The Successful Home Gym

As I was loading up the like new, $350 half-rack squat rack that I just purchased for $175, the guy said, “I hope you have more luck with it than I did. I intended to use it everyday and it just never got used.”

That was about a year ago when I was replacing the rack I had to leave behind in Ohio, and that rack has seen use 4 to 5 days a week since that time. It doesn’t look new anymore. The pads have been beaten off of the bar hooks, the paint is fading from the Florida sun, and that rack is kicking ass handling everything I throw at it.

Few things in life rival the failure rate of the home gym. Every Marketplace and Craigslist from every city is full of equipment for sale, at a fraction of what the seller spent on it, because they had big plans that “just didn’t work out.”

It doesn’t have to be this way.

My absolute favorite place to be is my home gym, but that didn’t happen overnight. I want to share with you a few things that have made the home based gym a success for me. Hopefully it will help some of you to avoid contributing to the pool of under-used equipment for sale on the internet.

Equipment Selection and Mission

One of the first mistakes people make is in choosing the wrong equipment. Hell, some never even get started because they can’t afford the fancy Rogue home gym for $3000 that they think they need to “do it right.”

Bullshit. You don’t need a full rack and high temp bumper plates with $500 bars to get started. You can go to Dick’s and buy the 300# iron Olympic bar set and a half rack with a moveable bench and have everything you need to keep you busy and in great results for as long as you can handle it.

Sure, it’d be nice to have all the fancy stuff. I have some nice Rogue bumpers and bars because I owned a gym business and kept all of my equipment when I moved (because ultimately I will re-open in my new area). But I started out with cheap bars and iron weights.

Is it true that cheap iron weights can vary greatly from their advertised weights? Sure it is. But if you are not an elite athlete where 1 kilo can make a difference in winning or losing, then why worry about it? You want to get strong? Put fucking weight on the bar and move it around.

Dig around on the selling sites and you will find a rack, bench and weights. Get started. Don’t try to be perfect, and for the love of progress don’t worry about what it will look like on Instagram. Just do the work. Just make sure to get a rack with moveable safety bars so you can miss lifts and not die. You will get strong.

Solitude, Focus and Meditation

One of the greatest benefits I have experienced from the home gym is the solitude and focus. If you are not the type of person that can function well completely alone, maybe a home gym isn’t for you. Or maybe, you can keep a cheap gym membership for that once or twice a week trip into a more social setting.

For me, because I live in Florida my platform and “gym” is outside. I placed my gym in the most beautiful setting I could find, so it is generally just an enjoyable place to be, period. This matters.

I can remember some basements I worked out in that were moldy and probably dangerous to be breathing heavily in. If it’s all you have, work with what you have. But if at all possible, make it your goal to put your gym in a space that is inspirational and enjoyable to be in. That will help motivate you to be there more. Decorate it with inspirational props if you have to. Make it your space.

That setting is what creates the mental space to focus. Weightlifting is very close to a meditative practice for me. It is the hour or two of my day where I can tune out all of the things that piss me off and stress me out, and take time just for myself.

I can practice something that is making me better, stronger and faster. I can do it by myself. It’s for me, but then the better version of myself that emerges from there everyday is for everyone I care about.

It is the space of reflection, dedication, perseverance, focus, and self-development. It’s a place of constant challenges and frequent victories. It is precisely where I go to make myself better each day. That’s what my gym is to me.

Understanding Programming 

Another huge failure that the home gym’ers suffer is a lack of programming knowledge. You can’t just grab a program off of the internet and expect it to work. Hell you can’t even rely on a trainer to make it work, because getting an experienced program writer and getting a trainer can be two very different things. (For a primer on programming, check out my article Programming 101 Part 1 and 2.)

Almost any program or workout plan will get results when you are new. Your body is just responding to doing anything more than you have been doing. But it doesn’t mean it’s the optimum program for you. You are uniquely individual in your life, metabolism, habits, and how you respond to stimulus. Programming is an individual task, not a group task.

But life gets in the way…

The second part of the programming problem that causes massive failure is the inability to stick to a schedule. Life does get in the way. One of the reasons that life disrupts the ability to keep working out is because people tend to look at working out as totally a separate activity from the rest of their life.

This is a mistake! Working out is another part of everything you do. Every mental and physical demand on you, from jobs to family duties to house work, needs to be considered in your program. This will ensure you are working as a unit toward a common goal and will keep you from burnout and loss of motivation.

As for life getting in the way, I program heavy on volume and use the 80% to 90% standard. If I can complete between 80% and 90% of my prescribed workout for that week, then I am successful. Often, I can hit that 100% and it feels great! But if not, I am still at an acceptable standard and I feel accomplished for it.

Perfection is the enemy of the good in exercise plans and intentions. Miss a day or two, and your motivation quickly falls away as you feel like you are just getting nowhere.

Kick that volume up in your prescription, allow for some flexibility in your times and volumes, and shoot for that 80% minimum. (For some ideas on how to do this, check out my article on Writing Life into your Fitness Program.)

Video Analysis and No Fear

It is strongly recommended that you find a good remote coach if you are going to use a home gym. If you do so, they will direct you to video yourself doing the lifts to help guide you to safe and effective form and intensities.

Whether you use a coach, or not, you will need to utilize the awesome capabilities we all now have with smartphones. Video yourself doing the lifts and then analyze and compare them to professional videos from Youtube (from proven sources, like Catalyst Athletics, Starting Strength, or whoever does your particular style of training.)

The benefit of doing so in a home gym is the full freedom to set up and video yourself without looking like a social media narcissist in the gym. You can set up the camera where ever you like and get all the angles you need.

You can also go hard, utilizing proper safety bars and equipment of course. There is no fear in a home gym of being embarrassed because you miss lifts with lower weights than what someone next to you in the public gym is easily lifting. Nope. At home you can suck all you want and there is no social consequence.

Just make sure you video yourself sucking so you can stop being bad at it. Use the solitude and technology to your advantage. This is a HUGE benefit of home gyms.

Wrapping it up

This article is just a quick note about just a few of the many ways to be successful in a home gym. These are probably my favorite ways that I have found to make it a success for myself. There are a ton of other reasons and concepts, but I hope the few I outlined here can help you at least get started and keep going.

There are few places I would rather spend my alone time than on my platform at home. I hope you find the same peace and progress in your own space as well.

Feel free to message me with questions or comments, I’m glad to help out where I can.

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