Start a Garage Gym for Under $500


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You want to start working out in your garage, but you’re on a tight budget. So the question is, can you start a garage gym for under $500? The answer is – absolutely! Five hundred dollars is going to make getting what you need to get started pretty tight, but it’s definitely doable.

First, what exactly should you buy to get started?

You want equipment that is as versatile as possible, allowing you to do multiple things with the same pieces. For gyms, those are a rack, barbell, plates and usually a bench. With those four pieces of equipment, you can perform hundreds of different exercises.

I know I’m painting a rosy picture so far, but let’s be honest, there will be some concessions that you’ll have to make.

Bumper plates? Those are out. Any bumper plates that would possibly fit a $500 budget are going to be trash and a terrible investment. That means Olympic lifts are pretty much out, but you can always pick up bumpers down the road if you want.

You’re also not exactly going to be getting any ‘top of the line’ equipment either, but I would imagine you probably already knew that. The good news though, is that there is some quality budget-friendly equipment out there. The hard part is being able to decipher between what is cheap and what is cheap.

Rack Options for a $500 Budget

Normally for a rack I have a pretty strict rule. The rack should be 3×3″ and 11 gauge steel. 3×3 refers to the width and depth of the steel beams that make up the rack and 11 gauge is the thickness of the steel. These two numbers are pretty standard when it comes to durable, high quality racks.

The problem is those racks are going to be out of our price range. This is one of the concessions that I mentioned earlier. What you need is a budget-friendly rack that is still good enough to handle the needs of most lifters without compromising safety. Here are a couple of options:

Rack Fitness PR-1100 Power Rack

For the price, this is one of the best racks you can find. It’s a full rack, complete with a full size base and pull-up bars. It has 1″ diameter holes which means if you end up wanting extra attachments down the road they should be compatible with this rack. It even comes with a 2-year warranty.

There are some concessions that you have to make though. It’s 14 gauge steel, a little thinner than the 11 gauge standard I talked about earlier. Because of this, the PR-1100 has a weight capacity of only 700 pounds. While this is much lower than a more heavy-duty rack, 700 pounds is still going to be sufficient for most lifters.

Check For Availability and Pricing at Rep Fitness

Cap Barbell Power Rack

Cap calls this a power rack, but that’s really using the term loosely in my opinion. This is more equivalent to a basic squat stand with a pull-up bar built in. However, if you need basic functionality at a great price, this rack is a good fit.

At just over $200, this is one of the cheapest racks you can find. It’s built from 11 and 12 gauge steel though, which is awesome. It lists a weight capacity of 500 pounds which I believe is mainly due to the size of the rack and stability being an issue at heavier weights.

I’d highly recommend bolting this rack to the floor if possible to increase stability. At the very least, use the vertical weight storage posts on the back to store some 45s to help anchor the rack to the floor.

Check For Availability and Pricing on Cap Barbell

Barbell Options for a $500 Budget

I am a barbell snob. I do a lot of Olympic lifting and a great barbell is something you never knew you needed until you have one. The problem is my Uesaka bar definitely doesn’t fit in a $500 budget.

For our budget, what we need is a barbell that is going to be durable enough to last us as long as possible without tearing up.

REP Basic Barbell

Rep Fitness excels in creating quality entry level lifting equipment and this barbell is no exception. No one is going to confuse this bar with my Uesaka bar, but this bar will do its job and do it well. At less than $100, you get an unbelievable bang for your buck.

It’s a 20kg bar rated at 700lbs, more than enough for 99% of us. The sleeve (the outer portion of the bar) is bolted-on and is a 2″ diameter. That diameter is something to pay close attention to if you’re looking at “budget-friendly” bars. 2″ is the standard size for plates, both iron and bumper, but some cheaper bars can come in random sizes.

Check for Availability and Pricing on Rep Fitness

Titan Economy Olympic Bar

This is another quality barbell that you can get for right around $100. Like the Rep Barbell, this is a basic bar, but it’s quality enough to hold up for a long time. Also like Rep’s bar, it’s a standard 84-inch bar, with a 700lb capacity and has 2″ sleeves. The only real difference is Titan’s bar is a 45lb bar instead of a 20kg bar.

That makes this bar a standard issue bar that will hold standard weights. It’s not a “technique bar” which are lighter and sometimes shorter in length or some type of “specialty” bar that’s barely a barbell at all.

You’ll be able to log plenty of lifts on this bar and it fits nicely within our budget.

Check for Availability and Pricing on Titan Fitness

Plate Options for a $500 Budget

I mentioned earlier that bumper plates are out. Iron plates are just so much more cost-efficient than bumper plates. Other than dropping a snatch or a power clean, you can accomplish anything else you need with iron plates. Iron plates, even low cost ones, are normally going to last you just about forever.

The three places I would look to get plates are Rep Fitness, Titan Fitness and I’d look for Cap Barbell plates either on Amazon or at a box store like Academy Sports. Make sure you get plates with a 2″ diameter so they will fit a standard size bar (Be wary of 1″ diameter plates – those will not fit your bar!).

Outside of that, these plates are pretty much the same so you’re just looking for the best deal.

The best deal that will fit the needs of most lifters getting started is a 245lb set. This consists of a pair of 45s, 35s, 25s, 10s, 5s and 2.5s. If 245 isn’t enough for some of your big lifts you can add weight accordingly, but 245 will at least get you going.

At the time of this writing, a 245lb set at Rep Fitness was going for $259. At Titan, it was $319 but they also offer free shipping on everything which can play a big factor in cost. Cap Barbell is also very competitive pricing wise, but it being the summer of 2020 right now, it’s pretty hard to actually find a price on Cap Barbell plates.

If you can find them, especially at a local store you can save on shipping costs as well.

Check Availability and Pricing at Rep Fitness

Check Availability and Pricing at Titan Fitness

Check Availability and Pricing at Cap Barbell

Bench Options for a $500 Budget

Personally, I don’t have a bench in my garage gym. My workouts are very Olympic lifting focused and benching at this point in my life crushes my shoulders anyway. I do understand, however, that I am in the vast minority on this one. Almost everyone wants a bench in their gym.

For your budget, you want a simple bench without any of the bells and whistles that end up driving the price up. A simple bench will allow you to bench press, seated exercises, as well as exercises like pistol squats and rear foot, elevated lunges.

However, you still can’t just get the cheapest thing you can find cause you’ll end up with a bench that is unstable and wobbly at best and downright dangerous at worst.

Rep Fitness FB-3000 Flat Bench

Simple as possible and super high quality. That’s why I love this bench. If you’re cutting costs you either end up sacrificing some function or quality. It’s usually not just one or the other, but both in varying degrees. Not so with this bench. Rep Fitness did not concede quality one bit. They made a bench that is of amazing quality – 11 gauge steel, high density pad and rated to 1000 pounds.

Are you going to be able to do 9 different levels of incline and decline? No. But, if you want a well-made bench for under $100, this is the best you’re going to find.

Check Availability and Pricing at Rep Fitness

Fitness Gear Utility Bench

I’m going to be 100% honest. I’m giving this recommendation with some reservations. Unlike the FB-3000, this bench gives you 7 different adjustable levels to be able to incline and decline. However, this is where my praise is going to stop.

A second ago I said you have to make concessions if you want a bench under $100. While the Fitness Gear Bench does give you more function, the quality just isn’t the same. It’s only rated to 400 pounds and if you intend on moving a decent amount of weight it’s probably going to be more wobbly than you’d like.

This bench could work for you if you want the added function and you only plan on using the bench to do some light dumbbell or very light barbell work. If you’re going to be lifting heavy, go with the FB-3000 or spend a few extra bucks.

Check Availability and Pricing at Dick’s Sporting Goods

Final Thoughts

If you’ve been following along and doing the math you may be thinking to yourself,

$200+ for a rack. $100 for a barbell. $200+ for plates. $100 for a bench – This doesn’t sound like under $500.

Okay. You got me. Here’s the deal. It’s really hard to get your garage gym started for under $500. What I’m showing you is how to get started for as little as possible without buying junk that you’re going to throw in the trash in six months.

If you really want to get under $500, you could always build your own rack as I did. I built a Squat Stand for about $60. But, even if you’re just over $500, it’s still going to pay for itself in no time and you get the awesome benefit of having a gym within walking distance to your kitchen.

 

 

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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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