Straight to the Bar

All Things Strength


Setting Up A Home Gym
Posted By Scott Bird
George Eiferman, Dave Draper (benching) and Chuck Collaras at The Dungeon

George Eiferman, Dave Draper (benching) and Chuck Collaras at The Dungeon.

This is the fifth instalment of this month’s article series on strength training equipment – a collaboration with Run to Win‘s Blaine Moore. Today I’ll be looking at a few things to consider when setting up a home gym.

I haven’t worked out regularly at a commercial gym for the best part of a decade. Usually the unfamiliar iron makes an appearance in my routines when traveling (although there are exceptions) – whether for personal or business reasons. The majority of the time, however, the home gym is my friend.
There are several obvious advantages to this. It’s cheaper, the music is under your control, and nobody’s going to look at you strangely when you try out that new thing with bands you read about last night. You’re in charge.
When setting up your home gym, there are a few things to keep in mind. This article should be enough to get you started along what can be a very rewarding road.
Basic equipment
What do you really need? The answer to that lies in a combination of your goals, finances and available space. To begin with, the following can take you a long, long way :

  • rack
  • bench
  • barbell
  • dumbbell handles
  • plates

These items will afford you numerous exercise combinations, are fairly inexpensive to purchase (or can be constructed / bought second hand) and don’t take up too much space. A single-car garage is usually large enough.
Outdoor training
When the weather isn’t too bad, training outdoors can be both fun and very rewarding. There are several exercises that can be done in the gym, but are usually performed in locations with a little more free space and a lack of breakable objects. Personal favourites include :

If your finances allow it, add a kettlebell to your gym’s equipment list (one of the solid varieties – forget the adjustable type). They’re extremely versatile things (and no, a dumbbell isn’t just as good). A sandbag is easily – and inexpensively – constructed.
Bands and chains
Once you’ve been working out for a while you start considering two of the items famed for affording variable resistance – bands and chains. Whilst you’ll occasionally see bands being used in a commercial gym, chains are definitely in home gym territory.
For the home gym, both bands and chains have the benefit of being fairly space-conscious. If you’ve already got room for a rack and bench, plus a couple of hooks on the wall, you’ve got enough room for both storing and using the bands and chains. Once again, if the finances allow it – and they align with your goals – bands and chains can both make great additions to your home gym.
One of the things that often gets overlooked in the planning of a home gym is the power of music. Although I occasionally put on something quite soothing, my usual fare is a little more raucous. If your mum would’ve shouted ‘turn that racket down‘ through the door when you were a teenager, that’s a good start.
There are essentially two ways to do this. One is to share your musical tastes with the world, and pop your preferred CD into any player within reach. The other is to load up your favourite mp3 player, put the headphones on and get to work.
Personally I use the under/over rule for this one. If I’m performing lifts where my chest is above the bar (rack pulls, bent rows, shrugs etc) I’ll fill the iPod with random metal goodness and pop in the headphones. If the bar is above my chest (bench, overhead pressing, Olympic lifts), I’ll switch over to the CD player and fill the room with noise. Getting the bar caught in a headphone cord is a great way to lose concentration (not to mention rapidly reshaping your ears).

Grippers and odd objects
As well as being a lot of fun, grip training is highly addictive. Investing in a good pair of grippers isn’t a bad move at all, and you’ll soon be seeing the grip potential in any number of heavy, awkwardly shaped objects. Hardware stores, scrapheaps and your own backyard quickly become your friends.
Without attempting to go into the ins and outs of grip training (a subject that would easily fill a number of volumes), the following items should start the wheels turning :

Of course there are many, many more. Just take a good look around your house.
Other items
Naturally there are numerous other items that may be suitable for your home gym. As I mentioned at the beginning, it’s a matter of goals, finances and available space. Here are a few of the items you may with to consider :
Blast Straps : these are great things for several varieties of push-ups, chin-ups and less common exercises such as the Scarecrow.
Cardio equipment : I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of cardio gear. There’s a stationary cycle in the garage which gets used occasionally as part of the warm-up routine – and that’s about it. I will say, though, that when it comes to cardio equipment, you’ll rarely have to pay full-price. Secondhand items (from gyms which are closing or people who’ve already given up this year’s fitness quest) are fairly common. Just keep your eyes open.
Chalk : I like the chalk balls often used by climbers, although it comes in many different forms. It’ll keep your hands dry (aiding your grip) – cutting back on the flesh-tearing that often accompanies such things as deadlifts. Warning : it has a tendency to get everywhere.
Glute-Ham Raise : these are great things (although they can be a little pricey). If money’s a bit tight, you can always make your own. See the PDF linked in the article for some great info on the history of this wonderful device.
Lifting platform : for deadlifts and Olympic lifting a platform (and some bumper plates) is a great investment. Whilst you can purchase these ready-to-assemble, the DIY option seems much more reasonable.
Reverse Hyper : another great device from the fertile mind of Louie Simmons, though again they can be quite pricey. Home-made options exist, such as this one at Fight Training.
Rings : if you’ve got the overhead space, rings are great. Lots of great info at
Wrapping up
I’ve looked at the home gym largely from the perspective of an amateur powerlifter, but of course there are many training tools that could be added for Strongmen, Highland Games competitors, combat athletes, triathletes and so on. However, the basic environment is often the same.
A final note
Whilst the home gym typically occupies a garage, basement or unused room in the house, the outdoor variety may also be worth considering. For a superb example (and some great inspiration), look no further than Toffe’s Gym.

Incidentally, if this has got you thinking about grabbing one for yourself, swing by the SttB Strength Store. Massive range.

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Straight to the Bar is the online home of fitness enthusiast Scott Bird, and looks at the many training approaches, essential techniques, uncommon exercises and superb equipment to help you become as strong as humanly possible. In short, this site is the home of all things strength.

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