HomeInspirationStep into Shawn Donaldson's Basement Gym

Step into Shawn Donaldson’s Basement Gym

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Meet Shawn.

Shawn is a former collegiate offensive lineman at Kent State and now a father, husband, high school teacher, curator of morninglifter.com, and a podcast host.

Shawn is one of the most consistent guys I have seen in the gym community. He’s a morning lifter, like me, and he’s as dedicated as they come.

Over the last few years, Shawn has been transforming his basement into his dream gym, and he’s done a great job by mixing new and used equipment.

Join me as we step into Shawn’s home gym.

The Journey

Shawn Donaldson - Kent State - Garage Gym

Shawn started his home gym in the summer of 2016, shortly after the birth of his son. Like many of us home gym owners, he found that making time for the gym while caring for a newborn was a challenge… one that led to his fair share of arguments (can anyone else relate?). Shawn has been lifting since his sophomore year in high school, over half his life. He understands the importance of it and, after losing over 90 lbs from his playing weight in football, he didn’t want to quit.

So, what did he do?

He started a home gym, of course!


Morning Lifter - Marrs Bar

To start, Shawn and his wife agreed on purchasing some starter equipment. He found the early advantages of home gym life to be obvious. Most notably were not having to travel to the gym and being able to help with the baby whenever it was needed. Unknown at the time, this would lead to Shawn ultimately starting the Morning Lifter and meeting great people along the way.

Before children, a home gym wasn’t even a consideration for Shawn. Now, and especially with COVID impacting the fitness world, he can’t imagine life without it.

Shawn, I agree, and I think a lot of others do as well.

The Equipment

In the beginning, Shawn’s gym was very modest. Situated in the corner of the basement in their first home, he had a 300lb bar and weight set, a Fitness Gear Half Rack, a bench from Dick’s Sporting Goods, and a set of PowerBlock Dumbbells. Except for the half rack which he sold, Shawn still owns and uses all of his original pieces.

Morning Lifter - Titan Fitness Rackable Trap Bar

Over the last four years, he’s slowly added more equipment and upgraded his square footage in the process. He likes to save money during the year for cornerstone pieces that he typically purchases around Christmas time. His process is very strategic. Before he makes larger purchases, he spends time researching the equipment, measuring his space, looking at similar pieces from competitors, and even writing out a pros & cons list on a spreadsheet.

Morning Lifter - Body Masters Pullover

For his next big purchase, he’s eyeing the Fray Fitness Iso Lateral Row Machine. Just recently, Shawn scored one of his “white whales” in the Body Masters pullover machine. It has been on his list for over a year, and he was finally able to find one at a great price.

As I often say, building a home gym is a process. Sometimes patience is required. I think Shawn and his deliberate approach to growing his space is a great example of that!

Morning Lifter - Nautilus

A big part of the process for Shawn is buying both new and used equipment. He considers himself more of a thrift/utility buyer, and that while buying “new is nice, it’s not required.” For the bigger purchases like his rack, dumbbells, and his smith machine, he purchased new. The same is true for barbells and specialty bars. Shawn’s stance on bars is that buying them used is liked buying tires used… he’d rather spend more money on a newer bar. For the other pieces, he looks to maximize his dollar by buying high-quality used equipment at a great price.

Morning Lifter - Titan Fitness Lever Arm Leg Attachment

When I asked Shawn what his favorite piece was, he answered with a breakdown by category… not an answer I’ve received before, which I love! Here is his list:

  • Utility: Titan Fitness X-3 Rack with lever Arms
  • Chest: BATL Cerakote Bar
  • Legs: Marrs Bar
  • Back: Titan Fitness Lat Tower/Body Masters Pullover
  • Shoulders: Nautilus Double Shoulder
  • Auxiliaries: PowerBlock Dumbbells

With that, let’s dive in a little deeper and have a closer look at Shawn’s gym.

Rack and Bench

Morning Lifter bench press on Titan FID inside of Titan X-3 Rack

Shawn is a big believer in maximizing the utility of equipment in your space, and you can tell that with his rack setup.


Morning Lifter Barbells - Titan Fitness & Marrs Bar

Shawn has an impressive barbell lineup ranging from traditional bars to specialty bars.


Morning Lifter - Powerblocks U-125

PowerBlocks are Shawn’s dumbbell choice, and they’re excellent for saving space and time. Their rapid selection is effortless and it makes it easy to perform supersets. Standard PowerBlock sets go up to 90 lbs, but you can also buy expansion sets up to 125 lbs, which Shawn has done.


Morning Lifter - Titan Fitness Plate Loaded Lat Pulldown in Basement Gym

Shawn has a great selection of machines in his space including a couple of vintage Nautilus pieces from the 1970s. His functional trainer adds a ton of versatility, and he has a couple of other pieces for more specificity.


Morning Lifter Landmine Attachment

From cable attachments to chains, Shawn has a great assortment of accessories to make his gym well rounded.

Morning Lifter - Titan Fitness Bench and Lat Pulldown

I commend Shawn for taking the slow and steady approach to building his awesome basement gym. His strategic approach is paying off and I’m excited to see what his gym looks like in a few more years. Shawn is a lot of things: a father, a husband, a high school teacher, a podcast host, a website author… and… a home gym owner! I love the dedication – keep up the great work!

I want to thank Shawn for sharing his journey and his gym with the Garage Gym Lab community.

You can follow Shawn on Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook as well as his website and his podcast.

If you would like the chance to be featured on the site, shoot me an email at Adam@garagegymlab.com.

Adam Hensley
Adam Hensley
Adam is the founder of Garage Gym Lab and has over two decades of fitness/training experience. He serves as the chief content creator and runs our YouTube channel and social media accounts. When he's not testing equipment or sharing his love for home gym life, you'll find him with his wife and two kids in sunny South Carolina.
Adam Hensley
Adam Hensley
Adam is the founder of Garage Gym Lab and has over two decades of fitness/training experience. He serves as the chief content creator and runs our YouTube channel and social media accounts. When he's not testing equipment or sharing his love for home gym life, you'll find him with his wife and two kids in sunny South Carolina.

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