| The Essential Equipment for Your Home Gym

Author / Christopher McQuilkin

3 - 5 minute read

The home fitness craze is nothing new; Jane Fonda and Chuck Norris have been pushing at-home training for decades. But, surprisingly there are few differences between the at-home gym experience now and the one of the 1980’s, aside from the big hair and spandex, of course. 

Jazzercise tapes left you doing the same workout on repeat, negating the law of stress to progress. F’ing Chuck Norris took aim at boredom and accommodation with his Total Gym. Like any breathing creature I am afraid to knock Chuck or anything he’s affiliated with, so I will be nice and compliment this well-marketed bodyweight-only pulley system rehabilitation tool. It’s no barbell, but I will not hesitate to recommend it for Nana McQuilkin.

The 2020 wave of at-home equipment is leaning hard on technology, but the aforementioned fallacies are still violated by these companies. Whether I’m staring at myself in the mirror doing my best to mimic a virtual trainer, or hammering away on one piece of cardio equipment, the “future” is missing overload and variation of movement. 

If you’re motivated to begin training at home, do not spend a lot of money for a piece of equipment whose only versatility is doubling as a coat rack with a tv screen. This article will introduce the five essential and most versatile pieces of equipment you will need to begin building your home gym.

Barbell & 315 lbs of Bumper Plates

No question, this is the key ingredient for building your own personal paradise in your garage. As Jane Fonda showed, we just need a little dance to get our heart rate up and burn some calories. Of all the equipment on the market today, the cornerstone of your collection when looking to build muscle and total body strength, is the barbell. Nothing replicates the versatility, durability, and storability of a barbell. The one piece of cold iron allows us to load up for squats, presses, deadlifts, and the fun stuff like Olympic Weightlifting. With this one tool we can continue to progress at home for a lifetime. Adding more weight to the bar negates the dulling effect of a routine and the limitation of bodyweight only training. 

Bumper plates are your go-to over steel. These allow for some margin of error when dropping them in your garage or driveway, plus we like the stacking ability to create a platform for other exercises like Step Ups and plyometrics. 315 lbs worth of weight is a nice starting point. You can always find more steel plates or smaller increments once you’re strong enough to add them on.

Rack

We need a spot to position and load the bar! Picking the bar up and working it into your rack position or on your back is going to get old real quick. Plus, your legs will be getting much stronger much faster than your ability to work the bar from the ground onto your back for a heavy squat. There are several great new options available online, but try to check for used racks discarded by local schools. You know they’re battle tested and can hold your maximum weight. If you go the route of making your own rack, Godspeed and remember: quick feet are happy feet.

Unilateral Weight

While the barbell can take you far with your home training, a unilateral weight like a dumbbell or kettlebell can keep things creative and targeted. Every movement done with a barbell can be accomplished with a unilateral weight, but not at  the weight we need to systemically stress the body to make forward progress. However, a smaller object and lighter load frees us up to target a specific limb, isolate movements or muscles, and get more creative with moving through space. All great benefits for battling routines and building muscle, especially biceps. 

A kettlebell is a great option for the variety of movements it can be used for, and dumbbells can take you far in your training as well. Either way, we recommend selecting weights you think are heavier than what you need. Give yourself an inherent goal by starting with a weight that scares you, then work towards doing more and more reps and using a mirror for what it was meant for, flexing.


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Pull Up Rig

This is not for those circle-kipping pull ups or whatever. This is for a strict vertical pull with the intention of developing a fierce amount of upper back strength. In the words of Power Athlete Founder John Welbourn, “Weighted pull ups cure world hunger.” The benefit and carry over of performing a strict pull up (especially with weight) properly is endless, which makes a piece of equipment that allows you to pull up essential for your home gym. Whether you set up one in a door frame, a pipe in the basement or fasten one with straps, you will see improved standing posture, lats like a cobra’s head, and a sudden reduction in starvation worldwide. Not to mention a bigger, stronger back rack position to hold more weight in a squat and any overhead lift. Versatility is limited with this piece of equipment to the naked eye, but the transferability of vertical pull strength to every other movement you will ever do is what we are after here.

Sandbag

Similar to the versatility of movement selection of the unilateral weight, but with the freedom to throw around without severe damage to your home or lawn. A term thrown around a lot within the Power Athlete training ecosystem is tensile strength. Per science, “tensile strength is defined as a stress, which is measured as force per unit area.” Welbourn defines tensile strength as “that inherent strength athletes build from time under load. The longer an athlete has trained, the greater the tensile strength.” An awkward object that fights back against you is a fantastic way to accelerate the development of tensile, trunk strength. Where a 150 lb Power Clean movement is easy for many, the equivalent 150 lb sandbag is infinitely more difficult to move around.

Empower Your Performance: At-Home Training Program

It’s never too late to begin building your gym of the future. If you’re entertaining the idea of where to get equipment and how you’re going to store it, the journey has begun. The goal of building your own iron fortress can be used to support other long term goals you may have, like  lifting a specific weight, shedding some extra el-bees, or establishing a physical culture for the family for years to come. Half the battle of this goal is selecting equipment. The other half? Knowing what to do with it! Now is the time to take your health and performance into your own hands. Grab these pieces of equipment and select a training program you’d like to try for two weeks at home.

You found out the hard way how quickly bodyweight-only exercise routines can become boring or ineffective when the initial lockdown hit. Find equipment that will keep the fire alive and keep you physically engaged. Not to justify the two-grand you spent on a stationary bike or mirror, but to lay the physical and mental foundation you and your family will lean on for years to come.

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AUTHOR

Christopher McQuilkin

MS, CSCS, SCCC, CHES
Book a consult with me regarding coaching, training, life, education... anything your heart desires. Click below:
calendly.com/pahq-tex

Former collegiate lacrosse defensive midfielder, 4-year letter winner and 3-year team captain. Coached strength and conditioning collegiately with Georgetown University football, Men's and Women's lacrosse and Women's Crew, as well with the University of Texas at Austin's football program. Apprenticed under Raphael Ruiz of 1-FortyFour-1 studying proper implementation of science based, performance driven training systems. Head coached CrossFit Dupont's program for two years in Washington D.C. Received a Master's in Health Promotion Management from Marymount University in 2010, and has been a coach for Power Athlete since October, 2012.

2 Comments

  1. Chris E. on July 17, 2020 at 8:09 pm

    Hey everyone I am the owner of the second home gym pictured so I figured I would throw out some of my own opinions on home gym setups. For starters the back story behind the gym and how I justified spending the money for it. In 2015 my wife and I moved from Southern California to my home town in Northeast Pennsylvania. After several years of Crossfit in SoCal we were tired of paying the fairly high prices (>$300/month for the two of us). We took approximately 2 years of membership dues and used that as our budget for the gym. 5 years in I definitely think the investment has been worth it. Particularly in light of the Covid lockdowns.

    Now some comments on the equipment we have. The gym is primarily Rogue equipment with a few other items thrown in. It was important to me to buy as much stuff made in America as possible but there are some other quality manufactures that have lower prices. At the time I did not know Sorinex existed. The equipment is largely Crossfit inspired which if I could do it again I would change the focus some.

    Instead of a wall mount I would get a power rack but I would not get the weight holders on the sides. Having an extra set of uprights dramatically increases your options for exercises and partners. The single set of uprights has made having a training partner difficult. On the rack itself I really like the holes being drilled in the westside pattern. Since most of my training is alone being able to properly adjust the spotter arms for benching has been critical. Probably the one issue I see with Sorinex racks is they don’t do a westside pattern. Not sure if they have another workaround. I will leave that for someone else to comment on.

    Originally I bought all bumper plates (Around 525# of bumpers). I fancied the idea that I was going to become an oly lifter. That never happened. With the bummers i have it is only possible to fit 465# on my barbell. As I got stronger I added a set of 100# metal plates to go higher. These work but they are a pain to deal with. I genuinely fear losing a finger or toe to one of these at some point. Limiting the bumper plates and buying more metal would have reduced cost and increased options for the gym.

    The first bench I bought was the plain flat bench. Then we started Power Athlete programming and needed an adjustable bench. I would buy an adjustable bench out of the gate to avoid having two.

    Instead of buying the gym flooring from Rogue I should have gone to tractor supply and purchased the horse stall mats. This is a pretty common recommendation. I went with the cheapest flooring from Rogue. When priced out the mats would have been a similar price but the horse mats would have been thicker and more durable.

    The last major comment I have is to highlight the high lofted garage door. If you have a high ceiling in the garage, high lofting the garage door allows you to go overhead with the door open. This is a quality of life thing that is definitely worth the money.
    Sorry for the long comment. Hopefully some of it is helpful.

    Chris

  2. Stanley Thomas on September 28, 2020 at 11:44 am

    What equipment you have depends on your budget, size of the space, and what you and your family will use.

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