Working out outside is awesome but nature is harsh. Working out while the sun is out is great. But what about the equipment that has to stay out there year round? What can you do to protect it from rusting and deteriorating faster than it should.
Leaving gym equipment outside is always going to shorten the lifespan even if you do your best to protect it. Covering the equipment with a tarp, sealing it to make it waterproof, applying a rust inhibitor and cleaning are the best ways to protect it. Storing it inside after use is better.
Read more details and tips below.
Why does gym equipment rust?
To prevent something from happening you first have to know why it happens. So why does gym equipment rust outside?
Most gym equipment is made from metal. Some parts are made from stainless steel but most parts are just normal steel. They can be covered by paint or another coating to protect the material underneath.
1. Know what you’re getting into
Indoor gym equipment is not made to be left outside in any way. Any equipment with electronics is going to break after the first drop of rain. Don’t even try.
Gym equipment that’s low tech and simple can handle a bit more. However, the material and protection is still not made to be left outside. With the other tips below you can extend the lifespan but it’s never going to be as long as if you kept the same exact equipment indoors.
Rust isn’t the only thing to worry about. UV light can damage the paint and that exposes the metal even more. Theft is another serious problem although that really depends on where you live and where you leave the equipment.
So building a full outdoor gym with equipment that’s meant to be indoors is possible but be prepared for a shorter lifespan.
Your location plays a really big role in this as well. In places where it’s sunny and dry for most of the year, things will last a lot longer. However, those places are usually also very hot and a bit too sunny for an outdoor gym to make sense.
2. Outdoor equipment
There is some gym equipment that’s built to be outdoors. Of course that’s going to be much better suited to staying outdoors. The problem is that there isn’t much equipment you would have in a home gym that is actually available in an outside variety.
The commonly available outdoor fitness equipment is the type you often see in parks. No power racks, barbells, dumbbells and things like that. Mostly bodyweight equipment that’s suitable for everyone and their grandma (literally). Good for grandma but not for people that actually want to get in shape. Pull up bars are the best outdoor gym equipment that’s commonly available. And even the outdoor gym equipment is susceptible to rust. Just take a look in your local park. If there is any fitness equipment that’s been there for more than a year, you’ll probably see some rust, especially near the ground.
So if you want an outdoor gym that does the same as a well equipment indoor home gym, you’ll have to use mostly indoor equipment. Choose equipment that is as simple as possible with the fewest moving parts. Moving parts are the first thing to fail when left outside.
If you leave any gym equipment outside, the first thing to do to protect it is a cover. This can be a cover for a single piece of equipment but also a whole roof.
Basically building a shed without walls is a pretty good way to protect your gym. Is it going to do as much as something with walls? No. but if it had walls it wouldn’t be an outdoor gym anymore.
There aren’t really any pre-made covers for most gym equipment. There are for treadmills and ellipticals but those machines have electronics so they can’t stay outside anyways. A tarp or similar sheet of protective material will do a good job at keeping out the water and sun.
You’ll have to find a way to anchor the tarp in place so it doesn’t blow away.
Keep in mind, this only protects the equipment from water that comes from above. Water can still seep in from the soil or ground when it gets wet.
4. Store the equipment inside
If you have mobile equipment, why leave it outside? There is no reason to because it will just last a lot longer inside, no matter what you do. The equipment can be stored in many different places. As long as it’s safe from the elements it’s OK.
Many people that like to work out outside have a garage gym with mobile equipment. On nice days, you carry some stuff outside and you can work out in the driveway. If your home gym is possible to build in the garage or maybe another space that borders an outdoor space, it’s pretty easy to do this.
This way you get the best of both worlds. On bad days, you’ve got an indoor home gym, on good days you carry some stuff outside and work out outside. That way you save your equipment and have gym equipment you can use year round. Building a dedicated shed for this purpose is another option.
If you can’t move everything, at least move the smaller things like weight plates, barbells, dumbbells, etc. Those things are pretty easy to use and also the things you want to keep as rust free as possible because you’re touching them all the time.
For most big equipment like a power rack, it’s possible to find more mobile alternatives like squat stands.
Whether you move the equipment inside or not, keeping it clean is important either way. Mud or other dirt getting stuck on it doesn’t do any good. And you don’t want to drag everything inside anyways.
Get rid of any sweat, dust and dirt as soon as possible before either covering it up or moving it to the shed or garage.
The place the outdoor gym is built should have good drainage. Being exposed to rain is one thing but actually partly being submerged for a while is on a whole other level. Make sure any rainwater dissipates quickly.
The surface the equipment is put on should be solid, stable and stay dry. Tiles or rubber tiles will work well for this purpose. There are also patio tiles that let water through easily without getting slippery.
7. Plug and seal
Gym equipment frames are almost always made from steel tubing. Tubes are open on both ends by nature. Frames and other parts of gym equipment made from tubing will have some open ends somewhere. Some equipment has more than others but it’s very hard to build any frame without open ends. Usually those open ends are plugged by plastic covers to prevent things from going inside.
Water inside the frame of gym equipment can cause a lot of damage. Usually you don’t see anything but under the skin, the frame is rusting. This can cause a weakening of the frame which is dangerous. There are also other seams which can let water in and do the same thing.
Locate any covers and seams that can let water into the inside of the frame. You can prevent water from getting inside the frame by sealing all of these openings. If you have a new gym machine, it probably requires some assembly. Put some caulk on every surface that covers up the holes to make them waterproof. Bathroom caulk works well for this purpose. Before you do that, it’s a good idea to spray the inside of the frame with a rust inhibitor.
That said, some equipment has holes in the frame to allow for adjustments. There really isn’t much you can do here to prevent water from getting inside so for those pieces the next tip can help.
8. Spray inside
The inside of gym equipment frames is not always the best protected as said before. So getting as much rust inhibition as possible in combination with sealing everything is going to help quite a bit.
It’s impossible to do this as well as you should to fully protect everything but you can get pretty close. It’s best to do this before assembly. Just spray rust inhibitor inside every part of the frame before assembling so it’s easier to get to more spots. Then seal everything like described above.
Since this is inside the frame, you won’t do this regularly. At the same time you won’t see it anymore so you want to use a product that;
- Inhibits rust for a long time
- Is easy to spray
Because you won’t see it anymore, it doesn’t really matter what the product looks like after application.
9. Spray outside
It’s also possible to use a rust inhibiting product on the outside of the equipment. You want to be a bit careful here because these products are often a bit oily or sticky and you don’t want this on surfaces you touch while working out. Large parts of gym equipment you never really touch though so they are fair game.
Because it’s on the outside of the machine, you want something that doesn’t make it look terrible. On the plus side on the outside it’s easier to apply often so there is more choice of products.
Some parts of gym equipment have to be lubricated. In general, if two surfaces are moving against each other, you want to lubricate it to reduce friction. Grease and lubricants are good corrosion inhibitors so don’t be shy to use some on parts that need it.
Outside lubrication is going to deteriorate faster anyways so regular application is not a bad idea. The problem with grease is that it can attract dirt. That’s the opposite you want on greased and lubricated surfaces. So cleaning and re-applying grease on parts that need it helps keep outdoor gym equipment in good shape.
Most gym equipment is painted or coated with something on the outside. That coating makes things look much nicer but also protects the metal underneath. The coating or paint stops oxygen and liquids from touching the metal and therefore inhibits rust. So when you damage that coating or it starts peeling off (because of UV) the metal underneath isn’t protected anymore.
We can learn something from the automotive industry here. Cars often have rust issues, especially if they are older or were involved in an accident. The automotive industry has a lot of products to protect steel from rust. On cars, the right way to protect them from rusting has a few parts;
- Remove any existing rust.
- Apply a rust inhibiting primer
Yes, that’s an oversimplification but those are the basics. With your gym equipment you can follow the same basics. If paint is peeling off, get rid of the paint that’s peeling and any rust that already formed. Then apply a rust inhibiting primer and put another layer of paint on top. You’ll probably have to do this about once a year with gym equipment that’s meant to be indoors.
Almost nothing that is made from steel and lives outside year round has a very long life. It’s not that long ago that some cars had pretty severe rust problems and those are really made to be outside.
There is no way you’re going to preserve outdoor gym equipment that lives outside as long as the same items that’s stored inside.