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Building the Best Home Gym For You on a Budget
So there you are; you know you want, need, have to get in great shape. In fact, you know that it is your destiny to possess a body more masculine than John Wayne; wilder than a phone booth full of bobcats; more ripped than 200 pounds of twisted steel and sex-appeal. If you’re a girl, you undoubtedly have an all-consuming, burning desire to transform into a Viking goddess with sinewy arms of steel, an ass carved from granite, and a torso that would make Venus cry.
Having established that you will exercise, the next question should be how, which is very closely related to where to work. Let’s talk about it – where to practice. Do you want to pursue your goal of physical perfection in the secluded peace of your home or in the exuberant yet stimulating environment of the gym. Well, here are a few things to consider…
2. At your pace
5. No waiting
Disadvantages of the home:
1. The cost of buying everything (and some maintenance)
3. Lack of diversity
4. No camaraderie
For the sake of discussion, let’s say you decide to exercise at home. what will you need What is your experience level? I’m going to assume that you are completely new to strength training and want to add weight and gain strength. I offer you several suggestions and options for you to choose from.
But if you are more interested in using the gym, skip this article and wait for the next one.
What you absolutely need –
Think of your main body parts – shoulders, torso (chest/back/abs), arms, legs (thighs, hamstrings and calves). How you want to train these areas should dictate what you need in terms of equipment.
As a beginner, you should focus on basic compound movements. Compound movements involve multiple body parts. For example, the bench press directly involves the chest, shoulders, triceps. You’re indirectly working your forearms and, believe it or not, your neck. As you start pushing more weights, you’ll start working your back, abs, and legs as stabilizers. As opposed to, say, the bench fly, which isolates and works your chest, your biceps (static), and your forearms (grip). You probably won’t be using weights heavy enough where trunk stabilization will be a problem.
So the basic compound movements would be:
1. Bench press
3. Shoulder pressure
If you only did these exercises, you’d be off to a good start.
Decisions – Free weights vs. machine vs. “rubber bands” –
Right off the bat, I don’t like machines. You could get an all-in-one machine with a weight hopper for under $300 at Kmart or Wal-Mart. I do not like them. They have no range of motion. No matter how “freely floating” your arms are, your body is locked into a joint-threatening plane of motion. Again, there is no range of motion.
You need to have the capacity for full range of motion in any equipment you buy. So in my opinion that leaves only loose weights and “rubber bands” to consider.
In the past, the dominant home gym was the Soloflex, which has since been overtaken by the Bowflex. The main disadvantage has always been the price. It is expensive.
Bodylastics is a much more affordable system. Probably the cheapest way to go regardless of free weights or otherwise.
Body by Jake recently came out with the Tower 200 (about $200 at Kmart) and Weider with their X Factor for about 100 bucks. Both systems attach to your door and give you access to a wide range of exercises. But I haven’t used these two yet, so I can’t really speak to their specific effectiveness. Bowflex aside for this discussion, they all have similar pros and cons.
1. Price. As you’ll see, even though the Tower 200 costs between $160 (Amazon) and $200 (retailers like Target or Kmart), it’s still cheaper than a free-weight system once you put it all together. The basic Bodylastic system costs less than 50 bucks and its most expensive is just over 100 bucks.
2. Convenient. Put it away, skip it, it doesn’t take up much space. If you have children, you don’t have to worry about your child getting hurt.
3. Lots of exercise variations you can do.
4. The convenience of working at your pace, in your time, in your place.
1. Even with Soloflex and Bowflex, the resistance seems uneven to me. I like the full range of motion, but with tension bands the resistance seems even more uneven. When you let it out, there really isn’t any tension to speak of. And at the top end, the resistance seems to “relax” as well. Maybe it’s me.
2. It’s really easy to start rebounding and using momentum. The momentum makes exercise completely irrelevant. You must be tight and controlled in your movements. I’ve seen commercials where guys simulate a very fast, explosive overhead throw with the Tower 200 – that’s not muscle building and not what I’d recommend when it comes to replicating free weights.
All in all, if you’re short on space, security is a concern, and your budget is 100 bucks or so, these systems might work for you. If you live on the 15th floor of a high-rise building, this may be a real option for you. And despite my comments about its uneven feel, don’t get me wrong, the resistance is real. You can get an absolutely great sweat. Just don’t bounce back! And I apologize to all true believers for calling it “rubber bands.” The technology is real. The resistance is real.
In the end, though, I’m definitely a fan of free weights when it comes to gaining weight for beginners. There’s nothing like the feeling of dead weight in your hands as you go through a full range of motion. The pump is different, the feel is different and the resistance is better. The stretch when you drop it, with the deadlift, the pull, is great.
This means that this is what you need to effectively pump iron at home
Real Basics –
1. Strut bench – move to ones with a lat tower and leg extensions. I think the lat tower would be good for – maybe – tricep presses. Most of them have no range of motion. Your lat pulldowns will travel about a foot unless you are very small with short arms. You can get a decent bench for 100 bucks at Kmart or Sports Authority.
2. Skip the vinyl weights, eventually the cement will start to flow and you will have it all over the place.
3. Cast iron – let’s all say it in a low and masculine voice – cast iron. To start, grab a 100 lb set for 129 bucks or so. I was going to recommend adjustable dumbbells, but after thinking about it for a while, no. That would be another 130 bucks for a pair of 25lb dumbbells. Plus, as a beginner, alternating dumbbells is a good exercise.
4. A Pull out the rod. I recently got an Iron Gym exercise bar and I love it. It hooks right above the door. It feels solid and the foam grips are great. If you do nothing else, pull-ups and push-ups will sweat. I think I got it for 29.99 at Kmart, give or take. You can get a cheaper bar, but Iron Gym is good.
So a basic bench, barbell set and Iron Gym will set you back $260. Also, depending on where you want to practice, you may need mats, maybe 20 bucks or so. You’re looking at 280 bucks to start pumping iron. It’s an investment you’ll need to make if you don’t want to head to the park and do chin-ups and dips. Hey it will work!
In addition, there are huge training routines that only involve dumbbells and body weight. Of course, compound movements like the bench press and deadlift are out, but these exercises are still great. And on the plus side, all you need are dumbbells.
Second, you don’t have to buy everything new, or anything new, just click on a local class and buy that used pennies on the dollar.
But there are a few issues to discuss:
1. Resistance is resistance, but the unique feeling of muscle contraction on a deadlift and the negative aspect is simply better for building muscle in my humble opinion.
2. It’s easier to get ahead. At your weight of 10 pounds is 10 pounds. Deadlift pretty simple.
3. True strength (and power) is holistic. Changing weights, lifting the barbell into place, putting everything back when you’re done; they all contribute to your growth.
4. Deadlifts work on core structures like tendons and ligaments.
5. Deadlifts build respect because deadlifts can break bones. (see disadvantages)
1. On that last note, it is dangerous. You have to be careful when you exercise alone at home.
2. For older people like me with mid-body arthritis, dead or free weights are hard on the joints.
3. All this takes up space and is heavy (ha – ha – ha). Ideal for the basement and garage. Not so ideal for a high-rise apartment.
As with all things, you need to compare and contrast to make the best decision for your budget and situation.
For now, if you’re just starting out and have never really lifted before, the above is really all you need to get started.
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