by Robert Maxwell
UPDATED 6OCT2018 - Properly equipped home gyms can save a whole lot of time, effort, and money. Those are some of the reasons I do almost all my training in my own facility. Home gyms are perfect for busy guys who would never make it to the gym if they had to drive there. My dad, Steve, is the perfect example. Click below for a video of one of his training sessions in the home gym facility we share.
Some coaches say training at home is worse than training in an official gym with like-minded people. I disagree. It’s true that having a training partner (or more than one) who’s just as focussed as you can be a tremendous advantage, but I’ve found very good progress can happen training alone at home, too. In fact, most of my training has been this way, and I haven’t found my motivation or results to be any less than those who train at large commercial facilities. Often, they’re more. Home gyms certainly aren’t for everyone, but for those who don’t feel a constant need to be buoyed up by friends, they have a number of advantages. Hours are always flexible, equipment never has to be shared, and juiced-up giants won’t get in your face with poorly delivered advice you didn’t ask for. If you like the idea of a home gym but don’t know what equipment you need to get started, this post will help. Here are the things you’ll need to build your own fully equipped strength training gym in your home.
The first thing you need to decide is where your home gym will go. Choose a part of your house with a solid floor that doesn’t get much traffic. You don’t want family members traipsing constantly through your workout space. You might love them, but unless one of them is an adult who’s training with you, their presence will cost you progress. If you have a full height basement that’s not stuffed to the gills with junk, chances are this is the best place to set up your equipment. Basements have a number of advantages over regular rooms. They’re usually cooler, separate from the rest of the house, and often have floors you don’t mind dropping a heavy barbell on. You’ll need about 150 square feet of space for your home gym. Once you choose your spot, it’s time to fill it with the right sort of equipment.
There is no tool better for gaining strength than the barbell. The loaded movements it’s designed for are more closely aligned with the human body and how it works than any other form of exercise. The squat, press, deadlift and bench press should be central to the training of anyone serious about getting strong. Not all barbells are created equal. When choosing yours, make sure you go with a standard olympic model. There are many smaller, lighter barbells available, but these are for people who think they’re into strength training but aren’t. A standard olympic barbell weighs 45 pounds, is always 7.2 feet long, generally 1.1 inch in diameter with 2 inch diameter ends to fit the holes in olympic-sized weight plates. Standard olympic bars vary greatly in price and quality. It’s not unusual for a high-end bar to cost $400 or more. Cheap bars go for considerably less, but are more likely to bend or break under load. That said, if you’re a beginner and money is an issue, it will take you a long time to get strong enough that a lower quality bar is a problem. The first bar I bought was on the cheap side and not fantastic, but it got the job done. I bought it online from treadmillfactory.ca.
3. Weight Plates
Without weight plates, your barbell won’t be very useful. One of the many advantages barbells have over other exercise tools is their adjustability. As you get stronger, you add more weight. This is called “progressive overload”, and is only possible when resistance can be incrementally increased, as with a barbell and weight plates. That’s why you’ll need to equip yourself with enough of the right plates for serious gains. Plates come in a wide assortment of sizes ranging from 45 pounds down to single-pound or even half-pound plates. For basic strength training, I recommend outfitting your home gym with the following plates:
45 pound x 4
35 pound x 4
25 pound x 4
10 pound x 4
5 pound x 8
2.5 pound x 2
This list might seem excessive, but keep in mind your goal is to get as strong as possible. That means lifting increasingly heavy weights. If you only buy enough plates to challenge your current strength levels, you’ll either need to buy more very soon or your progress will stall because you have no more weight to add. Buy plates with your long term goals in mind, not your current strength levels.
4. SQUAT CAGE
Since no one interested in strength and fitness has any business skipping squats, it follows that you’ll need something to facilitate this movement in your home gym. That something is a heavy duty, freestanding squat cage. Don’t bother with any of the gimpy “power racks” or folding squat standards. Strong guys never use these. Don’t get anything that mounts to a wall either, unless you want the barbell and rack to collapse on top of you. Get a sturdy, four-sided cage with holes on the vertical sections to allow the barbell to be racked at different heights. These take a lot of space and you might think it’s excessive for a home gym, but you’d be wrong. A proper cage is the safest and best place to do heavy squats, and any money you save with a smaller, cheaper option will be cancelled out by the pain and frustration of a product that sucks. Squat cages are good for more than just squats, too. Rack your barbell at the highest setting and you have a perfect spot for pull-ups. Rack it on the outside of the cage and you’re all set for overhead press. Next to the barbell and weight plates, a proper squat cage is the most important piece of equipment in your gym.
5. ADJUSTABLE BENCH
Bench press should be a staple in every strength training program, and to do it in your home gym you’ll need a good bench. Once again, I got my first bench from treadmillfactory.ca, and while there are higher quality benches out there, it’s served me very well for many years and I have very few complaints. I recommend an adjustable bench, so you’ll have the option of angling the bed for incline or decline bench press to supplement standard flat bench. It’s also helpful to get a model with built-in standards for the barbell, so you don’t have to slide your bench in and out of the squat cage every chest day. These standards can usually be adjusted to different heights, so when you adjust the bench angle for various exercises you can move the bar up or down accordingly.
While you don’t need a set of dumbbells for any of the major strength training movements, they’re helpful for supplemental isolation exercises like curls, triceps extension, lateral raises and more. All these muscle groups can be worked with a barbell too, but it’s nice to have the option of hitting one side your body at a time, as only dumbbells allow.
Extra 10 and 5 pound plates
If you get a set of adjustable dumbbells, you’ll most likely need more 5 and 10 pound plates to go with them. Dumbbells become very awkward if you put any plate larger in diameter than a 5 or 10, and as you get stronger the handful of 5’s and 10’s recommended in the list above may no longer be enough for heavy dumbbell rows or curls.
As long as your weight room doesn’t flood regularly, there’s nothing wrong with storing plates on the floor. That said, storing them on a properly organized weight tree is much more convenient. It might not seem like a big deal to constantly have to bend over to pick up plates, but in the middle of a heavy leg workout it will seem like a much bigger deal. A weight tree also allows you to store all your plates in a much smaller space, freeing up room for other equipment.
Dips are a great triceps exercise, and your squat cage gives you the perfect opportunity to do them. Dip bars that fit into the holes of your cage are easily found, and can be adjusted to any height thanks to the many holes in the cage.