I got a comment on Facebook the other day from Rob Maury, asking about how Nik and I built our garage gym. I’ve gone over it a little bit in a previous blog post. But there have been some new additions lately. I thought I’d go into where we bought things and why, so if you’re thinking of putting together a home gym or just want ideas for items you might want to pick up and put down over and over, here you go. Or maybe for some reason you want to recreate Nik & Dan’s home gym to our exact specifications. Like for instance you want to do Nik & Dan cosplay. PS: Don’t do Nik & Dan cosplay.
Before we start, remember that I didn’t put the whole thing together. Nik did most of the work picking out what to get and where. So she deserves the credit. When we started to assemble a list of equipment we wanted, she’d been the Motherfucking CrossFit Shogun for some time and knew what she liked and what she didn’t, and what would be good for us and what wouldn’t. I was but a clueless n00b at the time — I’ve learned a bit about equipment since then.
Also before I go on, keep in mind that all this isn’t perfect. We could’ve done things differently or gotten different equipment from different places. This is just what we did. It all works and we’re thrilled with it so far.
Barbell and plates
The first order of business was finding a barbell. Before anything else. No barbell and there’s no gym.
Our criteria: We wanted your regular 7-foot-long 45#/20kg Olympic bar. This bar had to last forever. As in I’m passing this thing down to my grandchildren. I want this bar to be dug up in 2,000 years by archaeologists excavating my garage who marvel at it and say, “They were possessed of great strength, these people,” then brush the dust off it and knock out some 5 x 5 squats for fun.
We also wanted enough weight plates with it so we could do anything from light overhead presses to maxing out our deadlifts.
What we checked: We looked at the typical sporting goods stores. Dick’s, Sports Authority, and so on. Their Oly bars sucked balls. They also came in sets with iron plates. You can’t drop a bar loaded with iron plates. I mean, you can, but it’s not the best idea. You might damage the floor and the equipment and it makes a racket. Since we wanted to do Olympic lifts like cleans and jerks and snatches, we knew there’d be some bar-dropping from shoulder height. We read that iron plates with rubber edges weren’t worth it because they come apart. So we decided rubber bumper plates were more expensive but worth it. I checked Craigslist to see if anyone was looking to unload old gear and found two things: sketchy crap and more sketchy crap. Because it’s Craigslist. Nik then looked at Rogue Fitness and Again Faster because we knew their stuff and liked it.
What we got and why: We ended up with a barbell and bumper plates from Rogue Fitness. Mostly because they sold bars and plates in a package deal, and it was cheaper than Again Faster. We bought their Beater Bar, which is their no-frills drop-the-shit-out-of-it bar, and 160# worth of bumper plates. That gave us a total weight with the bar of 205#. The UPS driver who delivered it to our house earned his paycheck that day.
Still like it? About 95% yes. The bumpers are amazing. I’ve dropped those son of a bitches frequently doing heavy (for me) Oly lifts and they haven’t chipped or bent. The one thing we regret is that we have the Beater Bar. It’s awesome but the shaft (stop it) is 31mm wide. The regular bar is 28.5mm. That doesn’t sound like a whole lot of difference, but it feels like a lot when you’re holding our bar vs. a bar from the gym. It’s fine, but just a tad more awkward. Maybe 1.5 tads. If we had to do it now, we’d probably have spent a few extra bucks getting a bar with a thinner shaft. One positive is that it actually helps build grip strength, having a shaft that wide (seriously, stop).
You can live without a power rack. But then the bar has to live on the floor, and therefore you can only front squat how much you can clean, and only back squat how much you can press. And if you can’t squat heavy you may as well drown yourself in a lake. Or you can try Steinborn squats.
Our criteria: We wanted a good, sturdy power rack that wouldn’t tip over. Call me fussy, but crushed limbs are a deal-breaker. We also wanted it to have lots of holes for multiple racking positions (Nik and I are both wicked short) and a pull-up bar. We didn’t want anything that needed to be bolted to the floor because I do not possess the tools, skill, wherewithal, or desire to do that.
What we checked: Again, sports chain stores. Again, shit. We also checked Rogue. Their racks are beautiful and light-years out of our price range.
What we got and why: We bought this Powerline rack from Amazon.com. It was cheap but got good ratings and seemed like it could hold us up without falling over.
Still like it? About 85% yes. I’ve failed at 200# squats using it, and the rack’s safety bars caught the bar just fine. The one issue is that the pull-up bar has knurling on it. Which means we can’t practice kipping. Try it — it’s like dragging the palms of your hands on a cheese grater. We’d try to find a rack with a smooth bar if we had another shot at it.
Having 205# is great but I can lift more than that. Also having bumper plates in only 10#, 25#, and 45# weights makes for limited combinations. We couldn’t lift, say, 80# — either 65# or 95#, or go fuck yourself. So we wanted a handful of small iron plates to supplement the bumpers.
Our criteria: Cheap.
What we checked: Chain sports stores sold iron plates at $1 or more per pound. I found a guy in Rhode Island who deals in used fitness equipment who has literally tons of weight plates for sale at 50¢ a pound.
What we got and why: Uh, we went to the cheap guy.
Still like it? Oh hell yes. With just a few plates, we can now make combinations in 5-pound increments from 65# to 240#. Fantastic. At the moment, I can lift more than 240# — I need to visit him again, get more plates. If you’re looking to buy weight, look around online and find a guy like this near you.
We have a cement floor in the garage. As awful as burpees are, burpees on cold cement are a special kind of awful.
Our criteria: Thick , sturdy, floor mats, preferably the interlocking kind so they don’t slip around everywhere, priced somewhere between free and cheap.
What we checked: Sports chain stores. Expensive. Lots of choice, though, most of which seemed like crap.
What we got and why: We bought a couple of packs of these floor mats at Sears. They’re expensive at $40 for a pack of 6 pieces, but not as expensive as at the sports chain stores.
Still like it? About 70% yes. We need another pack but we’re holding out because it’s not an absolute must. They’re also much flimsier than their thickness would imply. I made the mistake of dropping a metal weight plate on them sideways from a few feet up, and it cut right through like a knife. Also discovered the hard way that I can’t drop a kettlebell on them, even from just above the floor. It tears a hole in the mats and you hear the bell clunk on the cement underneath. Place the kettlebell down, gently.
We wanted jump ropes suitable for double-unders — a speed rope with a thin cable.
Our criteria: Not one of those jump ropes with the big wooden handles. Not one with a big thick rope, because that’s harder to jump. Not one of those with the plastic pieces over the rope, because what the fuck is that about?
What we checked: If there’s one thing you should be taking away from all this, it’s don’t bother going to chain stores like Dick’s or Sports Authority. They’re shit. Again Faster and Rogue have a selection of jump ropes from cheap-ish to pretty expensive.
What we got and why: We got our speed ropes from Sears. They’re basically the same thing as you’ll find at AF or Rogue, but a several bucks cheaper with free shipping. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It’s a jump rope.
Still like it? 100% yes, even though mine has a chip in one of the handles from where I threw it onto the floor in disgust once after I kept tripping.
You know — for box jumps.
Our criteria: Rather than a trapezoidal plyo box with only one height, we thought we’d get more use out of a cuboid box. Three different faces, three different heights. Makes sense, right?
What we checked: The at-home Crossfitter attempting to stock her or his domicile with CF equipment will soon discover that the biggest ripoff of all time is the sale of plyo boxes by otherwise reputable establishments. Again Faster sells cuboid 20 x 24 x 30 plyo boxes for $159. That’s one hundred and fifty-nine dollars American.
OK, so maybe trapezoidal is the way to go? AF’s trapezoidal boxes start at $70. That’s for a box only 12 inches high, which for fuck’s sake at that height just duct-tape a couple of phone books together and jump on that. Rogue Fitness isn’t much better: $65 for a fucking wooden box 1 foot high. Again Faster’s next-highest size is 20 inches and costs $85. Rogue has an 18-inch box for $70. For five small pieces of unfinished wood.
Keep in mind these motherfuckers don’t even ship assembled. You’re basically paying upwards of $70 for several pieces of three-quarter plywood and a sheet of instructions on how to put it together — if I had to guess, in the form of a letter entitled “Dear Chump.” More than $70 for plywood. Seriously. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Do you know how cheap three-quarter-inch plywood is? It makes my rage gland secrete hot jets of bile just thinking about it. Fuck you.
Don’t get me started.
What we got and why: I got some graph paper, a ruler, and a pencil and sketched out my own design for a cuboid plyo box, 16 x 20 x 24. I figured out how many sheets of three-quarter plywood I’d need: two. I found I had one already in my garage, so #winning. I also had a slew of old 2 x 4 studs hanging around in the garage, which I thought I’d cut up and use as bracing pieces inside the box so it would be extra sturdy. The cost of the wood was 12 bucks. A box of screws was, I think, 6 bucks. Once I had some free time I got out my circular saw and drill, cut out the pieces, and screwed them together. Boom. It works exactly the way a large wooden box should, meaning it sits there and lets you jump on it. Total cost: about $18.
I am not a handy person in any way, shape, or form, and yet I built it. I am not an engineer either and yet I designed it and it fit together very nicely. If I can design and build a simple enclosed wooden box, you can too.
Click here to view or download a copy of the plans, which I converted from my graph-paper doodles into a handy-dandy Google Docs image. Go forth and save money.
Still like it? About 99.9% yes. The box is awesome. But I’d like to spray-paint numbers on the side so I can tell at a glance what height is up, and I might take my Dremel tool and carve handles into it, because it’s heavy. Lugging it around the garage is a pain with no handles.
We wanted this for deadlifts. I mean bench presses. Sorry.
Our criteria: Nik wanted a bench that inclined, because there are some moves that she does with her New Rules of Lifting program that use an incline bench. I just wanted a bench that could support a 150-ish-pound man and more than that in weight, assuming one day I can bench a lot.
What we checked: Sports chain stores. Bullshit. Periodically I checked with that dude who sold me the cheap iron plates, but all his benches had racks already attached to them. Rogue sells an adjustable bench that looks really nice. It costs $575 and doesn’t even ship for free. Go fuck yourself.
What we got and why: We found a nice adjustable bench from Universal on Amazon. It holds up to 430 pounds so I don’t have to worry until I start benching 275, hardy har har. It’s small, nice height, sturdy, and fairly cheapish.
Still like it? 100% yes. I’ve benched with it a bunch of times and so has Nik. Before this, I was doing bench presses lying down on the plyo box. This is much more comfortable.
Another recent purchase. Nik likes to do KB swings for a warmup. Plus they come up in workouts, and they’re good for Turkish get-ups.
Our criteria: As cheap as possible. Kettlebells range between $1.50 to $2.50 a pound. We wanted on the cheaper end of that. We could also afford only one, so we thought maybe a 16kg/35# kettlebell would be best. Not too light, not too heavy.
What we checked: Sports stores, a weightlifting supply store near us, Walmart, Amazon — you name it. Kettlebells are everywhere these days. All really expensive, or they didn’t sell the right weight. Shit, even Target sells kettlebells. They’re in the aisle where they keep the yoga mats and pedometers. They top out at something like 25 pounds, though. I kept an eye on that place that sells used fitness equipment, but he didn’t have any kettlebells on hand in the size we wanted.
What we got and why: We got it from Again Faster. At the time AF was holding a deal where any purchase entered you into a drawing to win a free year of Crossfit membership. That sounded nice, so we gave it a shot. We haven’t yet heard word that we’ve won, or if anyone has. Just saying.
Still like it? Yes indeed, 100%. It’s great quality, feels great to swing, and has a nice finish. I can’t drop it, as I said, but that’s all right.
I wanted a 15-pound training bar for overhead squats, snatches, and lighter cleans and jerks. It’s not a good idea to drop a 45-pound bar with 10-pound bumpers on it, because the plates are so thin & light that they’ll bend. It’s better to take a 15-pound bar and put thicker 25-pound bumpers on it. Same weight but sturdier.
Our criteria: Cheap. That’s essentially tops on my list no matter what.
What we checked: Am I nuts, or would you think 15-pound training bars would be much cheaper than 45-pound bars? Like, a third of the price. A third of the weight, a third of the price. Right? They’re not. They’re like almost the same price. I call bullshit on that.
What we got and why: We bought a 15-pound Allumalite training bar from Again Faster. Once again, we got it there because of the free-year-of-Crossfit contest drawing. It ended up being kind of on the pricier side. Still didn’t win. Dammit.
Still like it? Oh yeah, 100%. I think it can hold 150 pounds. I’ve used it for up to 115-pound clean and jerks and dropped it from overhead, and it’s held up beautifully. The knurling is very deep and can be rough on our hands, but that’s pretty standard for aluminum training bars.
By the way, by “training bar” I don’t mean a length of 3/4-inch PVC pipe you use to warm up and stretch and practice. We have one of those too. We bought 10 feet of PVC tubing for 3 bucks at a hardware store. I cut it down to 7 feet, and we still have another 3-foot length of pipe for whacking spiders. By all means this is a better option than Rogue’s “War Bar,” which is a 5-foot length of plastic pipe and costs $13. Buy that and deserve a punch in the throat.
Where it goes from here
There really isn’t a whole lot of other gear we’d like to put in the garage. As of right now, it’s pretty close to ideal for almost everything. We don’t need or want a rower. We won’t get a wallball, because that means we’ll have to do wallballs. And nobody wants to to wallballs. Maybe we’ll save up for a few heavier kettlebells as the years go on and we become stronger (or in case the kettlebell mysteriously becomes lighter). I’d maybe like some hex-head dumbbells, because the dumbbells we have now are a crappy set of standard adjustables. And probably, at some point in the near future, once I get a free minute and some extra money, some rolls of pink fiberglass insulation. The garage isn’t heated and it’s like 20 degrees out there.*