Was the title specific enough for you?

In my endless scrolling through elitefts, YouTube, Google, and the dreaded Instagram, I have pieced together tons of articles, training systems and logs, videos, and equipment reviews all in the name of becoming a garage gym powerlifter. Based on my findings, here are my suggestions if you are training in your garage, thinking about competing in a powerlifting meet, and are intrigued about the conjugate method of training.

1. Find a Meet and Sign Up

Like many of you, I was scared to death of not totaling enough to justify competing in a meet. What we see on the ‘gram from the elite lifters and what you will experience in your local meet are probably very different in 99 percent of the cases. “Get a total and work from there!” as Dave has said on his Table Talk Podcast probably hundreds of times. I was lucky enough to compete in a mock meet first to get a feel for lifting. There were judges and commands and experience some of the first meet jitters. After this experience, I signed up for the first meet I could (ran by the same organizer) and got right into putting together a program for the meet.

Jujimufu's Home Gym

2. Find a Training Method That You Can Stick To

Like many of you, I trained for many years in a commercial gym setting before venturing (more like convincing the wife) into the garage gym world. During most of this time, I was guilty of training the typical “bro split” and did not do much in the way of logging my lifts or even my goals. However, once I started lifting in my own garage gym, I really started doing a lot of research on training methods and/or programs.

After stealing as much as I could from tons of different online programs, articles, and templates, I finally found the Westside Conjugate Method. I am by no means an expert in this field, but in my humble opinion, this is the perfect way to train for powerlifting! I was attracted to this sport to lift heavy ass weight after all, and this gave me two days a week to give maximal effort on a specific lift, which screamed to my inner meathead.

Additionally, I am really starting to enjoy the technique and explosive work that comes with the two dynamic days. Now we can debate the differences between geared lifting and raw lifting and their success with the Conjugate Method, but if you tailor your exercise selection to what type of lifter you are, there should be no reason why you can’t make real progress! That being said, find a method you like and build a training schedule around it (preferable 10-16 weeks out from that meet you just signed up for!)

3. Stock Your Garage Gym Wisely

You may find some “steals” on the secondary markets (such as Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Offer-up, etc.), but from my experience, you are better off with the philosophy of “buy once, cry once” when it comes to the essentials in your garage gym. I cannot tell you how many pieces I have replaced with a higher quality counterpart after training with its cheaper version for a while. On the other hand, do not be afraid to DIY some things on a needs basis. I made my own deadlift platform, squat/block pull boxes, belt squat rack attachment, Reverse Hyper® attachment, bench boards, and storage solutions and saved hundreds. It doesn’t take much in the way of skill and there are a ton of videos, articles, and posts about DIY garage gym solutions.

I cannot tell you how many pieces I have replaced with a higher quality counterpart after training with its cheaper version for a while.

Another thing to consider when purchasing specialty equipment is to get the most bang for your hard-earned buck! Always consider how many exercises you will realistically use an item for and consider the footprint it will require in your limited space. I’ve been able to program a pretty diverse conjugate system using primarily the following: power rack and bench, power bar, deadlift bar, safety squat bar, camber bar, set of bands (highly recommend the one’s here at elitefts), a couple of sets of chains, a dumbbell set (I recommend some type of adjustable set for space-saving), plate loaded pulley system with attachments, and the DIY items I mentioned above.

Ryan Smith's Garage Gym

4. Document Your Training

Now that you are all stocked, got your training method all squared away, and meet scheduled, let’s talk about logging your training! I have seen the most consistent progress when I logged all my lifts. Every rep. Every set. Additionally, film your lifts! Not just for showing off on Instagram (guilty as charged!) but for making corrections and comparisons. This is especially vital if you are like me and train primarily alone. You can self-correct and/or auto-regulate with this tool instead of endlessly scrolling between sets. As a bonus, when you think you are not making any progress, take a look at a video of your lifts from last year or further back, and you can hopefully find some technical progress at the least!

5. Reach Out Beyond Your Garage Gym Walls

In my experience, I found it very rewarding to reach out to other people in the garage gym and powerlifting communities. There is a wealth of information about these groups, and there is no substitute for getting insight from the experts. I’m as guilty as anyone spending too much time on social media, but this can be a valuable tool for things like equipment reviews and suggestions, DIY projects, form critiques (just be prepared for the inevitable trolls!), programming/coaching, etc.

Both the garage gym and powerlifting groups are very welcoming and willing to share insights from what I’ve found. Additionally, you may run into issues where you get stuck with a lift (for me, it’s always my bench), so actually venturing outside of those comforting garage gym walls can be a huge help. I’ve gone to a local powerlifting gym that I found via Instagram and done a few training sessions to clean up form and find things that my untrained eye hadn’t caught in my videos. 

I could probably go on and on for another five to ten suggestions from my experience so far in my little garage-gym-powerlifting-with-conjugate world, but these are the top ones that should have the biggest impact on a beginner.

John teaches high school social studies in Arizona. He’s married with two boys that do a little training with him in their garage gym. John is a proud member of the garage gym powerlifting community and is always looking to learn more! In his most recent powerlifting meet, he went 600.8/402.3/600.8 in wraps in the 242-pound weight class.