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Setting Up a Home Gym
By Gary Zeolla
Parts One and Two of this article discussed the "essentials" in setting up a home gym for powerlifting and more general fitness purposes. These essentials were: a platform, a power rack, a bench, weights, and a power bar. With just this equipment, you could put in a very good workout. But a few "extras" would be helpful. And these will be discussed in this third and final part of this article. And less I scared anyone off from setting up a home gym by describing all of the problems I had setting mine up in the first two parts of this article, in this third part I will discuss the advantages of having a home gym. I will then conclude with some final recommendations.
Dumbbells are a great way to add variety to one's workout. Most gyms have a full set of pairs of dumbbells preset to a range of weights, usually from as little as 5 pounds, all the way up to 100 pounds or more. But to purchase that many pairs of weights would be very expensive. It would also take a lot of room to store that many dumbbells. So most home gyms will have to make due with some kind of changeable dumbbells.
I first thought of getting "Power Block" dumbbells. These are dumbbells for which the weight can be changed with the flip of a switch. I would suggest checking out their Web site for details. The problem with them though is they are very expensive.
So I had to settle for more standard changeable dumbbells. When I first purchased weights at Dunham's, I found a dumbbell set on sale. These were for "standard weights" (i.e. weights with 1" holes). I weighed out a bunch of 10-pound standard plates to use with them. But then I happened to notice a pair of dumbbells that took Olympic weights (i.e. weights with 2" holes). I figured this would be better, only having the one kind of weights. So I put back the standard weights and weighted out weights for the Olympic dumbbells. I got a total of sixteen 10s, four 5s, and four 2-1/2s. And I am glad I made the switch. As mentioned in Part One, my power rack has weight holders sticking up from the back base. So I put all of the weights for the dumbbells on these holders. This keeps them out of the way and helps to hold the power rack down. But the weight holders are 2" thick, so standard weights would not have fit on them.
These Olympic-sized dumbbell bars weigh 10 pound each while standard dumbbell bars usually only weigh five pounds. They are also longer than standard dumbbells, 20" versus 14". This makes them a little harder to use, but I've gotten used to them. And it gives them the advantage of being able to put more weight on them. I could put as many as eight 10s and a 5 on each side, giving me 180 pounds on each dumbbell, but I only have enough 10s to put four on both sides of both dumbbells, but with a 5 and 2-1/2 also on each side, this still gives me 105 pounds, more than I will ever need.
I also got a pair of "Power Hooks" to use with the dumbbells. As the name implies, these are hooks that strap onto the dumbbells. You then hook them onto a bar in a power rack. Then when doing dumbbell benches, you can unrack and rack the dumbbells as you would a barbell. This is much safer and easier than trying to "clean" the weights into place. And with the dumbbells hanging from a bar, it makes changing the weights much easier. Power Hooks can be purchased from Amazon .
Going back to the subject of weights, one thing that always bothered me when using dumbbells was when doing an exercise that required two dumbbells (like dumbbells benches) you would have to increase by 10 pounds rather than just 5 pounds as with a barbell. (If you're using a pair of 50s, that's a total of 100 pounds. So if you go up to 55s, that's now 110 pounds total.). But later I noticed that New York Barbell (NYB) had 1-1/4 pound Olympic plates, so I got four of those to use with the dumbbells. With these, I can now increase by only 2-1/2 pounds on each dumbbell, for a total of five pounds when using a pair. I also use these on occasion on barbell exercises for a more gradual increase. But it did irk me having to pay twice as much for shipping than the weights cost. But NYB was the only place I could find such weights.
Adding these to the weights I already had, I now have a total of 780 pounds of weights: ten 45s, two 35s, two 25s, sixteen 10s, six 5s, six 2-1/2s, and four 1-1/4s. The large number of 10s on down is for use on the dumbbells.
There lots of different types of cardio equipment available: treadmills, exercise bikes, steppers, and the like. But my favorite has always been a Schwinn Aerodyne Bike. With this bike, you "peddle" with your arms as well as with the legs. So both your upper and lower body gets a workout. And it is much more demanding than a regular exercise bike, so just a few minutes makes for a good workout. I had used such a bike at the various gyms I had worked out at. They also have the advantage over a treadmill in not taking up as much space. So I thought of getting one for my home gym.
But when I checked out the price, I was rather shocked. They are very expensive, around $700. I even found a few used ones being sold, but they were still too expensive. So instead, I went with probably the cheapest and simplest piece of cardio equipment you can get, a jump rope. Yes, a lowly jump rope. It cost me all of $2.99 at Dunham's. But don't shrug it off. Once you get the hang of it, you can get a really good workout from just a few minutes of jumping. And it has the advantage of not taking up any room when not in use.
I use the jump rope after my squat and deadlift workouts as I had used the Aerodyne bike at the gym. But at my last gym, there was a heavy bag. And I got in the habit of hitting it for several minutes after my bench workouts. This was a perfect fit. Hitting a heavy bag works the same muscles as benching does. And it is very demanding, again only requiring a few minutes for a good workout. And it actually seemed to help my bench, probably because it was giving me a form of "speed work." So I knew I wanted to get a heavy bag for my home gym.
Problem is, I really had no place to hang it except in my 6'x12' workout area. So I had to get a not so heavy 25-pound bag, so I could easily move it out of the way. There was already a hole drilled in one of the rafters located in the middle of my power rack (where a pull-up bar had been at one time). So I put a "C-clamp" through that hole and hung the heavy bag from it. I then stand on the flat bench to unhook it and move it out of the way, then hang it back up when I'm done lifting. It's a bit of a pain, but worth it.
I use the jump rope and heavy bag for all of six minutes each, again, the jump rope after my squat and deadlift workouts and the heavy bag after my bench workouts. This is the only aerobic work I do, but I go at very intense pace. And let me tell you, I am really winded afterwards. The last I checked, my blood pressure was 107/71 and my resting heart rate was 48 bpm. Not bad for someone in his mid-40s.
I already had a dip belt, which I got at Crain.ws. I had gotten it when I was working out at a gym that didn't have one (but strangely, it did have dip bars). Since I have dip bar attachments for my power rack, I can do dips at home.
As a powerlifter, doing curls is not that big of an emphasis. But I did get an inexpensive curl bar at Dunham's. I already had an exercise mat. This is good for doing ab work and for stretching.
I also already had a couple of pairs of collars for on the power bar. The ones at the gyms I worked out at never seemed to hold good enough, so I bought my own. These are the "wire" type collars, which weigh less than a pound, so I was able to carry them back and forth to the gym. But for my home gym, I ordered a pair of spin lock collars that weigh 5.5 pounds each from NYB. But they have been on backorder for five months now, so I don't know if I will ever get them.
I also already had chains and bands. These are very helpful for powerlifting training. I discuss their usage at chains and bands. I also already had boards for benching, another useful powerlifting training method.
There is always additional equipment you can get. It all depends on how much money you have to spend and how much room you have for the equipment.
Advantages of a Home Gym
Adding up all of the money I spent for all of the equipment discussed in this three part article, it ended up costing me about $2500. That was more than I originally planned on spending. But still, in the long run, it will be a money saver.
Before setting up my home gym, I had figured out that adding together the cost of a gym membership and of the gas for traveling back and forth was about $1000 a year at my last gym. So as long as I continue to work out for at least another 2-1/2 years, it will have been worth it. In fact, this gives me an incentive to keep lifting, knowing I will have wasted a lot of money if I stop now. So saving money is an advantage, as long as you keep working out.
Some other advantages are obvious. There is the time savings of not having to travel back and forth to the gym. This is especially the case in the winter when traveling to the gym requires bundling up in a bunch of clothing, clearing snow and ice off of the car, fighting snow covered roads to get the gym, then having to change once again at the gym, only to have to do it all over again to go home.
Another big advantage is being able to workout anytime, 24/7. Your home gym does not close on holidays, does not close early on weekends, and the like. You can lift whenever you want. Now my last gym was a key entry gym, so I could have worked out there 24/7 as well. However, I still tried to avoid lifting at times when I knew the place would be busy. And this leads to the next point.
With a home gym, you do not have to put up with the (how do I say this nicely?), heck, the idiots at the gym. People screwing around or yapping away on a cell phone while you're trying to concentrate and prepare for a heavy lift. Or someone walking right in front of you while you're going down on a heavy squat, causing you to lose your concentration and get buried. Or someone tying up the power rack doing curls while you're waiting to do heavy squats. With a home gym, you don't have to put up with such stuff, and you never have to wait for equipment.
There's also the advantage of being able to play whatever music you want. At one gym I was at, they used to play "hip-hop" music. Ugh! I tried explaining to them that this was not lifting music, but to no avail. I did try using a MP3 player for a while. But it was a real pain, as the cord kept getting in the way, or it kept slipping out my shirt pocket. And when I was wearing a bench shirt, there simply was no place to put it.
But now I can play my favorite form of lifting music, White Metal (i.e. heavy metal Christian music). Yes, there is such a thing, and I have plenty of it, on both cassette tape and CD. There is no way I could have gotten them to play such music at any gym I worked out at. But now I can crank it up to my heart's content.
At my most recent gym, the owner was nice enough to let me store my chains in a closet near the power rack I used. But most gyms would not be so accommodating. When I was first thinking about getting chains, I was working out at a YMCA. I asked the manager if I could leave the chains there, he said I could, but in his office on the opposite side of the Y from the gym. I couldn't seem to explain to him that carrying 90 pounds of chains that far for every workout would be a bit too much. But now, I can put my chains where I want, right by my power rack.
I can also change into my powerlifting gear right in my workout area. At a gym you need to go into a locker room or restroom. And at a couple of gyms I lifted at, these were quite a distance away. And walking a long distance in a tight squat suit is not fun!
Of course, there are some disadvantages. If you have a gym with other powerlifters in it, there is nothing better than getting a group of lifters together for a workout, screaming for each other, psyching each other up for heavy lifts. But such behavior is not acceptable nowadays at most gyms. And at most every gym I worked out at, I was the only powerlifter. So I basically lifted alone anyhow. But now I can crank up my White Metal to get psyched up.
But lifting by yourself can get a little lonely. So if you are the type of person who needs other people around, then a home gym would not be for you. However, this problem could be overcome if you find yourself a good workout partner or two. I don't have a workout partner, but what I do is post my full workout logs each week on this Web site and announce on my Facebook and Twitter pages when I have completed a log. Knowing others will be reviewing my workouts helps me get psyched up, and participating in these sites helps to alleviate the loneliness.
If I had to do it over again, what I would do is rent a U-Haul and drive to York, Pa where York Barbell Company is located or to Elmira, NY, where New York Barbell is located. From the Pittsburgh area where I live, the former would be about a 3-1/2 hour drive and the latter a 5 hour drive. Even if I to stay in a hotel for a night, it would be worth it. That way, I would have been able to see and try out equipment before purchasing. And this would have gone a long way in avoiding many of the problems I experienced. And even with the price of gas, the U-Haul, and maybe even a hotel room, it still would have been cheaper than freight charges. I would take a measuring tape and a scale with me, and measure and weigh everything while there. That way, I could get everything in one place, at once, without having to piecemeal everything together from different places.
So my final recommendation would be to do something like this. If you live anywhere in the northeastern USA, then you would probably be within driving distance of one or the other of these places. Even if you have to spend a night or even two in a hotel, it would be worth it. If you live in the mid-west, then Crain.ws would be an option. If you live elsewhere, then you should be able to find a reliable weightlifting equipment company in your area. If such a "road trip" is not an option, then at least be sure to call up the company and grill them about the exact measurements of their equipment before ordering, not trusting what is on their Web site, since, as I found out, it might not be accurate.
Another option would be check out the Strength Training Equipment section on Amazon. Many of the items mentioned in this article are available, some even with free shipping if you have Amazon Prime. But I did not at the time I set up my home gym, so I cannot vouch for any of Amazon's items, but it would be worth checking out.
Buying used equipment is a another great option, but only if you can find someone selling off equipment locally so that you can check out the equipment in person. But I would be leery about buying used equipment off of something like eBay. Not only would you not be able to check it out first, but you still would have the problem of freight charges.
I ran into a lot of problems setting up my home gym. But now that all is said and done, I am glad I did. My training has gone particularly well since I finally got all of the problems worked out. I just wish it hadn't been such a hassle and cost me entering a contest I wanted to enter. But no matter as I have another contest coming up soon, and with as good as my training has been going, I am looking forward to it. And hopefully, this article will help the reader to avoid the problems I had and to get into quality home training without having to first go through a bunch of hassles.
September 2014 Update
It is now September 2014, so let me first update about the equipment mentioned in this Part Three. The dumbbells have held up just fine, as I figured they would. So have the Power Hooks and 1-1/4 pound plates. Later I got a set of fractional plates from Amazon. These are even smaller than the 1/14s, with a pair of each: 1.0 pounds, 0.75 pounds, 0.5 pounds, 0.25 pounds. These allow even more gradual increases on dumbbells.
I'm still using the heavy bag, and it has held up just fine with no signs of wear. But I now do cardio in the morning for a longer period of time, and then lift in the late afternoons. Rather than jumping rope, I alternate the heavy bag with going for walks, just so I can get outside for a little while. And that combination is working out very well (see Cardio Logs - 2014 for details).
The dip belt and curl bar are also still in fine shape, as are my chains and bands.
I eventually got the spin lock collars, but they broke after a short while. I tried several other types of collars, but they either also broke or didn't hold very well. I eventually got a pair of lock jaw collars from Lifting Large, and those have been working very well for quite some time now.
I later bought a Sting Ray for doing front squats and a Manta Ray for doing high bar squats. I also built a wooden squat box (seen in the pics), and then later a foam box and an extra low foam box. I also made a homemade lat. pulldown (again, seen in the pics). All of those are also still in fine shape.
As such, all of the equipment I initially bought or added later has worked out and held up great. The only items I have had to replace are the FID bench and the collars.
The only upkeep needed for all of this equipment is to occasionally dust, sweep, and mop the workout area, to wipe down the pads on the benches and other equipment as needed, and most of all, to check and tighten all of the bolts on all of the equipment. This latter point is important as I've seen many clips on American Funniest Home Videos of people's gym equipments falling apart under them. That might make for a funny video, but it is very dangerous.
As for the advantages of having a home gym, all that I say above has proven to be true. I can work out whenever I want without distraction. In fact, given my health situation I would not have been able to keep working out without a home gym. I went through a particularly tough patch health-wise a while back, but being able to work out in my home gym helped me to get back into some degree of reasonable health (see Regaining Muscular Bodyweight and Strength), and my workouts are once again going very well (see Full Workout Logs: 2014-15). So setting up a home gym has proven to be a Godsend.
As for loneliness while working out, I live basically an isolated life due to my health situation, so that is part and parcel of my life in general. So it really is no special matter working out alone, and my Christian music pulls me though then as it does at other times. I still listen to my old-fashioned cassette tapes and CDs at times, but at other times I listen to Christian music via Pandora. I have speaker cables running from my desktop PC in my home office to my home gym. For the importance of this, see the following article on my Christian Web site: Steps to Being Emotionally and Spiritually Uplifted.
And finally, the initial cost of all of the equipment for my home gym was about $2,500. The equipment I have added since then cost less than $500, so altogether my home gym cost at best $3,000. It was costing me about $1000 per year to work out at a commercial gym. I have now been using my home gym continuously for nine years. So I recouped my total costs within the first three years and figure I have saved about $6,000 since then. So setting up the home gym has proved to be a very worthwhile investment.
For pictures of all of the equipment discussed in this article, see Setting Up a Home Gym: Pictures.
Setting Up a Home Gym - Part Three. Copyright © 2006, 2014 by Gary F. Zeolla.
The above article first appeared in the free FitTips
for One and All newsletter.
It was posted on this site February 1, 2006.
It was updated September 8, 2014.
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