How to Build a Cheap Garage Gym
In my previous post, I outlined the many advantages of having a home gym or garage gym. I won’t repeat myself in this post. The next question, naturally, is “how do I build a garage gym?” Stick around, and I’ll show you how to get the most bang for your buck and build a cheap garage gym!
Related: 5 Reasons to Build a Home Gym Now
Flooring is probably the last thing you think of when building a garage gym. Why flooring?!? An even surface gives you a safer platform to lift weights from. Flooring also protects the floor of your garage or home from getting damaged from dropped weights. If you do deadlifts (mandatory), you need flooring.
The most cost-effective form of flooring comes in two options: you can either buy some rubber horse stall mats from Tractor Supply (around $40 for 4×6 foot mat) or buy interlocking flooring tiles/puzzle mats from Amazon ($24 for 4×6 foot area). Your flooring should be at least 1/2 inch thick, but my recommendation is for 3/4 inch thick flooring. It doesn’t cost much more and will protect your floor from almost any amount of weight being dropped on it (that a human can lift).
The flooring I went with has a pattern on it that helps grip to your shoes. Here is what it looks like:
My entire garage gym fits onto an 8×12 foot area! It has everything I need and covering that area cost me a whopping $48. Unlike some of the other equipment, I recommend you get your flooring new. The cost savings aren’t worth the potential nasty gunk you’ll find on a used floor.
2. Power Cage/Rack
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, “power cage” can sound like something horrible (or excellent). A cage lets you squat and bench press without having to have a spotter. Working out alone can be dangerous, and anyone who has gotten trapped under weight after a failed attempt knows it can be a harrowing experience.
A power cage typically has metal “arms” of some sort to catch the weights before they fall on you. Which cage you get depends on several factors:
- How high is your ceiling?
- How deep do you need the cage to be (front to back)?
- What kind of accessories can you get for it?
- How much weight do you need it to handle?
My power rack, which I recommend highly, is the Titan T-3 Series Short Power Rack with a 36″ depth. The extra depth gives me room to move around, which I appreciate, and more room to add accessories without spending more money on a rack extension kit.
I picked up my rack along with an incline bench for $446.20, including shipping. You can buy a used rack, but given that you’re counting on this thing to save your life, I don’t recommend it unless you know the seller well. This rack has a load of accessories made for it, and it can handle more weight than I’ll ever lift (1,100 pounds).
Titan is a copy of a better-known company called Rogue. While Rogue’s equipment is of higher quality, it is also typically twice as expensive, if not more. Titan never charges for shipping and, for me, their customer service is excellent. Titan also regularly runs sales so time your purchases for when your items are at a discount!
Related: Titan Fitness
One hidden benefit to owning your rack is that you can mark it up however you want with a silver Sharpie. No more guessing which heights you should arrange things for different lifts!
Most people only need one barbell. Barbells, like racks, also come with different weight capacities. After a lot of research, I concluded that I wanted the Rogue Ohio Power Bar. It is highly reviewed and features center knurling (the grippy part), which helps keep the bar in place during squats.
I also purchased a Rogue Ohio Deadlift Bar. It has longer sleeves to hold more weight, has more “whip” (bend), which helps a lot once you start deadlifting more than 400 pounds, and has aggressive but not overly aggressive knurling to improve your grip.
If you’re just starting with lifting or don’t lift much weight, you don’t need to spring for an expensive bar just yet. Get a cheaper bar from a kit like the kind that Dick’s Sporting Goods sells along with your Olympic weight plates. You can also scrounge your area’s Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace to snag some good second-hand barbells. If, however, you’re an experienced lifter, suck it up and get a good barbell. Decent barbells are typically between $250-400. It’s a lot of money, but at least you don’t have to worry about the barbell bending mid-squat.
You can’t lift weights without weights, right?
How much you spend on these weights is HIGHLY variable. If you buy competition Olympic plates, it’ll run you thousands of dollars. Conversely, you can pick up a cheap starter kit from Dick’s or Wal-mart for $300 or less. The amount of weight you can lift also impacts how much you spend on them.
I recommend searching Craigslist of Facebook Marketplace for weights. Folks are always getting rid of them since they collect dust in some corner somewhere. My weight plates aren’t pretty; they’re the standard cast iron weights you find in most gyms. However, they have uneven widths and are from different companies. You know what, though?
All my body knows is that a 45 pound plate weighs 45 pounds. It doesn’t care how much I spent on them.
If you’re picking up used weights, you shouldn’t spend more than 80 cents a pound for them. If you can find weights for under 50 cents a pound, you’re getting a fantastic deal. I picked up over 600 pounds of plates and spent a total of just under $500. The weights aren’t unusual and sexy, but they’ll do.
For dumbbells, I went with Titan’s 100-pound adjustable dumbbell set. That weight covers most of my lifts with dumbbells (except benching, rows, and shrugs) and it takes up very little space in my gym. It beats having a rack full of dumbbells ranging from 5 to 100 pounds both in price and weight savings. I spent around $330 for the dumbbells and the rack. For comparison, a rack and dumbbell set going up to a hundred will cost well over $1,000. I looked on Craigslist for these, but pickings are slim where I live, and I couldn’t find a decent set of dumbbells for cheap.
As I mentioned earlier, the T-3 Series rack has many accessories that come with it. I bought:
- a dip bar
- a high and low pulley system
- a multi-grip pull-up bar
- safety straps (nothing kinky, it catches falling weights)
- weight pegs (to hold weight plates)
- landmine attachment
- hanging ab straps
The pulley system lets me do exercises like lat pulldowns, ab crunches, and seated rows. The landmine attachment (I don’t understand the name since it looks nothing like a landmine) is excellent for doing T-bar rows and different variations of presses. A dip bar is something foundational that every good gym has. You can work on your triceps, chest, or both with a dip bar and it’s a must for anyone looking to get stronger.
If you love running and that’s your jam, you probably don’t need any cardio equipment. This is especially true if you live somewhere with great weather. I live in an area with horrifically cold winters and can no longer run, so I need something to help me do cardio.
I have four different ways to do cardio:
- battle ropes
- fan bike
I first bought the Rogue Echo Bike after doing tons of research into fan bikes. It’s built like a tank (I’m a big fella), and it’s perfect for interval training. The harder you pedal, the higher the wind resistance generated by the fan. It’s also very quiet. The Echo Bike cost me $650 initially, but I was reimbursed $500 by my firm. The rower cost $950. Since my company gives us $500 per year for gym memberships or equipment, it cost me $450. As soon as we rolled over to 2019, the benefit renewed, and I used it.
I picked up the kettlebells several years ago and don’t remember what I paid for them. Again, you can find decent ones on Craigslist for under $50.
The battle ropes are something I do in warmer weather to switch up the cardio routine. I hate doing cardio (except for intervals), so anything to break up the monotony is a plus!
“Other” is intentionally vague.
This depends entirely on your needs. I am a powerlifter, and the equipment I’ve mentioned thus far is excellent for training all muscles except hamstrings. To have a strong deadlift and squat, you need to have strong posterior chain muscles. These include your hamstrings and glutes. Luckily for me, there’s a piece of equipment called the Glute Ham Developer (“GHD”) that works this area like nothing else. It’s huge, heavy, and bulkier than I’d like, but since I weigh north of 200 pounds and need something stable to hold me, it’s exactly what I need. It cost me under $400 and is stable.
What else could you order? You can get a dedicated pulley station. The pulley system I have isn’t without limitations: it can’t handle a ton of weight, and it’s slow to load plates onto it. A dedicated pulley system can hold more weight, and you can change the weight out in a flash. I don’t want one because I don’t have space and compensate for heavy pulldowns by rowing with a lot of weight.
There’s a plethora of other equipment you can order for your gym. Only YOU know exactly what you need, but I can tell you that what I listed above covers 90% of the lifts you need to get strong and be healthy.
If you play your cards right, you can build an efficient garage gym for under $1,000! Including my weight plates, minus the $1,000 my company refunded me, I spent just over $3,000. You don’t need to do this.
I’ve lifted for two decades and can hoist a lot of weight. This necessitated heavier-duty equipment and more weight. However, if you can’t lift a lot yet, you shouldn’t need to spend more than $1,500 or so to get a solid foundation for your home gym. Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Do you already have a home gym? What’s in it? What’s your favorite piece of equipment?
You can learn more about building a home gym and specific equipment on the r/HomeGym subreddit!