I recently finished building my garage gym, which has been a dream of mine for years.
Not pictured: this Rep Fitness adjustable bench. It’s a beast.
The critical parts of making this thing operational were the (1) weight platform, (2) the squat rack (Rogue, obviously) and (3) accessories. I thought I’d write up a quick post about how I did this, in case anyone else is interested.
[Update, August 2019 – I still love this thing! I added a little update, a year in, at the bottom of the post.]
The first step I took was in building that platform to stand on.
Why use a weightlifting platform? There are a bunch of reasons. First off, if (like me) you have metal plates and a concrete floor, it’s a good way to protect the surface. Setting down metal plates on concrete (sometimes with force, as when putting down a deadlift) is loud, pretty jarring, and in my experience, doesn’t feel great on your joints.
I bolted a strap to the top of the platform that allows me to hoist it up on its side when not in use, reclaiming a ton of space for our garage.
I mainly followed the instructions in this Art of Manliness post, modifying the dimensions a bit for my space. The important part is those strips of heavy horse mat rubber on either side, where plates on a standard olympic bar will hit. Using horse mats, available at almost any farm supply store, is the way to go there. They’re cheap and actually superior to most “gym rubber” mats you can buy from fitness supply stores, because those raised rubber treads stop loaded bars from rolling. They work great.
Obviously, I had to get a vinyl logo for that beautiful slab of maple in the middle. Battlestar Galactica was the clear choice. I got that design from Outlaw Custom Designs and am very happy how it turned out.
The only downside to this platform is that it’s heavy. Really heavy. Lifting it up to lean against the wall is like a mini-deadlift, and really made the strap I bolted on key. If I had to do this project again, I might see if there was some way to use only one layer of plywood underneath, instead of two. (Of course, if you’re just leaving it down, it doesn’t matter.)
I am a sucker for Rogue, so there was no way I wasn’t going to buy their wall-mounted rack, which folds back to save space. It’s a solid, beautiful piece of equipment.
The kink that made my installation tricky was that bottom 24″ or so of cinderblock. Bolting the top stringer into the wall studs was easy, but the bottom posed a problem. The drywall comes out about 5/8″ from the cinderblock part, meaning that if I just bolted the bottom stringer straight into the wall, the two would be uneven, and my uprights would be tilted. That’s obviously no good.
So I needed to cut a piece of plywood to even things up, and pound the anchor sleeves through them before anchoring them in the cinderblock. That made measurements really tricky, and honestly, they’re not perfect. But they work, and boy, those anchor sleeves are in there. I tried – hard – to yank one out. Nothing doing.
The thing to remember with a rack like this is that all of the massive weight you’re surely going to lift is going to be distributed downward into the floor. Those arms are just there to keep the uprights steady, not to hold that weight. Nevertheless, they need to be anchored really tightly. And they are!
I visited a gym surplus warehouse nearby and bought a bunch of cheap plates. It doesn’t make sense to me to invest in fancy plates – they’re just metal. Better grips would be nice, but… meh.
What I did invest in was a good bar. You handle the bar a lot, so it makes sense to buy quality there. I bought the Rogue Ohio bar, and I love it. It’s just a great olympic bar. I bought a crappy, cheap EZ bar that I will need to upgrade at some point.
I also invested in a good, solid bench. You don’t want a crappy bench that you have any concern about crapping out on you. The Rep Fitness bench I linked to above is great.
I bought this pair of safety arms that hook into my rack. I haven’t used them yet, but probably will when I start lifting heavier again.
A bluetooth speaker and the flag of your choice to adorn the wall, and you’re pretty much good to go here.
I’ve been using this for a little while now, and I love the freedom (and convenience) of having my own gym.
There’s a post I’ve been musing on for a long while now about powerlifting, why I love it, and the lessons it has taught me. See, weightlifting is really 80% psychological. When I tell people that, I get one of two reactions. Non-lifters guffaw because they assume I’m joking. Lifters nod appreciatively. But I haven’t figured out how to write about it without sounding insufferable. So we’ll see.
In the gym? Go listen to my book, now on audio.
Update, August 2019: putting in this garage gym is one of the best investments I’ve ever made. I generally lift 4-5 days/week. Here’s where you can find me every late Saturday morning after Penny goes down for her nap:
It's that time again pic.twitter.com/pXS01hwNbM
— Blair Reeves (@BlairReeves) August 10, 2019
I’ve made a few adjustments along the way.
First, I added a simple dry-erase board there on the left to record my routine for the day. Extremely cheap.
Next, I picked up a Rogue deadlift jack. Makes setting up the bar for deadlifts much, much easier. Worth your money.
The squat rack and bench have both held up very, very well. No issues whatsoever. I bought safety arms that bolt into those uprights, and I can confirm that they are indeed very necessary if you’re lifting any significant weight whatsoever. Don’t skimp there. By contrast, buying cheap weight plates was definitely the way to go. The ones I bought look a little rusted, but they still weigh what they need to, so whatever!