I have been giving my own transition from gym rat to, what Brooks Kubic would call "garage dweller" a lot of thought lately. It seems the common consensus that most people would like to make this transition, but may not be sure how to get there, or may miss their favorite white plate loaded curl machine at the gym. So here are a few thoughts on the matter...
First, I'll start by saying I have a generalized distrust and disinterest in the commercial gym world in general. However, this doesn't mean there aren't good gyms out there. My last gym was probably the second best type, being that they tolerated my shennanigans. I could grunt, clang, deadlift, use chalk (within reason) and so on. The best case scenario is that your gym is West Side Barbell, or an equivalent. My best is that most of your gyms are somewhere further down the totem pole of coolness. Maybe the "no sweating, no grunting, no lifting objects heavier than 20lbs" type even. These are the places that scare me. For any true disciple of the weight lifting world, this is heresy at its worst.
Moving into the garage/basement/the spare bedroom
At the absolute most spartan, your gym should contain a power rack, and a 300lb bar set (Oly bar, 2x45lb, 2x35lb, 2x25lb, 2x10lb, 4x5lb, 2x2.5lb) For the average person, this is the absolute perfect start. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if a movement can't be done on this equipment, then it shouldn't be done. period. At least not for the beginner. All of your focus should go into outgrowing this set. Squatting more than every weight you own and deadlifting every weight you own.
I didn't mention a bench. How dare I?
Do us all a big favor... forget the bench press for a couple minutes, ye beginners and non-competition bench pressers. There is time enough for all of that. One of my primary lessons learned is that standing overhead pressing is the answer. It is the answer to shoulder health, to shoulder development, to building a strong and functional core, to developing coordination and explosive power. Learning to move big weight overhead with confidence is going to yield huge returns all through your weight lifting life. Trust me on this.
...in the mean time, you can hit pushups or floor presses. No bench needed and they will both support chest development and strength.
How much does this cost?
Well, gang, unfortunately buying iron isn't as cheap as it used to be. However, the last time I looked I could easily throw together this setup for around $600 total. $400-ish for the power rack, and $120-ish for the weight set. Add in tax and shipping and you will be looking at about $600. Do yourself a favor and buy your weights local. Shipping on these will kill you... and piss off your local UPS guy
I don't have that kind of scratch!
I feel for you there! Here are some ideas to make this manageable.
1) share the love. If you are at a gym, you could probably swing a cat and hit two or three good guys who feel like you and think like you. Pooling resources is a great idea. I can tell you that I would be very pleased to give someone a garage key if I thought that they would donate some items towards my gym. As my garage is on the back side of my property, they wouldn't even bother me should they show up for a midnight workout. Not everyone has this luxury, but if you do, take advantage!
2) far be it from me to suggest that round plates and barbells aren't the only way to develop serious strength and a body built for business. But here I go!
BARBELLS ARE ONE TOOL, FEEL FREE TO GET OUT OF THAT ONE TRACK MINDSET!
There... you survived. Now, what if I told you that I could put together a workout that would build endurance, muscle, strength and would put hair on your neighbor's ass it is so brutal... all with an old tire, some rope, some chain, a couple sandbags and an old keg?
It's possible, folks. What would it cost you to put together a set of "dinosaur" training gear? I would say that under $100 would get you some serious equipment. I am all the time trying to convince people that they can put together a "car gym kit" and pick up a great workout simply by driving to the local park. No gym needed, just imagination and the desire to improve. Do they listen? Sometimes.
See, the problem is that it doesn't fit your concept of what a workout looks like. I would invite anyone to watch some strongman training videos and deny the usefullness of this type of training. Don't even look at the pros you see on TV, watch the amateurs. Find the guys like you and me that do this stuff and see how they are built. You can tell yourself all day that these guys are gifted, or that you are a hard gainer, but I can tell you that resistance is resistance... weight is weight at the end of the day, and sometimes it isn't the most perfectly balanced and manageable weights that do us the most good. I might even go so far as to argue that only being able to apply strength to a gym weight is a weakness in itself.
3) Build it yourself. That's right, build your own power rack. I can tell you that done right, 2x4's are going to be every bit as strong as something that you will buy online. Might not look as nice, but screw what it looks like if it allows you to train. In fact, some of my favorite pieces of training equipment are clearly home made. They also happen to be some of the toughest stuff I own.
If you are handy with a welder, the sky is the limit for you.
Do us all a favor and be safe. Bench press is, hands down, the single most deadly lift out there. It is too easy to drop a bar and crush yourself, strangulate yourself, etc. Never bench alone unless you have a suitable spotting method (like a power rack).
Along this same line of thought, learn how to ditch your weights. I'm not saying do it each and every time, but do it once to get the idea. It is your gym, you may be alone and you may need to get rid a weight that you are squatting or benching or military pressing etc. In fact, try ditching weights your last day at your commercial gym
You are better off...
Ok, so where do I see the benefits to all fo this?
1) you set the rules. Enough said
2) What state of repair your equipment is in is all up to you.
3) No lines, no waiting for equipment.
4) You can try things without concern for how you look. I can't tell you how often I see people balk on giving something a try because they will look dumb. No more excuses.
5) decorations, music, etc... all up to you. See guideline number one.
He did not choose... wisely
Where are the pitfalls?
1) Initially you are going to have a pretty simplistic pallet of exercises to pull from, though with a little research you will find that there is more out there than you ever dreamed of or saw at your commercial gym.
2) Motivation... if you need some guy with gelled hair and a sleeveless shirt yelling at you to pump you up, you will be screwed when you work on your own. You are only responsible to yourself if you are by yourself, and that can be an issue for some. Easiest way to avoid this is to start your own training group. Have competitions in your garage, get creative. Everyone needs to have goals, needs some force pushing them towards that goal, and training partners can be good for this.
3) Space. Depending on where you are you may not have as much room as you need or want. Assume that in order to have a functional space you will need roughly a 4'x8' footprint, and it would be best if that was 8'x8'. While any space taller than you will cut it for squats and dead lifts, you will likely need about 12-18 inches above your arm (fully extended) for overhead pressing.
Where does he get those marvelous toys?
Trust me, there is a lot of enticing crap out there on the market. I have purchased an awful lot of toys that I simply do not have time for. Not that I never use them, but dropping $50 on something that I touch once every three months is retarded. If you have the income to do this... be smart and don't
Seriously. Save up, buy the things you can really use. My votes would be something like this:
1) Weights. You can always use more weights. I think I'm sitting on 730+ lbs of iron weights, and 280lbs of bumpers, and I would still like more. Not necessarily because I need to use it all at once, but because of the way I train I can sometimes be loading up two or three events simultaneously (farmers walk, yoke, log) and you may find that it is nice and easy to be loading your next lift while completing your first.
2) Good barbells. Now, this will run you anywhere from $200-several thousand, depending on how serious you are. I'll assume that you are at least moderately serious. Your stock bar (comes with your 300lb starter set) will be just fine for squats/deadlifts/bench. You may find that something like a texas powerbar has a better feel to it, and you won't have to worry about the end bolts loosening up. If you get into Oly lifts, buy a real Oly bar. Dropping a bar is probably more stress than your typical stock barbell can take.
3) A bench. Do yourself a favor and assume that you will be a beast. If not now, someday. Buy a bench that will handle in excess of 600lbs. They are out there, but they are NOT the majority of benches on the market. If you buy a cheaper bench... well, I wouldn't want to be benching ANYTHING when it decides to take a crap on you. Buy adjustable. I wouldn't worry too much if it will decline, but certainly incline and upright is a nice option. If you can try it before you buy... do it. Some benches are simply too narrow, or too wide to be comfortable. Test drive that sucker!
4) Dumbells. Buy some that are adjustable. Not the kind that have the selectors on them... that is fine if you have the cash for it, but save yourself space and buy something that will interface with your Olympic plates. No need to be buying standard (1" hole) plates and Oly. This will tie back into that first buy... more weights, smaller denominations as anything bigger than a ten lb weight will limit your ROM too much.
5) anything else you will use. The sky is the limit here. My only word of warning is that if you can buy locally it may be a better deal since you won't pay freight shipping. Sometimes local isn't better. I have purchased a lot both ways and all I can say is that it absolutely does you a world of good to price compare. Save yourself money and heartache.