How to build a garage gym
Stage 1. Construction.
We have to make sure we can use the gym all year around. For many of us it means providing heat in the winter. In my case that also meant insulating the walls. Once I put the insulator and drywall, I decided not to stop there and finish the entire garage. I also decided to coat the floor, since I also planned to use it as my workshop in the future. I went with polyurea coating for the ease of application and durability.
Figure 1. Before
Figure 2. After
The next step is heat. After long consideration I decided to go with 5 kW electric heater (FUH54). While it is more expensive than gas, it is much easier and safer to setup it up. All I had to do was run a 1/2" EMT to supply 240V for the heater unit. Of course, you can use 110V if you don't want to do electrical, but you won't be able to get more than 1.5kW out of it, which depending on how harsh the winter is where you live might not be enough. I also installed a separate relay (RC840T-240) connected to an IoT thermostat, so that I could control it remotely.
Figure 3. Heating
Stage 2. Equipment.
Since this article is about the gym itself and not about training routine, I will assume you already know you need to lift heavy weights. If you don't, google Starting Strength. So, to train with heavy weights we will need to build or procure a few things. First, a platform. Serves two purposes: protects the floor and the barbell during impact and provides better traction. It is really easy to build: all you need is a couple sheets of plywood and rubber mats. Most hardware stores will have some means to cut if for you if you don't want to do it yourself. And you can cut the rubber with a utility knife (I used 3/4" horse stall mats). I also decided to make three separate pieces instead of more traditional single platform approach. This allows me to easily get if out of the way when I need room for something else.
The next step is the rack. If money is not an issue you can simply buy one, there's plenty of options. I decided to make my own for two reasons: one, because I can, and two, because the wait time was couple months. Also, since I was making it myself, I could tailor it to my particular needs. I based the design on Starting Strength Power Rack. The few changes I made from the original design (as printed in the "blue book"): 2" higher to allow me press inside the rack (I am 6'2" and have long arms); the vertical channels are facing each other (that allows to setup pins four different ways instead of three, as is the case with the original design, and let's me squat facing away from the wall); 1-1/8" rod instead of 1-1/4" (this was more a matter of convenience, since I already had the rod, M30 bolts, and 1-1/4" drill bit). The rack is 49" wide with 22" between the vertical beams. The hardest part was drilling the holes. Even with an industrial-grade drill press I had at work, it took me several hours to finish the job. The entire project took about 8-10 hours including painting (which isn't at all necessary).
We also need a way to organize our plates. I made this plates rack from 1/2" flat stock, 2" angle, 2" ID and 2" OD pipe, and 1-1/8" rod. It is very sturdy, and has much more compact footprint, because I placed all the 45's on top (unlike a commercial gym, we only need one pair of all the small plates, except 10-lb's which we need two pair of).
Figure 4. Plate rack
The bench and the bar I bought from Starting Strength, and the plates from craigslist. Before the Panic the average price for plates was 50c per pound. After all the gyms were closed the prices skyrocketed to $3. Don't know what they are now, but usually there is no reason to buy new ones.
And that's it. The hardest part was the construction. Probably took me 7-8 weekends to finish the garage, and a couple days for the equipment, but now I have a gym that will be there long after the house around it turns into rubble.