By Dr. J.C. Clark, ORA Sports Medicine
Yes, it’s going to be a long winter, and if you’re considering home workouts, or shopping for your favorite gym rat, there are simple ways to build a home gym and workout safely.
You are not alone. According to data from eBay, there has been a 1980% and 1355% sales increase for dumbbells and weight plates, respectively.
This means a whole lot of “newbs” (as my boys would say) to home gym ownership.
I was asked to provide my two cents about home gyms since I’ve always tried to have access to weights in my apartment or home since my medical school days.
Here’s what I’ve learned after 20 years of owning home gym equipment:
Tip #1: Nature is your 24-hour access cardio gym.
Weather permitting, you can always go outside and walk, run, perform wind sprints, skip, whatever. Just watch the slick spots and snow.
My Swedish great-grandfather drilled into me that, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” So, if it’s cold outside, suck it up and put on another layer and go run. You’ll actually find that you stay warmer than you think. Plus, getting outside is an emotional and spiritual mind hack as our primal instincts yearn for Mother Nature and not cubicles and artificial light.
On snow and icy days, you’ll need indoor cardio equipment. If you are running outside when it is icy and slippery, then you are well on your way to having a nice fall on the pavement and then we may see you at ORA.
Your “go-to” inside cardio could be a stationary bike, a stair stepper, a rowing machine — anything to give you the ability to increase your heart rate for a sustained period of time and get that ticker pumping.
Tip #2: Your body is your 24-hour access weight plate.
Push-ups, dips, pull-ups, air squats, step-ups, burpees, spider-crawls, handstand wall walks, hanging knee-raises, and crunches pretty much only require you and maybe a mat to protect the floor, possibly a pull-up bar, and a wall.
Using your imagination and researching these types of exercises, you’ll be amazed at how many you can come up with to create a rigorous workout regimen. And to be honest, if I were to put my doctor hat on and give some medical advice, you should probably start with these to build some foundational strength before you hit the big weights.
Tip #3: Less is more with dumbbells and weight plates
I am a huge follower of the K.I.S.S. (Keep it Simple Stupid) principle in many facets of my life. Don’t overcomplicate things. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” according to Leonardo da Vinci, and the same should be said of your home gym.
I’ve seen some home gyms with so many dumbbells it would make Arnold Schwarzenegger drool. Most of the dumbbells in these home gyms had dust on them, though.
My Formula for Free Weight Purchases: Think “Goldilocks Weight”
The best way to figure out which weights you need is to know your one rep max for any exercise. That is the heaviest weight you could lift for one rep. Then, take 75% of that weight. That’s going to give you the weight that you are probably going to be able to do 10 reps with.
I consider that my “Goldilocks weight.” That’s my middle ground. With my middle ground established, I can now buy a pair of dumbbells on either side of that weight. For example, let’s say that your one rep max for bicep curls is 40 pounds. 75% of 40 pounds is 30 pounds. Therefore, if I go out and buy some dumbbells, I would probably only get a set of 25, 30, and 35 pounds to start with.
Why buy a set of 40 pounds if I can only do one repetition with it? As I get stronger, I can “reward” myself with a trip to the sports store to get a set of 40- pound dumbbells.
This same concept can apply for anything you do with a barbell as well. Doing the research for this may require a trip to a local gym with a friend to spot you and also record your one rep max weights.
Basically, I’m trying to save money and space by preventing the purchase of unnecessary weights. Likewise, exercises that are done with lighter weights (2, 5, 10 pounds) could probably be done with resistance bands instead of dumbbells, which again will save money and space.
Tip #4: Work with the space you have. Don’t make a permanent decision for a temporary problem.
Don’t start busting out walls and building permanent housing structures just to make space to build a home gym until the pandemic is over. Yes, we are in a weird predicament right now, but hopefully soon, we can go back to congregating and sweating together in a public gym.
The point is, whether it’s a small space in your garage, or a corner of a guest room, or an unsightly part of your basement, it doesn’t matter, it’s a space to sweat it out and get after it.
After all, you don’t need a huge space for a home gym; it’s all in how you use it.
In medical school, I shared a two bedroom apartment with a friend from Augustana. Each bedroom was 15 feet by 10 feet. This allowed me to fit a desk, dresser, twin bed, dumbbells, AND a bench with weights.
My apartment mate always laughed at me because my room looked so crowded, but I had everything I needed. That “home gym” was literally 7 feet by 5 feet. Fast forward to residency and I lived in a house in Florida with a lanai that became the “home gym.” The space was 10 feet by 10 feet. Spacious.
Nowadays, my home gym is a palatial 11 feet by 17 feet of Spartan décor with Christmas storage totes, a water heater, and sewer pipes. When my wife wanted to finish the basement, I made sure that we left one end untouched. Keeping the cement walls uncovered allows me to throw medicine balls against it. And not mudding or painting the drywall makes me feel less irritated if they get scuffed up. It’s a home gym, not a room to entertain guests.
Tip #5: The Cage will Set you Free
About eight years ago I finally broke down and bought a power cage. I figured it was time since I had a little more space. It was worth it because it opened up my ability to perform some different exercises without the need for a spotter. It also has a built-in pull-up bar and it gives me the ability to attach different accessories such as a Matador for dips or a pulley system for triceps’ pushdowns. If you have the space and money to get a power cage, I highly recommend one. It’s a game-changer.
Tip #6: Get the Family Involved
One of the benefits I’ve found with a home gym is that it does two things for my boys: First, I’m setting a good example when they watch me work out. It’s the hidden curriculum of raising children. They are subconsciously learning that “this is what healthy people do.” Second, when they see me working out it often evolves into “lifting weights with Daddy.”
Now, before you judge me, I’m not forcing my seven, nine, and eleven year-old to lift weights. Physiologically, their bodies aren’t ready to “hang onto” muscle bulk yet. However, they are learning how to safely lift weights and practicing the correct form and mechanics to lift weights. Therefore, when their bodies are hormonally ready to pack on muscle mass, they can do so in a safe and healthy manner.
Although at first it may not seem that a home gym offers as many exercises, with a little imagination and thought, I think you’ll find that the options are limitless.
This is why I think a home gym is a fantastic investment no matter if it’s during a pandemic or not. Plus, your own gym never closes.
You don’t have to wait for someone else to get done with a machine, grunting is not frowned upon, and shirts are optional.
Good luck and go get it.