Building My Dream Home Gym

DJ Horton Headshot

DJ Horton

DJ is the VP of marketing, education, and customer support at TrainHeroic. Prior to joining TH, his career has centered around digital marketing and branding – leading teams at a Denver-based branding agency and at Vail Resorts. 

A lifelong athlete, DJ was a wrestler, trained  and coached martial arts for 15 years, and played football through college. DJ was raised in a powerlifting household and has a life-long passion for the iron. 

Building My Dream Home Gym

I grew up in a weight room. My father, Doug, was a long time national level competitive powerlifter. He competed in a sanctioned powerlifting event in all 50 states racking up a few national records for his weight class along the way. He was a master of the deadlift and a poster child for all things powerlifting in the 80s (badass mustache and questionable haircut and all). 

He’s a PHd in Kinesiology and collected enough letters after his name to make alphabet soup after spending 14 years in college studying movement and human performance. He is a lifelong strength coach, wrestling coach, and football coach. But it wasn’t in school weight rooms where I fell in love with moving heavy weights. 

Needless to say, there was more iron in the Horton household than most. My dad was a serious competitor.

Growing Up in the Weightroom

In my first childhood home, the unfinished basement was half wrestling room and half weight room. I cherish the home videos taken on a shaky 20lb shoulder mounted camcorder of 4 year old me and my dad doing deadlifts in that dark dungeon of a weight room. Him moving real weight and me lifting anything I could find and get my little Vienna sausage fingers around. 

Fast forward to my more formative years. A new house. A new city. The same setup. Only this time, the basement was a walkout and it was finished. We had a serious setup complete with a competition bench, a rack, deadlift platform, lat pulldown machine, standing calf raise machine, seated row machine, hip sled, a sauna, and a full rack of dumbbells.

The environment was different. The space was bright with windows everywhere. A stark contrast to the dungeon basement vibe, but the atmosphere was the same. This wasn’t a “normal” home gym. It was wired for sound with a system that would make some small concert venues jealous. This was a place for my dad and his powerlifting buddies to put in work. It felt like a different world where we were allowed, maybe even encouraged, to grunt and yell and be primal. It was my favorite room in the house.

It’s in this gym that I have my first training memory. I’ll never forget walking down the stairs one day while my dad was lifting with Dave Vondy. Dave was a standout wrestler my dad had coached from a young age who went on to win an NCAA championship later that year. The unmistakable haunting wail of Ozzy singing “Generals gathered in their masses, just like witches at black masses” hung in the air like pre-workout. I breathed in the words to War Pigs. The hairs on my arms stood at attention. It was the first training session I can remember and I remember it vividly. I was officially hooked. A (home)gym rat for life. 

When we moved again to my high school home, we didn’t have the space for a home gym. The equipment in the high school weight room was laughable at best, so we unloaded the equipment and I made myself at home for the next four years spending every morning and evening in what became known as Doug’s Gym at Hotchkiss High.

Building My Dream Home Gym

Fast forward a couple of decades of training at my college football weight room, living in different apartments and condos, and I had a yearning for a training space to call my own. 

Mid 2020, and my wife and I decided it was time to purchase a new house with a little more room. I knew our new house HAD to have a garage gym. 

To be honest, I spent more time thinking about designing and building the gym in the garage than I gave to furniture placement in the rest of the house. 

I felt like I had a fresh canvas just waiting to be transformed into an iron paradise. But, how would I start? How would I equip a home gym during the height of the COVID induced gold rush on home equipment? 

I was a bit in luck given I only have half of a two car garage to work with. 

I figured, start at the ground and work up. So, I began researching flooring options. 

I knew I didn’t want stall mats. I installed those in my high school weight room and about gagged at the smell coming off of them for the next several weeks.

I kept coming across turf options and I became convinced I needed to feel fake grass under my feet while I trained. I found a company that specialized in indoor turf for baseball fields that came with a springy, but firm enough underlayment. I bought a roll of 10’ by 18’ and waited the long weeks for it to arrive. While waiting, I installed wood planking on the walls to brighten up the space and make it look a little less like a garage.

home gym squat rack

My Home Gym Essentials

Next, I turned my attention to the big 4: a rack, plates, a barbell, and a bench. 

Our friends at Sorinex had just come out with an amazing new product in the Off Grid rack. I wanted one. I ordered one. I messed up. 

I hadn’t realized that my gym would need to go on the North side of the garage. In my plans (hand drawn schematics on an iPad), I had the entire gym laid out on the south side. It wasn’t until we tried to pull the car into the garage that we realized a small iron guard protecting some plumbing actually stuck out too far to close the garage with the car inside. Unfortunately, the offgrid rack was too tall to work with an overhanging HVAC duct. 

Time for an audible. 

I luckily live about a mile from Rep Fitness and they just happened to have a rack in stock. I bought the PR-1100 and absolutely love it. It’s sturdy, versatile, has a multi-grip pull up bar, fit perfectly into the space, and the matte black finish looked great. 

I also picked up some bumper plates and a few 5lb chips from Rep. I lucked out and found a Rogue Ohio power bar in the boneyard. It felt like scoring a hot concert ticket to a sold out show. I had been spending every spare second I had on r/homegym scoping out anything in stock and available. 

I found a bench from a company I honestly can’t remember the name of, and it worked okay for a while. The issue I had with it was that it felt flimsy and it was insanely tall. Laying down on the bench, I couldn’t generate the proper force through my feet because the barley touched the ground. 

I swapped this out for a Rep adjustable bench and couldn’t be happier. It’s not like I’m setting world records on the bench, but it’s certainly sturdy enough to move 315 without a hint of wobble.

Bands, Bands Everywhere

At this point I had the basics all covered. But, as anyone with a home gym knows it easily becomes a bit of an obsession. Given all the space in the world, I’d probably build a full-on Globo Gym. But in the half-garage, space is at a premium. 

I invested in bands. Lots of them. And heavy duty weight-bearing carabiners. Combine those with a few handle options and I can recreate about any movement I can possibly think of. Not to mention I can add an additional training stimulus with the bands to any movements I do in the rack or with the barbell. 

Dumbbells had become harder to find than real gold in a mall jewelry kiosk. I was not about to pay the insane prices being asked on the secondary market. I also wasn’t exactly sure how to store a full rack of DBs in such a small space without ruining the only open space I had on the turf. So I looked into adjustable DBs. I landed on a set from CORE home fitness that had great reviews and were in stock. So far, I love them. The only issue is they only go up to 50lbs each. I’ll need to upgrade as soon as DBs become more readily available, but I am through and through an adjustable DB convert.

home gym bands

An Alternative to Cardio

I’ll be honest. I hate cardio. Looking at my frame you could probably have guessed that. I do, however, love boxing and all things striking. I can get a nice lung blow out without really noticing I’m doing cardio. I have a black belt in Tung Soo Do (it’s what Chuck Norris did, pretty similar to Tae Kwon Do for those not in the know), and trained Muay Thai for 5 years in my early 20s. 

I opted for a swinging mount and an aqua bag. The mount was kind of insanely hard to get installed, but I’d chalk that up to user error and my inability to stick to one placement. 

Aqua bags are the best. They move far less than traditional heavy bags, they feel better to punch, and they transfer far less movement from the stroke up the chain and into the mounting hardware. A big plus if your family room is right about the mount.

home gym boxing bag 2

The Finishing Touches

At this point, I had all of my basics covered then some. Now it was all about accessories. 

I installed a small TV so I could screencast my TrainHeroic app or catch a Nuggets or Avalanche game while training. I put in a small sound system so I can keep the Sabbath flowing during my training sessions and get back into that headspace I love while training. I installed a couple of shelves and some hooks to give everything a place and keep the gym clean and tidy. 

home gym finishing touches

And then the final capstone. When my dad retired, some of his students and weight room warriors with welding skills created a rad iron sign that read Doug’s Gym. My dad gave me the sign and asked that it hang proudly in the new space. It’s got a home right in the rack. It’s the last thing I look at before a set and a constant reminder of why I love training, why I love lifting heavy weights, and why my garage is my favorite room in my new house.

home gym squat rack

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