Quarantine Gym

COVID-19 quarantine garage gym, determined to workout during a pandemic

by FI Designer

Social distancing due to COVID-19 threw a wrench into going to the gym in 2020. I was determined to find a way to maintain a bodybuilding lifestyle throughout quarantine.

Weight training has been one of the most consistent aspects of my life from a mid-teen to present day. I was a competitive bodybuilder from nineteen to mid-twenties, and continue to live a bodybuilding lifestyle of training and nutrition even though I am no longer competing. The shutdown of my beloved gym during the COVID-19 pandemic was more difficult for me than the social isolation of lockdown.

The purpose of this post is to describe the initial setup of a high efficiency garage gym. Although the equipment described in this post was not expensive when compared to legitimate weights, the intent was to serve as a stopgap, not to be a long term solution for resistance training.

The second week of March was my last in person gym workout prior to lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking back it was completely naive, but on Sunday March 15, 2020 when I decided to stop going to my gym ahead of any state-wide orders I believed the quarantine would only be for a few weeks. To maintain fitness until gyms reopened I had planned to run and use body weight exercises like pushups and pullups. I did not own any substantial at home workout equipment.

Engineer a Solution
By the time 3 weeks of quarantining had passed it had become obvious that the health crisis was going to last much longer than my wife and I initially expected. I had gotten fed up with running and was hell-bent on finding a way to incorporate resistance training back into my workouts. One solution would have been to purchase weights and equipment for my home but I saw a few problems with that. First I had every intention of going back to the gym when it was safe to do so again and didn’t want to purchase equipment for a short-term need when supply was low and prices were high. Second, large workout equipment in our garage would prevent vehicles from parking inside and I’m a firm believer that vehicles belong in the garage as place holders to prevent the buildup of clutter.

Design Requirements
The solution needed to be efficient, allow both vehicles to fit in the garage, and the materials needed to absorb back into my lifestyle with it was safe to return to the gym. I was not against spending money on the solution because we had a monthly savings from freezing 2 gym memberships.

Pullup Bar
A pullup bar was an obvious solution for training the back and lats. I opted for overhead chains with hand grips in lieu of a solid bar because it provided more adjustability. The chains were suspended from the ceiling with 2×4 lumber and lag screw eyes. See plans in the downloadable PDF linked below. If I had to do it over again I would have used a larger chain because the clips of my hand grips were too large to fit through the chain without the use of a smaller snap link clip.

Cable Training
Tricep extensions are a large part of my arm workouts so I gave the most consideration how to replicate this exercise at home. The pullup chains provided a good attachment point for the pulley using spring snap link clips. The most expensive components of the home gym setup were the pulleys and spring snap link clips. For hand grips on the tricep extension exercise I used a 5/8-in twisted nylon rope. Black electrical tape on the ends of the nylon rope worked better than melting to prevent fraying and unraveling. I was quite impressed by the functionality of the cables because the motion was actually more fluid than the machines at my old franchise gym.

Five gallon buckets worked well for weight. They were a good use of space and the empty buckets could stack inside each other when I no longer needed them for training. I initially filled the buckets with only water but was limited by the weight of 41.7 Lbs. Later I added landscaping blocks inside buckets with the remainder filled with water to reach a maximum weight of 70 Lbs. I settled on two 70 Lbs buckets and one 30 Lbs bucket. The original bucket handles were not capable of carrying the weight so I cut 1-in diameter PVC pipes in 3.5-in long sections to serve as handles. Ropes tied through the handles served as attachment points for snap link clips.

More exercise analogs have evolved the longer that I have used the equipment. For example bicep dumbbell curls can be accomplished with the buckets and barbell curls can be simulated with 2 cable hand grips attached to a bucket. Squats and lunges have been the most challenging variation of this workout equipment. I used an absurdly large wooden dowel rod with rope eyelets on each end, but a 1.25-inch diameter schedule 40 steel pipe would probably be a more realistic solution.

The overall cost of the setup was around $50, with the majority of the expense ($30) being for the miscellaneous hardware like chains, spring snap link clips and pulley. I found a killer deal on the GoFit cable hand grips for $10 at the local Scheels. I already owned most of the five gallon buckets.

Final Thoughts
Personally this high efficiency garage gym is not a substitute for a legitimate gym. But the setup for the most part has allowed me to bridge the gap until I feel safe to return to my beloved gym. My belief is it doesn’t matter how much you spend on exercise equipment because it is useless if you don’t use it. The best home gym setup is the one you will actually use with consistency.

Take Action
I’m not recommending anyone cancel their gym membership in exchange for an inexpensive garage gym. Instead I encourage you to take resolve in controlling what you can control, and not let circumstances be an excuse for why you can’t maintain fitness.

Download Plans
You can download plans for the pullup bar below.

Latest version:

Links & Recommendations

4 thoughts on “Quarantine Gym”

    1. Thank you very much for your comments on this post and your kind words about the site. The site is still in its infancy but I plan to devote a fair amount of posting on wellness and self-improvement. I hope you stay well and in good spirits for the remaining time of this pandemic.
      Best wishes

    1. Thank you for comment on photo copyrighting. To the best of my knowledge I am using photos from royalty free services. Under the licensing and terms of service the use of the photos are free for commercial or non-commercial use and attribution to the original artist is not required. If your comment applies to a specific photo please contact me through the email address available on contact page of this site. I would be happy to provide attribution for a specific photo if requested by the original artist.
      Thanks again for your comment.

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