Equipment: Getting Started

Here are some of the tips & tricks that I’ve come across whilst putting together my own garage gym. Nothing ground breaking here, more of the little things that all add up to some savings and not purchasing unnecessary equipment.

  1. Have a goal and a primary focus
  2. Start with the basics, then build up
  3. Things to buy nice & things to buy cheap

Have a goal and a primary focus

Unless you have an unlimited budget and a giant room to outfit, it will be near impossible to be a gym with every piece of every equipment. If this isn’t the case, ignore this article and buy one of everything from Rogue, EliteFTS and Sorinex.

In order to narrow down the list of useful equipment, first ask yourself what exactly are your goals for fitness? If you want to powerlift, you probably won’t be needing a set of kettlebells. Do you want to Crossfit? You’ll probably want to invest in a good plyo box.

I have learned over the years that there is so much equipment out there, that I needed to have a direction with the equipment I would actually be using in my training goals. I have purchased a couple of items that I have very rarely used and just sit in my garage gathering dust, battle ropes anyone?

Because we all face limited budgets & space, having a very narrow focus will not only allow you to ignore a lot of the equipment on the market, you’ll actually be able to maximize your gym space. Every piece of equipment should serve a specific purpose that you would use at least once a week.

A cable crossover machine, for most garage gyms is unnecessary. For such a large footprint and cost, it’s use is just too limited to justify fitting it in. A squat cage however, has so many uses that it should be the center point of any home gym.

Start with the basics

Having the basics allows for versatility, until you have your training focus. Here is a list of what I believe every one should start with:

Squat Cage

This will probably be one of the most expensive purchases, but I think this one piece of equipment unlocks so many training options that it is a must. Most cages will feature a pull up bar, or at least the ability to hang off of something to perform pull-ups. The safety arms within the cage provide the user with the necessary safety requirements for lifting alone.

Olympic Barbell

This is what connects you to the weights and allows you to perform the major lifts. I would recommend the 2″ Olympic format, as most barbells in this measurement can handle more weight than a 1″ ‘standard’ format.

Weight plates

Since we’re weight training, this is kind of obvious. But I would recommend a barbell partnered with weight plates as the form of resistence to be used. It is preferrable over kettlebells, elastic bands and dumbbells. Because of the loadability (you can start with 0 weight plates and a 15lb barbell) and it’s versatility, it will be hard to perform a squat with an elastic band. The simplicity of the barbell + weight plates allows for incredible veratility within the home gym and this is the basis for almost all structured resistance training programs.

I would even argue they have an edge over dumbbells in the beginning, due to the space requirements, because a single barbell and a stack of weight plates can be loaded from 15lbs all the way up to 500lbs, having the equivalent weights in dumbbell format would take up a room all on they’re own.

Between these three pieces of equipment, you can get away with a very varied and effective workout program. The only thing you would need to spend more money on are weight plates as your strength increases.

Additionally, don’t forget to purchase several pairs of 2.5lb, 5lb & 10lb plates. These will be helpful in training. I would recommend having at least three pairs of 5lb plates, as it will save some time with adding weights to your lifts.

I would ignore all of the other pieces of equipment at first and save your money, because more often than not, you don’t ‘need’ that new shiny piece of equipment. Every garage gym is filled with useless items that got used for a month and never again.

Things to buy nice & things to buy cheap

There are some things that you should splurge on and other items that don’t need to be of the highest quality.

Nice:

  • Squat Rack
    • This is the garage gym, I would invest in at least a cage and skip the half racks, squat stands etc. As long as space permits. The cage provides extra safety and stability than these other options.
  • Safety Equipment
    • Your lift isn’t something to save money on. Invest in quality safety spotters, J-cups, safety straps.
  • Barbell
    • You can definiteyl get away with a cheap barbell in the beginning. However, as you approach the load limit of a barbell I would recommend buying a new one. Don’t risk an accident by exceeding the weight limit on a barbell. The cheapest bar most people recommend, and what I use is the CAP OB-86.
  • Flat Bench
    • I would recommend getting a good solid flat bench to begin with. Any of the adjustable benches increase in price exponentially. I’ve benched on a cheap adjustable bench at an incline and wouldn’t recommend it, the bench will wobble and you won’t feel safe for the entire lift. Good quality flat benches at an affordable price are easier to find.

Cheap:

  • Weight plates
    • This is where you can save a lot of money if you have patience. The second hand market is great for buying used Olympic plates, look for a price point of 60c/lb or lower. Brand new CAP Olympic plates from Walmart go for 70c/lb (as of September 2018. Keep an eye out for sales, promotions and deals. The fit and finish might not be as nice, but adding weight is a high priority.
  • Bands
    • If you want to get bands, keep an eye out for sales on EliteFTS and Amazon. They are mostly made from the same material and when light enough, they pose a low level of risk of injury if they break.
  • Chains
    • If you have the connections, you can pick these up for relatively cheap from Craigslist. Otherwise Home Depot and Harbor Freight have plenty to choose from.
  • Chalk
  • Weight collars
    • The $5 pair of spring clips from any sporting store will last you a while. Unless you plan on doing a lot of Olympic lifts, in which case, buy the good ones.

Conclusion

A lot of the specialized equipment, hex barbell, SSB, leg press, leg squat, landmines, lat pulldowns, kettlebells, dumbbells are all nice to have but are ultimately, unnecessary when getting started.

Stick with the basics and have a lot of patience when piecing together the gym, keep an eye out for sales and specials, especially free shipping deals. When you start shipping hundreds of pounds of weights, consider buying in bulk to cut down on the costs.

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