How to set up a home gym

home-gymWith gym memberships costing anywhere from $50 to $90 per month plus personal training sessions, it doesn’t take long for a home gym set up to pay for itself. But what do you need? There’s the question of what gear to buy, setting up a safe space and ensuring that you know what you’re doing so you don’t injure yourself.

So, let’s get this straight from the start. I’m not looking to recreate a commercial gym environment at home. My aim is to create a decent exercise space with enough equipment for an individual or small group of two or three people to train for general fitness. I’m not going into setting up a powerlifting rig or crossfit cage.

Before I get started, there are two things I want to highlight.

  1. Remember, if you’re working to the point of failure, where you can no longer lift the weight, it’s important to have a spotter with you to help so you don’t get pinned.
  2. Make sure you learn how to perform exercises correctly and don’t sacrifice good form in order to lift extra weight. Going too heavy and using poor technique is a recipe for injury. Lift with your head and muscles – not your ego.

Start simple

It’s easy to spend a lot of money on equipment but you can start out with a quite modest investment. For under $100 you can pick up a beginner’s dumbbell kit, a Swiss ball, a yoga mat and a skipping rope.

Although you can spend plenty, a trip to your local department store like Kmart or Target will reveal lots of low-cost options.

With those, you can build a pretty decent all-body workout, not take up an entire room at your house or apartment with equipment and have the ability to work out whenever you feel like it.

An example of a workout you can do with this gear is

Warm-up:

  • two to five minutes of skipping
  • pushups
  • body-weight squats

Workout:

  • Dumbbell bench press on the Swiss ball
  • Dumbbell squats
  • Planks (that’s where the yoga mat can be handy if the floor isn’t very forgiving) or Swiss ball crunches
  • Dumbbell shoulder press (either standing or sitting on the Swiss ball)
  • Dumbbell deadlifts
  • Bicep curls
  • Tricep dips or extensions using the dumbbells or skull-crushers using one dumbbell

When starting out, one or two sets of each exercise is a good place to start. Once you get comfortable with the exercises you can either increase the weight you use or push the intensity by doing the workout as a circuit.

Adding to your kit

As you get stronger, you’ll likely find it difficult to work hard enough using your dumbbell kit. That’s where a bench and barbell come in handy.

Weight benches can cost a lot of money. But you can save plenty by looking at sites like eBay – particularly early in the year when benches bought in January as part of a New years resolution are cleared out once folks less committed to training than you decide to clear some space.

While a brand new bench might cost as much as $500, you might pick up a near-new, barely used bench for far less. I purchased mine, in near new condition for under $100.

The downside of committing to a bench is the need for a permanent workout space. I’m fortunate that my garage is large enough to accomodate my bench and car.

For added comfort, I bought some rubber matting for the floor.

home-gym

With a bench, barbell and extra weights, you can increase the weight on your bench press and deadlifts quite easily. But be wary of trying to lift a heavy barbell onto your shoulders for the squat. The best way to add weight to your squat is with a decent squat rack.

homemade-squat-rackSome years ago, I had a squat rack made for me using a couple of steal wheel rims, some iron and the welding know-how of a friend. The rats that I had made do the job for me but I won’t use them for really heavy work.

For that, I’m saving my pennies for a more robust rack that will let me safely rack a weight if I can’t get back up to complete a squat.

But that kind of investment is likely to run into several hundreds of dollars. as well as another barbell (so I don’t have fully unload and reload a single barbell between different exercises).

Extras

As far as extra gear, I like to wear a pair of gloves when lifting. If you start working with heavier weights on some lifts, particularly the deadlift, then some straps are useful for assisting your grip.

I now have three barbells and two pairs of dumbbells. This means I don’t have to fully unload bars between different exercises. It also means i can set up different stations in my garage so I can create a small circuit for training where I combine barbell, dumbbell, bodyweight and cardio exercises.

I also have an EZ curl bar – this is a shorter barbell that is bent wth two v-shaped sections so that your wrists are in a more comfortable position when doing bicep curls or tricep extensions. However, I don;t use this every time I train. It’s definitely an accessory I’d classify as optional.

So, what;s your home gym look like? What do you recommend? Can you suggest anything I have missed or could add?

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