It’s that time of year again. The time where people make promises to themselves (resolutions), and an overwhelming majority of these promises are about weight/health. For some people this means enrolling at their local gym, or signing up with a personal trainer to help create a plan. I like going to the gym, I do it throughout the entire year. However, because of the nature of my work (compulsory overtime) I always plan on going before work, which typically means getting up at 0430.

When I start fitness programs I am very strict with myself. I create a meal plan, supplementation plan, and fitness plan. To make sure that I don’t miss a workout I always go to the gym as soon as it opens. This year I decided to create a small home gym, with the hope that I would get to sleep in more. Now, before we go down this road I want to say that it is impossible to replicate your neighborhood gym in your basement/garage unless you are will to spend the money (a lot of money), and have tons of space.

What follows is what I used to create a home gym, and the reasoning behind it. You may have more cash/space than me, or you may like to focus your exercising differently than me. Regardless, make sure the space you create fits your goals. Also, don’t be scared to look for used equipment/weights. I spent a lot of time trying to find used before buying anything new.

Goals

What are you trying to accomplish with your home gym? I mentioned above why I want a home gym, but what are my goals with this gym? I like to do bodybuilding that incorporates both lightweight high-rep, and heavyweight low-rep exercises. Important exercises to me are: bench press (incline, decline, flat), squats (front, back), deadlifts (standard/stiff), and military press. Additionally, I need to have a safety mechanism so that I can really push my lifting limits. To round this off I also do a lot of dumbbell work.

Space

For this project I have given myself 1/4 of my garage, approximately 10’X10’X9’(height). This is more important than some people realize. You need to know the dimensions you are working with to make sure that the equipment you acquire can fit. You could be looking at two very similar pieces of equipment and one fits, and the other doesn’t. In a store equipment is stacked together in open spaces which creates the illusion of it being smaller than it actually is.

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Equipment

Knowing my space was limited, and incorporating my goals I decided on: a power rack, adjustable utility bench, bar with weights, and dumbbells. Also to make the space more comfortable and appealing, I purchased some mirrors and rubber interlocking floor tiles.

Power Rack: There are about a million of these to choose from. At first I looked at power racks that had incorporated lat (back) attachments. However after researching these more it appears that most (in my price range) are gimmicky. So my best bet was to get a power rack with a pull-up bar integrated. Power racks are great for fundamental lifts, and for providing a safety mechanism as you exercise to failure. The power rack I decided to go with is the Fitness Gear Pro Full Rack from Dick’s Sporting Goods. I was able to put this power rack together by myself in under one hour. I purchased this power rack on sale, with my military discount for approximately $400.

DIY Home Gym
Fitness Gear Pro Full Rack: Footprint 49” x 54” x 85” (height)

Adjustable Utility Bench: I wanted to use a single utility bench for all my exercises. This means the bench needed to be able to adjust decline, incline (various), flat, and 90 degrees for shoulder press. The only utility bench I was able to find which was capable of this, and in my budget was the Bowflex Adjustable Bench 5.1 Series. This bench adjusts to six different positions: 17° decline, flat, 30° incline, 45° incline, 60° incline and 90° for shoulder press. This utility bench also comes with a removable leg hold-down brace to be used while in decline. I was able to purchase this utility bench for under $200.

DIY Home Gym
Bowflex 5.1 Utility Bench: 17° decline, flat, 30° incline, 45° incline, 60° incline and 90° incline

Bar With Weights: This is all about preference, and budget. There are a variety of different bars and weight plates on the market. If you think you will be dropping your weights I would highly recommend getting bumper plates. These are compressed rubber weights which won’t damage your floor if dropped.

DIY Home Gym
(Image courtesy of garagegymbuilder.com)

Dumbbell: This was a bit of a struggle for me. I wanted to get enough dumbbells for myself, and my wife. This puts the range in 5-100lbs for most exercises. Also I didn’t want the entire floor space of my gym area covered in dumbbells. The solution we discovered was the Bowflex SelectTech 1090 dumbbells. These are adjustable dumbbells that range from 10 to 90lbs. One dumbbell set that replaces 17 paris of dumbbells. If you decide to go this route also, try to purchase these guys from a drop shipper like hayneedle. Typically they are cheaper than the MSRP, and you can combo things into your purchase for a greater discount.

DIY Home Gym
Replaces up to 17 pairs of dumbbells (image courtesy of Amazon.com)

Setup

To start I completely cleaned out the section of garage that I had designated for the gym. The first installation I did was the mirrors. There are a few options you can go with here. Check Craigslist, Offer-up, or any other source you have for used items. Mirrors can be a pain to dispose of and often people will gladly offload them to someone willing to pick them up. If you cannot find a used one (like me) then you can look at your local hardware stores. The key here is to get a frameless mirror (significantly cheaper).

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My Mirror Specifications: 36-in x 48-in Silver Polished Rectangle Frameless Traditional Wall Mirror (I grabbed three of these, but I could have done with two)

  • 1/4 inch (6mm) mirror is the professional’s choice for quality and value
  • Installs with 6mm clips, screws, J-channel or mastic and tape which are sold separately
  • Polished edge
  • Can be hung vertically or horizontally

Next I needed to get my flooring sorted. I like to have some material on the ground to protect the floors, the weights, and keep my feet warm if barefoot. I went with a simple interlocking rubber floor tile. You can buy these by the box and you can make whatever pattern best works for you. After the floor was down it was just a matter of setting up, and installing each piece of equipment. With the equipment constructed, and installed I am ready to use my gym.

There are some important considerations before you start throwing heavy weight around your garage. Make sure you constructed all load-baring equipment to the manufacturers specifications. Do some load tests before going extremely heavy. Test out your space, with a 7’ barbell do you still have room to complete the lift that you want?

I like what I created, but I also know its limitations. Although I can do a lot of the workouts I like, there are some fundamental exercises that I just can’t do with my setup. For example: a lat pull-down (wide, narrow, etc.), TRI push-downs, and basically anything cable related. I am fine with this because I know alternatives and I hope to eventually acquire more equipment that will make my gym more self-sufficient.

Here are some links to the equipment I selected: Power Rack, Utility Bench, Barbell, Barbell&Weights, Dumbbells, mirrors, floor tiles. Shop around, there are deals to be found. For more ideas check out garage gym guy, he has some great DIY projects.

(Featured image courtesy of garagegymguy.com)