If you are fed up of commuting to your local gym or spending money on a gym membership then building a garage gym could be the answer.
It is surprisingly easy and relatively inexpensive to build your own garage gym. Having your own garage gym can also be more motivational because you don’t have to worry about other gym goers or waiting for equipment.
I built my own garage gym several years ago and thought it would be helpful to list down some of my own garage gym ideas.
Garage Gym Layout and Design
The great thing about owning your own garage gym is you can fill it with all the best equipment YOU want to use.
Once you start to be particular about what equipment you have in your garage gym you quickly realise that you do not need a lot of space.
My own garage gym is 3 metres by 3 metres or 10 feet square and is a stand alone wooden structure. I don’t struggle for space or feel I need any more.
With careful design and planning you can perform all the cardio and strength training you want in the privacy of your own gym.
I recommend that you start with your garage gym flooring. Most garage gyms are going to have to deal with heavy loads so make sure your floor is solid concrete or reinforced if it’s made of wood.
Cover your floor with garage gym matting to both protect it and your equipment. Don’t buy cheap eva jigsaw matting, it doesn’t last long, go for a quality rubber matting that interlocks.
Garage gym lighting is also something you will need to consider. If you have power in your garage gym then this shouldn’t be a problem. My garage gym is 100 metres down the garden so I use solar power lighting which works well.
Garage Gym Equipment
Now you have your flooring and lighting sorted you can think about what equipment you are going to need. Your garage gym budget along with your fitness goals will determine what you should buy.
Below I have listed what I use for my garage gym workouts but it is always worth remembering the 80/20 rule. 80% of your workouts will use 20% of your equipment so with space at a premium only purchase what you really need.
Here’s my garage gym equipment list:
Kettlebells are a hugely diverse piece of equipment and take up hardly any space. Providing your know how to use them then they should be at the top of your shopping list.
You don’t need to purchase many kettlebells, an 8kg, 12kg and 16kg is usually enough for women and a 12kg, 16kg and 24kg for Men. The more advanced kettlebell lifters may need to double up (eg. 2 x 16kg or 2 x 24kg) but this can always be done at a later date.
Non competition designed kettlebells offer more diversity because they can be held with 2 hands rather than just one.
Learn more: Complete guide to buying kettlebells
2. Pull Up Bar or Alternative
The one movement pattern that is hard to achieve with kettlebells and other types of weights is the overhead pull. Having some kind of overhead pulling option is essential to keep your body balanced and prevent potential muscle imbalances.
Pull up bars are the standard option. You can purchase ones that attach to the wall, are part of a rack or are self standing. If space is limited then purchasing a complete unit just for a chin up bar can be a bit excessive.
Personally, I use climbing holds for my pulling movements and attach them to an overhead beam so I can perform a selection of pulling exercises without the need for any type of pull up bar. I love the grip challenges that climbing holds offer too.
I purchase my climbing holds from Euroholds in Spain.
3. Cable Machine
You don’t see many cable machines in garage gym set ups but for me it’s an invaluable piece of equipment.
Cable machines offer a huge selection of exercises that are both functional and challenging. For core training exercises including: the wood chop, Pallof press, and horizontal pushes and pulls, a cable machine is superb.
Cable machine design has improved over the years and a single column machine is really all you need and takes up very little space.
I use a Slimbeam cable machine in own garage gym.
4. Rower, Airdyne Bike or Ski Erg
Cardio machines are bulky and most of them are ineffective. The only three cardio machines that I would recommend are a Concept 2 rower, Airdyne Bike or a Concept Ski Erg. If you have the ceiling height then the ski erg takes up very little room and a rower can be hung up after use.
You need to consider which, if any, of the cardio machines is right for you. Personally I have a Concept 2 Rower because I like the fact that rowing further trains the horizontal pulling movement that is harder to achieve.
Ski ergs create further forward flexion which is a postural position that is already overused in daily life.
Regardless of your choice of equipment short interval based workouts are the way to go in order to save time and prevent overuse injuries.
Here’s the Concept 2 Rower that I have in my garage gym, I love it!
5. Gym Rings or TRX
The addition of a pair of gymnastic rings or a TRX suspension training system is another versatile and space saving piece of equipment.
Personally I use my gymnastic rings for 2 main types of exercise.
Firstly, bodyweight exercises including inverted rows whether single or double handed and unstable push ups. The instability created by suspension type training is excellent for stabilisation and core training if done correctly.
Secondly, I like to use my gym rings for assisting me when exhausting single leg exercises including the Pistol squat. So I may perform a series of regular kettlebell pistol squats and then finish with some bodyweight pistols using the gym rings for support.
These are the gymnastic rings that I use with adjustable straps
6. Olympic Barbell Set
Depending on your goals a barbell with a few bumper plates offer great value for money. You can hang your barbell and plates on the wall so they take up no space at all.
Personally I don’t agree with loading the spine using the back squat or feel the need to perform the bench press with so many other pushing options available.
So I don’t need a bulky squat rack or a bench. However, if you are a powerlifter then a squat rack and bench are essential.
I still perform front squats, overhead squats, rows, cleans, deadlifts etc. but I don’t need to max out. I’m always in full control of the bar.
I have a 20kg Olympic Bar and a collection of 20kg, 15kg, 10kg, 5kg, 2.5kg and 1.25kg plates. I use rubber encased plates by Body Power, which I find perfectly fine for what I use them for.
One additional space saving piece of equipment is a landmine attachment which you can use on one end of your barbell and perform further rowing and pressing variations.
7. Stability Ball
There are hundreds of exercises your can perform with a stability ball from core training and stretching movements to joint stabilisation and using it as an unstable bench.
The stability ball is an essential piece of garage gym kit that offers refreshing variety compared to many of the other pieces of equipment.
Personally I use an anti-burst stability ball that is 65cm in diameter.
8. Resistance Bands
The smallest and most portable pieces of equipment for your garage gym are resistance bands.
Resistance bands can be used both for warming up, just pulling them apart warms up your back muscles, or for adding extra resistance to movement patterns.
Stronger bands can be used to make certain parts of an exercise (concentric loading) more challenging, for example kettlebell swings or barbell squats. You can also use them to assist you with your pull ups.
You can also use bands to activate lazy muscles for example squatting with the band around your knees to force your hips to work harder.
I’ve used so many types of resistance bands over the years both for my own training and with clients and find flatter resistance bands like these the most useful.
9. Plyometric Box
Plyometrics certainly are not for beginners but a plyo box can have many other uses than just jumping on and off.
In my opinion the 3 sided plyo boxes are the best value because they offer you 3 different heights and take up very little space.
Beginners can use plyo boxes to elevate their hands when performing push ups or use them for step ups. Those more advanced can use their plyo box for elevating their feet during push up or for Bulgarian lunges or pistol squats.
You can purchase padded boxes, plywood boxes or make one yourself.
10. Foam Roller
Everyone should have a foam roller and use it regularly for improving their soft tissue. Not only is a foam roller excellent for addressing existing knots and adhesions but it’s also great for warming up muscle tissue before a workout.
There are also a number of core exercises that can be performed with a foam roller including the ‘ab saw’ which is an extremely intense eccentric core exercise.
My favourite foam roller at present is the Rollga because it allows for your soft tissue to get addressed and avoids your bony prominences.
Learn more: 9 foam roller exercises to improve your workouts
11. Stability Pads
There are so many uses for stability pads that I find myself using them every time I’m in my garage gym.
You can use a stability pad to increase the demands of stabilisation at the ankle just by standing on them so, great for warm ups, rehab and single leg exercises like pistol squats.
The stability pad is also useful to protect your knees when performing half kneeing exercises or when taking your knee down towards the floor when using lunge variations.
Here’s the Airex stability pad that I use.
12. Other Equipment
I’ve got a number of other pieces of equipment that I wouldn’t class as essential but still get used in my garage gym: hand grippers, parallettes, timer, speakers, whiteboard, massage sticks, medicine balls, body blade and Indian clubs.
Conclusion to Garage Gym Essentials
Building a garage gym is an excellent way to increase your motivation to exercise, eliminate your gym commute and stop your gym membership fees.
You can create the perfect environment to exercise with all the pieces of equipment you want to use for your specific goals.
You don’t need lots of space and you certainly don’t need to spend too much on equipment. Begin with the essentials and then add pieces of equipment as and when you need them.
I hope you found this useful and wish you all the best with your garage gym.
What do you use in your garage gym? Let me know more below.