I've been there. Maybe you've been there too. You're talking about garage gyms and someone busts out one of those hypothetical questions.
Y'know, like "Can Superman outrun the Flash?"
Only in this case, you're talking garage gyms, so the question is:
The gear that is everything you need and nothing you don't. I've got an opinion on the matter- some might even call it an expert opinion.
I mean, I built a garage gym back in 2005 so I could follow CrossFit.com workouts in my home.
Then I fell in love with garage gyms, quit my 6-figure job, and founded a company focused on building the most awesome garage gyms on the planet. (This company, duh.)
Now I can have literally anything I want in my garage gym. In fact, when my wife and I moved into a new house, I had only two stipulations:
I got my office. And my garage gym. Here it is from a few years ago. :)
Let's preface the following with my lifting goals- I am after a very CrossFitty/GPP type of fitness- a performance oriented fitness that is well-balanced in the essentials of the 10 elements of fitness.
A barbell- garage gym essential #1
Oh barbells. My true lifting love. Now, I'm a big fan of buying the best barbell you can afford. But I've got a secret for you.
Even a cheap barbell is far better than no barbell.
And, the barbell is the key to modern strength training.
No other implement (in combination with a set of weights) provides a broader range of strength and conditioning exercises. No other implement allows manipulation of the weight stimulus in as minute increments- or as broad a range of weights from "a teenager can lift it" to "the strongest man in the world cannot lift it."
Here's our full selection of barbells.
A set of weight plates- garage gym essential #2
Combine these with barbells and you've got two-thirds of the dream team.
I'm partial to bumper plates, and here at Fringe Sport we make the best bumpers in the world (check out our bumper plates).
But hey, not everyone needs bumpers. I started my garage gym journey with a set of cast iron plates I bought off craigslist (here's a handy guide how).
Plus, if you're pinched for equipment, there are a lot of exercises you can do with weight plates alone.
A pullup bar- garage gym essential #3
I bet you thought I was going to say squat rack! And indeed, I do mention a squat rack as garage gym essential #4.
But you can deadlift, clean, jerk, curl, press, squat, and more with a barbell and weight plates... without a squat rack!
But you can't do pullups- one of the best upper body development exercises possible without a pullup bar or some way to anchor your hands above you.
Plus, one of my favorite and most overlooked elements of garage gym design is that pullup bars take up no space! Or, no space on your floor to be precise.
Here's my favorite pullup bar.
A squat rack- garage gym essential #4
OK. Now the garage gym dream team is all here- barbell, weight plates, and squat rack. Spring clips aren't here yet, but here's another garage gym secret- many lifters rarely or never use them!
Back to squat racks.
While I mentioned above that I prioritize a pullup bar above a squat rack, the truth is that you cannot move as much weight in many exercises and for many rep schemes without a way to hold your barbell off the ground to start and end your lifts.
Plus, a good squat rack accepts many accessories that can increase its utility (think dip stations or weight plate storage) or safety (squat safeties).
In my garage gyms, I have often opted for a squat rack or cage with an integrated pullup bar, increasing the usability of my squat rack even further.
1-2 kettlebells- garage gym essential #5
I bet you thought I was going to say a bench or dumbbells.
I'll talk briefly about my second tier for garage gym essentials below. And for me, dumbbells and a great bench are awesome, but definitely not essential.
But kettlebells. Yeah, buddy- I love kettlebells.
If you're in a pinch, grab a single kettlebell in a weight that you can swing for 21 difficult but do-able reps. Then work on your swings and build up to more.
If you've got a little more budget, get another kb that you can snatch for those same 21 reps.
Got a little more budget? Go heavier. Get something you can farmer's carry, suitcase deadlift, and work up to swinging.
Check out our kettlebells here.
A sandbag- garage gym essential #6
Oh boy. I mentioned above that I am in love with the barbell.
Well, the sandbag is my garage gym side chick.
Maybe it's because I spend so much time with those nuts at Atomic Athlete.
But I love me a sandbag. And sandbags are so cheap and versatile (7 of my favorite sandbag exercises here, great for garage gym workouts).
My suggestion? Grab a sandbag shell (here's ours), fill it to 60# for a female or 80# for a male (hint: a mix of sand and rubber mulch works well for weight and ideal bulk) and go to town with sandbag getups.
Here's my video version if you prefer to watch.
Something to note- I have a nearly limitless budget, but I know many people are limited.
So craigslist a lot of this stuff (here's how)!
If you had to invest some money in quality, I would first spend money on a good barbell. I know I'm biased, but our wonder bar is the best $200 you can spend on a barbell.
Take your time on building up the rest. I started my gym with craigslisted gym gear only, and I slowly built up a pretty legit garage gym piece by piece.
I remember the first time I bought a GHD on craigslist. I felt like a total boss! Of course, it was not as nice as a new GHD (here's ours), but it did the trick until I graduated to a better one.
Although now I deleted it from my garage gym lineup (too much floor space used up) and just use it at the Fringe Sport gym.
I mentioned above that a great bench and dumbbells don't crack my essentials. That might be a controversial opinion to some.
I personally have a training regimen that does not overly stress chest development- so I don't bench as much as many people, and I undervalue some of the dedicated hypertrophy work that dumbbells allow.
If you are only focusing on garage gym essentials, I feel you can reap sufficient development from military pressing for chest development and using kettlebells for some of the standard dumbbell hypertrophy work.
That doesn't mean I don't have these items in my garage gym. But I'm not limited to the garage gym essentials, so they make my cut.
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