When gyms started closing because of the pandemic, the garage gym became a big topic. Once upon a time, only the super-elite athlete or the very wealthy had what was considered a home gym. Sure, every now and then a kid would have a bench, a barbell, and some old weight plates sitting next to the family minivan, but those days are gone now thanks in part to the pandemic as well as a dozen other factors.

What is a garage gym?

A garage gym means something different to everyone and it may depend on what your goals are. If you are a meathead looking for those big gains, you are going to want power racks, a squat rack, bumper plates, and all of the other gym equipment to help you build muscle.

For others, a garage gym may mean something more elegant like a contained exercise machine or one of the new fitness options like Tonal. These may need less space and could be the better option for a person who is new to fitness and still needs prompting and cues for the proper technique.

Regardless of your fitness goals and current fitness level, using the garage or other space in your home for workouts can be hugely worth it in the end.

Garage gym benefits:

  • It is your space. You determine the music, the lighting, even the temperature (to some extent)
  • This is your equipment. You don’t have to worry about other people’s germs or have to wait your turn for a certain pair of dumbbells.
  • You can choose when you go to the gym, no matter what time of day or night. Can’t sleep? Go hit the gym for a few squats and push-ups.
  • No matter how much money you invest in building your garage gym, you will save money in the end.
  • No more commuting to a gym
  • No more having to watch withered old men stroll around the gym locker room without a care in the world or a single stitch of clothes on. Good on you, Grandpa but how about grabbing you a towel or something?
  • You never have to worry that some social media influencer is getting your deadlift on video to critique for a million views.

How much does it cost to your garage into a gym?

Attention! Scary number is coming your way! If you do everything “by the book” and professionally, the cost of turning a garage (or other space in your home) into a gym is going to be between $6,000 and $30,000. Here’s some more scary news: that does not include the equipment such as benches and weights. That is purely the construction cost.

Fret not. There are plenty of tips to bringing down the cost of your garage gym project including how to get plenty of equipment at far lower prices. You don’t have to have top-of-the-line gear. Only athletes need the pricey stuff and even they can make do with more versatile equipment at times.

Unless you don’t think you can lift weights in a less than finished showplace, there are plenty of suggestions for keeping your construction costs to a minimum while still focusing on safety and the ability to best use your space.

Equipment: Need vs Want

Let’s be real here, shall we? What does the average person need for their gym? That depends on the fitness goals. First and foremost, the average person can achieve several of the most common fitness goals with bodyweight exercises only. That’s right. You have all of the equipment you need and it costs you zero dollars. But, if you are interested in trying to build muscle that goes beyond the average, you probably are going to need to push iron.

To build muscle in your own gym, you might need:

  • A range of dumbbells. Start with what you can lift with good form and then add at least 2 additional sets in increasing weights. Add more sets of dumbbells as you can afford to do so. Most dumbbells are sold by the pound. There are several options to choose from including covered and adjustable.
  • Another option to consider is the adjustable dumbbells. Bowflex has several options and are sold in pairs. These can reduce the number of weights you need while also allowing you access to the heavier, higher-priced weights
  • A barbell and weight plate set. A range of plates with quick-release collars can let you move through a series of exercises that range from the deadlift to the squat, the bench press, and overhead presses.
  • A bench. Look for an adjustable bench that is rated for your current weight plus the amount of weight you will likely be adding to it.
  • A pull-up bar. Options include bars that mount to the wall or a door frame as well as racks that also include the pull-up bar. Also called a Roman Chair, these can be used for a wide range of movements beyond just the pull-up.

Nice to have, but not necessary:

  • A power rack
  • A squat rack or squat stand

Definitely in the Want Category:

  • Dedicated machines for select body parts. They take up a lot of space, only work one part, and can usually be counted on to fail at some point putting your safety in danger. There are plenty of workarounds for most of these machines.
  • Tons of mirrors. You should have a mirror in your workout space so that you can keep proper form. You do not need a wall full of them. You can only flex in one mirror at a time, Mr. Olympia.
  • Fancy lighting. An overhead garage light is fine. You are there to crush your goals, pump that iron, sweat out some aggression not perform surgery.

Equipment: New vs Used

If you prefer a machine and that is all you have space for, definitely try to buy new for the warranty and informational guide alone. You can buy a machine through several sources, but remember you get what you pay for and you may be sacrificing safety to save a few bucks.

Some gym equipment is never going to be “old” even when it has been used for years. With the exception of some concrete style weights, you can get weight plates that are older than you are and they will be fine. Some caveats for used equipment:

  • Inspect anything that has moving parts very carefully. This includes adjustable benches, squat racks, weight machines, and storage racks
  • Don’t discount banged-up plates and dumbbells. You can always give them a new coat of paint to give them new life
  • Old heavy bags are practically indestructible. If they do have a tear, cover it with duct tape. But, if there was a chance that a fabric-covered bag was stored in a basement there might be additional problems such as dry rot or mold. Skip those problems as they are not worth trying to deal with and could be more harm than good.

There are ways to save tons of money on equipment and even fixtures for your gym. You will find those tips in a later section.

Is a garage gym worth it?

A garage gym adds value in some ways but may detract value in others. On the positive side:

  • Saves time and money that would be used paying for a gym membership/driving to and from a gym and buying additional workout apparel and gear
  • Can increase the time and effort you put into your fitness routine. Hey, you might actually get out there to pump that iron if you only have to walk a few feet. Seeing the equipment every day is a great reminder to put in that sweat time.
  • Never have to check the time because your gym is always open.
  • A well-built home gym space could increase your overall resell value if you decide to move in the future.

But, there are drawbacks that you might consider too:

  • You technically lose a space that was used for something else. A garage gym could mean that you park your car on the driveway or that you and another household member fight for a single parking space inside of the garage.
  • A basement gym may mean a smaller laundry room or could change plans you had for the space
  • That loss of space could possibly hurt resell value unless you can find another avid gym-goer to buy your home.

Ask yourself if the space is best suited for a home gym or if something else would make more sense. What are you willing to give up to have a gym in your home? What will you absolutely not give up to make that dream happen?

Before you fully give up on the idea, remember that you don’t need a full, tricked-out space to have a gym. In fact, you could have a perfectly adequate gym with minimal equipment and never have to change a single detail of your living space.

Are Integrated Gyms the Wave of the Future?

You can get most of the gym experience with a single piece of equipment that only takes up a fraction of the floor space of most exercise machines. From bikes that put you through classes to the newer, sleeker options like Tonal you can have a home gym without changing a single aspect of your home’s appearance.

One of the biggest benefits of these is the ability to take them with you when you move. If you are worried about not getting enough of a pump or variety, Tonal offers around 200 pounds of resistance and can be used in roughly 200 different exercises. It also offers live or on-demand classes for weight loss, weight lifting, and more.

Tonal and other products like it were designed to be right out in the open. When not in use it looks like a dark mirror or artwork. When you are ready, it comes to life with attachments that swing out and then swing back in when you are done. The space requirements are minimal, the impact can be immeasurable.

Can you put a gym in your garage?

Yes, you can put a gym in your garage for your own use in most cases. The problems do not start until you start letting other people use your equipment or you start charging a fee. Due to the thousands of variations of zoning laws for every area, it is impossible to say exactly but you may need to apply for and be approved for permits if you are building or renovating your space.

  • Most zoning laws do require some permits if the cost of the project is over a certain dollar amount
  • If you hire a professional, they will be able to take care of the permits for you but if you are going to go it alone, be prepared to do some research before swinging the hammer.
  • If you charge you may have to deal with additional issues such as insurance. Your home owner’s insurance could make the case that this is a home business that is not covered under your current policy
  • You may also need to deal with neighbors especially in close-set neighborhoods. You will need to use flooring that will absorb much of the noise. The type of walls that you have should also reduce noise as much as possible. Be mindful of the types that you are using your gym and be sure that you are complying with any local noise laws.

Another thing to consider is whether or not you are using your garage as a garage. If you are planning on moving “garage” stuff to one side and gym stuff to another, you have additional problems not only with where everything will fit but with ventilation (See next section) and safety.

Yes, you can set up a gym in your garage but if you cannot find a solution to all of these problems, it may not be worth the effort.

How do I ventilate my garage gym?

Ventilation is important for a lot of reasons. How you ventilate whether it is with a complex system or just opening a window will depend on a number of factors.

Why ventilation is so Important

You’ve just turned on the football game and there is some big-name, star athlete sitting on the sidelines with an oxygen mask on his face. You might be surprised to know that he is not hurt or sick and you might be further surprised to know that the supplemental oxygen he is getting might be the reason why.

Oxygen is needed by everyone whether it is a baby sleeping in his crib, an athlete on the field or you reading every word here right at this moment. Inhale. Exhale. In with oxygen. Out with carbon dioxide and other waste products. In. Out. We’ve done it since that first gasp of breath at our birth and we keep doing it until we die.

So, oxygen is needed for the basic function of life but also to help the muscles recover after a rough day in the gym.

  • In the gym, you create tears in the muscles and also build up lactic acid.
  • After the gym, the liver breaks down the lactic acid so that it can be expelled
  • Until the lactic acid is removed, the body cannot repair the muscles (This is how they grow!)
  • More oxygen=faster removal of lactic acid

Ventilation needs increase under certain conditions:

  • Smaller spaces
  • Spaces that could be affected by weather including extreme heat, cold, and moisture
  • Spaces that are shared use especially with a vehicle, chemicals, or dangerous substances
  • Spaces used by the sweaty Betties and BO Bobs. Don’t be ashamed. It is natural especially when you are going all out but know that you need to exchange some of your power funk for good fresh air every now and then, right?
  • Spaces that are inside of the house. Spare room or basement, it does not matter. What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas but your gym socks and the effort of your record-setting (for you) deadlift have followed you up the stairs and are wafting about the house.

The price for ventilation and air circulation varies from the price of a simple ceiling fan for bare minimum airflow to the price for a heating/cooling unit in the garage or a dehumidifier for a basement gym.

How do I convert my garage into a gym on a budget?

If you want just a bare-bones, no-frills, raw and absolutely in your face, badass garage gym without spending thousands of dollars you can do it. But, you have to be willing to give up a lot of the bells and whistles and you may have to work with some interesting substitutes for equipment. Remember, you can always as you go.

The Bare Bones Gym Space

Take an unfinished garage, add some equipment, and viola! There you have your garage gym. The benefits:

  • Doesn’t cost a ton of money to achieve
  • Unless there is a car or chemicals you can get by with minimal ventilation
  • Overhead garage lights work fine in this setting and cost around $20 a piece at Lowes
  • Can upgrade walls at a later time
  • Flooring options include foam matting that sticks together like puzzle pieces. You can create zones or sections where padding is needed and add more when the budget allows. Mats like this typically come in packs of 6 for around $20 each at Walmart
  • Racks to store your weights when they are not in use are great, but you can also just line up dumbbells by weight and stack weight plates so they are not in the way.

The Bare Bones Gym Equipment

Next up, is equipment. You don’t need to get carried away just yet. In fact, having minimal equipment makes you look for more versatile pieces and can make you focus on form so you get the most out of every single rep.

  • You don’t need both dumbbells and kettlebells. It’s a matter of choice. You can do swings with a dumbbell. You can do a curl with a kettlebell. Use what you have or buy what you prefer
  • If you have to choose between a standard and an Olympic barbell, choose the latter. It is heavier, more durable, and can handle more weight. At 45 pounds, you can also use it bare for tons of exercises like drag curls and weighted windshield wipers.
  • Leg press machines are great but pricey. Monkey Feet is an option that lets you strap a regular dumbbell to your feet for leg and core work.
  • If you find a good solid bench, you can use it for most of your upper and lower body training needs. Look for one that can be used for squats, bench press, plus has arm and leg attachments that let you do additional moves like flyes, leg curls, and leg extensions.

The Bare Bones Gym Needs for Rock (Or Whatever)

When was the last time you went silently into a set of sumo deadlifts and said “Ah, this silence calms me. I enjoy the sound of my own grunting.”? Never. Almost no one in the world wants to hear their own huffing and puffing or worse, the high-pitched whining when they know they still have another set to go. What do you do? You crank up the music and drown out that mess!

As this is the budget section and a bare-bones gym, the suggestion is simple but may be hard to imagine for some. Get a cheap TV (used if you can find one) and a DVD player. You get the versatility of either playing music or watching workout videos without the added expense of adding in two types of media.

Super Low-Cost Equipment That Still Gets the Job Done

Sure, there are tons of options for equipment out there from the Ultimate Body Press to Rogue Fitness, Gold’s Gym, Weider, and others. You could easily spend thousands of dollars. But, if you do not have that kind of money to spend and none of these companies will sponsor you, it is time to economize.

  • Jump rope. You burn an average of 15-20 calories per minute of jump roping. Get one that is appropriate to your height. You can also use a ropeless jump rope if space and coordination are a problem
  • Resistance bands come in both fabric and elastic options. Fabric bands do not roll and offer variable resistance. They also tend to be more durable. Elastic bands come in tube and flat options, with or without handles. You can get a set of 3 for $5 at Dollar General.

You can earn cash back rebates, ranging from 1% to 20%, when you purchase equipment at featured retailers on rewards sites like Honey, Rakuten, MyPoints, or Swagbucks. These shopping rewards apps are free to join and offer savings from 1,000’s of participating stores.

Time to Think Outside the Box: Free Options to Get You Ripped

Anything can be used for training if you have a bit of vision. Using unconventional tools can be fun and honestly, can make you look like the kind of badass the neighbors are going to be impressed and a bit scared by.

  • Old tires. Big tires are for flipping, smaller tires are for dragging, picking up and throwing, or picking up and twisting. Get a partner, stand back to back, and twist to hand the tire back and forth.
  • Wagons. Get a big wagon and fill it with “stuff”. What kind of stuff? What do you have? Dirt, rocks, little kids. Just stuff. Wheel the wagon around. Add more stuff as you get stronger.
  • Jugs. Milk jugs weigh just over 8 pounds. Get several jugs, slide the handles over a tree branch, and bam, you have a barbell. Put it on your shoulders and you have a yoke. Now squat that yoke.
  • Sandbags are great but you can make your own with a heavy-duty duffel bag and bags of sand. Sandbag training is great because the instability makes you engage your core without even realizing it.
  • Get creative. Solve problems by using them as a new opportunity. For example, a dead lawn tractor can be pushed around the yard to work your legs.

You can change up your fitness routine and keep it fresh while expanding your garage gym to beyond the garage.

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