When I first started weight training I had no access to a real gym. Living in a small town there was only one place to go for weight training, and it cost more than I could afford at the time. It had a minimal amount of equipment to work with, but being the sole location for locals to train, it could afford to charge a hefty fee for membership. All of the magazines I read seemed to give the impression that you MUST belong to a decent gym and have good equipment to work with if you wanted to build muscle and get fit. The only tools I had at my disposal were a cheap bench, a barbell, dumbbell handles, and about 100 pounds of weight plates. I was tempted to just give up on the whole idea of weight training and the possibility of adding any significant amount of muscle.
Fortunately, after doing some more extensive research, I found that people in fact were successfully working out at home with minimal equipment. I read an article about Dorian Yates and how he trained at his very scaled-down gym in England. Although he seemed to have quite a bit more equipment than I did, he did not have a lot of fancy machines or cutting edge workout equipment. I realized that I had plenty of equipment in order to get started with basic exercises and that over time, I could add more equipment as needed and as money permitted.
I began my training making the best of what little I had. I had a sufficient amount of weight to perform all of the basics: bench presses, dumbbell presses, shoulder presses, close grip presses, skull crushers, dumbbell and barbell rows, and a few other upper body exercises. Legs, I quickly discovered, would be a bit more of a challenge. I tried hoisting a barbell up over my head, resting it on my shoulders, and then squatting away. But I soon came to the conclusion that this was not a wise method of improvising and could easily lead to an injury. The exclusion of squats in a leg workout would be considered sacrilege to many hardcore weight trainers, but if you don’t have the equipment then you must find alternatives. I found a good alternative in the lunge. Lunging with dumbells from one side of the garage to the other and back helped me develop my quadriceps and glute muscles very well.
Since my home training began, I have added more equipment to my training set up in the garage. I picked up an E-Z bar for less than $20, extra weights and a better barbell for less than $25 at a yard sale, as well as a home gym for $100. It isn’t the best but it has an adjustable bench, overhead cable attachment, leg extension attachment, and preacher curl attachment. It’s cheap but it’s effective for making the most of working out in my garage.
Now that I’ve shared my experience with setting up an effective home gym, I will give you some suggestions for how you can do the same. In addition, I will show you what can be done in your home gym to build muscle and get in shape like those who have expensive gym memberships. There is nothing wrong with joining a gym and in fact, if you have access to one, you may want to go with that option. Some of us, however, enjoy the convenience of having our own little space at home to do our workouts.
So where will you set up your own home gym? A garage, an extra bedroom, a back porch, or a small corner of any room in the house will work just fine. The amount of equipment you have will be limited by space and financial constraints, but surprisingly it doesn’t take much equipment to get started. You will, nonetheless, need to have a few basic items. These are adjustable dumbbells, a barbell, enough weight plates for your level of strength, and a simple bench. These are inexpensive items that, even when purchased new, are relatively inexpensive. You can often find them used at garage sales, closeout stores, etc. for even less.
As time goes by, you may want to add some new equipment to your home gym. Below is a list of items you could add as well as the average prices they usually sell for.
– Home Gym: these have become more and more affordable in recent years. For less than $150 you can purchase one that has a bench with varying degrees of incline/decline, cable pulleys and various attachments, leg extension attachments, preacher curl attachment, and much more. These are great for working out at home and can allow you to greatly expand the number of different exercises that can be done. Stores such as Walmart often have the lowest prices on these.
– E-Z Bar, these can be found for under $30 in many stores. An E-Z bar will allow you to add new exercises as well as enhance the ones you already do. Lying tricep extensions, for example, work much better with an E-Z bar than a standard barbell. Barbell curls can also be alternated with E-Z bar curls for hitting the biceps from a different angle.
– Rope attachment, if you have a Home Gym with cable pulley, a rope attachment is a great addition. Tricep pressdowns are best performed with a rope attachment as opposed to a lat bar, which is usually standard issue with the average Home Gym.
– Weight plates, there will come a time when the weights you currently have are not enough to stimulate your muscles. At this point it is a good idea to purchase additional plates. Many stores sell these at relatively inexpensive prices. However, another way you may be able to get them for even less is to check local garage sales. People are frequently selling weight sets so you may be able to get a lot of weight for very little cash.
– Pull up bar, these are very inexpensive and can be found in the sporting goods section of many department stores. You will need to have a doorway that you don’t mind drilling holes into. A door to the garage or a closet in a room you rarely use offers a great place to have a pull up bar that is out of sight.
There may be other items you run across that you wish to add to your home gym. Be wary of the latest and greatest gadgets that you see on infomercials or displays at retail stores. All that glitters isn’t gold and people who buy these worthless gizmos often learn the hard way. Almost all abdominal equipment you see advertised on television after 3AM is complete and utter garbage. There are exceptions however. Ab wheels and inflatable exercise balls are inexpensive and effective pieces of equipment that can enhance your ab workouts. With any piece of equipment you consider adding, be sure to evaluate it, check for opinions and reviews of the product, and ask yourself whether or not you really need it.
The benefits of working out at home are numerous. There are few if any distractions in your own home gym. No one is hogging the equipment you want to use and forcing you to wait or pass up on an exercise you need to finish your workout. There are no members of the opposite sex that might lead you to show off and do more than you should be doing. You can train without a shirt on… or hell, you can even train without your pants on if you want. Training can take place at your convenience and not be dependent on the operating hours of the gym. I am sure you can think of many more positive reasons for training at home.
Now, we will take each muscle group one by one and lay out a variety of exercises you can do in the convenience of your own home.
Squats are probably the best exercise you can do for the quads but if you are working out at home then you will find it difficult to do this exercise safely and effectively. As I mentioned above, it is not advisable to hoist a bar over your head and start squatting, This is an easy way to incur a serious injury. Unless you have a power rack, you should adopt alternative exercises for stimulating the quads, glutes, and hamstring.
Lunges provide the best alternative to squats as they can safely and effectively stimulate the quads and glutes as well as the hamstrings secondarily. When working out at home, they should always be done with dumbbells and not a barbell. There are two options for performing lunges, both of which are greatly effective. In the space where you have your home gym set up you can simply perform stationary lunges, either working one leg at a time or alternating legs between each lunge. The second option will require that you have some extra space such as a driveway or a backyard with level ground. Here you can do the walking lunge, alternating each leg and moving forward down the driveway or through the backyard. This lunging method is particularly effective, and if done properly, will leave your legs burning as much as heavy squatting.
When it comes to the hamstrings, you have at your disposal a very effective exercise that requires the minimum amount of equipment: the stiff legged deadlift (SLDL). All that is required is a pair of dumbbells and just a small area to work with. Don’t use too much weight with this exercise. If it is done improperly it can result in injury to the lower back. Choose a weight that you can complete for at least 12 reps. In order to put more focus on the hamstring and reduce lower back involvement, do not lock your knees. Despite the name, there should be a slight bend in the knees. As you lower the weight slowly down below your knees, keep your glutes tense. Lift the weight up slowly and do not lock out at the top of the movement.
Without the equipment you find in gyms, working the calves can be slightly more difficult than most other muscle groups. The calves can often be worked with a heavy load because they are used so frequently in daily activities such as walking, climbing stairs, etc. Since you likely don’t have a machine and hundreds of pounds of weight you will need to improvise in order to get an effective calf workout. The best way to do this is to perform one-legged calf raises with heavy dumbbells. You may need to lean against a wall to keep from losing your balance. Standing on one leg and lifting up on your toes with heavy dumbbells can be tricky. The support of a wall can help you keep your balance while handling an intense workload.
If you do not have a spotter on hand, I recommend you forego barbell bench presses and use heavy dumbbells for presses. This way if the weight becomes too heavy you can drop the dumbbells to the side. If a barbell becomes too heavy, it is a much greater problem. With dumbbells and a bench you can perform heavy presses as well as flyes, which serve as a great finishing movement for the chest. Another chest exercise that many people have unfortunately disregarded is the basic push up. As simple as it is, this is a great exercise to follow up with after presses. Do one set to failure after presses in order to make sure you have fully stimulated the chest.
Back can be trained at home with just the basic equipment: a barbell and dumbbells. The two most important exercises for building a strong back are barbell rows and one-armed dumbbell rows. These are generally the foundation exercises for this muscle group. If you decide to add additional equipment, such as a home gym with cable pulley and lat bar, you can add pull downs to your repertoire of exercises. The addition of an inexpensive pull up bar also provides an effective way to work your back.
This muscle group can be easily be worked with very little equipment. There are so many exercises that can be used, you are virtually unlimited. Barbell curls, alternating dumbbell curls, hammer curls, concentration curls, Zottman curls, and reverse curls are a few basic bicep exercises that can be done with nothing more than a dumbbell and a barbell. Biceps, for the most part, do not require any more equipment than this. Even if you had membership to a gym, you would likely not use much more than this standard issue equipment.
Although there may not be as many exercises available to the home trainer as biceps, there are still a sufficient number of tricep exercises to keep this muscle group stimulated fully. Lying tricep extensions, also known as skull crushers, can be done with a barbell and a bench. However, whenever you are lying on a bench with a barbell, you should make sure you use a weight that is completely controllable. Don’t try to go too heavy on these as you risk the chance of reaching failure and being unable to get the barbell under control. A great alternative is to use two dumbbells instead of a barbell. In addition to lying tricep extensions, you can perform tricep kickbacks and overhead tricep extensions with dumbbells. If you work triceps with chest then close grip push ups are a great alternative to close grip bench presses which are not recommended for anyone training at home without a spotter.
Shoulders are another exercise that can be worked with minimal equipment. Like biceps, practically everything you need can be found in your home gym. Arnold presses, barbell military presses (with a controllable weight), and side lateral raises are some of the most effective shoulder exercises which can all be done at home.
This article should get you well on your way to working out at home even if you are on a budget. As time goes by you can add as much as you want to the basic equipment you start off with. Despite what some might say, gym membership is not a prerequisite for getting in shape. You can accomplish your goals at home with a little bit of know-how and a small amount of inexpensive equipment.
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