The most common reasons people don’t exercise are: time, location, money and kids. If you are like me, you find public gyms annoying, distracting and restricting (e.g. bad bars, no heavy dumbbells, TV’s (seriously!), non-round plates, no banging weights, squat racks turned into curl racks, no chalk, no grunting and no farmer’s walk bars, no specialty bars, no rings or room to sprint, throw a med ball or do loaded carries). Beginners also often mention that they find public gyms intimating. The good news is that all of these problems magically disappear when you train at home – if you get the right stuff and know what you are doing.
The Story Behind this Post
Recently, I got this question/request on my Facebook page:
Andrew, it would be awesome to have your view on an optimal garage gym set-up. Followed on with high-level program structure (say 4-5 days a week) considering training economy (i.e. 30 mins per workout). Benefits being something like: foundational strength, (bodyweight work, KBs, grip, olympic bar) and plyometrics. Thanks, Callan
At first, I was hesitant to answer tackle this as this great question really needs an entire book, not a blog post. Note: I am planning later this year on writing an entire book on how to set-up a home gym and train at home (this topic needs a full book to do it justice). However, I have a soft spot in my heart for home gym training. In my almost 30 years of training, much of it has happened at home. Over the past few months, I’ve been training almost exclusively at home to be with my family. I’m also frustrated when I see so few people taking advantage of home training or making poor equipment choices. Therefore, until I can get that home gym training guide written, here is a post to get you started.
Note: for more on the benefits of why training at home is so great, check out my post: A Case for Home Gym Training.
Part 1: How to Set-Up a Serious Home Garage Gym
Know your training style
If you haven’t done this yet, stop and really think through what you want out of training. What are your goals? What do you like to do? What do you need to do? What style of training do you prefer? Are you going to be competing in a strength sport (e.g. Powerlifting, Weightlifting, Strongman, Crossfit)? Your answers to these questions should not only dictate your training decisions, but also your equipment purchasing decisions.
Proceed with caution
Some equipment is expensive. In addition, home gym equipment depreciates about as fast as buying a new car. Don’t rush into purchase decisions. If you buy the wrong stuff, you won’t get you the results you deserve. Bad or inappropriate equipment will just take up space until you sell them for WAY less than you paid for.
If you have unlimited space and money, then you can ignore this advice. For everyone else, don’t buy things that are only used for one thing (e.g. a chest press machine). You want equipment that can be used for multiple exercises (see below for examples).
Get adjustable dumbbells
Again, if you have tons of space and money, a full dumbbell rack is great. However, a pair of adjustable dumbbells, some training knowledge and a large amount of work ethic may be all you need to build your best body (I would also add a pull-up bar).
The most economical adjustable dumbbells are the screw-lock handles. The typically cost about $30-35 and then you just load them with standard plates. Also, if you are pressed for space you can store the handles and plates under furniture.
If you have more money, there are fancier dumbbells such as PowerBlocks. These have add-on kits to make them heavier as you get stronger. They are also very fast/easy to adjust.
Invest in a good bar
The barbell is one of the best tools to build strength, increase muscle mass, improve performance, burn fat and train in a time-efficient manner. Depending on your goals, level of experience and training style, the barbell may be even more important than dumbbells.
The stronger you get, the more important a good, quality Olympic barbell becomes. Please follow Jim Wendler’s sage advice when it comes to barbells: “Buy nice or buy twice!” A good barbell should have a weight limit way more than you ever think you will need. These sleeves should rotate will, not have plastic in them or a big bolt at the end. While there are many good barbells on the market, a great all-around bar for most serious lifters is a Texas Power Bar.
Look for good deals on plates
Avoid buying plates online as the cost of shipping heavy boxes weights can often rival the price of the weights. You can get new plates at a local fitness store. However, because plates don’t really wear out, you don’t lose out if you choose to get used plates if you can wait to find the right ones. (Note: check for cracks from dropping and make sure the hole has not expanded over time as this can make the plates noisy and sloppy on the bar). Craig’s list can be a good place to check for used plates. Also, as gyms go out of business all the time, you can also get amazing deals at local auctions.
A few more notes on buying plates:
- If you are planning to deadlift, make sure you get round plates!
- If you have adjustable dumbbell handles, you want to get standard plates as well
- Consider getting microplates for smaller barbell loading and 1.25lb plates for your adjustable dumbbells
Buy some chalk
One of the best things about training at home is that you can use chalk. The best option is to buy a box of chalk blocks on Amazon. Keep the block that you are using in a Tupperware
Buy a full power cage
Once you have a barbell, adjustable dumbbells and plates, the next best thing you can buy is a power cage. If you are serious about barbell training, this the best piece of equipment you can buy. Power cages allow you to do exercises such as bench presses and squats without a spotter. This is important as bench pressing alone, at home without a spotter is one of the top causes of death related to weight training. A power cage also gives you a chin-up bar (get one with a multi-grip chin-up bar if possible), a place to hang rings and the option of adding extra attachments down the road (e.g. dip bar, cable).
These days more and more people are going to half and open racks – don’t follow them. Half racks are more dangerous if you were to fall back while squatting. They limit certain exercises (e.g. dips) and certain combinations (e.g. squats alternated with pull-ups). Also, they often seem to cost the same amount as a full cage. Why pay the same price for half the rack?
Consider an adjustable weight bench
Most home gyms will have a weight bench. This is not mandatory as you can press from a standing position or lying on the floor, but it is nice to have if your budget and space allows.
Get a dip belt
A dip belt is a great way to load chin-ups and dips – two of the most amazing upper body exercises you can do!
Get a pair of rings
Over the past 5 years or so, the popularity of suspension training has skyrocketed. Like every other useful training tool, they have been around for a long time. Gymnastic rings were first used by German gymnastics coach Adolf Spieß in 1842. Gymnastic rings competition first appeared and Paris Olympic Games in 1924. Gymnastic rings are about half the price of other popular suspension trainers, more versatile and faster/easier to use. I keep mine hanging from my power rack and take them with me when I travel.
While there are plenty of inferior suspension training exercises, there are a handful of ones that can be a helpful addition to a barbell/dumbbell program (please see the sample program below for examples). Note: only get ones with wooden handles and number-marked straps!
Get some bands
One item missing from most home gyms is a cable stack. Bands can be a fast, simple alternative for some accessory exercises. I recommend bands with 2-4 different thicknesses/tension levels. Also, buy them in pairs.
Depending on your needs, goals, space, and budget, there are lots more training tools you could get. Examples include farmer’s walk bars, trap bar, safety squat bar, medicine balls, kettlebells, weighted sled, cable stack, etc. However, the above list will give you more than enough tools to build your best body. Now, let’s talk training.
Part 2: Training
Sample Home Athletic Body Blueprint Home Training Program
Disclaimer: this is just a sample program for educational purposes only. It is not a personalized fitness program. It may not be safe or appropriate for you. Always check with your doctor before starting this or any exercise program. Exercise can be dangerous or deadly. You must assume these risks if you choose to proceed.
If you are not familiar with any exercise or want more information on how to do them right, you can find them on my YouTube Channel exercise video library.
1a) Standing Long Jumps: 3-5x3, rest 30 sec
1b) Deadlifts (floor or rack): 3-5x3-5, rest 90sec to 2min
2) Reverse Lunges: 3-5x5, rest 30-45sec between each leg/set
Optional Conditioning or Strongman if time permits:
Option 1: Sprints (out doors, use a hill if you have one near your house): 4-6x20-40 meters, rest is time to walk back
Option 2: Farmer’s walks: 2-4x10-20 sec, rest 90sec to 2min
Option 3: Sled pulls: 4-6x20-30 meters, rest 90sec to 2min
(you can buy a sled, have one made at a local medal shop or stick a rope in an old tire)
Option 4: Kettlebell Swings: 4-6x10-20, rest 90sec
1a) Chin-Ups: 6-4x4-6, rest 45-60sec
1b) Press: 4-6x4-6, rest 45-60sec
2a) Bent-Over BB Row or 1-Arm DB Row: 4-6x5-7, rest 45-60sec
2b) Floor Press: 4-6x4-6, rest 45-60sec
Optional loaded carry if time permits:
Waiter’s Carry: 2-3x10-20sec (do a figure-8 walking pattern in your largest room)
1a) Body Weight Jump Squat or Light DB Jump Squat: 3-4x3, rest 30 sec
1b) Squat (front, back, zercher or goblet): 3-4x8-10, rest 90
2) SL DB RDL: 3-4x8-10, rest 30sec between each leg/set
Optional Conditioning, Strongman or accessory work if time permits:
Option 1: Choose from the options in day 1
Option 2: Accessories
3a) Single Leg DB Calf Raise: 1-3x8-10, rest 20-30sec
3b) Ring Fallouts: 1-3x4-8, rest 20-30sec
1a) Pull-Ups: 3x8-10, rest 30-45sec
1b) DB Press: 3x8-10, rest 30-45sec
2a) Ring Rows: 3x8-10, rest 30-45sec
2b) Ring Dips or DB Bench Press: 3x8-10, rest 30-45sec
Optional beach circuit if time permits
3a) DB Curls: 1-3x8-12, rest 20sec
3b) Band Side Delt Raise or Band Face Pulls: 1-3x12-15, rest 20sec
3c) Band Triceps Pressdowns1-3:10-15, rest 20sec
Optional Day 5
If you want to train 5x per week and have shorter workouts, you could always take some of the strongman/conditioning work from day 1 or 3 and move it to day 5.
Stay tuned for my upcoming book on home gym training…