I am often asked by aspiring trainers and coaches how they can go about upgrading or designing a home gym for either themselves and/or small group sessions.
In most cases, the two biggest struggles they face are space availability and a tight budget. While everyone would love a massive gym filled with expensive equipment, you can still get the job done with a small budget and a limited amount of space. It just takes some ingenuity and creativity.
Having outfitted one U.S. Navy aircraft carrier holding roughly 5,000 armed forces members with five separate gym spaces as well as an amphibious assault ship of roughly 4,000 Marines and sailors with two gyms, I have experience in building gyms. I had some nice wiggle room in terms of the budget, but I did not have the luxury of much space! In addition to my own experience, I also polled four of the biggest names in fitness on this topic. I proposed to them these parameters: If they had a $1,000 budget and available space about equivalent to a two-door garage, how would they go about building an effective gym?
Here's what they had to say.
1. Second-Hand Equipment Is a Must
"You can find a used set of weights on Kijiji or Craigslist, some old kettlebells, an econo squat rack and a flat bench. Some additional things that don't cost a lot but go a long way would be some bands, a jump rope and a foam roller, but all of that could be purchased for $1,000 for a savvy shopper."
–Dean Sommerset, deansomerset.com
"My best training was with a hand-me-down barbell and a bunch of borrowed weights. Budget: zero."
–Dan John, danjohn.net
2. Three Basic Rules Go a Long Way
"I feel that for a home gym, you really only need three basic components:
1. Something to Hang From
This can be a bar, ledge, whatever. You really can't approximate a Pull-Up or any other vertical pulling motion without it. Simply having a solid surface to hang from allows you to perform exercises like Pull-Ups, Straight Bar Dips, Hanging Knee Raises, Bar Levers, Muscle-Ups, just to name a few.
2. Something to Step On
This can be a bench, box, almost anything. You can use it for Step-Ups, but also as an incline to put your hand (or feet) on for Push-Ups. You can elevate the rear foot for Split Squats. You can jump on and of it for explosive movements. You can perform Dips off the side, or Levers, L-Sits and more.
3. Something Heavy
This can be a dumbbell, kettlebell or cinderblock, but it can also be yourself! Your own body makes great resistance. Bodyweight exercises like Handstands, Push-Ups, Squats, Lunges and Pistol Squats are all effective moves."
-Danny Kavadlo, dannythetrainer.com
3. Build in Phases
"Garage gyms should be built in phases, and these phases should be mapped out according to the individual's budget, goals, and logistics.
"For the individual on a shoestring budget, Phase I could simply involve purchasing a barbell, set of weight plates, and pair of collars/clips. Phase II could involve purchasing squat stands and an adjustable bench. Phase III could involve purchasing some dumbbells, a chin/dip stand, and a dip belt.
"For the individual with a larger budget, Phase I could involve purchasing a nice barbell, bumper plates, clamps, power rack/platform with chin/dip attachments, adjustable bench, TRX unit, dumbbells, and a dumbbell rack. Phase II could involve purchasing a hip thruster, medium hip circle, long bands, minibands, squat sponge, plyo boxes, kettlebells, chains, ankle weights, and a sled. Phase III could involve purchasing a deadlift lever, chalk bin, box squat box, trap bar, safety squat bar, and a 45-degree hyper or glute ham developer or reverse hyper."
-Bret Contreras, bretcontreras.com
In the end, you can make the call depending on what items you see most needed and most prioritized in your training routine. But you don't see any of those experts recommending major pieces of cardio equipment, do you? No bikes, treadmills, elliptical units, rowers, etc. That's to their cost, size and effectiveness. These items are fine to have, but they will drain your budget quickly and take up a large footprint in your gym. If you have these items already, great! Hopefully you can make the space work. If you do not own these items, however, the good old outdoors can be a great place for cardio such as sprints, hill runs, hikes, swims, etc. Mother Nature has a free membership waiting for you! Instead of prioritizing major pieces of cardio equipment for your home gym, I recommend holding off and waiting until your budget allows for the purchase of these bigger "luxury" items.
I'd like to reiterate the importance of buying used or discount equipment. Look at discount fitness supply stores and warehouses which often sell equipment for much cheaper than getting it brand new from a big name company. Refurbished/show room items are often just like new, but are available at discounted prices. You do have to be sure what you get is safe and working well, but refurbished and used items are rarely defective. Just make sure you test it out before committing to the product.
I believe knowing the specs and dimensions of your gear is an important factor. Mapping out a floor plan is a great way to see how much training space will be available. It's not just about squeezing as much gear as you can fit into your space, it's about making sure the gear you do have can be used effectively and in a range of manners. Traffic flow, safe space boundaries for Olympic lifting, room for more than 1 or 2 people in the space at once, ceiling clearance—little details like these will make or break your personalized gym space. With a little planning, projection and forecasting, you can make a home gym for you and even a few training buddies a workable setup.
Your garage gym's purpose or intent of training style (powerlifting, CrossFit WODS, circuits, TRX, Yoga classes, mobility drills, stretching space, etc.) should also impact the design and equipment needs of your home gym. Keep your outcome in mind at all times when outfitting and formatting your home gym space so that you don't run into a spot where you're putting time, money and effort into a gym which isn't actually serving your needs.
With the right mindset, vision, commitment and financial smarts, you can create a very effective and workable home gym/garage space to give yourself and a handful of others some awesome workouts on a consistent basis.
Photo Credit: N8tureGrl/iStock
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