A Home Gym You’ll Actually Use
For those new to functional training, such as CrossFit, and looking to build out your own garage gym or home gym and training space, here’s an equipment guide to get you started. My aim is to save you from buying equipment that you’ll rarely use — equipment that wastes your money and takes up valuable space. In this article, I share with you what I setup recently after I sold my CrossFit gym and wanted a place at home to train.
Learn from my mistakes & the times I got it right
For the 22+ years I’ve been an endurance athlete, half of that time working as a coach, I’ve either had a small gym at home or access to a great gym near home. I also built a full CrossFit gym in Switzerland, ran it for 5 years, and sold it to a great friend and trainer. After selling my gym and spending more time at home writing, I was desperate to build a home gym once again.
In this article, I share with you my recommendations for equipment to buy for home that you will actually use, not one that is ego-driven or based on what looks great in an Instagram post, but is not what you will really use. I’ve purchased a wide range of equipment over the years, spanning a mix of great buying decisions and some terrible choices. I aim to guide you toward building a home gym that you’ll feel great about now, as well as in a few years. I offer my top recommendations, share what I purchased and suggest a super saver option for each item.
My Home Gym in 2018
This is my home gym currently. It’s in a small winter garden room at my apartment in Zurich, Switzerland. I love this gym — it has everything I want and nothing more. It’s not flashy or showy, yet it can handle the heaviest lifts I’ll ever do, high intensity training, strength training, CrossFit WODs, Hero WODs and more. I carefully selected every piece of equipment.
Gear Shopping List for a Garage Gym
I’ll start with what I consider must-have gear.
Barbell – This is the most important piece of equipment you will have in your arsenal. Training trends come and go, but old school barbell strength training is timeless and extremely effective. Master these 3 movements and you will have 80% of what you need for strength training to serve your needs for decades: Back Squat, Deadlift, Overhead Press. Grow from there into Power Cleans, Front Squats, and Thrusters. And if you discover a passion for barbell training, you’ll likely find yourself diving into the technique work required for Overhead Squats, Cleans, and Snatch.
You get what you pay for, so invest in a quality bar. Check out Rogue’s Ohio Bar as a high quality starter and consider upgrade options from there only if you get very serious about Olympic Lifting.
For women or anyone with smaller hands, consider a 25mm version, and for kids, newbie and rehab use, check out this option.
I only wanted one barbell for our small training space at home, so I opted for the 15kg Bella Bar, which works perfectly for me and my wife.
Super Saver Option: buy a used bar from a CrossFit gym that is going out of business or when a college or fitness center upgrades equipment.
Squat Stand or Rack – There are many different variation for this important piece of equipment. Rogue has created some very innovative designs recently. I love their Monster Lite Fold Back Racks. If I had the right space for this, it’s exactly what I’d buy. If space is no concern and you want to lift heavy with maximum safety options, then have a look at a Power Rack. The first piece of equipment I bought for my first gym location was a Power Rack R-3.
For my new home gym, I wanted flexibility and the option to carry the stands outside, so I opted for the S-4 model. It’s super stable and handles everything I throw at it.
Super Saver Option: My very first squat stands were a pair of cheap construction stands from the local home improvement store. They weren’t elegant and not especially stable, but they did the job until I could afford stable, safer stands.
Bumper Plates – Invest in bumper plates and you won’t regret it for home use, especially if you get more into Olympic weightlifting movements. Buy the max weight you’ll realistically need and add weight if and when the time comes. I have 120kg / 265lbs of weights, as I don’t expect to ever need more than that for home use and don’t want extra plates taking up space.
My favorite bumpers are Rogue HG. If you go cheap on bumpers, they won’t last and you’ll regret it.
Super Saver Option: Same as with barbells: going out of business sales, upgrading equipment, etc.
Kettlebells: There is some much you can do with power and strength training, as well as conditioning, with kettlebells. That’s what puts them on the must-have list.
I recommend starting light, in the 12kg/25lb range and then working your way up. My go-to kettlebell is a 53lb/24KG Rogue Competition model. I have only 3 kettlebells in my home gym: 12kg (25lb), 16kg (35lb), and 24kg (55lb). My advice is to buy high quality kettlebells. These are heavy devices and not easy to get rid of. My first few kettlebells have terrible handles and I regret buying them.
Super Saver Option: Same as with barbells and bumper plates. You may more easily find cheap used dumbbells, so start there if no cheap kettlebell options exist in your area.
Important Items not on the Must Have List
I left off some important training equipment intentionally, as a tight budget means making tough choices. For example, a Bench is on the Nice-to-Have list. You can do floor press instead of bench press and standing overhead press instead of a seated press and wait until you’ve go the cash for a bench. Same goes for pull-ups (you can do pull-ups from a barbell placed on your squat stands).
This list is where I’d spend hard-earned money once the must-haves are in your house.
Sandbag: This is a great all-around training tool. It is simple and effective. You can buy them in all sizes and designs in 2018. If you opt to buy one, make sure the quality is very high. I’ve seen too many sandbags bust open in real-world training. Get a very good one or make one yourself.
Bench: simple is good. Simple and strong: even better. I recommend the Rogue Bolt Together Utility Bench. In addition to bench press and seated overhead press, you can also use a bench for core work and box step-ups (if you don’t have a plyo box).
Super Saver Option: Pick up a used bench or build a very basic DIY bench yourself.
Rings: If I had to choose rings over a pull-up rig, I’d choose rings any day. You can hang rings from the ceiling, from trees and other features outside, and from a barbell placed on your squat stands or rack. You can do most of the fundamental TRX movements with rings, as well as pull-ups and dips. I love classic wooden gymnastics rings. I drilled into the thick concrete ceiling of my balcony to mount my rings. Sure, get a TRX too, but make sure you’ve got rings in the gym first.
Pull-up Rig: If you’ve got a place for it, then go for it. Use bands to scale the movement so that you can perform it with proper form while building strength. You can mount a pull-up bar on the wall or ceiling, use a portable system that you can hang from various things or go with a doorway option.
Jump Rope: Simple, portable, great for metabolic conditioning (try 5 rounds of 90sec rope skipping + 10 burpees + 10 sit-ups for a great little workout). I have a collection of ropes for different workout types, including a custom RX, a Rogue SR-3, and a Rogue Heavy Rope.
AbMat: Lots of improvements since the first generation of these great little pieces of equipment. I have a first gen AbMat, as well as a new Wise Crack — which I’ve tested on Annie and highly endorse if you’ve ever dealt with a case of CrossFit sit-up butt rub!
Wish List Items
Once you’ve worked your way through the Must-Haves and Nice-to-Haves, here’s a list you can share with anyone shopping for you for a special occasion!
Rogue Echo Bike: just out in 2018 and it ROCKS!
Trueform Runner (non-motorized treadmill)
Super Saver Option: You can make homemade med balls with a basketball skin and some sand as well!! Tons of info on the CrossFit forums about this
Dumbbells – I get a lot more out of kettlebells, a barbells and a sandbag than dumbbells, but if you enjoy dumbbell training and have the space, then you could look at buying a set of hex dumbbells (this is what I bought for my CrossFit gym) or a space-saving PowerBlocks style set.
Concept 2 Rower – The Model D with PM5 is the champion here, there is no substitute for C2. This is the same rower that I have at home. I chose only one piece of cardio equipment for my small home gym and it’s this. All other activities and I’ll train outside (swimming, biking, running, XC skiing, etc.)
Please let me know if you have any questions or suggests to update this article. If you are interested in endurance sports training, check out my article with additional gear recommendations for endurance athletes and OCR racers.