How to Set up the Perfect Garden Gym

The Home or Garden Gym is a perfect solution for people who are self-motivated and happy to workout alone. The at-home convenience means you can prep a family dinner between sets and you never need to worry whether the squat rack will occupied by a big fella.

For the price of an annual gym membership you can build up a pretty snazzy home gym. You don’t need to buy it all at once though. Most of the gear in my garden gym has been acquired piecemeal and while I can’t resist the lure of new clobber, you don’t need it all to start making significant strength gains. I’ve made some suggestions at the end of the article about how you might want to amend your home gym setup, depending on your budget.

Garden Gym vs Home or Garage Gym

The considerations here relate to the weather and the terrible toll it can take on your kit. My home gym is a garden gym and I don’t have any cover to protect my weight plates or indeed any of my kit. After a year of exposure to the elements they are showing signs of significant decay.

The most important piece of kit I have is the power rack and as this ensures my safety while training alone I can’t accept any rust related failures and have therefore had this galvanised. It still looks as good as the day I bought it.

Everything else is in a slow decline and I have accepted that my bar and plates will need replacing eventually, in the meantime I spray regularly with WD40, like I used to do with my motorbike stuck outside in all weathers.

I have noticed quite a difference in the way my different plates stand up to the weather and will make sure every new plate I buy is plastic coated. These rubber tri-grip weight plates are excellent, the grip style is really convenient for carrying and they seem very durable so far.


You might also be concerned about the effect that the weather has on your ability to train but as strength athletes I reckon we are made of stern stuff and enjoy the challenge of inclement weather!

Fair weather squatter. #squateveryday #janathon

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Much as I  enjoy exercising in the fresh air and there’s a certain romance about bench pressing while looking up at the stars, if I had the option I probably would set my gym up under cover. A garage gym would be ideal. You could take some of the kit outdoors to warm up on a fine day without worrying that your kit will disintegrate between seasons.

Garden Gym for £1000+

  • Full power rackgarden gym home gym – for safety and flexibility – ¬£400+. As mine sits outside I had it galvanised which adds about ¬£500 to the price.
  • Barbell, collars and weights – you can spend almost limitless amounts here but you can get a selection from ¬£200-¬£250
  • Bench – ¬£50+
  • Kettlebells – ¬£20+
  • Slam ball – ¬£30 for a 15kg version
  • Truck tyre and sledgehammer – we found the tyre in a skip and everyone has a sledgehammer in the shed. Great warm-up activity and who doesn’t feel great after flipping a tyre
  • Olympic lifting platform – for protecting the patio when deadlifting or trying olympic lifts. If you buy a proper one you will soon blow your budget. I made my own from plywood and rubber horse stall matting that I found on eBay.
  • Weightlifting app – free

The power rack forms the staple of my garden gym. It means I can squat and bench without the need for a spotter but I can also practice pull-ups and suspend no end of gadgetry from it to enhance my options. I have olympic rings, a trx style suspension trainer and a punch bag that I found on the street. It’s all a bit overkill but its fun if you have a short attention span.

I’ve tried a number of apps.

  • Stronglifts 5×5 is clean app and is a great program for beginners
  • Big Lifts 2 is my current favourite as it allows you to switch programs and its the best I’ve found for Weider 531 training
  • Freeletics Gym is a fun way to bring crossfit style routines into your home gym but it often calls for the use of a rowing machine as well as a barbell

Garden Gym for £500

  • Half Cage Squat Rack – deals abound but the Bodymax squat rack usually goes for ¬£250
  • Barbell, collars and weights – ¬£200-¬£250
  • Bench or step – ¬£50 I happen to have a Reebok Step lying around so use this for bench press. Probably not ideal if you are benching huge weights.

You are not as safe with a half rack as the full powerrack so you may still need a spotter. You can adjust the supports so it is fit for squats and bench press. Most also have chin bars and you can easily anchor stuff like TRX suspension trainers or Olympic rings.

Garden Gym for Less than £50

I am so impressed with the Freeletics option, they have 3 versions of the app, running, bodyweight and gym. You need weightlifting equipment for the gym version but you don’t need anything beyond a mat for the other two. It is seriously hardcore – crossfit for the home and you can get transformed by following the program. The coach option is pricey but now allows you to use all 3 apps on a single subscription but you can use it without, you just need to be more disciplined in choosing the workouts and sticking to them.

BSX Insight Review – Lactate Threshold Testing at Home

I’m a attracted to the technicalities of training more than the actual training, and I’m always on the look out for a gadget that might reduce the need for the latter.

I was immediately attracted to the BSX Insight campaign on Kickstarter, not only because it’s a cool new sporty gadget but also because it offers insights that should enable me to train smarter (where training smarter means training less). Perhaps not less than I currently train but less than a very eager, yet clueless runner.¬†

BSX Insight Review

BSX Insight is a small sensor, worn in a tight calf sleeve, that monitors muscle oxygenation in order to estimate your lactate threshold. It apparently has a high level of accuracy when compared to the industry standard lactate testing methodology, which involves multiple blood draws to measure the increasing concentration of lactic acid in the system. For the first time, lactate threshold testing has been opened up to the masses, for home testing without invasive blood tests.

What is Lactate Threshold

In everyday practice, the most common use of the term is the intensity at which your body can no longer sustainably keep up with the energy demand. In other words, it is the highest intensity, or the fastest pace, that you could maintain without a steady increase in blood lactate.

In practice, it represents the highest workload that can be maintained for an extended period of time, usually around 45-60 minutes.

BSX Blog

It’s still early days with the development of the BSX Insight and at the moment you can only perform LT assessments with it. In time you should be able to use this in daily runs to monitor muscle oxygenation in real time.

Lactate Threshold Assessment

You start with the BSX Insight app which requires you to answer a few questions relating to your current conversational and 10k pace.

Note that this is a gadget for elites and slow pokes alike. If your conversation pace is 10 min/km or 5 min it will still take you through your paces and deliver results for you. 

The app then indicates the pace zones it will take you through, aiming to have taken you to exhaustion after about 30 mins of progressive running.

The app then connects (via Bluetooth I think) to the BSX sensor which in turn connects to your ANT+ Heart Rate monitor. I used the HR strap that came with my Garmin 920XT and had to hold the BSX sensor next to the strap to cement the initial connection. Having made the connection it held it for the duration of the assessment.

Once the setup is completed it is time to get on the treadmill and hit start. You really need to use a treadmill for the assessment stage as you are required to maintain a consistent pace for 3 minutes before it bumps you up by perhaps only 0.1 kph for another 3 minutes. It would be extremely hard to hit that level of consistency if you were running free.

During the run the app indicates your current instructions, either a pace or speed target to maintain, along with your heart rate and current muscle oxygenation levels.

BSX Insight Muscle Oxygenation

I imagine that when you reach true exhaustion the muscle oxygenation level will begin to drop off. Unfortunately I have to imagine this as I’ve done the test twice now and think I have bailed on both occasions, just before my lactate threshold was reached. It didn’t seem to harm the experiment though, and so long as you run for at least 20 minutes I think the app will be able to estimate the LT.

Results of the Lactate Threshold Home Test

The results are calculated almost immediately and your results are compared to any previous assessments you’ve completed.

Probably the most useful feature is the display of your personal training zones. And that’s personal as in truly personal and not just calculations based on 220 – your age. You can view your training zones as either pace based or HR zones.

The trick now is to take these zones and design a training program which utilises your new found insight, to push the boundaries and increase your fitness so you reach your Lactate Threshold at a faster pace.

BSX Insight do offer a free training program to help with this but in a nutshell, I will be keeping the bulk of my runs in the Zone 2 Aerobic Threshold with twice weekly interval sessions where I push to Zones 4 and 5. It’s these higher zones that will work on improving my LT.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops and perhaps integrates with other services. At the moment I can see the results of my assessment but I don’t seem to be able to access the data. I’d like to be able to view the muscle oxygenation and HR charts as shown above but at the moment they appear to be locked down.

Loxley Suspension Trainer

I’m a big fan of suspension training and was delighted to be offered a Loxley Sports Suspension Trainer to try out. If you are not familiar with the concept of suspension training, it’s a highly adjustable form of bodyweight resistance training.

You attach extremely strong webbing to something sturdy and high, such as a tree, a goal post or even a door and then while you are holding onto it you perform functional movements which focus on strength, balance and coordination. By adjusting the length of the straps you can adjust the resistance so you feel more of your bodyweight.
Loxley Suspension Trainer vs TRX
The original suspension trainer was the TRX designed by a former Navy Seal for Total Resistance eXercise. I already have a TRX strapped to a pull up bar across the bedroom door. It cost me an absolute fortune (¬£190) but at the time I thought I was buying the original and therefore the best. Now that I have the Loxley Suspension Trainer and the TRX side by side I don’t think I was correct, they are almost indistinguishable and I certainly can’t discern any quality differences between the two brands.

I am extremely impressed by the quality of the Loxley Trainer, for £45 you have got an absolute bargain and an impressive tool for increasing your strength and power.

Loxley Suspension Trainer

The suspension trainer comes neatly folded into a small mesh bag which makes it convenient for travelling with or taking out to the park. As with the TRX, it comes with a cord attachment in case you need to wrap around something very large such as a tree trunk, and a door wedge that allows you to trap the cable at the top of a suitable door frame. This makes it the perfect bundle for taking away on holidays or work trips as you convert your hotel room into an accomplished gym.

Where the Loxley Suspension Trainer may be missing a trick is in the enclosed instruction booklet where it identifies only 5 of the myriad of possible exercise options.

I strongly recommend this bargain suspension trainer and I also suggest you pair it with this excellent iPhone app Virtual Trainer Suspension РVirtual Trainer that shows the exercises in HD video for only £1.49

Loxley Sports are a new sports brand and currently sell this suspension trainer, kinesiology tape and a set of barbell collars that I’m really tempted to buy. All 3 products seem to be offered at a really great price.

Starting Strength with the Maximuscle Olympic Barbell Set

20131228-121903.jpgI’ve been lifting weights (periodically) since I took part in Julia Buckley’s fat loss program last summer. Since then I’ve dabbled in Olympic Weightlifting and started the rapid strength program called Starting Strength.

I’m not one to make do and mend if there is an opportunity to acquire a new gadget or item of¬†fitness equipment, and strength training offers all sorts of purchasing opportunities.

After my olympic taster session I researched olympic barbells and shocked myself into inertia when I saw a price tag of ¬£600+ for just the olympic bar. An olympic barbell is much bigger, longer and heavier than the standard bar. It stands up to a greater weight load and also spins freely so you don’t shear the skin off your hands as you thrust the weighted bar upwards.¬†I wasn’t convinced that I needed one at that price though.

Last month I spotted the Maximuscle Olympic Barbell set at Argos, which offered the full kit at only £199. I seized the bargain and waited patiently for the delivery.

I knew the bar was going to be big and heavy but I was surprised by its weight when it arrived. I struggled to drag the bar through to the dining room and then couldn’t find a great place to stash it away without risk of causing a serious injury. You would ideally have a garage for working out with an olympic sized barbell, its too unwieldy for the dining room really.

When I completed my next Starting Strength routine (squats, bench press, deadlifts, shoulder press) I was pretty chuffed that I needed to add weights to the bar – for a while I thought I was going to need assistance just to lift the naked bar. That’s where the other advantage of olympic bars becomes apparent. Standard bars use a spinlock mechanism to hold the weights in place, which require a lot of spinning to switch weights around, in contrast the olympic bars use a simple spring lock which slides on and off with ease. Thats a huge benefit when you work with a routine that requires mixing up your weights.

The set is huge but it oozes quality and is a joy to use – I feel like a pro as I’m squatting under the thick bar. I didn’t feel quite so professional when I had to yell for Lynn to rescue me from an imminent crush injury while I was doing the bench press though. Weightligting with barbells is a little hazardous if you are going to push yourself to the limits, so you are well advised to secure the assistance of a friendly (and strong) spotter.

I’ve just noticed, while grabbing the link to the set, that Argos who have a large range of fitness equipment, just reduced the weights to ¬£149 which is perfect timing for any fitness resolutions you may have planned.