My Home Gym

After leaving CrossFit, I found a workout rhythm that works well for me, and gradually stocked my basement and patio with a few essentials so I can vary my workouts. Now I can do pretty much anything I used to do at a really nice CrossFit gym. CrossFit is great because the equipment needed is fairly minimal anyway. People often ask “where are the machines?” and the insider’s joke is “we don’t use machines, we build them.” Here’s what’s in my “garage gym.”

Jargon note: Rx is CrossFit slang for “as prescribed,” which a lot of athletes will not do—they will “scale” the workout to fit their level of ability. Rx workouts assume a high degree of overall fitness. Also, “box” is what you call a CrossFit gym.

Pullup Bar

Pullups (and toes-to-bar) are essential. I built a pullup bar at the edge of my patio by sinking two 4x6 posts three feet into the ground, drilling holes at the top, and threading a piece of steel plumbing pipe into it. I added some heavy gate hinges as an ad-hoc squat rack, but since this is outside, I stopped using it and got an actual squat rack indoors (more on that later).

Medicine Ball

Great for wallball shots, a compound movement that combines an explosive squat with an overhead throw, working lots of muscle groups and adding significant metabolic load to make other movements more challenging. The standard medicine ball Rx is 20 pounds for men, 14 for women. The gold standard is the Dynamax but I bought a cheaper One Fit Wonder ball I can’t find anymore. It’s harder to grip; maybe that’s a good thing.

Medicine Ball

Slam Ball

Picking a ball up, lifting it straight overhead and slamming it down as hard and fast as you can, is much more challenging than it sounds like. My slam ball is a One Fit Wonder from Fringe Sport. It’s an essential spice that I mix into other movements. The usual Rx weight is something like 30 pounds for men, 20 for women.

Slam Ball

Jump Rope

Double-unders are my favorite metabolic challenge. There’s only a few things that spike my heart rate and breathing like double-unders. I don’t fixate on any particular rope, but this rope is fine and I’ve had it for 5 years. I never travel without bringing it along, coiled in a ziploc bag. I’ve also modified some ropes to hold heavier cable, e.g. drilling out the holes and loading in cable I bought at the hardware store. My only recommendation is to get a rope you can adjust as you learn the right size for your height.

Jump Rope

Kettlebells

Kettlebell swings are a staple for me. You can do a lot else with kettlebells too, including Turkish Get-Ups, one-handed kettlebell snatches and clean-and-jerks, and the like. I have a range of weights because I bought a set, but I really only use the 40-pound and heavier ones. If I were to do it again I would buy individuals, not a set. I might just buy one, the heaviest I thought I could get away with. You can often find used kettlebells on Craigslist. That’s where I got some of mine. I bought others from Amazon and Fringe Sport.

Kettlebell

Dumbbells

I use dumbbells more in my home setup than I did at more open gym spaces, because I’m often carrying things through my basement out to my patio. So instead of doing traditional barbell thrusters, I often do dumbbell thrusters, for example. I use them for farmer’s carries, weighted lunges, dumbbell snatches, and so on.

This is one area I’d encourage you not to cut costs. I bought an adjustable set of Bowflex dumbbells and they are awesome. They’re easy to adjust to a variety of very specific and finely graduated weights, they’re excellent quality, and they’re a lot cheaper than buying tons of fixed-weight dumbbells. They store more compactly too. This is one of my best investments in my gear.

Dumbbells

Squat Rack, Bar And Weights, And Bar Clamps

A barbell and some weights, a rack for squats, and clamps to hold the weights in place—obligatory for me. My weights are cheap CAP barbell iron plates I got off Craigslist. I might upgrade to bumper plates at some point, but I do not throw or drop weights, even on the heaviest lifts. I lower. So iron plates work fine for me. I use some folded-up cardboard to protect the weights and the concrete floor in my basement.

I bought a set that came with a cheap CAP Olympic barbell, too. It’s acceptable, and it’s a real oly bar, but not great. If/when it breaks or the bearings seize up, I’ll buy a better-quality barbell from Fringe Sport. A good barbell is such an upgrade. But mine does the job fine. I care only that I can do clean-and-jerks without struggling with a bar that is fixed and won’t spin. I also have round weight plates; 12-sided ones would not work for Olympic lifting.

Squat Rack

The clamps are one of the more important parts of my gear. I can’t stand the standard spring clamps. They get torqued and stop working right, and then you’re fighting to get them on and off (or keep them on). I bought a relatively cheap set of cinch collars from Amazon and they’re working fine. I don’t know how long they’ll last, but we’ll see.

I also bought a relatively cheap squat rack. Given that I’m the only user of these, the ability to do things like change the height is not a big deal, and I’ve been able to get away without a gym-quality rack without trouble. The main caution with these is that they’re not very heavy, so they’d be easy to knock over if I didn’t keep some plates loaded on the “storage” peg at the bottom. If I needed better quality, again, I’d go to Fringe Sport without a second thought.

Horse Stall Mats

I went to Tractor Supply Co and bought two 6x4-foot three-quarter-inch rubber horse stall mats for my patio. This is a much better surface to work out on than bare concrete. It cushions for rope jumping and other high-impact exercises (and is a lot easier on the knee if I misjudge a lunge and touch too hard), and it prevents the jump rope from fraying, breaking, and becoming dangerous.

Plyo Box

A plyo box is good for box jumps, box squats, scaled pushups, and lots of other things. I bought a 3-in-1 kit from Amazon, and I’ve been very happy with it. It was easy to assemble. (Note that the image is misleading: it shows 3 boxes in different sizes, whereas you buy one box with 3 different lengths of sides, and you can choose what size that box is—small, medium, large; Rx for men is box jumps up to 30 inches for most workouts).

Plyo Box

Rowing Machine

The rower is one of the only machines you’ll find at a CrossFit gym, and it’s a staple. The standard is the Concept 2 rower. I’ve never been at a CrossFit gym that didn’t use this machine.

I bought one from Craigslist. It was a much older one that needed parts and reconditioning, and I didn’t give it the attention it needed, but it still worked fine. For various reasons it ended up getting sold and I haven’t bought another. I miss it.

Rower

Foam Roller And Ball

I don’t want to go back to the days before I knew how to foam-roll. These are amazing for mobilizing stubborn spots in muscles and working out soreness. The usual standard item is an OPTP 36-inch round roller, but I like the OPTP Axis better; it has a better firmness. Amazon Basics sells their own brand now! I bet the margin on these is really lucrative.

After a while I discovered something even better for harder-to-reach spots. The standard CrossFit way to do that is with a lacrosse ball, but I’ve found it’s easier to get bruises and inflamed tendons with a lacrosse ball than it is to mobilize stuck tissues. They’re too heavy and hard, whereas tennis balls are too weak. But, this Pro-Tec Orb works wonders. It’s about the size of a melon and it’s just the right firmness.

Resistance Bands

I often carry resistance bands with me when traveling too. They’re great for working out hard without weights when bodyweight isn’t ideal for targeting a muscle group such as gluteus medius.

Total Setup and Priorities

All together, I think I’ve spent roughly…

  • $50 pullup bar
  • $80 rubber mats
  • $50 medicine ball
  • $60 slam ball
  • $10 jump rope
  • $150 kettlebells
  • $260 dumbbells
  • $150 squat rack
  • $200 CAP barbell set off Craigslist
  • $130 plyo box
  • $50 foam roller and ball
  • $85 resistance band set

In hindsight, I wouldn’t buy all of these again. I’d buy/build them in the following order of priority, one at a time, gradually:

  1. jump rope
  2. pullup bar
  3. dumbbells
  4. barbell, weight plates, and clamp
  5. medicine ball and slam ball
  6. squat rack
  7. rowing machine
  8. everything else

I accumulated these gradually, so it was never a big investment all at once, and I’d do the same thing again. Buy something, figure out what I’m missing, get that, wait and see if I really need something more. Make do for a while. (For a long time I jumped rope on an old carpet on the patio, before I upgraded to rubber mats.)

There’s some standard CrossFit equipment that I never bought and I don’t know that I ever will. The curved “ab mat” for situps, for example, never did much for me. On the other hand, a lot of CrossFit boxes don’t have yoga mats, and I wouldn’t be without one.


I'm Baron Schwartz, the founder and CEO of VividCortex. I am the author of High Performance MySQL and lots of open-source software for performance analysis, monitoring, and system administration. I contribute to various database communities such as Oracle, PostgreSQL, Redis and MongoDB. More about me.


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