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How to Equip a Home Gym

June 9, 2010

Why a home gym?

A lot of people think its weird that one works out at home. A lot of people seem to only be able to find motivation if they are surrounded by strangers, and that’s fine if that’s your thing. A lot of people, however, seem to think “going to the gym” is a social activity. These frequently are the same people who think “going to the gym” is the activity that will get them in the shape they want to be in. This has never really been my opinion. Back in the day when I did go to the gym, I was there to train and I really didn’t care to talk to anyone. The only people worth talking to are training partners and I never found a good one of those.

A home gym is also quite convenient. The most common reason for not training is “I didn’t feel like going to the gym,”  “I couldn’t get to the gym,” or “I didn’t have time to get to the gym.” These excuses fall flat on their face when one trains at home. It also saves time in terms of driving, which means you can spend more time on other aspects of training such as meal preparation and recovery or on other aspects of your life. It also saves time in that you don’t have to wait around for equipment or plates to open up. You can just go from exercise to exercise doing exactly how you please. This means you can get more done in less time.

You can also avoid annoying gym characters like these:

In the long run, it will also save you money. While it may not seem that way given the up front costs, it works out over time. When you figure the cost of memberships plus the cost of transportation to and from the gym, you can see that over time it will be much more than what you’ll spend on a home gym.

You also can get most work done with the bare minimum of equipment. Despite what the fitness industry tells you, you do not need fancy equipment to get big and strong. A barbell, a squat rack, a bench, and a set of weights is all you need.

Paul Anderson was one of the strongest men ever... more than a decade before the Nautilus machine was invented

If you want to use certain equipment, most gyms simply won’t have it available. Things like trap bars, farmer’s walk handles, dragging sleds, prowlers, sandbags, and so on and so forth are pretty uncommon. Outgrowing dumbbells racks doesn’t take that long and when was the last time you saw 215lb dumbbells at a commercial gym?

Also, I’ve found I can be more intense working out home and by myself. I do not have distractions of sexy girls on the treadmills. I don’t have the awkward kids from high school who wanna talk and see what’s up. I don’t have to worry about being self conscious about the weights I’m lifting or if I’m sending a bad vibe. I can grunt, curse, fart, and smack myself in the face with chalk filled hands all I want and I don’t have to worry about the lunk alarm.

What To Get and Where to Get It

The first thing you need to get is a barbell with weights. There are two kinds of barbells; standard and Olympic. If you have an interest in moving big weights, you want to go Olympic. Standard barbells are not as durable and are more apt to bend when you start getting heavy. When starting out, you do not need an incredibly fancy barbell. You will see bars costing around $400 online and unless you are lifting in excess of 700lbs, you probably do not need to drop that much money on it. You will also see plates costing around $1-2 per pound, which means getting a sizable amount of weight will be a bit expensive.

An Olympic bar will look like this.

The best thing to do is to go to Craigslist and look for ads selling weight sets. The best time to look for a good weight set is in February. Why February? Because that’s when people are giving up on their New Years Resolutions and trying to get back some of their wasted money. Let their loss be your gain. When I got my barbell and weights, I got a barbell and 300lb weight set for just under $100 from a girl selling her ex-boyfriend’s crap that he still hadn’t moved out of her place. Craigslist is sketchy so be careful.

I should point out that the condition that the weights are in is not that important. The point of the weight is to be lifted. It doesn’t have to look pretty.

Ok, if they are this rusty, they might not be good to use...

Yeah, that's a bit better. My bar might be rusty but I'm sure my tetanus shot is up to date!

The bench is also something that you should acquire on Craigslist. It seems like the most common thing people are getting rid of are workout benches. Make sure its durable though. You want something that can handle a solid amount of weight and isn’t going to buckle. Something that inclines is a plus but isn’t a necessity. Avoid a bench with a built in rack. These take up lots of space and aren’t as versatile as an incline/decline bench plus a squat rack. If you have room, don’t want to do incline/decline work, and are okay spending the money, there’s no harm in getting one as they actually are more stable for benching. Whatever you do, do not make the mistake of thinking that you can squat out of one of these things. That is very unsafe.

Now, for the squat rack, I would first check Craigslist but chances are good that you won’t be able to find something good. Your rack is the place where you should invest the most in. A power rack is a good investment if you have room (I don’t, otherwise I would’ve gotten a power rack). A squat rack will eventually hold a lot of weight and so needs to be solidly built. If you get something that’s crappy that you have to replace sometime in the future, you’re going to be spending more money than if you had just gotten something good from the get go.

Now, once you need to start upgrading your weight collection, it will become more difficult to find used weights. You’re just going to need to get 45lb plates in sets of two. The best deal I’ve found is here. The 20% off and free shipping deal is actually a permanent state of affairs from what I can tell with this website. You can get 45s for 78 cents a pound, which isn’t half bad.

Other Useful Additions

Anything you can make yourself will be useful. For instance, I recently made a t-handle that has become a useful addition to my arsenal.

One useful piece of equipment is the use of a sandbag. A sandbag can be set up pretty easily. You just need something that can hold sand and sand. Duh. Sand runs around $2 for 50lbs. Sandbags are useful for odd object training as demonstrated by Kevin Nee.

Dumbbells are also something that are good to get, however they are not as useful for lower body training as barbells are so they are not a top priority. I got my dumbbell collection from my brother who had ceased using them and so I have a good amount of weight (around 300lbs) for free. The best kind to get for a home gym are the kind that are adjustable. Fixed dumbbells are nice for a commercial gym, however if you spend the money on a pair of 10lb, 15lb, 20lb, 25lb, 30lb, 40lb, 50lb, 60lb, 70lb, 80lb, 90lb, 100lb dumbbells, you’re going to drop much more money than if you had just gotten 200lbs of plates and adjustable dumbbell handles.

Pull up bars are another useful addition. Before I moved out of my parents house, I had a doorway chin up bar that I got a lot of use out of and cost me less than ten dollars. If you have a power rack, you will be set since most have pull up bars built in. You can also probably find surfaces to do chin ups on around the house (I remember doing chin ups hanging from the staircase while making meals back in the day). Alternatively, you can set an olympic barbell across your squat rack with the stands incredibly high, tuck your knees, and do chin ups that way. Removable pull up bars like the Iron Gym (as soon on TV!) are also a good investment.

Things like dragging sleds, farmer’s walk handles, etc are things you should also consider depending on your needs and strength levels. I personally think the dragging sled is one of the best pieces of conditioning equipment out there. The last sled workout I did resulted in a post workout puke session. I have farmer’s walk handles because I need them for sports specific reasons, but you can also get good use out of them in terms of adding in deadlift and shrug variations.

Safety and Training Alone

Now, you need to be safe when you lift. If you’re alone this is especially true. Certain movements have more danger inherent in them than others and you’ll know them when you do them (squats and bench presses are probably the most likely to injure you). Here are some tips on staying safe.

  1. Know your body. This is something that is going to come with experience, but you will eventually learn to recognize what your limits are and how not to push too far. I’ve lifted enough to know that I will either hit or miss a lift as I approach the bottom of a bench or a squat and if I think I will miss the lift, I cut the lift short and squat shallow or lock the bench out before it hits my chest.
  2. Don’t go to failure. I usually stop with 1-2 reps left in the tank. Usually, if I squat a 1RM, its actually closer to a 2RM. When doing high reps, you’ll know when your body is going to be finished. If you don’t have a spotter, do not keep pushing.
  3. Have some means to spot yourself. Having something like saw horses set up to catch a falling weight can be a useful thing. If you have a power rack, set the pins to spot you.
  4. Don’t use a false grip when benching alone. The false grip is also known as the suicide grip because the chance that the bar will slide out from your hands exists. Now, most problems with this comes from the fact that the lifter doesn’t know how to use the grip properly, but still, I wouldn’t risk it if I was benching alone.
  5. Don’t put collars on the bar. This might seem strange but bear with me. Lets say you are benching and you get stuck under the bar, one option is to tilt the bar to one side. The weights will fall off that one side and then the bar will get cleared on the other side as well in spectacular fashion. Its kind of dangerous but its better than being stuck under a bar. The alternative is to just roll the bar down your stomach and onto your hips, then sit up, and then get the bar off you but that’s not nearly as fun. This is also true of squats. If you are squatting and you are going to fall forward, just let the weights fall off to one side. Again, dangerous but less dangerous than getting knocked in the back of the head by a heavy barbell.
  6. Don’t go to failure. I’m reiterating this because its important.

Do you get the gist? Err on the side of caution and make sure you know what you’re doing. As with everything in life, don’t be a dumbass and you’ll probably be alright.

Remember kids, if Matt Kroc can train alone in a home gym and set world records, you can too.

Keep lifting.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 14, 2010 7:40 PM

    Kroc is the shit!

    Bookmarked that online store you linked, that shit will serve well when we get a condo w/basement maybe next year.

    Re: Look at my fuckin hair broski: There’s a guido-wannabe like that at my gym. Always all over the hack squat machine (the one where you can triple the weight you can actually hack). Fake tan, fully spiked hair, wears sports glasses AND added gold chains to his workout attire. I could do nothing but stop and stare when I saw it, and I was damning myself for leaving my camera phone in the car.

    Anyway, excellent post as always. Cheers bro.

  2. June 15, 2010 2:29 AM

    Thanks bud. Glad to be of use!


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