The Garage Gym Project

Former Olympic Luge team member Dean Purcell has a Garage Gym Project to let people know that fitness doesn’t need to be complex or intimidating. Let’s check out this New Zealand entrepreneur right now!Dean Purcell of the Garage Gym Kettlebell Club does sumo deadlifts

So Dean, before we get into the Garage Gym Project, tell me about your fitness background!

Hi John! In my younger days I was a member of the NZ Olympic Luge team which involved compeitive racing for four years. I held two National titles. After that I got into a bit of kickboxing . . .

Oh that’s cool! I used to kickbox in the IKF!

. . . nothing serious but I learnt enough to know what it was like to get my face punched in.  As I got older I went down that path that many do where inactivity and laziness kicked in. Life was just too busy. It wasn’t until I got engaged I took an interest in getting in shape again. Instead of paying for a gym membership I wanted to see where I could take it by just training at home. That was 10 years ago.

What’s the fitness scene like in New Zealand? You guys have a fair amount of beaches I think so is it sort of like Brazil where people are very aware of their bodies and into staying in shape?

In New Zealand we are very outdoor oriented. There’s lots of watersports, hiking and tramping so a lot of fitness is often woven into people’s hobbies or interests. There’s also sports – rugby, netball etc – and high school sports. For those really into fitness boot camps and cross fit are on the increase. Many people still have the traditional gym memberships too.

How did you start the Garage Gym Kettlebell Club?

A few years ago friends started asking about working out in the garage where I had set up my gym so I thought I’d better take it a step further and get qualified so I gained a certificate in sports training and development at SIT. I also trained in kettlebell instructions with a local RKC instructor. I’ve been training people out of the garage on a casual basis ever since. The Garage Gym Kettlebell Club came from my keen interest in kettlebell training.

Dean Purcell of the Auckland Garage Gym Kettlebell Club

I’m planning on taking my first kettlebell certification in 2017. I don’t care about teaching so much as I want to be sure that I’m doing it correctly.

For kettlebell certification, its kind of a catch 22,  kettelebell training is very movement technique oriented and without proper instruction most people do the movements wrong. You want to do a certification course to be able to do the movements correctly but yet you need to know the movements in order to train so you can pass the course. My advice is if you can train with a certified RKC of StrongFirst instructor for a bit first. Otherwise, look at a training system like HIIT to build up your endurance. Most kettlebell movements are fast and explosive they tend to tax the respiratory system before your muscles. On a side bar grip strength for kettlebell work is important.

I don’t know if I’ll do RKC or StrongFirst but do you have any advice for preparing for it? Or tips for when I’m there beyond just paying attention?

When I did my course with a local RKC instructor a few years ago I found my hands took a beating, because if the bell constantly moving through your grip so take care of your hands, some people like to use chalk. When working with kettlebells, I am the opposite I find chalk grips too much and it restricts movement. If you have good grip strength you shouldn’t need chalk!

So you train mostly your friends. But is your gym available to the public, semi-private or invite only? My brother has had strongman competitors show up to train at his backyard gym because he’s listed on Starting Strongman and I believe CrossFit main site lists places where people can catch a workout if they’re traveling and that includes barbell clubs like yours.  Is that something you’d do down the line or do I need to abandon all hope of training with you if I visit New Zealand?

Private for invitees only. Being listed on a fitness directory is something I have never really thought about, but I am all for it. Perhaps its something you could start up, John, to help build the community, if you haven’t already done it. The way I look at it is garage gym training can be a very isolated way of training, that’s probably why we are constantly reading and learning, having someone in the same boat coming along for a workout visit is a great way to learn and see if you are on the right track.

So where’s your gym located? I realize that it’s called The Garage Gym Project but is this an actual garage in someone’s home, a converted car garage, an old mechanic’s garage in the warehouse district?

It’s based out of my garage at home. The car now parks outside!

Since you’re open to the idea of people coming to train, who’s your target clientele?

Trainees are usually friends or colleagues. The Garage Gym Project is more of a hobby than a business. It’s about helping friends with their goals, not making a profit at this stage.

How many people do you normally have in the gym at one time?

There’s usually only one or two people training at a time.

dean purcell doing mma training

It doesn’t matter what the exercise is as long as you add intensity to it.

You posted, “It doesn’t have to be complicated. Weighted box step ups are not complicated but the results are in the showing”, is this a good way to sum up how you train people? So tell me about training philosophy.  Are you hardstyle, softstyle? Do you blend kettlebells with other training modalities etc.?

My approach to training is the belief that intensity is key. It doesn’t matter what the exercise is as long as you add intensity to it. It doesn’t need to be complicated to be effective. I break my training into four areas: mobility, strength through heavy lifting, calisthenics with time under tension for tendon and ligament strenght and the rest is about burning calories (which is done through metabolic conditioning, incorporating a variety of tools including kettlebells).

You also said that fitness needs to have purpose. What would you say to someone who says that they’re only interested in training for looks, they don’t want to compete, just look better when they go to the beach or fit into their clothes comfortably again?

The whole purpose of training is to make you feel good about yourself, regardless of whether you want to look good at the beach, fit your clothes or compete in a particular sport. Fitness is a great way to build self-confidence which can then have positive spinoff effects in other parts of your life.

I saw that you do have members who compete, tell me some of your members’ highlights and success stories.

One of my friends I train with in the garage has competed in obstacle races and done well. We have done several together and had great success. My friend has survived cancer at a young age and through that challenge she has become very mentally strong and pushes harder than anyone I know!

So how long have you been up and running?

I have been training clients out of my garage for about 3 years now.

Since getting up and running you must have had to face unexpected challenges. I remember we were going out of town and I thought I’d told everybody but I was in Ohio, we live in Georgia so that’s about 10 hours away, anyway one of the kids who trains with my son and I called wanting to know where we were. That was not a good feeling because I hate disappointing kids like that.  What have you had to face that was unexpected?

The biggest hurdle I face is scheduling, because I work full time and its shift work. My biggest battle is fitting my time around my clients time, because of this my day generally starts around 5:15am when I get out off bed and get my workout,  after that its sorting kids and dropping them off to school & daycare, then its off to work. When I get home I will train clients from about 7-9pm than have dinner and bed.

Tell me about gym set up. A lot of trainers start out going to people’s homes or running boot camps in parks so they have some equipment before they open a brick and mortar gym. When you set up the space did you already have equipment or did you get a space and then get equipment to fill it up?

When I started out I only had basic gear – a couple of kettlebells in the corner of the garage. Over the years I’ve slowly built up better quality equipment and more variety. Moving from a house with a single garage to a large double has given me a bigger space to work in.

I see barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells and assorted combat sports equipment like heavy bags. So who’s been your main supplier of equipment?

I find the best supplier in NZ for equipment is Number 1 Fitness. Unfortunately due to our geographic location there are not a lot of suppliers with affordable equipment.


Since you’re into learning give me your top five fitness related books.

Never Gymless: Ross Enamait

Complete Calisthenics. The Ulitmate Guide To Bodyweight Training: Ashley Kalym

Enter the Kettlebell: Pavel Tsatsouline

Becoming a Supple Leopard: Dr. Kelly Starrett

Convict Conditioning: Paul Wade

To follow up on that; I’m a fan of Zach Even Esh, Ross Enamait, James Fuller, Steve Goggins, Stuart McRobert, Mark Bell and the original guys from Barbell Shrugged, among others. Who do you follow as far as other strength coaches and why?

When I first started out my early influences were Ross Enamait. He continues to be an inspiration, as does Dan John.

I can’t believe I forgot Dan John! Not only is he a home gym guy but that photo of him from the cover of Never Let Go, dragging a sled in the snow while carrying a sandbag is iconic! I highly recommend everyone subscribe to his newsletter, Dan John’s Wandering Weights”. In fact, I’ll link to that right here.

But longer term I would like to look at turning this into a business.

That’s cool! Have you started looking at things like insurance, whether or not to hire staff etc? If not, I cannot recommend Barbell Business enough.  It’s a podcast run by the early CrossFit box owners of CrossFit Memphis. They also produce the YouTube vlog, Barbell Shrugged which is also very informative. I like listening to their podcast along with Grit2Great whenever I’ve got to drive longer than 20 minutes.

As for insurance and staffing, I am not at that level yet, what I have heard about the US is that getting sued is a common practice, here in NZ it is very difficult to sue people.

Switching gears, I’ve never asked this before but as you have a semi private gym; what’s the goal of your Instagram profile? You’re not necessarily trying to attract members so do you just want to shout out your members’ accomplishments or just motivate others?

There are a lot of people out there that post fitness images on Instagram which I enjoy looking at. I’m a news photographer bythe garage gym project logo trade – working for The New Zealand Herald, NZ’s largest daily newspaper – so photography is a big part of my life. The point of difference for my Instagram page is to put a bit of art into my fitness pictures. That’s why I work in black and white.

I’m really grateful to have had the chance to talk to Dean and get some perspective on the New Zealand at home fitness scene.  Everyone can follow Dean’s training on Instagram @the_garage_gym_project. If you’re in New Zealand, feel free to contact him to see if his facility is a good fit for your training goals.

About the author

John Greaves III is a writer based in North Georgia with nearly two decades of experience in training at home. A former amateur kickboxing champion, John now competes recreationally in powerlifting. He takes a physical culture approach to training; believing that strength and health need not be mutually exclusive. In addition to his nonfiction work, John has written two fiction books, A Different Kind of Giant and A Little Lesson in Manners that are available on