyperextending through the low back to get into position under the bar, which can cause low back pain.
Both of those problems can be circumvented with the safety squat bar, since the hands are placed in front of the body, so an existing shoulder injury or decreased shoulder mobility won't be a limiting factor.
Another classic straight from the World's Strongest Man playbook.
Pick up a heavy weight and carry it for time or distance.
Excellent training tool for building the grip, forearms, traps, core, and overall conditioning.
- EZ Bar
Less stress on the wrists than curling with a straight bar. Also works on rows, presses and triceps extensions.
Soccer players, sprinters, wrestlers, basketball players...
All have shoes designed specifically for their sport. So why not get a pair of proper weightlifting shoes if you're serious about pushing your numbers up on the squat, clean, jerk and snatch?
You'll feel so much sturdier wearing these shoes with a heavy bar in your hands or on your back. Plus, the elevated heel helps you squat deeper.
Turn a regular straight bar into a fat bar with a pair of these. The thicker bar is easier on the joints on pressing movements and curls.
Tier 5 - Cherry on the Cake
Put the finishing touch on your very own Mona Lisa with these additions.
Another way to load standard bodyweight movements. Also useful as added resistance when you max out your biggest dumbbells on split squats or lunges.
From more basic bodyweight movements like push-ups (great option for those experiencing wrist pain when performing push-ups on the floor) and L-sits to handstand or planche training.
Use it on single-arm landmine rows or Meadows rows to build lats like wings.
Great way to strengthen the posterior chain.
The only problem with this is that it's not very versatile. You can only do glute ham raises (and possibly sit-ups, if that's your thing).
But if you've got the budget for it, why not throw one of these in the mix?
Pretty much word for word what I said about the glute ham developer above.
Once you've been training on a solid strength program for years, strength gains will come to a grinding halt.
Unlike on the Internet, where everyone's adding 5-10 pounds to their lifts every week, you will experience plateaus.
Fractional plates help you make progress via smaller weight jumps.
Granted, going up by a pound or two each week or month doesn't sound sexy and it doesn't sell. But after grinding away for a decade or more, that may be all the progress that's still left in you.
For storing all your weight plates after training in a neat way.
Whew! This turned into a much longer and more detailed article than I expected.
Goes to show that building a world-class strength and performance training facility or garage gym takes some time and thought.
If you're in a position to throw big bucks at lifting gear from the get-go, then by all means go ahead and rummage your way through this list like an exuberant Charlie Sheen with a fat stack of Benjamins in a whorehouse.
But for general strength training on a shoestring, you'll want to start with the Tier 1 and 2 stuff.
You can always pimp your facility to make it a truly exceptional training environment by adding more garage gym equipment later down the line.
When that time comes, be sure to check back here again since I'll be updating this list on the reg.
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