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.

Entering the Box

crossfitI’ve been a wannabe crossfitter since 2012 when I read Inside the Box by TJ Murphy. I’m embarrassed to say that nerves and convenience have delayed my initiation until this week, almost 4 years later.

This week though, I entered the Box.

I’ve been to crossfit 3 times now and although it seems to be a remarkably friendly place, I’m still rather nervous. We started with 2 foundation sessions, the first was barbell work which falls right into my comfort zone, the second, pithily titled Gymnastics, did not.

On gymnastics day I entered the Box (as part of the in-crowd I will now forever more refer to the crossfit gym as the Box) and found myself pinned in the doorway as a backflipping session was underway, stretching the full length of the gym.

Feeling uncomfortably like a voyeur I watched as folk rolled backwards and up into a handstand and then flip. There were a lot of fails, some more painful than others. Watching one chap face plant into the rubber matting and pop back up with immediate burn marks to his face was not an entirely comforting start to our beginners session. It’s rather like arriving early for your dental appointment only to sit listening to the screams of the ones that went before.

Anyway, the beginners session was fine, it just required an awful lot of scaling to get my body off the ground. Scaling just means altering the workout to make it easier while still generating the benefits of the prescribed movement. So for the handstand, I ended up walking backwards up a wall. For the ring dips, I used a sturdy elastic band between the rings so that I could use my knees and reduce the weight enough to allow full motion. For pullups I would crouch under a racked barbell and focus on keeping my feet light on the floor while going through the pullup motion.

No backward flips or rubber burns required for Day 1 of Gymnastics.

My third session was an actual wod = workout of the day.

It was a hot day and I had the misfortune of starting with a running wod. I knew it was going to be bad when we were instructed to run 600m round the block for a warmup. As I didn’t know the route I was forced to run quite a lot faster than I would like, just to keep the others in view. I arrived back considerably hotter than warm and concerningly wheezy. Throughout the next round of kettlebell swings, rows and planks I was coughing fluid from my lungs. The main workout was ground to overhead with plates (an imitation of the barbell snatch) and box jumps, cycled for 4 sets and then finished of with a re-run of the 600m run.

The main crossfit set only took 8 minutes but it nearly finished me off for the afternoon. I cycled home and had to have a bit of a rest as I felt like I’d given myself heatstroke.

Let’s see what next week brings, I’m hoping for less running and no backflips please.