The Ideal Home Gym
Don’t you love driving to your local gym in the winter to drudge through the slushy parking lot, realize you forgot your shoes, then find the piece of equipment you want to work on is taken? One remedy to avoid all of this is having a home gym. A home gym requires no fees, allows you to have your favorite music on, and can be used 24 hours a day. This is how you set it up.
Location Matters: How to find the ideal place for your home gym
As I walked into my cousin’s apartment, his weight bench, racks, barbell, and weights were in the middle of the living room…permanently. It may have been the most uncomfortable recliner I’ve ever used, but it forced him to work out while watching TV and was motivating for him.
While I don’t necessarily recommend you place your home gym in the middle of your living room, it should be in a place to encourage you to work out. This could be a spare bedroom, in the basement, den, or even in a corner of a room. For those who use their garage, it’s critical to dress in three or four layers to make sure you are warmed up.
If you use a cardio machine (and it’s not necessary to have one in your home gym), you should place it in front of a TV or a tablet. Unless you already look awesome in front of a mirror and love staring at yourself in one, you’ll likely get bored without some entertainment to watch. Try to do at least 30-60 minutes on your cardio machine while watching your favorite show or movie.
What should I do at home?
To get truly ripped and strong, and to do it with no injuries, usually will require some professional guidance. One option is to hire a local trainer. Look for solid credentials, a matching personality, and a clientele similar to yourself. Make sure they also give you an assessment and tell you why you’re doing the exercises you’re doing.
Don’t just consider local coaches. Feel free to expand your search as there are many great fitness professionals online. My favorites are Mike Robertson, Dean Somerset, Kellie Davis, Mike Reinold, and Bret Contreras. While they are not cheap, their prices do reflect their value, and the amount you might pay in gym fees as well as a local trainer will make it worth it. I worked with Bret Contreras for a couple of years and found his programs, personality, and training philosophy to be a good fit for me, as well as fun and challenging.
If you don’t have the budget to hire these coaches, at the very least, you should get a generic program from one of them. Their programs are geared toward getting their clients strong and keeping them injury-free. I’ve done programs from all of them and found their programs to be a great way to mix up my own training and break plateaus.
Two Essential and Cheap Tools for Your Warm Up
Six studies in the past two years have shown foam rolling to improve flexibility, recovery, and blood flow. (1-6) The bottom line is that if you take five minutes to roll as part of your warm up, it can keep the knees, spine, and shoulders feeling good. Keep your foam rolling simple though. Key areas to include in your warm up are: IT Band, quadriceps, adductors, lats, and pecs. A quick YouTube search can show you how to roll them.
A jump rope is one of my favorite tools to quickly warm up your upper and lower body. Try jumping for two minutes at first and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how demanding they can be. Don’t be discouraged if you look like you’re high on LSD trying to run through the American Gladiator gauntlet. Keep practicing and you’ll naturally get better each time you do it.
What is free and one of the most powerful ways to get lean?
My favorite tool to get strong and shredded is actually free and will provide decades of challenge. I’m talking about your own bodyweight. Bodyweight exercises like side planks, dead bugs, push-ups, and chin-ups give you the proper coordination and strength for using more advanced equipment. This equipment, which is fairly cheap, can help make bodyweight exercises even more challenging.
One of these tools is the ab wheel which is a sure-fire way to get the six-pack flaring. I also appreciate the ab wheel because it will work your obliques and hit the lower abdominals creating a six-pack which is more three-dimensional rather than just flat. You should make sure you can do a plank for at least one minute and 30 seconds before you use an ab wheel, but once you can, you are ready.
Another tool that complements body weight exercises quite well is bands. Doing a lot of push-ups or bench pressing is great for developing a strong chest and shoulders, but can also result in a forward shoulder posture. Bands allow you to prevent this by working the mid back muscles through exercises like horizontal rows, overhead rows, and face pulls. My favorite bands are Spri bands which you can get from Amazon.com.
Another one of my favorite tools is the Iron Gym Workout Bar (which can you get at Target for 30 bucks). The Iron Gym allows you to do chin-ups and pull-ups which will create a strong and wide back. These pulling movements also balance out the pressing movements of push-ups. If you can’t do a chin-up or pull-up yet, don’t worry, you can use the Elite Fitness Bands to give you some assistance. My favorite progression is to start with a thick orange band and four thin orange bands. Every week, you can eliminate one of the small bands you are using and progress to using fewer and fewer bands. Eventually, you’ll be able to do a chin-up without band assistance.
At some point, you’ll need this.
The upper body can get very strong without a barbell, especially with bodyweight exercises. The lower body cannot. This doesn’t mean you can’t build some solid leg strength with single leg exercises and plyometrics, but when it comes to pure strength, nothing matches the barbell for the lower body.
Using a barbell can allow you to build immense strength in the legs and glutes with exercises like deadlifts, power cleans, front squats, and BB loaded single leg exercises. Don’t forget some weight though. You’ll likely need anywhere from 100 to 300 extra pounds, but you can get this gradually. My favorite place to pick up this heavy stuff is on Craigslist, Play it Again Sports, or at Dick’s Sporting Goods because the shipping cost is typically free for weights. Later, you can also think about getting a bench and racks for squatting or benching.
Eventually, you can get this stuff…
There are thousands of effective bodyweight exercises, but the best upper body exercises in my opinion come when you use gymnastics rings. Don’t be intimidated by gymnastics rings, they can be used by anyone, from complete novices to the greatest athletes on the planet.
I know what you’re thinking: How in the heck do I use gymnastics rings in my home? It’s fairly simple. Put up your gymnastics rings over your Iron Gym. I personally used a program from Gold Medal Bodies (http://gmb.io). Their program allowed me to do many ring exercises I never thought I could ever do and allowed me to progress at my own pace.
A home gym is one of the most convenient and enjoyable places to build the body of your dreams. To do that, you should work with a professional or use a professional program to ensure optimal progress and safety. Don’t worry about getting the perfect home gym on day one. Give yourself time to add whatever equipment motivates you. However, mastering bodyweight exercises first will set the foundation for you to expand to bigger and badder equipment.
Von Gillette is an evidence-based fitness and nutrition professional specializing in weight loss in the Twin Cities. www.vongillette.com
- Mohr AR, Long BC, Goad CL.Foam Rolling and Static Stretching on Passive Hip Flexion Range of Motion. J Sport Rehabil. 2014 Jan 21. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 24458506.
- Healey KC, Hatfield DL, Blanpied P, Dorfman LR, Riebe D.The effects of myofascial release with foam rolling on performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jan;28(1):61-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182956569. PubMed PMID: 23588488.
- Okamoto T, Masuhara M, Ikuta K.Acute effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roller on arterial function. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jan;28(1):69-73. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31829480f5. PubMed PMID: 23575360.
- Macdonald GZ, Button DC, Drinkwater EJ, Behm DG.Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity.Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014 Jan;46(1):131-42. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182a123db. PubMed PMID: 24343353.
- Sullivan KM, Silvey DB, Button DC, Behm DG.Roller-massager application to the hamstrings increases sit-and-reach range of motion within five to ten seconds without performance impairments. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2013 Jun;8(3):228-36. PubMed PMID: 23772339; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3679629.
- MacDonald GZ, Penney MD, Mullaley ME, Cuconato AL, Drake CD, Behm DG, Button DC.An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Mar;27(3):812-21. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825c2bc1. PubMed PMID: 22580977.