Garage gym
Credit: Jon Chun

Building a home gym for heavy strength training is simple and cost effective.  I prefer to do my strength training at home because I can do all the exercises I need for building strength, and I don't have to deal with gym issues like travelling to a gym or waiting for equipment.  Many big box gyms these days will only have one power cage for the whole facility.  In this article, I'll show you how to get started with you home gym, recommendations for equipment, and what you can expect to pay after its all done.  You can easily speend $1000 + on equipment, so I'll be walking you through the most cost effective options to get started. 

A Barbell - The Foundation

The best and most versatile tool for strength training is the barbell.  You'll want to get a good one to start with.  A good barbell should be rated to support 1000+ lbs of weight.  Even if you don't lift nearly this much, that extra integrity will keep the bar from bending once you start loading it up, or if you're doing dynamic movements like power cleans.  A solid Olympic Bar, which has grip knurling near the middle and towards the end of the bar is ideal.  You can get an entry level bar for about $150, but my recommendation is to spend a little more and get a bar from Rogue Fitness

The Rogue Bar
Amazon Price: Buy Now
(price as of Jan 8, 2014)

The Rogue Bar costs about $200, but is well known in lifting circles for its value, dependability and lifetime warranty.  If you ever have an issue you can have it replaced any time.

Weights - Iron and Bumpers

Next, you'll need to get a set of weight plates as well.  A pair of 45s, 35s, 25s, 10s, and 5s, will get you 240lbs to go with a 45lb bar (285lbs total).  Weight plates tend to come in two different kinds: iron and rubber.  Iron is less expensive, but can damage an uncovered floor.  Bumpers are more expensive, but can be dropped on the floors and leave minimal marks.
How much of which weights you get depends upon your strength level.  Here are some economical suggestions based on strength level:
  • Squat 300lbs or less: 245 lbs of iron, 25lbs x2 of bumper plates
  • Squat 300-350lbs: 300 lbs of iron, 45lbs x2 of bumpler plates
  • Squat 350-400lbs: 300 lbs of iron, 45lbs x2 and 25lbs x2 of bumper plates
Beyond that level of strength, I would recommend just adding 45lb bumpers because you'll have more than enough iron to hit any weight you need and you'll want the bumpers for any pulling work from the floor.
Iron is easy to find and purchase.  I would recommend checking your local craigslist for cheap weight because there is almost always someone giving it away.  There is a much greater variety of bumper plates.  Entry level  bumpers can cost about $1/lb but you can easily spend $3-$5/lb on premium brands.  My choice for getting started is the less expensive options because personal use does not get the wear and tear of shared gym use, so you may not need the extra quality.  The only thing to be aware of is that less expensive bumpers tend to have an oily smell out of the box, so you'll want to air them out or wipe them down before you start using them.
260 lb. Rubber Bumper Plate Set
Amazon Price: $283.40 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 8, 2014)

Final Touch - Squat Rack

While you can get a lot done with a barbell and plates from the floor, a squat rack will be essential for getting the most out of your training.  If you have the space and the means a power cage is preferred because of the extra stability.  However, if you're on a budget and space is constrained, I highly recommend getting a squat rack.  There are a number of racks out there, but my preference for value is Christian's Fitness Factory Gen 2 rack.  It's rated up to 750lbs, is very stable, and can be easily stored in the corner of your garage.  It also comes in at around $150, which is a steal for quality racks.

Those are the essentials.  All told you'll probably be looking at about $300-$500 to get your barbell and weights, and another $150-$200 to get your rack.  Considering that the average cost of yearly gym membership is about $400-$600, you'll be getting a great value for your money if you buy the right stuff.