I trained 5 years in a commercial gym. Then I bought gym equipment and built a home gym in my parent's garage. And although home gyms have drawbacks, this was one of my best decisions ever.
This post will teach you everything about how to build a home gym. Benefits & drawbacks, what gym equipment you should buy and where, and how much it will cost you to build your home gym.
Benefits of Home Gyms. Some build home gyms because they're intimidated by bigger guys in commercial gyms or because gym people training wrong stresses them. Get over both. Here are real benefits of home gyms.
- Time-efficient. No more waiting for the Power Rack to get free. No more driving back & forth to the gym several times a week.
- Cuts Expenses. No more gym membership fee. You get your investment back within 2-3 years. Gym equipment doesn't lose value, so if you ever quit you can always sell it on Craiglist or eBay.
- Freedom. Gyms often have no Power Racks and forbid Deadlifts & chalk. Home gyms allow you to train how and when you want.
Drawbacks of Home Gyms. Unless you invite friends, you'll be training alone in your home gym. While this builds character it has drawbacks.
- Self-discipline. You have nobody to motivate you during heavy sets or to drag you to the gym when you don't feel like training.
- No Spotter. Nobody to spot you during a heavy Squat or Bench Press. Nobody to hand out the weight on the Bench Press.
- Need Space. The deal-breaker for most people. You need enough space for your Power Rack, bench, barbell & plates to fit in.
1. Home Gym Space. Most people build their home gym in their basement or garage. Here's how much space you need:
- Width x Depth. 108 square feet (10m²). Space for your Power Rack and to Deadlift outside of it. If you don't have this space: at least 6'/3m to give your bar clearance, Deadlift inside your rack.
- Height. High enough so your Power Rack fits. Your length + 3 feet (1m) so you can Overhead Press without the barbell hitting the ceiling. If you don't have this space: press outside or seated.
2. Home Gym Flooring. Point is to protect your floor and reduce the noise from the barbell hitting the floor during exercises like Deadlifts.
- Plywood. 2-3 layers plywood. Optional heavy carpet on top. Make sure the carpet is hard (not compressible) and doesn't slip around.
- Rubber Mats. Get 2 stall mats of 2 square feet (0,2m² ) from your local farm supply. Put them under the plates of your barbell during Deadlifts.
- Platform. Or build a lifting platform if you're serious about Olympic lifts like Power Cleans. Read muddy's post in the forum.
3. Power Rack. The Power Rack facilitates getting the barbell in the starting position on the Squat & Bench Press. Its safety pins increases safety. And it usually comes with a Pull-up bar and Dip bar attachments.
- Tall. Your Power Rack should allow you to Overhead Press inside of it. Otherwise you'll have to Clean the bar on each set or press seated.
- Strong.Your Power Rack should handle weights up to 1000lbs/450kg. You never know how strong you get on Squats.
- Safety Pins. Power Racks have lateral pins that you can set at multiple heights. These safety pins catch the bar if you miss a lift.
You won't be able to lift heavy and safely without a Power Rack. Your home gym needs one if you're serious about weight lifting. Here are some popular but less safe alternatives to Power Racks:
- Squat Rack. Open Power Rack. Less safe since it usually doesn't have safety pins (some do, but they can't be adjusted). Example.
- Squat Holds. Also no safety pins, but you can use saw horses. Can fall over if you don’t watch what you’re doing. Example.
- Smith Machine. Power Rack with fixed barbell. Not as safe as it looks like and less effective than free weights. Example.
EliteFTS sells the best Power Racks. They're made by lifters for lifters. However the quality comes at a price. Cheaper alternatives that will do:
- New Power Racks. Amazon offers Power Racks with prices ranging from 299$ to 499$ and free shipping. Examples: this, this & this.
- Homemade Power Racks. Can be cheaper. Read this, this, this & this guides on building a Power Rack and this, this & this forum threads.
- 2nd Hand Power Racks. Several forum members have found great deals using Craiglist, Search Tempest & eBay.
4. Barbell. Quality barbells are safer & feel better. Don't be cheap on this. Here's what to look for when choosing a bar for your home gym:
- Strong. Never bends, handles up to 1000lbs/450kg, 45lbs/20kg weight, 7ft/2m20 length, 2"/50mm sleeves, 28mm grip, center knurling, ...
- Revolving Sleeves. Fixed bars are harder on your grip, meaning less weight. And they makes olympic lifts impossible. Get revolving sleeves.
- Collars. Barbells usually come with spring collars. They're fine, although many forum members prefer Muscle Cramps.
Don't waste your money on cheap 6ft barbells weighing 22lbs/10kg and without revolving sleeves or middle knurling. Get a quality barbell from the start. Some companies you should look at ranked on price:
- High Class. EliteFTS, Eleiko, Ivanko, Werksan, ...
- Middle Class. MuscleDriver, Rogue Fitness, BS Olympic, Iron Company, ...
- Low Class. Craiglist, Search Tempest & eBay (2nd hand).
5. Plates. With 50mm holes to fit your barbell. Watch for special deals. Often you can get a barbell and weight set from one of the above companies at a reduced price. Here's what to look for:
- Weight. Get 4 plates of 2.5/5/10/20lbs and 6 of 45lbs (so 4x 1.25/2.5/5/10kg and 6x 20kg). Totals for 440lbs/200kg when including your bar.
- Iron. Usually cheaper than rubber coated. Consider the more expensive bumper plates if you're serious about Olympic lifting.
- Round. Angular plates make exercises where you pull the bar from the floor, like Deadlifts or Barbell Rows, impossible. Get round plates.
Consider a weight tree to keep your home gym safe and organized. Example.
- Width. The bench shouldn't be too wide so it doesn't get in the way of your arms & shoulders in the bottom position.
- Sturdy. Handles weights of 440lbs/200kg and doesn't tip back when you rack a heavy weight into the uprights.
- Flat. You can get an adjustable bench too if you want more versatility in the future. However a flat bench will do too.
7. Extras. You only need a Power Rack, Barbell, Plates & Bench to do a routine like StrongLifts 5x5. If you get serious about weight lifting & strength training, you'll probably end up getting some of these extras.
- Shoes. You need shoes with a hard, incompressible sole. Chuck Taylor’s are best. Read the post on weight lifting shoes.
- Chalk. Improves your grip by preventing sweating. Chalk also decreases callus formation by filling your skin folds.
- Dip Belt. Easiest way to add weight on Pull-ups, Chin-ups and Dips. Homemade dip belt or Ironmind's dip belt.
- Resistance Bands. Assisted Pull-ups, Push-ups against bands, mobility exercises,... Read the post on resistance bands and check Iron Woody.
- Rucksack. Wear a rucksack filled with plates for weighted Push-ups, Dips, Pull-ups & Chin-ups. Cheaper than an Xvest.
- Foam Roller. For soft tissue work. Cheap PVC or paperboard rollers are hard but work. Or get Perform Better's foam roller plus with cover.
- Bumper Plates. You'll break your bar & plates if you do Olympic lifts like Power Cleans without bumpers plates. Get some like these.
- Box. You need a sturdy box for Box Squats. Check EliteFTS' adjustable box or read how to build a box for Box Squats.
- Adjustable Dumbbells. With 50mm sleeves so your plates fit on them.
Total Price for Home Gym. Count 1000$ for a new Power Rack, Bench, Olympic Barbell & 400lbs/180kg plates. Go 2nd hand and you can find the same setup at half the price on Craiglist.
If you have questions about building a home gym or want to share tips, check out the gym equipment section in the forum.