By John Garafano, 16 March 2020
While it may be great to have an expensive power rack with lots of add-ons, various specialty bars, and numerous name-brand machines in your home gym, the fact is that many people have built their elite-level strength on very minimal equipment setup. Try to resist the urge when first putting together a home gym to want to buy ‘everything’ and ‘the best’. Just know that over time, you can build your home gym up while you collect equipment (and pay less since you can buy used or take advantage of yearly sales). If you are a powerlifter, you can get by on this minimal setup:
With this kind of setup, you are able to perform all of the competition lifts and a good amount of assistance and supplemental lifts as well including things like slow tempo variations (e.g. 303 and 600 tempo), pause variations (e.g. 2ct, 3ct, and 5ct pause), and faster variations (e.g. touch and go bench). Now, you may not be able to completely perform your normal training but you certainly can get pretty close. If you have more money to spend on equipment, purchasing items like dumbbells, an incline bench, bands, chains, specialty bars, etc. are great. Remember though, many world-class lifters have built their totals using barebones setups and minor variations in their competition lifts.
A Word on Safety
Please keep in mind that if you are used to training in a gym where you have spotters and are now converting over to training in a home gym, it is worthwhile to consider some changes to your approach to training as it pertains to safety. First, try to have a spotter if you can. Second, if you are using a power rack, always test the lifts with an empty barbell and adjust your safeties. The last thing you want to do is take 90%+ loads and find out that your pins weren’t high enough on your bench press. If you are training alone, this could be very dangerous. Don’t be that person that we read about on the news that gets seriously hurt or killed because you didn’t take the extra few minutes to adjust your safeties.
If you don’t have a power rack and are using squat stands, you may want to be conservative on your top attempts, especially if you don’t have spotters. Since you don’t have safeties, overshooting your RPE and failing can be very dangerous. Some athletes find that it is helpful to practice bailing on a lighter weight just in case they get caught having to bail on something heavier while using squat stands. Alternatively, you can purchase adjustable boxes that can be used to catch the weight should you fail. In either case, it is prudent to be careful and when in doubt, rack it. If you don’t think you can complete the rep, live to fight another day (or set) and just put the weight back.
Where to Buy
There are so many companies now that offer fitness equipment at various levels of quality and affordability. There is also a growing movement of ‘home gym enthusiasts’ who review many of the equipment you are looking to purchase. Before you do make your purchase, you may want to check out these websites and read the user reviews before purchasing them.
Coop Mitchell’s Garage Gym Reviews is a great site that offers suggestions on home gym packages and also provides his recommendations on which equipment to purchase at various price points. He also includes ‘Garage Gym Builds’ to help you piece together what you might want to purchase and the total cost.
You can also see other builds that people have put together along with pictures of their setup. You can also buy fitness equipment from merchants like Walmart or Amazon. Just do your research and make sure that what you are buying meets your needs. Also, consider shipping costs when you compare purchasing directly from a manufacturer versus going through a reseller like Walmart or Amazon.
While it may be nice to get your new gym equipment shipped to you and feel excited like a kid on Christmas morning, you can often save a ton of money if you buy used. It is not uncommon for people to save over 50% by buying a piece of used gym equipment.
Olympic plates, for example, can be often purchased far cheaper when someone is looking to move and needs to get their old 45lb plates out of their garage/basement so they don’t have to load it into their moving truck. Sites like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are great resources to watch for used gym equipment deals.
If you are patient, you can find used plates, dumbbells, power bars, power racks, etc. for very cheap if you search on these sites. You can also join Facebook groups dedicated to home gyms like Coop’s Garage Gym Community by Garage Gym Reviews where you can learn about fitness equipment deals (both new and used).
We hope that this article has been useful/helpful for you. During these times, it’s important that we come together, and get creative with our solutions for maintaining both our mental and physical strength.