How to Build a Garage Gym on a Budget


How to Build a Garage Gym on a Budget

Now is as great a time as ever to turn your garage into a gym. However, you also probably don’t want to drop more money than necessary to build out a garage gym. I totally get it.

The key to how to build a garage gym on a budget is buying equipment that gives you the highest quality at the lowest price. Look for cost-friendly equipment from reputable companies that have a track record of making good products backed up by good customer service.

Here’s why I think that this is important. Sure, I could list a bunch of cheap stuff on Amazon – here’s a cheap rack, bar, etc – and then collect my commission when you click and buy. But, that’s not actually helping you at all and that’s not the purpose of this website.

I’m going to give you the same advice that I’ve used myself, for my own garage gym (which I did with a budget very much in mind). You also get the advantage of learning from the mistakes I’ve made along the way as well.

Links on this page may be affiliate links. If you make a purchase I may, at no extra cost to you, earn a commission. All reviews are my honest opinion and I don’t review anything that I haven’t used personally. Ever. Learn More


How To Build a Garage Gym on a Budget


Garage Gym Flooring

Horse Stall Mat Gym Flooring
Horse Stall Mats are thick, durable, cheap and even look great. What’s not to love?

When you’re trying to make the absolute most out of your budget, you may think to yourself, “Do I really need flooring?”. The answer is, yes, yes you do.

Flooring is not only going to protect your garage floor (not to mention your foundation), it’s also going to protect your equipment. When compared to both your garage floor and the weight equipment, gym flooring is relatively cheap and one of the best overall investments you can make.

So, what should you buy for your garage gym flooring? Flat out, bottom line, I recommend picking up horse stall mats from Tractor Supply Company. They come in 4×6′ rectangles that are 3/4″ thick.

I recommend horse stall mats for multiple reasons.

First, they’re thick durable mats that will last you forever. The wear and tear they are designed for – having thousand pound horses walk around on them 24/7 – will translate great to weight being dropped on them.

Number two. Easy to ‘install’. The mats are heavy and you may even need a bit of help moving them because of their size and weight. However, the ‘installation’ process consists of setting them on your floor. That’s it. Nothing to measure, drill or glue. Just sit them in place and you’re done.

Finally, they’re cheap. Each mat runs around $50. How you lift, the exercises and the space in which you’ll be doing them, will dictate how many mats you’ll need.

Personally, I bought seven mats to cover the majority of my garage gym area, but you don’t necessarily have to cover the entire floor. I know people who bought one mat that they use for deadlifts, RDLs, bent rows, etc–anytime they need to sit plates down on the floor. They don’t Olympic lift and the one mat fits their needs perfectly.

If you do Olympic lift and you’re going to be dropping considerable amount of weight, you may want to also consider building yourself a platform. I lifted straight off the floors at first and built my platform after a few months. Wish I would have built it sooner. Considerably dampens the vibration and sound when dropping weights, so I have to imagine it’s doing a much better job of protecting my floor.

The good news you can build a platform yourself in a day and for around $200 and it’s surprisingly one of the easiest things I’ve built for my garage gym so far.

Barbell and Plates

Titan Barbells
Getting a good barbell on a budget is about identifying what you do and don’t need in a barbell. (Photo via Titan Fitness)

Once you got your flooring in place and ready to go, it’s time to move onto getting some actual iron in your gym.

This is way more more exciting than buying flooring, but it can also be more stressful. The options when it comes to bars and plates is much more vast than you might think.

Now, not gonna lie, this is where I splurged. I have always wanted my own Uesaka bar and I pulled the trigger and got one along with some Uesaka bumpers to go with it. It’s turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I absolutely love lifting with that bar every day. However, a Uesaka bar is not going to be the best option for you, especially if you’re on a budget. Why? They’re expensive.

So, what bars and plates do I recommend for someone building a garage gym on a budget?

Well, I’m not going to sit here and pretend to have used every bar and plate out there. I’ve used a lot, but I’ve also been spoiled working in college weight rooms my whole life and most of the bars I’ve always used are higher end bars.

Here is what you need to know when it comes to buying bars and plates. First, what type of lifting do you like to do? Do you incorporate Olympic lifting in your workouts? If the answer is yes, then you need a bar that has bearings and you need bumper plates.

Barbells have three main parts. The shaft, or center piece, of the bar and two sleeves – the ends of the bar where you add plates. The way that sleeves connect to the shaft is either with bearings or bushings.

I’m going to try not to get bogged down on the differences between bearings and bushings in this article, but basically what you need know is bearings are designed to help the sleeves spin more freely which is really important for Olympic lifting. Bushings lend to less rotation, but are great if you’re squatting or benching.

So, if you like to Olympic lift, then get a bar with bearings. If not, a bar with bushings will work great. A bushing bar will typically be a bit cheaper than a bearings bar, so there’s that to keep in mind as well.

What type of plates you need I feel like is pretty self-explanatory. Again, if you’re going to be doing any Olympic lifting and dropping plates you absolutely 100% should be getting bumper plates. If not, just get steel plates as steel plates are more budget friendly.

Either way, I do want to emphasize that no matter what, you DO NOT NEED both. Having both bumper plates and steel plates in your garage gym is really just a flex move, there’s no need for both whatsoever.

Now that you know what kind of bars and plates to get, what bar or plates should you actually buy?

My best advice to go with a reputable company that makes quality equipment designed for at home (or small gym) use. Rogue and Titan are the two that I would recommend the highest. Rep Fitness also has pretty good economy level gear. Look through those companies and find a bar and plates that meet the requirements that we just discussed.

Update: Due to a lot of feedback I’ve gotten from this article I’m going to give you a couple barbell recommendations to get you started. (Reminder, these are NOT affiliate links)

Brand Bar (with link) Bearing or Bushing Cost (at time of writing
Rogue Echo Bar 2.0Opens in a new tab. Bushing $205
Rogue Olympic WL BarOpens in a new tab. Bearing $495
Rogue Ohio Bar Stainless SteelOpens in a new tab. Bushing, but designed for Olympic lifts $350
Titan Olympic Power BarOpens in a new tab. Brass Bushing $149
Titan Atlas BarOpens in a new tab. Combo $224

About the Recommended Barbells

These five barbells give you a variety of styles and price points. A couple notes on each:

The Rogue Echo Bar is Rogue’s most budget friendly bar. If you’re a casual lifter, the Echo Bar could be a great fit for you. It’s not as high performance as some of the other bars, but if you’ve never really lifted with a upper tier bar than you’ll probably never notice the difference. What you will notice though, is that the Echo Bar is a solid, durable bar that will last you a long time.

The Rogue Olympic Weightlifting Bar is the best bar of the five, performance wise, especially if you are serious about your Olympic lifts. It is the only bar with a dedicated bearing rotation system. If you’re a seasoned lifter, you will be able to notice the difference.

That extra performance comes with a cost though, literally. It’s by far the most expensive bar on the list, however, it’s still way more budget friendly than say an Eleiko or Uesaka bar.

The next bar is the Rogue Ohio Bar with a Stainless Steel coating. The Ohio Bar is a nice middle between the first two bars. It has a bushing system, but is designed to work well with Olympic lifts. I’ve used an Ohio Bar a few times and if I was doing occasional Olympic lifts or Crossfit workouts, it’d do the job well.

It’s not quite the same performance as the Olympic WL bar, but it comes at a more reasonable price point. The reason I’m recommending the Stainless Steel finish as opposed to some of the other finishes is the stainless steel is the most rust resistant of the finishes. This can be enormously helpful in a garage where you may be fighting heat and humidity in the summer.

The next two bars are from Titan. Titan is generally a bit more budget friendly than Rogue (they also are pretty generous with their free shipping offers too). The first bar is the Olympic Power Bar. If you ask me, what is the cheapest barbell that you’re still comfortable recommending to someone – the Titan Olympic Power Bar is my answer.

The Atlas Bar from Titan is a step up from the Power Bar. It has a bearing/bushing combination rotation system. It’s an incredible bar considering the price. $225 may seem like a lot, but if you can get a bar that lasts you a long time then it becomes well worth the money.

Rack

Rogue Squat Stands
Squat stands may be basic, but they’re also extremely cost-effective. (Photo via Rogue Fitness)

We’ve got a floor and we’ve got some iron. Now what?

The next thing that I would spend money on is a rack. Even if you’re predominantly doing Olympic lifting, at some point you need to be able to put weight on a rack to back squat.

Just like with bars and plates, if you’ve never really been in the weight rack market before you may be overwhelmed at just how many companies there are that all make multiple different kinds of racks. Don’t worry, I’m going to help you cut through the weeds.

First, you could go the direction I did and build your own rack.

If you don’t trust yourself to build your own rack, I don’t blame you – let’s look at your best options.

If you’re building a garage gym on a budget, there are two different rack options that I recommend.

First are squat stands. Squat stands are basically the bare bones for what you need to get a barbell up off the ground so you can rack and unrack a bar at shoulder level.

Essentially, they’re perfect for giving you the ability to squat (they also make barbell shoulder press and a few other exercises more convenient, but I digress) while taking up the least amount of space. They are also the cheapest option you’re going to find as well.

If you want something a little more than a squat stand, I’d recommend a wall rack. These racks attach to your wall. This allows them to take up a small amount of space and less material means a lower price tag as well.

However, unlike squat stands, you get a lot more versatility. Many have pull-up bars included and most have the standard holed attachment beams that can be used to attach any number of attachments like dip bars, etc.

For pure cost (and space) efficiency these are your two best options. Once you decide what fits your needs best, do the same thing you did for your bars and plates. Check Rogue, Titan and Rep Fitness. Check specs, cost and shipping and then make your purchase.

Last couple things when it comes to buying a rack. First, you’re going to see lots of ‘full racks’. They look awesome and they can actually be awesome. However, when it comes to a garage gym, especially on a budget, they take up a lot of space and can be rather expensive. It can be tempting to try to get a cheap version of a full rack, but this lead to a lot of headaches.

A full rack needs to either be bolted down or weighed down with extra plates or they’ll end up ‘walking’ when you rack sets. Bolting down a rack into a garage floor is a pretty big commitment that I wouldn’t be willing to make. You’re also probably not going to have extra plates either to weigh down the rack because why spend extra money on plates you don’t really need.

Finally, something to be aware of when looking at rack specs. Pay attention to the gauge of steel of the rack. The lower the number the thicker the steel. Obviously, the thicker the steel the stronger the rack.

The industry standard when it comes to rack steel is 11-gauge. If you can get 11 gauge steel on your rack then you’re doing great. Personally, I wouldn’t consider anything higher than 14-gauge.

Additional Equipment

If you have flooring, a bar, plates and a rack there is an almost a limitless amount of exercises and workouts you can do. Anything else you decide to buy is really just going to be based on your personal wants and remaining budget.

Dumbbells would probably be the next logical step for many of us. But, maybe you really like doing KB Swings or Ring Dips or whatever, I don’t know, everybody is different.

I just wouldn’t go spending money on specialized equipment until you have your basics in place. But, once you have the basics then get what you want.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know how to build a garage gym on a budget… what are you waiting for?!?

Start putting together your “shopping list” and plan out your options.

Just keep in mind that even “on a budget”, gym equipment is still not what most of us would consider cheap. You’re going to end up spending a few hundred dollars and that’s enough to give most of us pause. However, if your new garage gym ends up replacing your old gym membership, your garage gym will end up paying for itself pretty quick.

Stay Strong!

Ryan H

My name is Ryan Horton and I've spent the last 18 years as a Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coach and am currently the Director of Sports Science with Georgia Tech Football. I've always set up workout areas at home everywhere we've lived, but now I have a garage and I'm going all out.

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