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Assembling The Pleasant Box: Building a Home Gym from Zero

#fitness

There was a massive equipment scarcity when I set out to build my home gym. I had to shelve dreams of a perfectly coordinated set up. But with a little patience, I diligently pieced together The Pleasant Box.

I'll preface this by saying there are several great companies producing quality equipment. I don't think you can go wrong at Rogue Fitness and Rep Fitness. I stayed away from big box stores as the quality and functionality didn't seem up to par. As you shop, pay attention to shipping costs and whether or not something is sold in pairs or not.

If a large scale home gym is not feasible for you, check out my list of must-have equipment for small spaces.

Assess Your Requirements & Restrictions

When we were looking for a new house to call home, I would do air thrusters in every garage to gauge if it was high enough. Our realtor was very confused.

The first step in building a home gym is to determine what is most important to you. What type of movements do you love doing? How much space do you need for your typical workouts? What type of equipment do you need?

Think through restrictions you might have. Do you have to fit a car in your garage or can you convince your spouse to leave the car outside forever? Can your floor support dropping weight?

Is your space going to be warm or cool enough? We ended up fully insulating our garage, including installing insulation panels on the garage door, which made a huge difference.

Is your garage floor level? Does the front slope? I was adamant about setting up equipment on a level surface.

Prioritize Your Equipment

My bare minimum gym required a squat rack with a pull up bar, one barbell, one set of plates and a bench. For these pieces, I did not want to skimp.

Rogue SM-2 Monster Squat Stand 2.0

I chose this stand for its stability, attachment compatibility and price. I wanted a freestanding option that did not need to be bolted to the ground, but provides stability. While the Monster Lite stand is less expensive, I went with the Monster version in part for added stability and in part for more versatility as it has standard 1 inch holes for bolts. This makes it easier to find attachments.

I also looked at Rep Fitness, but they were out of stock at the time.

I intend to convert the stand into a half rack at some point so I can safely bench without a spotter, do rack pulls and add plate storage.

Rep Fitness AB-5000 Zero Gap

I had been eyeing this bench for awhile, eagerly awaiting fresh stock. This bench is adjustable and super solid. A big selling point is the lack of gap between the two pads. It's also easy to maneuver around the garage.

I also considered Arsenal Strength and Rogue's AB 2, both of which have great reviews, but are more expensive. There are a lot of benches out there. Given that I will be laying on it with heavy weight over my body, I wanted something super sturdy.

Barbells

My first home gym purchase was a barbell. We were still in the midst of the great garage gym equipment shortage of 2020 so I was watching all the sites like a hawk. When Rogue had a Bella Bar in the Boneyard (rejected for cosmetics reasons). The Bella Bar is their 15 KG bar for women's Olympic lifting.

I pounced even though I really wanted a standard 45 pound bar.  A few months later, I added a standard bar bell, this time from Rep Fitness - the Rep Black Sabre barbell. I like them both, but the Rogue bar does feel smoother during Olympic Lifts.

Plates

There are so many options for plates. The right choice depends on the type of lifting you do and how heavy you lift. I wanted crumb rubber plates because they are affordable and support olympic lifting. I'm not concerned about packing 700 pounds on the bar either so the larger width doesn't bother me.

Basement Brandon did a great video on picking plates and Garage Gym Reviews has a detailed article on the topic.

Change Plates

It took me forever to find change plates, which are so important to women lifters as we need the smaller increments to make gainz, especially in upper body lifts. For months, I rigged up some old York plates built for one inch diameter bars with resistance bands to make smaller jumps. The added stabilization challenge is great, too.

After religiously refreshing Rouge Fitness, Vulcan Strength and Rep Fitness, I finally found a set of change plates in stock on Eleiko!

Attachements

For the rack, I have two awesome attachments: landmine and dip station. The landmine attachment enables some fun alternatives, outside of the normal movement planes. Some people may consider a dip station a luxury, but given how important upper body pushing and pulling is, I did not want to forego this one. Rogue also sells a wall mount for storing the dip station, which I love. My only complaint with the dip station is that I need help putting in on the rack, but when it's on, it's secure.

Kettlebells

The first piece of equipment I bought in 2020 was a pair of adjustable kettlebells from Rep Fitness. This was before we bought a house so I needed something small and portable. I was skeptical of adjustable weights, but desperate from months of quarantine.

They provide 5 kettlebells in one. Changing weights is easy. The only challenge for me was getting used to a larger diameter kettlebell, but that made be stronger so I'm cool with it.

I've used Elekio and Rogue kettlebells in the gym and they are both great. Elekio's are all the same diameter regardless of weight. Rogue's change size depending on the weight. While I haven't tried them myself, folks I respect recommend Kettlebell Kings.

Dumbbells

While I would love to have a complete set of matching dumbbells, like this amazing set from Vulcan Strength, the reality is I don't really need it.

I have a pair of 15s, 20s, 30s and 35s. I also have one super old York dumbbell that weighs 26 pounds. For light weight accessory work, I use my 2.5, 5 and 10 pound change plates. I can hold two of them in one hand or pair a small plate with a dumbbell in the same hand, so I also have 7.5 and 17.5 pound options.

Choosing the right dumbbell weights to buy is challenging. I recommend having a light, medium and heavy pair so you can cover your basis.

Dumbbells and kettlebells are now a lot easier to find!

Flooring

The Internet is full of recommendations on gym flooring, with most people suggesting horse stall mats. My issue with stall mats is that there will always be a gap between mats because they don't fit together seamlessly. If this doesn't bother you, check them out at Tractor Supply Company

I ended up going with Traffic Master tiles from Home Depot. The cost is comparable to Rep Fitness's tiles, which I would have chosen had they came with border pieces.

The mats are comfortable enough for floor work and cushion the barbell, although I am not dropping extremely heavy weights from overhead.

We covered a 8 foot by 8 foot area with mats and will add another 8 x 8 section shortly so there is a distinctive section for the rack and for stand alone work.

Rubber mats can give off an intense oder. I didn't notice it with the Traffic Master mats in the garage, but friends who used these in their indoor home gym said the oder was powerful enough to give you a headache.

Cardio

I went back and forth on the right piece of cardio equipment to add to the mix. I would love to have an Assault Runner, Stair Machine, Bike and Rower... maybe one day. For now, I settled on a rower because I enjoy it more than the bike and it's light/easier to move around in comparison to the rest of these options.

I was on a wait list for the Concept 2 rower for two months. They did a great job keeping me informed with a weekly email announcing my target order date. During that time, I almost ordered the Vulcan Strength rower, which has stellar reviews, but ultimately, I waited for the Concept 2 because I didn't want to spend ~$900 on something I had never touched.

Accessories

  • Hip Thrust Pad: If you hip thrust, getting a solid pad makes a huge difference. After using a towel or sweatshirt for years, the BC Sponge changed my life.
  • Abmat: The Abmat enables you to fully extend your abs during a sit up, which you can't achieve on a flat surface.
  • Wedge: I use the BC Wedge for elevating my toes or heels during various lower body lifts such as heels elevated squats to place more emphasis on the quads. It's not the most heavy duty thing in the world, but it works for me.
  • Wall Ball: I chose a slightly heavier wall ball than I would normally use so I have something to push me.

Organization

A organized gym is an efficient gym. And while our car lives outside, I want the option to bring it into the garage if a massive snow or hail storm is headed our way.

  • Barbells: For barbell storage, I opted for Rogue's gun rack.
  • Bands: For bands and jump ropes, we found the Kobalt Storage Rail System at Lowes. You can get all sorts of storage attachments for holding your resistance bands and other accessory equipment.
  • Shelving: For what we have today, a heavy duty storage shelf was good enough. This one from Lowes can support 800 pounds per shelf... although I don't think we will test that to its full extent.
  • Plate Storage: I considered getting plate storage, but when I realized I could add on storage to a half rack conversion, I decided to wait. For the moments, my plates are stacked on the ground.

It took me about four months to pull all of this together. I didn't mind taking my time as it gave me time to think about how each piece would fit in and if I really needed it or not. There are a few additional pieces I would love to add, but for now, I have more than enough to fuel fun and varied workouts.

While there is still a shortage of equipment out there, many items, are in stock and they come back in stock frequently. Rep does a good job posting to Instagram Stories when equipment is available. Rogue has good email notifications, although, they are often sent a few hours after the site has been updated Stay vigilant, get a browser extension to notify you when items are in stock or just refresh the sites every morning. Happy lifting!

Evy Lyons

I treat life like a professional sport and train like an athlete so I can stay in the game as long as possible and hopefully inspire more women to join the fun.