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What you need for a performance gym in your garage. Part 1 – the fundamentals.

Some of us who are lucky enough to have been able to afford or even get our hands on some equipment before this situation kicked off are the lucky few. Some of us who had a home gym before this situation came to be are even luckier as they are fully set and ready to go. Those who aren’t lucky enough to have a home gym but are maybe looking at it as a realistic possibility or something you would like to do then it can be hard to know what to look for and what represents the best compromise between quality and price.

In this article, I want to lay out what you would need to get your hands on to put together that is up to performance-based training. That is a gym where you can become as strong, big or powerful as you have the potential to become and you will not be held back by your equipment selection. I will try and deliver the cheapest/best value for money option I can but not cutting back on the quality of the equipment.

The equipment links I will provide will be based around setting up your gym or getting your equipment in the UK as that is where I am based and have the most knowledge, you will be able to find proxies for your location where needed just from a simple google search.

I will now break it down into sections in order of importance. Later in the article I will layout the costing for a performance powerlifting, strongman and weightlifting gym.

Flooring

The most important thing is the ground beneath your feet surprisingly enough having a floor that isn’t fit for purpose is going to kill any performance training space.

Base layer

Whilst it is only really essential to have flooring down where the bar will come into contact with the floor having a base layer will help to beef up the protection of the floor. But it will also help to mask imperfections such as dips or uneven surfaces.

By far the best base layer you can put down are simple horse stall mats. You can lay them down on the floor without using glue or anything complicated to appy, you can use a stanley blade, chalk and a ruler to cut it into any shape you need for odds and ends.

Ideally, you would want an 18mm mat however you will be able to get away with 12mm if that’s what you have to work with. I would (and will recommend) putting a platform on top of the base layer for heavy lifting as it can add properties to the floor that a hard rubber base layer can’t.

Horse stall mat – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heavy-Duty-Solid-Rubber-1-22m/dp/B075F268L5/ref=sr_1_4?dchild=1&keywords=horse+stall+mats&qid=1587041147&sr=8-4

Cost per square meter = £18

Platforms

On top of a base layer, you will want to put a platform down. The platform will take up a lot of the impact of the lifting. If the floor you are lifting on isn’t appropriate for heavy lifting (patio tiles for example) you will damage the underlying surface but outwith of digging up the floor and screening with concrete this isn’t something you can control. Having a base layer and platform will help to protect the underlying floor but it won’t/can’t take all of the impact or force.

Powerlifting and strongman platform

In powerlifting and strongman static lifts there isn’t a need for the feet to be able to slide (for sumo deadlift especially) so we can cut out the middle man and lay on another layer of rubber. You can look at a more compressive tile to help absorb some of the sound/shock from dropping weights and bars. If you have a base layer of horse stall mats or hard rubber under your feet you can probably get away with lifting straight off that.

You can lay more horse stall mats or use a more compressive rubber tile such as – https://www.slip-not.co.uk/productdetail/Rubber-Gym-Mats-Interlocking-Heavy-Duty-Commercial

Price per square meter – £36

The size of the are should be determined by the kind of lifts you are planning on performing for deadlifts a platform slightly wider than the full length of the barbell (1 – 1.5m x 2.2 – 3m) would be sufficient, for strongman you might want a larger lifting area something in the order of 3m x 2m or 3m x 3m to allow you room to move out of the way of missed lifts or incase you fall lifting an implement to give you room to bail.

Weightlifting platform (weightlifting and strength & conditioning)

If you are wanting to do weightlifting at home then the platform is the single most important piece of equipment. Probably the best budget solution is to create your own plywood platform. You can either build it with plywood only or you can also add in mats on the top layer there are plenty of how-tos on youtube on how to make the platforms. They all pretty much use the plywood and mat combination you can see one of them below.

Another option is to just buy 6 18 x 1220 x 2440 plywood sheets. The quality of the plywood your buy will determine the price of the platform. An example of which below would cost you £190.50.

You can simply lay them down in layers that run opposite to each other and then screw them down with countersunk screws. A rubber surface is only needed if you are going to be lifting with steel plates which you won’t be if you are building a platform for use of weightlifting.

Plywood sheet – https://www.wickes.co.uk/Wickes-Non-Structural-Hardwood-Plywood—18mm-x-1220mm-x-2440mm/p/110037

Home made platforms are going to outperform pretty much anything outside of top of the range competition platforms that are going to cost £3000 – £5000. A lot of purpose made platforms are going to be small compared to a home made platform and for foot work in weightlifting wood really does provide one of the best surfaces. Rubber flooring will do the job but it can stick when performing split jerks, the bit of give provided by a wood surface is ideal.

The Barbell

After the flooring, the place where you want to spend your money or you should try and get right is the barbell. You can get away with cutting corners when it comes to a rack, bench or plates. But the barbell is the conduit between you and the weight and having a poor barbell really can affect your performance. For purchasing a barbell I would recommend you buy the best value option, the budget option is only if you really can’t afford the outlay, in which case I would highly recommend saving for longer because the extra spend is really worth it.

I could easily write a 1000 word plus review on each of these barbells I have used pretty much all of them (I own at least one of pretty much all of the barbells I am recommending).

Powerlifting barbell

If you are a powerlifter you should buy a purpose made power bar. Typically these will be of 190,000 psi tensile strength and greater (lesser tensile strength means lower quality steel was used for the sprung shaft). That is 29mm in circumference, has a centre knurl and deep knurling. Below are the bars I would recommend you to get for each price point

Budget option – https://www.extremefitness.co.uk/show-all/weightlifting-bars-plates/barbells/men-s-20kg-barbells Extreme fitness power bar.

Best Value option – https://www.rogueeurope.eu/rogue-20-kg-ohio-power-bar-black-zinc-eu Rogue Ohio Power Bar.

Money is no limit option – https://www.eleiko.com/en/p/eleiko-ipf-powerlifting-competition-bar-20-kg/1643#gs.3kvlo8

Strongman Barbell

For a strongman gym, we can make some compromises when it comes to the barbell we buy as there are going to be other bits of equipment that are required (axel, log, farmers, etc) and as such we might need to leave some room in the budget. The barbell we are looking for needs to stand up to heavy pressing and deadlifting so a good power bar is probably your best bet. Something along the lines of the following would probably be your best bet. I wouldn’t advocate spending any more than a good rogue PowerBar unless you are balling out of control in which case feel free.

Budget option – https://www.extremefitness.co.uk/show-all/weightlifting-bars-plates/barbells/men-s-20kg-barbells Extreme fitness power bar.

Best Value option – https://www.rogueeurope.eu/rogue-20-kg-ohio-power-bar-black-zinc-eu Rogue Ohio Power Bar.

Weightlifting barbell

For weightlifting you are going to want a bar with decent whip, good spin and reasonable knurling. A passive centre knurl can be useful for squats with the barbell something like you would find on a training Eleiko bar is ideal. Again you want to spend as much money as you can on your barbell as it’s the most important bit of equipment you will buy.

Budget option –

Men’s Barbell (20kg) – https://www.solidathletix.com/bumper-plates-barbells-competition/mens-competition-bar

Women’s Barbell (15kg) – https://www.solidathletix.com/bumper-plates-barbells-competition/womens-competition-bar

Best Value option –

Mens Barbell (20kg) – https://www.rogueeurope.eu/the-ohio-bar-black-zinc-eu

Womens Barbell (15kg) – https://www.rogueeurope.eu/rogue-bella-bar-eu

Money is no issue option

Mens Barbell (20kg) – https://www.eleiko.com/en/p/eleiko-iwf-weightlifting-competition-bar-20-kg-men/12#gs.3kxb7t

Womens Barbell (15kg) – https://www.eleiko.com/en/p/eleiko-iwf-weightlifting-competition-bar-15-kg-women/13#gs.3kxb8n

Strength and conditioning / Sports training barbell

For a strength and conditioning or sports training gym, you are going to want a barbell that can perform dynamic lifts with (weightlifting movements) and be able to squat, bench and deadlift with so you can perform your strength program on the same barbell. You might want to also purchase some specialty bars down the line so similar to the strongman gym you might want to save some budget to spend elsewhere so I would recommend buying one of the cheaper weightlifting bar options

Budget option –

Men’s Barbell (20kg) – https://www.solidathletix.com/bumper-plates-barbells-competition/mens-competition-bar

Women’s Barbell (15kg) – https://www.solidathletix.com/bumper-plates-barbells-competition/womens-competition-bar

Best Value option –

Mens Barbell (20kg) – https://www.rogueeurope.eu/the-ohio-bar-black-zinc-eu

Womens Barbell (15kg) – https://www.rogueeurope.eu/rogue-bella-bar-eu

The Power Rack / Squat Rack

What you choose here might depend on the space you have and what you are wanting to do. We will discuss these options for each goal you are training for. However this is somewhere you can spend 1000s of pounds for little to no return, if you are opening a huge performance facility and have a huge budget then you can maybe justify some of the over-engineered racks out there but even for money is no limit option I would not recommend spending that kind of money for a home gym. A big concern in home gyms is going to be the height of the rack.

Instead of discussing this via sport as I have done to this point I will discuss the main categories of rack and the pluses/minuses of each category and which options I think are best suited to each budget. This is not really an area I would recommend you maxing out your budget a good economy option here is going to perform really well.

Full rack / Power cage

This option is going to give you the most versatility and training options from attachable lat pulldowns, to jammer arms some of the new power rack systems give you a lot of functionality you would get from machines in the same footprint as a power rack takes up. A power rack combined with a good adjustable bench press is going to be the best option for strongman or sports training gyms. There will be some spins for powerlifters and weightlifters we will discuss below.

Pros – most amount of versatility available, safest solution for heavy solo lifting.

Cons – can be too tall for some spaces / footprint

Best budget option – https://www.mirafit.co.uk/mirafit-m1-250kg-power-rack.html

Best value option – mirafit.co.uk/mirafit-m2-360kg-power-rack.html

Money is no issue option – https://www.rogueeurope.eu/rogue-r-4-power-rack-eu

Half Rack

If you lack some space but want the functionality of a rack then a half rack is your best solution. They tend to have a similar foot print in terms of the base of the rack but the lack of the 3rd set of uprights means that would can walk past/do other things with in the foot print of the half rack if you take away the safeties.

Pros – offers most of the functionality of a full rack while taking up less space.

Cons – doesn’t offer the same safety as a full rack and has less versatility.

Best budget option – https://www.mirafit.co.uk/mirafit-m2-half-power-rack.html

Best value option – https://www.strengthshop.co.uk/half-rack.html

Money no object option – https://www.rogueeurope.eu/rogue-hr-2-half-rack-eu

Squat rack

If you are setting up purely weightlifting gym then a squat rack can be a better option as you can move it on and off the platform to allow you to do squat training and jerks/over head lifts where you have the option to drop the bar when ditching it. A squat rack can also be a great option if you are really contrained for space.

Pros – best space saving option

Cons – way less sturdy, safe and has less versatility than a rack.

Best budget option – https://www.mirafit.co.uk/mirafit-m2-squat-rack.html

Best value option – https://www.strengthshop.co.uk/heavy-duty-squat-stands.html

Money no object option – https://www.rogueeurope.eu/sml-1-rogue-70-monster-lite-squat-stand-1-eu

Another option is independent squat stands however the lack of stability doesn’t really make them a great option, certainly not one I would recommend. You should be looking for squat stands that have at a bare minimum a connecting strip along the base like the strength shop option above.

Combination racks

If you are a powerlifter another option you can look for is a competition rack. The combo rack is an upper range option for powerlifters but if you are an IPF lifter then it is a good option for you to train how you play and if you don’t mind losing a bot of versitility in trade of for training specificity then it is certainly worth looking at.

Budget option – https://www.strengthshop.co.uk/strength-shop-competition-squat-bench-rack.html

Value option – https://www.power-gear.it/products/competition-rack-silver-bullet?variant=6886827458613

Money no issue option – http://www.er-equipment.dk/er-equipment/ipf-approved-squat-bench-press-rack-10-001

The elikeo rack isn’t really an option I would look at unless you actively want to buy the brand. If you are in the united states then the ghost rack or rogue are definitely worth looking at.

Plates

When it comes to plates this is going to be somewhere you can either try and get the best bang for your buck or just suck up the cost and go for something nice or best in class.

Powerlifting plates

For powerlifting I would recommend either getting steel plates or competition plates. Bumpers offer too much whip and take up too much space on the barbell.

Budget option – second hand plates look for £1-1.5 per kilo is a good price

Value for money option – https://www.extremefitness.co.uk/cast-iron-2-olympic-weight-plates

Money no issue option – https://www.rogueeurope.eu/rogue-calibrated-kg-steel-plates-eu

Strongman plates

For strongman you will want mostly the same option as powerlifting plates however for some events training you will need to either invest in some drop pads or some bumper plates. I would invest in a couple of decent 20kg or 25kg bumpers and make up the rest with steel plates for dropping events like log or axel.

Weightlifting or sports training plates

For weightlifting or sports training where you are looking to do dynamic lifts and have the option to drop the barbell from the rack position or overhead you will need to buy bumper plates. Typically there are 3 kinds of bumper plate.

  • Crumb which are typically known as CrossFit plates these tend to be made some lower density rubber, bounce more and are much thicker meaning you can fit less weight on the barbell.
  • High-density rubber/competition plates. These are normally the gold standard of bumper plates. They are normally sold as competition plates (that are colour coded) or training plates that are black and marked as their weight.
  • Eurtherine plates – sold as a more durable option to bumper plates they supposedly survive more drops. Having used them I would personally not recommend this option as the plates tend to be slippy to handle and the calibration on the set that we had in the gym where horrible.

Budget option – https://www.extremefitness.co.uk/extreme-fitness-black-rubber-bumper-plates

Best value option – https://www.extremefitness.co.uk/extreme-fitness-black-training-plates

Money no object option – https://www.rogueeurope.eu/rogue-color-kg-training-2-0-plates-iwf-eu

In the next installment, we will be looking at some options that will be high up on your needs list that might not be essential.

Marc

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