“So You Want To Build A Home Gym”
I walked into the commercial gym yesterday after a long day of work excited to begin my workout. After warming up I proceeded to the squat rack to start my resistance training workout. I unfortunately ran into a bit of a roadblock. I was planning on starting with some Back Squats but there was a young man in the power rack performing barbell biceps curls with horrible form (a definite no-no!).
I decided to go to Plan B and rearrange my workout only to find that the flat benches were all occupied as well. This trend continued and everywhere I turned the equipment I desired was being used. I was happy that so many people were working out but at the same time I was frustrated that my well-laid plans were spoiled. I learned a long time ago that it is wise to have a back-up plan in place for situations like this so I decided to head home and revert to Plan C, which was my home workout routine.
I have found that having the option to workout at home is essential for people with busy schedules, for others who do not like going to crowded gyms, or for people who need a contingency plan for just-in-case situations (that’s me!). Another reason to have a home gym is that warmer weather has finally arrived and you may be less likely to go to your commercial gym.
I have helped people design expensive, well-equipped home gyms and I have helped others design very cost-effective, space-saving workouts areas. My personal home gym consists of a Stability Ball, 5lb to 95lb Dumbbells, some Kettlebells, an adjustable Weighted Vest, Adjustable DB Handles, Elastic Bands, 2kg to 10kg Medicine Balls, Ankle Weights, an AB Roller, a variety of Exercise Videos, and a minimal amount of space!
Anyone can have a Home Gym and there are many reasons to have one. The following list of questions should help you design a Home Gym that will suit your needs, your space, and your budget!
Questions To Ask When Building Your Home Gym:
The First Step: Ask Yourself Why?
Why do you want a home gym? What will it give you that you do not already have? What is your empowering vision of your ideal physique or athletic accomplishment? What are your short and long term goals? Always begin with a vision of the end results in mind, as this will guide you in your efforts. If you have not developed a vision of what you want to accomplish at this point, then that is the first thing you need to do. Develop a plan of attack for building your body and building your home gym.
Without a plan you might end up disappointed with the lack of results and frustrated that you bought the wrong equipment. Ask yourself what kind of results you expect your home gym to deliver? Is your home gym going to supplement your commercial gym membership (as a contingency plan)? Will you be doing your cardiovascular exercise outside or inside on a machine? Will you be doing stretching, strength training, or both? Is your home gym going to be the only place that you work out? Think about these things when designing your home gym.
I. How much are you willing to spend ($$$$$$$)?
How much do you want to spend, plain and simple? If you are just starting out with an exercise program, you might consider starting small with a simple, yet very effective, pair of Dumbbells. You can perform a full-body workout with a pair of dumbbells, some bodyweight exercises, and with a little knowledgeable of proper exercise technique. If you want to do it inexpensively, hire a knowledgeable fitness professional to design an individualized exercise program that you can do with a pair of Dumbbells in the comfort of your home. I have listed a variety of items that you might consider adding to your home gym.
A. Cardiovascular Machine
If you insist on performing your cardiovascular exercise routine at home be prepared to spend some money! Be aware, a gym quality treadmill, stationary bike, rowing ergometer, or elliptical trainer is going to cost you. You can buy used or refurbished gym quality equipment for a discounted price and if I wanted a cardio machine for my home this is probably the route that I would take. If you are thinking, “I’ll just save a few hundred dollars and buy an inexpensive treadmill at the mall,” make sure you do some research and ensure that you will buy something that is going to last and that will fit y our needs. I know many people who have purchased flimsy treadmills and regretted it soon thereafter. There are quality treadmills out there you just have to know where to look. I would recommend talking to my friend Bob McKinnon at McKinnon Technical Services (603-644-7539) who knows gym equipment like the back of his hand. He can point you in the right direction if you want to!
B. A Multi-Purpose Home Gym Machine
There are numerous multi-purpose gyms on the market and some are better than others. Chances are, if you turn on your television late at night and flip through the channels, you will be exposed to clever marketing using beautifully sculpted fitness models promising results in six weeks or less if you purchase their machine! Guess what. You can get results without a two thousand dollar machine that will most likely be collecting dust in a year anyway! Why not begin your quest for improved fitness with a modest investment in a pair of Dumbbells? Why not purchase a $20 book on how to get into shape? How about meeting with someone who specializes in coaching people through the process of positive physical change such as fitness professional or Registered Dietician? Infomercials are notorious for clever marketing and they can be very compelling. Avoid impulsive buying and do some research first before purchasing an expensive multi-gym. I recommend consulting a qualified fitness professional about the usefulness of such a machine, interviewing people who have that machine, and possibly even test-driving one before you make this decision. I have to mention that every Spring and Fall I see countless multi-gyms sitting out on someone’s lawn as part of the annual yard sale. I wonder why that is?
If I had the room in my apartment, I would go out and buy a Barbell today! With a 45 lb. Olympic Barbell you can perform a wide variety of exercises in a variety of different ways. If you are an athlete, you have the space available, and you want to improve your sports performance, learning how to correctly perform the Olympic Weightlifting movements (Clean and Jerk, Snatch, and all the variations) can take your performance to the next level! To name a few, exercises such as Squats, Overhead Squats, Deadlifts, Bent over Rows, Bench Presses, Overhead Presses, and Upright Rows can be performed. I would recommend having an adjustable Power Rack and adjustable bench to augment the versatility of the barbell. Space and total cost are big factors when considering purchasing a barbell.
If you want to save money and space, dumbbells are the way to go. You might consider two to three sets of dumbbells (they can be purchased at a sporting goods store for any where between $.35-$.75/pound (In Concord, NH, Check out Olympia Sports in the Mall, Sears, Target, Walmart, Northeast Fitness, or check out the newspapers for the least expensive way to go!). I prefer the metal dumbbells but there are also rubber coated and adjustable dumbbells available. “Power Blocks,” (perform a search on the internet to learn more about these) are adjustable dumbbells and are a great tool that take up a lot less space in your home gym, offers great versatility, and offers adjustable resistance to suit your needs. There are also other forms of adjustable dumbbells that consist of two handles, collars, and series of different size weight plates.
When selecting weights, it wise to start light and gradually purchase heavier dumbbells as you need them. I am able to perform wide variety of exercises with Dumbbells. If your goal is fat-loss, then a properly designed resistance training program that incorporates multi-joint Dumbbell exercises will help you achieve your goals more efficiently than many gym machines that “isolate” certain muscle groups. Remember, the more muscle groups that you incorporate, the more energy your body burns, and the better your results will be! Exercise technique is a factor but I’ll happily let you know that I have taught 90-year-old women and 11-year-old boys how to perform the most “difficult” Dumbbell exercises with pristine form.
E. Medicine Balls
Medicine Balls are a great tool depending upon your fitness goals and your current training level. For an athlete in search of sports performance enhancement, Medicine Balls are a great tool because they can be accelerated in a rapid fashion through many planes of motion. If general fitness is your goal, you can perform many traditional gym exercises with a Medicine Ball as well. Medicine balls come in all shapes, sizes, weights, and colors. Be sure that the ball you pick suits your needs. By the way, these are also great for outdoor workouts on a sunny day!
F. Benches and Stability Balls:
A bench can be a great tool that will allow you to perform more exercises during your home workout sessions. Some benches are adjustable and offer great versatility while others are just fixed benches. Space is a concern for many people and that makes the Stability Ball (a.k.a. Swiss Ball) a great alternative to a bench. With a Stability Ball you can perform inclined, seated, prone, supine, floor, and a number of lower body exercises. A knowledgeable fitness professional could teach you how to perform a full-body workout with a Stability Ball and a pair of dumbbells. There are a number of different ways to use it in order to maximize your home workout routines. Not only can it replace a more expensive exercise machine or bench, but it can also double as a chair, take up less space, and challenge your body’s balance in ways that a stable bench/machine cannot.
G. Resistance Bands/Tubes:
The cable pulley system at your local gym offers a number of exercises that can increase the variety of your workouts tremendously. An alternative to the cable pulley system for your home gym could be resistance bands or tubing that you can tie to a pillar in the basement of fix in a closed door. You can buy tubing that comes with handles already attached in some fitness catalogs or you could just tie a loop in one end to make your own makeshift handle. It is important to mention that elastic resistance training has many benefits and many inherent flaws. If you understand how to properly combine elastic resistance training with inertial (free weight training) you can maximize your results! A knowledgeable exercise professional can help you design your home gym to take advantage of these tools.
H. Exercise Videos:
There are many great exercise videos out there (and a lot more bad ones!). There are videos for Yoga, Step Aerobics, Tae-Bo, Pilates, Strength Training, Stability Ball Training, and every other imaginable fitness topic out there. Check out your local sporting goods store or Borders for a selection of exercise videos. The key is to find a couple videos that you enjoy and that give you the workout that you are looking for.
I. Other Fun Tools:
If you walk into a sporting goods store or open a fitness equipment catalog you will see a variety of toys that can supposedly enhance your workouts and deliver unbelievable results. Buyer beware! No one piece of equipment can solve all of your home gym needs and you must consider how this piece of equipment will fit into your complete program. Watch out for gimmicks and miracle exercise machines. Ask a fitness professional their opinion before you buy and you may save yourself some money! Do a little research before purchasing equipment for your home or you may run the risk of buying an expensive coat rack!
II. How much square footage do you have?
Simply put, how much space do you have available? Do you have enough room for an adjustable bench or a mutli-purpose exercise machine? Is the area well ventilated? How much ceiling height do you have? Are your floors solid? Do you have neighbors that might not appreciate you jumping up and down? Will you have room for all of the equipment you want to get? Thinking about these issues in advance will save you a lot of hassle in the long run. Finally, determine what else your home gym is used for? Will your home gym also be used for family gatherings, a playroom for the kids, an office, a gathering area to watch the Final Four, or strictly as a home gym? These are some other aspects to consider when designing your home gym.
III. Do you know your way around the gym?
Are you a beginner, an intermediate, an expert, or an advanced exerciser? A beginner might start out with an exercise tape, a Stability ball, and a couple of 5 pound dumbbells where as a more advanced exerciser might have a Barbell, Olympic Bench, a Stability Ball, an Adjustable Step, a Selectorized Weight Machine, a Power Rack, and a variety of Dumbbells. Have you been properly trained in the use of Free Weights or do you feel more comfortable using a machine? What kind of equipment does your plan of attack call for? The answers to these questions will help you better choose a home gym that works for you.
In closing, be sure to spend considerable time looking into the process of designing and constructing your home gym as it can be a very important addition to your life and to your home. Consider consulting an exercise professional to make sure that your gym will suit your individual needs, your budget, and your home. There are many reasons to have a home gym and it can be designed to help you achieve the results that you are looking for!
Kyle Battis CSCS, L/ATC, NSCA-CPT
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