How to Build a Garage Gym on a Budget (2023)

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.

Building a Budget-Friendly Garage Gym

Garage Gym Essentials

You’re going to hear me mention quite a bit that – “it depends on what type of lifting you do”. Here’s why knowing what type of lifting you do is important.

If you’re into powerlifting then you don’t need an Olympic barbell designed to rotate, but you will definitely need a bench to bench press.

If you’re into Olympic lifting you may be able to get by with a squat stand instead of a power rack, but you definitely have to have bumper plates.

If you’re into Crossfit then a Med Ball or a Jump Rope aren’t just “extra” pieces of equipment – they’re essential for many Crossfit workouts.

Finally, if you’re just a recreational lifter who is just trying to look good at the beach this spring, you may not need bumper plates but a pull-up bar is a high priority. Hopefully, you get the point. Each style of lifting has its own ‘essentials’ that you 100% need, but each style also has areas where you can trim the budget.

Having said all that, there are four pieces of equipment that are almost essential for any home gym – flooring, a squat rack, barbell and plates. With those four pieces of equipment, you can accomplish almost anything you want in a weight room.

Now, let’s take a look at budget-friendly options of each one along with where you want to spend as well as where you may be able to save some money and stretch that budget.

Garage Gym Flooring

Closeup of Gym Flooring
Once the initial smell was gone, my mats have been everything I was hoping for.

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), but 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.

Tractor Supply Company Horse Stall Mats

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.

The main drawback to Horse Stall Mats is they smell downright terrible when you first get them home. Don’t freak out though, there are ways you can get the smell out of your mats.

Rogue Gym Mats

What if you don’t have access to a Tractor Supply Company? Consider taking a look at Rogue Gym Mats.

They have a lot of similarities to TSC mats. They’re super thick, durable 4′ x 6′ gym mats that actually are a little bit better quality than TSC. They’re a little more expensive ($70 per mat), but that includes free shipping which can be a huge bonus if you don’t have a SUV or pickup truck.

The downside is you can only buy Rogue Gym Mats in a 25 piece bundle.

If you have a 2 car garage that you are wanting to completely cover this is perfect. However, if you have a smaller space then you’re going to end up with extra unneeded mats which is not good if you’re trying to maximize a budget.

Lifting Platform

If you do Olympic lift and you’re going to be dropping a 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 also doing a much better job of protecting my floor.

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

Quality Barbell For a Good Price

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 have your flooring in place and ready to go, it’s time to move on to getting some actual iron in your gym.

This is way more exciting than buying flooring, but it can also be more stressful. The options when it comes to bars are 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 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 barbells 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 many of the bars I’ve always used are higher end bars.

Here is what you need to know when it comes to buying bars. 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 good spin 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 to 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.

Now, I’m going to totally contradict myself because while that is the general rule to follow, some companies like Rogue have good entry-level Olympic lifting bars that have bushings. Just like with anything else, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Budget Barbell Recommendations

Now that you know what to look for in a budget-friendly barbell, how about a few recommendations?

My best advice is to go with a reputable company that makes quality equipment designed for home (or small gym) use. Rogue and Titan are the two that I would recommend the highest. Both make quality budget-friendly barbells aimed at the home gym lifter.

Here are a few worth taking a look at:

Brand Barbell Bearing or Bushing Cost (at time of writing)
Rogue Echo Bar 2.0 Bushing $265
Rogue Olympic WL Bar Bearing $560
Rogue Ohio Bar Stainless Steel Bushing, but designed for Olympic lifts $370
Titan Regular Olympic Bar Brass Bushing $139
Titan Atlas Bar Combo $224

About the Recommended Barbells

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

Rogue Echo Bar

The Rogue Echo Bar is one of Rogue’s most budget-friendly bars. 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 an upper-tier bar then 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.

Rogue Olympic Weightlifting Bar

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 (both of which can go for close to a grand).

Rogue Ohio 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 that 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).

Regular Olympic Bar

The first bar from Titan 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.

It’s almost as cheap as the cheap barbells you’ll find at a big box store. The difference is this is a barbell that will last you instead of potentially coming apart a few months down the road.

Atlas Olympic Barbell

The Atlas Bar from Titan is a step up from the Power Bar. It has a bearing/bushing combination rotation system.

This bar, along the Rogue Echo Bar, are the most budget-friendly barbells that has a decently good spin to them. If you’re just dipping your toe in the waters of Olympic lifting, or even Crossfit, the Atlas bar from Titan and the Rogue Echo are both great choices.

Considering the price, it’s really hard to beat. $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.

Best Plates for a Budget Home Gym

Sorinex Bumper Plate leaning against Squat Rack

The first decision you’ll need to make when picking out plates is whether you need bumper plates or steel plates.

The answer to this is pretty simple. Are you going to drop plates on the floor? If yes, you need bumper plates. If not, consider getting steel plates to save money.

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, let’s look at a few examples of quality budget-friendly plates:

Steel Plates

Rarely do I advocate buying any gym equipment off Amazon. While there are a few ‘diamonds in the rough’ so to speak, there is a lot of hot garbage that you have to wade through to uncover those diamonds and that can be nearly impossible if you’ve not spent a lifetime looking at equipment.

This is one of those of those occasions though. Cap Barbell which has been supplying fitness equipment for almost every big box store as well as Amazon now has been making barbells, plates and dumbbells for decades.

If I was buying steel plates (and trying to save money), these are what I would get. Because of the volume of product that Cap makes they are able to make steel plates cheaper than anyone and the quality of their plates are solid.

Bumper Plates

Bumper plates get a little more complex. Like barbells, there are an insane amount of choices when it comes to bumper plates. And when it comes to the cost of bumper plates, they generally fall into one of three categories.

Crumb Rubber

Crumb rubber bumper plates are plates that have been forged from recycled rubber. They are usually easy to spot because they’re typically much wider and generally not as aesthetically pleasing as other bumpers.

However, they will be by far the cheapest. If you really need bumpers but need them as cheap as possible – crumb rubber plates may be your best bet.

Economy Bumper Plates

Economy bumper plates are made with virgin rubber but are easy to pick out because of the thin center cap that basically connects the rubber of the plate to the bar.

The thin center cap (also found in crumb rubber plates) makes economy bumper plates poorer performers when it comes to Olympic lifts because they aren’t as balanced and don’t spin as smoothly on the bar.

Finally, the thin center cap also has a much higher tendency to work itself loose after repeated drops which can make the plate unusable.

Olympic Weightlifting Bumper Plates

Bumper plates designed for Olympic weightlifting will be the most expensive of the three, but they are more durable and will perform much better than the two lower cost versions. If your main focus is Olympic lifting, I’d highly recommend finding a way to work these into your budget.

If not, you’ll have to decide which bumper plate works best for your budget and your training needs.

Bumper Plate Recommendations

I’m going to give you one recommendation for each level of bumper plate I just described – a crumb rubber, economy and weightlifting. All three are great low cost options for it’s particular style of plate.

Bumper Plates
Company Bumper Plate Style Cost For Set of 45s*
Sorinex Recon Lite Crumb Rubber $154
Rogue Echo V2 Economy $175
Titan Elite Classic Black Weightlifting $279

*Cost at time of writing. Prices are always subject to change and/or go on sale.

Budget-Friendly Squat Rack

Titan T3 Power Rack with Barbell
My Titan T3 Power Rack

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 in the direction I did and build your own rack. (I’ve since also bought a rack)

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

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

First is 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.

However, they are very limited in their functionality. (Although you can do things like installing a wall-mounted pull-up bar to compensate for some of those limitations.)

If you want something a little more than a squat stand, I’d recommend a Wall-Mounted Squat 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 Westside hole spacing 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 of 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 Gym Equipment

If you have flooring, a bar, plates and a rack there is an almost 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.

How Much Does It Cost To Turn Your Garage Into a Gym?

You can turn your garage into a gym for under a $1000 or you can spend tens of thousands of dollars buying gym equipment to fill out a garage.

My advice is to start with the essentials that I’ve discussed here. The essentials – a squat rack, barbell, bumper plates (or steel plates) and good gym flooring will allow you to do an infinite variety of workouts.

Once you have all of your essentials, then start adding one piece at a time depending on what you’re missing most within your training.

For many, that’s going to be an adjustable bench for bench press and all its variations. For others it might be a pull-up bar (if your power rack or squat stand doesn’t already have one) or a set of adjustable dumbbells.

Only you can decide when you’ve spent ‘enough’ on your home gym. Take it from someone who has helped build out half-million dollar weight rooms – the sky is the limit when it comes to gym equipment.

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!

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Ryan Horton

Horton Barbell was created by Ryan Horton who has served as a Sports Performance Coach for almost 20 years. My mission is to create a training resource to help as many coaches and athletes as possible maximize athletic potential.

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