• Building a garden gym
  • The Age of the Wizard
  • Bench Press Tips
  • Ending a cut and starting advance training
  • Calories burnt from exercise
  • Active recovery
  • Better than nothing
  • Lifting weights
  • Building a garden gym

    Published: 01-05-2024

    For over a year I have been building a gym in my garden in the form of a garden room. I decided to build my own gym since it's such a beneficial aspect to my life. I want it near me and accessible. I also found that I could no longer make progress with lifting with my work hours and general life fatigue. Making a home gym is an expensive but worthwhile investment in myself.

    I am fortunate enough to have my own house. I get enough pay to spend part of my salary on building materials. Most importantly I live in an age were most information is free and accessible. I have made great progress with knowledge I get from youtube, google, chat-gpt and DIY forums!

    So here is the progress for now... here we go!

    First I started by preparing the ground. In my case there was 2 existing sheds on a large patio and concrete slab. Getting rid of this material was a trial in itself. I won't be the last to say that manual digging is some of the most strenuous jobs on the earth. Especially in the winter. Because the garden being in the rear and the road in the front of the house meant that each sack of earth weighed over 20kg and had to be taken manually to the front garden to be disposed of by a waste removal company. The sacks were so overloaded and sodden with rain water it would have been cruel of me not to help. Repeat this process about 3-4 times with associated clay, chalk, concrete, rubble etc. I gained a new respect for the manual labourer. It's not easy.

    Click pictures to make them bigger.

    The photo shows a trench 3/4 complete. Here in the south east the ground is chalk so you get to something firmer quicker. I pity the rest of the country that has to dig deeper in clay. I made a mistake here and did not make my trench to a string line. My trench was not square. This was both good and bad. Bad because it influenced me to abandon my dual layer cavity wall design (too thick to stay over the foundation in a straigth line). Good because it made me go to a single layer wall design which is far more sensible for one person to do and for the building just being a gym and not actually something for human habitation (although still ended up better insulated than my actual house!)

    Oh and digging the trench was an asbolute mental torture excercise. Dig dig dig. More earth to be awkwardly shovelled in a bag. Then to be gotten rid of. Truly a miserable experience. Physically and psychologically. When digging in winter I found comfort in thinking of people who suffered more than me... (lol!). Alexander Solzenitzin was a gulag slave and now one of the worlds greatest literary historians who documented the Russian communist regime. He wrote that they made them dig trenchs, build walls etc to work them to death. In such trying times you have no choice but to crumble and die or choose to find a comfort in your situation. He learnt to appreciate the wall he was building even if it was his own prison. I also got to enjoy a big bag of quavers and a copious amount of monster energy drinks and shit but he learnt to enjoy it because although it was tyrannical at least he who could take pride in his work. When you do nothing but monotomous toil the mind wanders... it's easy to overthink situations which could more easily be summed up with "just get on with it!". I thought of getting a mini digger but I felt it would be too much of a faf and didn't know how long I would have to rent it for.

    The next step was filling the trench with concrete. Because of the location a pump truck was hired. I used a local company with good reviews. Its expensive and cost over a grand but worth it. The act of shovelling the liquid concrete was again and utterly laborious job but also fun and satisfying. My friend helped me with that. We tried to get the concrete as level as possible and for the most part we did so. Where the concrete dipped a little I would later patch up with some harder mortar (in retrospect I should have used home mixed concrete).

    After this was the laying of the first blocks. Corners first. I lacked the space to lay the first corner strings so did a lot of squinting with my eyes. I was a whole block's width off on my first course so had to start over again. Lesson learnt. I would use strings here on in but still struggled to get a truly straight wall.

    Clueless aren't I?

    Impromper use of string line made me undo a lot of work. Temptation came into my head like satan whispering in my ear and told me to carry on. Learning to lay blocks and mortar was hard so undoing this was a pain in the arse but a wise choice.

    Eventually I got something resembling a roman ruin. This was very satisfying to look at and feels like a civilisational leap ahead of that hole in the ground. Respect to the age of empires villagers.

    As I shifted to a single brick layer I included a pier. A pier is a thickened part of the wall an extra block thick. This means that the wall is less likely to warp and crack due to its length.

    Then came the oversite. This is a layer of compacted gravel which prevents any floor above from shifting with the ground. The sand layer is topped over this to cusion a water proof sheet and prevent it from getting pierce by the gravel. The sheet is to prevent ground water from penetrating the floor.

    Then came the insulation. This was fun and very satisfying to lay down. I opted to place the insulation below my concrete slab which would go onto be the floor. This is because in my head when I lift weights I want the floor to feel as firm as possible. The insulation is thick and firm but didn't want to risk anything with the weights being dropped on it and depressing over time. Unfounded fears? Who knows...

    The image above has another layer of concrete which acts as a floor. I didn't hire another concrete truck but mixed the concrete myself in cement mixer I only just bought then! Up until now I was stubborn enough to hand mix all my mortar in my wheelbarrow. I wanted to save money but really I was wasting my time and energy. The cement mixer was under £200 if I recall. Worth it. Hand mixed mortar is fine for small projects but a garden room is not a small project! When the mixer turned on and made mortar so consistently and quickly I felt silly. The mixing of concrete in the cement mixer was still another great task. The buckets got heavier the more you got on with it. The mixed concrete then has to be moved from a plastic bucket to the pour site which is awkward given the lip of the entrance. You also need to eye it and make sure you are spreading enough evenly. My dad helped me with this. We ended up doing another satisfying job but not perfectly flat. It would be later corrected with sand/cement screed and then self levelling compound.

    As you may have guessed my building was first a pond feature before it was a gym. The concrete meant the ground could no longer absorb rain water. As funny as this was this, it was a pain since it meant the start of a work day was first dedicated to bucketing water out the work site. Also it was a breeding ground for mosquitos! A large tarp helped.

    As the building was reaching its height limit I transitioned from dense block, to medium block and eventually down to aerated blocks. This helped me place blocks reasonably when height was a limit. I eventually metallically clad the entire thing so doing things in aerated blocks might have been quicker...hell maybe even timber. I have this idea in my head that timber buildings are creaky and the walls moves when you lean on them.

    I came to doing the roof and I scratched my head if I should go for a warm roof design or cold roof. A cold roof is ventilated were as a warm room is sandwhiched insulation between OSB. For whatever reason I went for a cold roof because it gave me a height advantage although in retrospect I don't think this was the case. All the time I have been building I have been conscious about the height. Both to stay in the permissible limit for the sake of my neighbours right to light but also on the idea that I would want to do a standing overhead press (lifting the weight over my height). In either designs none of this was possible. A sunken floor was speculated but I was too paranoid about moisture ingressing through the lower half of the wall. Being more confident now in retrospect I probably would have considered the sunken floor design more but I think at that time I was sick to death about digging any more. Looks like its seated overhead press for me...

    Also the slope on the roof is made with firring strips (wood cut into wedges to slant the OSB when placed). Its sloped so rain water can flow off.

    More practically the roof sits on whats called a wall plate. The wall plate is the timber you see resting first on the bricks. It's not attached really by the mortar but by those metal L shaped anchor tie things. They prevent the roof from blowing off in theory. The mortar is just a means of making the wall plate flat. The timbers were placed using a calculator. In theory if they are too sparse or thin then they can't support the roof material appropriately and would sink in. In retrospect I should have ordered an extra timber to double up a joist so I could hang a punching bag. I probably still can. Note how the wall plate is uneven in the middle. My block laying was never that great!

    Thick OSB (oriented strand board) as the roof material. Very satisfying to lay. Not so much to cut perfectly. I sent my girlfriend up first as the guinea pig because I had the strength to lift the boards up to her. The building is under 2.5 meters and when I got up there I had a bit of vertigo/excitement. Probably due to the fact none of the boards were fixed in place and I was getting on with the roof! No more masonry!

    The roofing material is made of EPDM rubber. There are pros and cons but the short of it is its extremely heavy and getting up on the roof on my rickety ladder almost killed me. I lacked the strength to lift a bulky 40kg above my height whilst balanced on a ladder. So instead I fastened it to my back like a makeshift backpack with a rope I bought at B&Q. I almost died in the proccess as the weight of the roofing material just served as a pressure for the rope to constrict around my body and try and topple me from the ladder. With a lot of stupid grit it was up there. It was relatively simple to lay but its easier with 2 people.

    I should be writing a section on the plastic fascia and soffit of the roof (keeps the vertical rain off the building) but it was a pain in the arse to install and is too boring. A loathesome part of construction.

    The building was clad with metal roofing (Cladco brand) sheets. Very easy to work with but a pain to cut with a circular saw. First time I was a bit scared using it. A noise which sounds like an industrial accident whilst being sprayed with hot shrapnel which draws blood. Definately an eye protection job (sometimes I squinted :^)).

    I was planning some intricate detailing for the piers. Maybe a different color? Maybe each face of the pier having its own sheet? Couldn't be bothered. I wanted the outside finished so I just bent a sheet over. Looks good enough to me!

    As for the windows and doors. At first it seemed complicated... like how exactly does the window attach to the wall? Turns out its just concrete screws and some insulation to fill the gaps. Lots of websites give you doors and windows which are made to measure. Very useful! Also my window and doors aren't square! Nothing a bit of mortar and insulation spray foam can't sort out.

    For the door and window reveals I just bodged my way through with scrap PVC plastic from the fascia/soffits and some scrap metal sheet.

    The building is finally water proof! ... probably! The guttering and trim of the hanging EPDM rubber roof is still a work in progress.

    The inside has a nice woody smell from all the battens fixed to the wall. Between the battens are insulation and the battens are also covered in reflective tape.

    Here is my latest progress as of the 1st of March 2024. There is an internal vapor barrier which stops my sweating body from damaging the internal structure. There is also some cracked and potted plasterbaord awkwardly fixed to the now invisible battens. Since the walls aren't perfectly straight I bought the thinner plasterboard in hopes that its more flexible. It's been okay so far but have been cursing myself about the necessity of a straight and accurate wall in ensuring things go ahead smoothly. The plasterboard doesn't line up the edges neatly all the time because of this. This wonky wall issue has been been a snow ball effect ever since I dug my first trench without string line. It's been a compounding problem which effects nearly everything. There were opportunities to make corrections as I built the block wall but I'm not perfect. At the end of the day, if it keeps me dry and warm whilst I workout I am happy.

    My friend is an electrician so he has been a great help with the wiring. I plan to use some OSB as a "feature wall". OSB being a relatively strong material for fixings it can be helpful for hanging gym stuff up too. Maybe even weights?

    Next steps

    Here is what I still need to do:

    • Finish the plasterboard placement
    • Finish the plasterboard. Either tape and joint or full plaster skim.
    • Finish wiring with face sockets and consumer unit in the building.
    • Finish wiring with connecting the gym to the house mains.
    • Underlay and flooring. With consideration to weight lifting area and how the floor will be different?
    • Plasterboard sealer and painting!
    • Skirting boards and maybe door and window internal trims.
    • Maybe ceiling cornices depending on how wonky things look.
    • ..... and then the fun stuff like interior decor and ..... GYM EQUIPMENT

    PEACE! - Aaron

    Back to top ⬏