Ultimate Home Gym Buying Guide
Turning our garage into a home gym has been an absolutely fantastic decision. Even though basically everyone told me, “you will never use it” and “don’t waste your money.” Since college, I have always wanted a real gym in my home, so when it came time to look at houses, my only requirement was that it needed to have an enclosed garage or a basement. We have had the home gym now for about three years and have each worked out in there 3 to 5 times per week, ever since. I see no way I could ever go back to working out in a commercial gym, but I do acknowledge that it might not be for everyone.
If you fall into the Someone Who Should Get a Home Gym camp and are ready to get to work. Excellent. The first thing you need to figure out is where are you going to put everything. I would say that the absolute minimum amount of space you will need to dedicate is about 12′ x 15′ of space. Our stuff takes up about 12′ x 20′ or most all of a single car garage. Again, I strongly recommend this being a dedicated gym space and not a shared space with anything else. This is just like how people who work from home set up a home office and don’t just work on the kitchen table. It needs to feel like you are in the gym, not the living room.
Next, you will need to figure out a budget. I personally think it is worth the investment to go ahead and get some quality stuff. This is something you are going to use a few times a week and if you get good stuff, it will last a lifetime. In fact, almost everything I’m recommending comes with a lifetime guarantee. Now, if you don’t have the cash, you can certainly hunt out some deals on craigslist. You probably won’t be able to find exactly what you are looking for, and from what I found, people still want good money for some heavily used equipment that I looked at.
Finally, you need to decide how many people you would like to be able to workout in there at the same time. That will determine the size of the squat rack, how much weight, how many bars and how much space everything is going to take up.
What to Buy??
Below is my list of recommendations and you will notice that most everything is Rogue equipment. This isn’t because I’m sponsored by Rogue (I wish) or because I’m obsessed with CrossFit or something like that. I recommend Rogue stuff simply because it is the best quality, best selection, best value, and mostly made in America. I started shopping around about two years before buying anything, just looking at equipment and comparing prices. Rogue quickly stood out as the best option. I also spent a lot of time trying to find some good used equipment but anything that wasn’t just total junk was usually 75% of the cost of getting new stuff and was hard to find.
This is, in my opinion, your most important piece of equipment. Your barbell will be used in 80% of your at-home exercises. Squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press, rows, curls, lunges, hip thrust, cleans, snatches, front squats. This is not an area to even think about going cheap on. Just get a brand new one that will last you forever. Unless you have worked out at some very nice gyms, it will probably be the nicest bar you have ever used.
I like having two barbells as it is tough to get one that is really good at everything. This also makes it possible for Theresa and me to work out together without changing the weight constantly. We have the Ohio Power Bar , which is ideal for powerlifting, and the regular Ohio Bar, which is better suited for the Olympic lifts.
The Ohio Power Bar has deep, sharp knurls, a sharp center knurl (good for back squats), it is 29mm in diameter and only has powerlifting rings. The knurls on this bar are sharp but you get used to them quickly and love the feeling. It just makes you feel stronger on all lifts when your hands feel glued to the bar. Our bar is bare steel which means it needs to be cleaned every month or so to try to keep it looking fresh. If you don’t, the bar will get that brown patina look. Luckily, that doesn’t really affect performance. This bar is not well-suited for Olympic lifts as it has very little whip, the center knurl is not very pleasant feeling on your neck in the catch position of the clean, and the knurl is pretty brutal if pulling with a hook grip. The collars do spin very smoothly, even better than our regular Ohio bar.
The Ohio Bar has a much smoother knurl, no center knurl, 28.5 mm in diameter, and has weightlifting and powerlifting rings. This bar is a nice all-around bar and can be used for anything. I primarily use it for doing cleans and snatches but Theresa does almost all of her lifts with this bar. This bar has considerably more whip than the power bar, but that is ideal for Olympic lifts. Our bar is all black shaft and sleeves (murdered out!!). This thing looks incredible right out of the box but unfortunately, the coating didn’t hold up very well. If I were to do it over I would probably just spend a bit extra and get the stainless steel version.
Now, if you are only going to get one bar, I think the best one is the Chan Bar. It is similar to the Ohio Bar, but they added a passive center knurl and spaced out the knurling a bit. The passive center knurl adds a little grip for back squats without tearing your skin off doing cleans. The extra spacing just gives extra room to get into more lifts without dragging the knurl on your shins. Again, I don’t have this bar and have never used it but it would be my pick if I could only have one.
Finally, if money was no object, I would have bought the Rogue Olympic WL Bar instead of the Ohio Bar. This bar will match the performance of bars twice as expensive for doing your Olympic Lifts. Needle bearings and 28mm diameter shaft. The spin and whip would be fantastic on this.
Next on the list is plates. The first thing you need to decide on is what unit of measurement you would like. If you compete in powerlifting or weightlifting, or just want to do what the rest of the world does, I would go with kilos. Anything you can do to simulate meet conditions will be an advantage and being used to the loads is one of them. Now, if you live in the US and don’t compete, just go with good ole pounds. Pound plates are easier to find and if you tell someone you squat 200 kilos they will look at you funny or ask you, “so what like a hundred pounds?”
Once you’ve got your unit of measurement, you need to decide on the style of plates. The two big ones are steel plates or bumper plates. (And please don’t even consider hex plates as they make it almost impossible to properly lift from the floor.) Personally, I think the bumper plates are the way to go because they offer so much versatility. Yes, they are more expensive, but you can use them on concrete without worrying about busting the floor, you can use them outdoors, they can be dropped from overhead, they are the same diameter so you can get used to pulling from the same height, and most importantly, they make you look stronger because they are wider 😉
Now the steel plates do have some advantages in that they are less expensive, much easier to find used, and don’t take up as much room on the bar. In fact, with thin bumpers, you can “only” get about 600 pounds on the bar. Fine for most of us mere mortals, but could be an issue for some of you monsters out there.
Personally, I own, and recommend, the Rogue Competition Bumpers. They have almost no bounce, they are low profile, full colored, and have a raised lip for picking them up. If you wanted to go a little cheaper, I would recommend doing a combination of Rogue HG 2.0 bumpers and steel.
Rogue also offers some badass powerlifting plates. These are super low profile and accurate to within 10 grams. They have pounds and IPF approved kilo version. Once I start pulling five plates, or Theresa starts pulling two plates, I’ll probably get a pair of 45s.
Final thing with your plates is figuring out how many pounds you need. We have four pairs of 45’s, two pairs of 25s, two pairs of bumper 10s, two pairs of steel 10s, three pairs of 5s, and three pairs of 2.5s. This works out great for us as we basically have two separate sets. The only time it is an issue is if I’m going to 405+ on deadlifts then Theresa doesn’t have a pair 45s. But that rarely comes up. I look forward to it becoming a problem, though, because that would mean we are getting stronger.
Next on the “to buy” list is the squat/power rack. As always, you have lots of options and things to consider. Squat stands, power racks, portable, plate storage, material, wall mounted, floor mounted, etc.
This probably took me the most time to decide on. I even used SolidWorks to create some 3D solid models of our garage and the various racks I was trying to decide on. In the end, I went with the Monster Lite RML 490 Power Rack. Why?
- The 490 Rack is deep enough so two people can use the rack at the same time. So if my bar is loaded and racked on the front, Theresa has enough room to squat or lunge inside the rack without her plates hitting mine. Two people on the 390 would be really tight.
- The Monster Lite series of track is kind of Rogues middle of the line in strength. Which is funny because I’m pretty sure my rack could survive a bomb getting dropped on the house. It also seems to be the one that is the most popular, and therefore, has the most accessories. I see no reason at all to get the Monster Series track as the Monster Lite will be stronger than anything you have probably ever used. They do have the Echo series which would certainly be strong enough but the accessories are limited.
- This model can be bolted down. This is a little bit of pain to do but well worth the effort. Once you get these racks bolted down, they really don’t move at all. It feels so solid doing pull ups and racking and unracking squats. Just don’t waste your time doing this with your cordless drill. Go to Home Depot and rent a plug-in hammer drill.
- Not too big. I really like the 690 racks as you have your plate storage on the back and would have probably spent the extra money had we had more room. If you have plenty of room, I think it is worth the upcharge because you will need to buy something to store your plates anyway.
Now for some of you, this might be an optional piece. If you are a diehard, 100% CrossFitter or Olympic lifting person, you probably won’t need a bench. Everybody else is going to want a bench. In my opinion, just pay the extra and get the Rogue Adjustable Bench 2.0. The adjustability gives you more options and having one piece that can do multiple things is crucial when space is limited. Yes, I know that is a lot of money to pay for a bench. I had the same conversation when I bought mine. However, this thing is bomb proof like all their other stuff. Mine has been used a few times a week for a couple years and there are zero signs of use. The padding and stitching feel exactly the same as the day I bought it.
Again this might not be 100% necessary for everyone, but most everyone will want some padding. Not only will it protect your concrete and your equipment, it just feels better when lifting. It gives you a little more traction to push off with. Again, I looked at everything on this, and by far the best option I found was rubber horse stall mats from Tractor Supply. These cost pennies compared to the roll-out gym floor or the snap-together stuff. I’m certainly not the only one who uses them for gym flooring as the guy at Tractor Supply asked if it was for a gym the second I asked where they were. Now, these things are heavy (100lbs) and tough to transport if you don’t have a truck. We had to make two trips in the CR-V to get them all folded over and in the back.
Just get enough to cover the area you need and be ready to trim some pieces, too. I found the easiest way to cut them was to use a plain ole razor blade. Just make your mark, fold it over to get some tension and just make a bunch of short little swiping strokes while trying to pull the cut material away. They haven’t moved but maybe 1/4 of an inch since we put them down. They are so heavy, they basically just keep themselves in place.
The list above covers what I would consider the basic equipment necessary to get your home gym started. Just those few items will cover about 80% of your at-home workouts. Below is the optional equipment, in no particular order, that is very useful and can add a little variety to your workouts.
Get what you like, and most importantly, get what you will use. Treadmill, elliptical, spin bike, recumbent bike, jump rope. We all need to be doing some cardio every week and doing it indoors is nice when it is cold and raining outside. We went with a rower but strongly considered the Air Dyne Bike. Both are great because they don’t require any power, they are a full body workout and the harder you work, the harder they fight back.
To get a couple pairs of light weight dumbbells is fairly cheap and you can do a lot with them. They are great for warming up and doing arm isolation exercises. Also, they are useful if you aren’t strong enough to handle the 45-pound bar on certain exercises. They have those all-in-one adjustable dumbbells, but they are really expensive and I have found them to be pretty awkward to use. Right now, we have a pair of 5s, 15s, 25s and 35s. I have three pairs of Rogue and one pair of Cap and can tell zero difference. In other words, I see no advantage paying top dollar for these. You can pick up the Cap dumbells at your local Walmart and pay no shipping.
Bands are great for warming up with and traveling with if you need to do some hotel room work outs. The monster bands come in a variety of different colors. I mainly use the Red and Blue for pull aparts, shoulder rotation stuff, and press downs.
I can’t stand lifting without collars. I have just always used them but I see lots of people never use them. I have the HG Collars which are great for just getting something quick on the bar but they can slide around a touch if dropping from overhead. The Proloc collars are great for securing the plates so that they don’t move at all.
If your gym is not going to be temperature controlled, a fan can feel pretty good in the summer. We just have a cheap one but it has done the trick so far.
Not going to help much, but some mornings when it is extra frosty, it is nice to have something warm blowing on you.
We remodeled our master bathroom when we moved in and repurposed the mirror from the bathroom as our gym mirror. This is a personal preference, but I find a mirror to be helpful to monitor form and do a little harmless flexing.
We have the 35, 53, 106-pound bells. Good for doing conditioning work and working on explosiveness.
If you get a rack from Rogue, they come with spotter arms for lifting inside the rack, but for lifting outside the rack, you need these. Also, I personally don’t like the ones that come with the rack as they are two pieces, heavy, and just a pain to adjust.
You can just prop the plates against the wall or stack them up but having a rack will definitely make your life easier. We have the vertical plate tree which doesn’t take up much room and can be wheeled into position.
Rogue just released this bar and I just got it. Best curl bar out there, by far. It almost feels weird even holding a curl bar that feels like you could load it with 500 lbs. The knurl feels just like the regular Ohio bar and the sleeves spin easily. The bar is also long enough so you can rack it on the sleeves in your rack.
If you want to make your life a little easier while yanking plates off a bar in a tight space, get one of these deadlift jacks. They don’t take up much room and they are well worth the convenience.
My favorite ab exercise is the kneeling or standing ab wheel roll out. I had this one for over five years and it’s still doing great.
If you have two people working out at the same time, you will need a pair of hooks on both the front and back of the rack. This would also be convenient for one person who would like to keep the front rack set up for squatting, and use the back rack for something else.
Chin Up Bar
If you get a Rogue Power rack it will come with a straight bar for doing pullups and chin ups. If you would like, you can upgrade the straight bar to one of the multi-grip chin up bars. Neutral grip chins always seemed a little easier on me than any other hand placement.
This dip attachment slides onto the side of your rack so you will need to have the rack bolted down, for sure, if using this.
I have been using this one that I got from Amazon about 4 years ago and have been really happy with it. Nothing special, just an easy way to load up for dips and chins.
One of the joys of having a home gym is that you are allowed to use chalk without fear of someone who has never done a deadlift in their life telling you that it isn’t allowed in here. I got 8 blocks 2 years ago and haven’t gone through half of it yet.
In your home gym, you will have full control of the music selection and won’t need to wear headphones. I suggest you invest in a speaker. We got a UE Boom speaker several years ago and have been really happy with it. They are built tough and can withstand being dropped, getting covered in chalk or getting them wet. The sound is really impressive on them too.
Captain of Crush Hand Grippers
These little hand grippers are so much fun and are a great workout for your grip. These are not like any hand gripper you have probably ever used. These things are super tough, really hard to close, meant to be used with chalk, and made for serious grip training. These things are a little addictive trying to close them. I have the Trainer up to level 3. I would recommend people start with the trainer as just the 1 is brutal to close when you first start out. Don’t waste your money on the level 3. Just go try to crush a trailer hitch on someone’s truck as you will probably have more luck.
We hung up a “his and hers” PR board. We divided the blocks out using tape so we didn’t have to worry about erasing our lines. We started fresh as if we had never once lifted a weight before and started filling them in as we went. I feel like over time, the memories of our past PRs get blurry and the weight gets heavier so this is a great way to keep ourselves honest.
And no gym is complete without a flag. I recommend old glory but there are lots of options out there.
OTHER RANDOM ITEMS
I really hope this home gym buying guide has been helpful. If anyone has any questions, please let me know. I love looking at, and talking about, this stuff so I would be thrilled to help anyone set up their own home gym. If you already have a home gym, let me know what I missed or what you prefer over my recommendations.