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You Only Need These 6 Things For a World-Class Home Gym

How to assemble an incredible facility for the cost of a few years of gym dues.

by
Mark Rippetoe

Bio

May 15, 2014 - 8:00 am
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Not everybody who wants to train for strength can fit a gym membership into their lifestyle. Scheduling problems, the cost, travel problems from home or work, the absence of an adequately equipped facility in the market, or simply the dislike of a commercial gym environment motivates many people to invest in a home gym.

A serviceable home gym for barbell training need not be a gigantic investment, and in fact should be very simple. A bar, some plates, a rack of some type to facilitate the squat and the pressing exercises, a simple flat bench for the bench press, and a platform for deadlifts are all that is absolutely required. For power cleans and snatches, a few bumper plates are quite useful but not absolutely necessary.

The equipment is simple, and need not be expensive, but there are a few tricks.

1. The Bar

This is the wrong place to save money. Of all the pieces in the gym, the quality of the bar is the most critical. The plates just hang there, the platform just lays there, but the bar is your connection to the force against which you lift — gravity.

Saving money is a good idea. Generic drugs are cheaper than the name-brand products, and they are essentially the same product. This is not true of Olympic barbells. In most cases, you get exactly what you pay for. Unless you get lucky — and these days of rapid expansion in the interest in barbell training, such luck is hard to come by — and find a good used bar cheap, expect to pay around $300 for a good bar.

Why? Because steel is expensive, competent manufacturing is expensive, and warehouse space costs money. A cheap bar will bend, and a badly bent bar is junk. A bar within about 3mm of perfectly straight is useable as a straight bar, while a bar bent more than 4-5mm out of straight is considered bent. When loaded with plates, a badly bent bar will rotate to a position of stability — it will “right” itself, with the ends of the bar pointing down and the bend in the middle pointing up. This is fine for a squat, if you have marked the bar so that you can take it out of the rack in this stable position. But if you unrack the bar for a squat, press, or bench press, or pull it from the floor in its unstable configuration, the bar will spin in your hands or on your back to right itself. This is not good, and can cause safety problems during the lift.

Most commercial gyms have a few bars, and usually all of them are bent, because they bought cheap junky bars not knowing any better or not caring about it. Bars get bent in commercial gyms by being dropped on benches, or inside the rack by jackasses that aren’t invested in the equipment. Even expensive bars will bend when 315 pounds is dropped across a bench. But cheap bars will bend if left loaded in the rack overnight.

You can check a bar for straightness by placing it on the floor and spinning it in the middle with your foot (if the revolving sleeves aren’t frozen, which is also bad). If it wobbles, it’s not straight. Or, you can see the wobble when you rotate it in the rack — the end of the bar will describe a circle in the air larger than the diameter of the sleeve, and the middle of the bar will move back and forth, the greatest deviation being at the point of the bend. One of the advantages of a home gym is that you get to work with a straight bar every time you train.

Bars are available in several diameters. The Olympic weightlifting federations specify a 28mm bar, while the International Powerlifting Federation wants the diameter to be between 28 and 29mm. The standard bar length is a little over seven feet, has “2-inch”/50mm diameter sleeves for loading the plates on, and weighs 20kg/44.1lbs. The thicker the bar, the stiffer the bar, so Olympic lifters doing the faster snatch and clean & jerk like the whippiness of a 28mm bar, and powerlifters need a stiffer bar because they handle heavier weights more slowly. Olympic lifting uses a 25mm bar for the women’s division (smaller hands need a smaller bar), and a competitive lifter will need one of these. For home gym purposes, a 28.5mm or 29mm bar will be the most durable and provide the best service over time.

Never buy a 32mm bar. They are either junk, or a specialty squat bar that a home gym doesn’t need. Usually they are junk. Scrap metal.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
I bought my power rack off ebay, my bumper plates from Craigslist, and my utility flat bench and a couple of heavy duty mats (those things are heavy!) from Craigslist as well. I bought both my bars new, full bearings, rated at 1500 pounds (like I'll ever threaten that!), and got going with SS three months ago. I've got maybe a grand, total, in everything.

Since then, working at home only:
Deadlift: From 60# to 210#
Squat: From 70# to 185#
Bench Press: From 100# to 135#
Press: From 60# to 90#

(The most recent figures are for work sets, not 1RMs - SS people will know what I mean).

My weight has been unchanged throughout, but I've taken about 3 inches off my waist.

I'll be 68 in two weeks. It's never too late. Coach Rip has changed the way I think about exercise, and I'm reasonably confident I'm never going to be one of those doddering, tottering old guys that needs help tearing open a package of Depends. I may not be strong by the standards of youth, but by geezer standards, I'm strong. And it's great.

I'm not stopping, either.

Thanks, Rip!

(show less)
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (20)
All Comments   (20)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
Mark, you say above that a good bar will set me back about $300. I've been looking around, and in seeing a consistent price of about $120-150. The bars seem to be of similar quality, and the sales staff seems puzzled at the number you are quoting. They haven't seen that high a price in several years.

What am I missing? The bars all seem to fit the qualifications you spell out. Is there something subtle that I'm not catching on to?
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hi Mark, thanks again for the great articles.
As long as you dont drop the bar, could a bare concrete floor be okay??

31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
It will be fine, until you drop the bar. Then, it will be expensive.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thanks
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I appreciate this column today. I finally broke down last summer and invested in more or less the same outfit described above by Mr. Rippetoe, and I've never looked back. I get up early before work and do my strength training right outside in my shop. The whole setup only takes up a corner of the shop so I still have plenty of workspace, and I can't even tell you how nice it is to just roll out of bed and fall right into the "gym"!!!
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I bought my power rack off ebay, my bumper plates from Craigslist, and my utility flat bench and a couple of heavy duty mats (those things are heavy!) from Craigslist as well. I bought both my bars new, full bearings, rated at 1500 pounds (like I'll ever threaten that!), and got going with SS three months ago. I've got maybe a grand, total, in everything.

Since then, working at home only:
Deadlift: From 60# to 210#
Squat: From 70# to 185#
Bench Press: From 100# to 135#
Press: From 60# to 90#

(The most recent figures are for work sets, not 1RMs - SS people will know what I mean).

My weight has been unchanged throughout, but I've taken about 3 inches off my waist.

I'll be 68 in two weeks. It's never too late. Coach Rip has changed the way I think about exercise, and I'm reasonably confident I'm never going to be one of those doddering, tottering old guys that needs help tearing open a package of Depends. I may not be strong by the standards of youth, but by geezer standards, I'm strong. And it's great.

I'm not stopping, either.

Thanks, Rip!

(show less)
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Great post Bill. Keep it up, you are an inspiration.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
At 67, I can relate. I'm spending the week in the Caymans with my rebreather and actually miss the weight work. OTOH, no home gym I could ever assemble would have the cute trainers at the health club!
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Excellent article. I bought my York Olympic standard 310llbs set 39 years ago for $310. The best investment I ever made. I use it 3 time a week. I can't imagine what that would have cost me in club dues and time over all those years. I have had great luck picking up miscellaneous equipment (bars, plates, benches, racks and rubber mats) over the years from clubs and training facilities that close. In addition to my home gym, I now have a fully fitted out gym in the basement of my office. I have a assembled a full free weight set up and certain machines to augment my free weight work. It is nice to sneak in a little extra workout during lunch to give me an energy boost.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I find a home bar with well stocked wine and spirit racks, bumper pool and leather upholstered stools is fine for repetitive curls but if I want aerobic fitness and the pool isn't usable that a VersaClimber SM with optional handgrips and seat allows for variable workouts without impact or vibration trauma with maximum exertion with minimal time (so there's more time for those repetitive curls).
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
A valuable contribution. Thanks.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mark, can you comment on the safety aspect of weight training at home alone.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Tommy111, I am not sure about Mark's thoughts but I am 55 and have generally lifted alone at home since I have been 16. I have never gotten stuck or had a real training issue. I found early on that if you lower the weight a little and increase the reps it is easier to control the lift. For example with bench press I set the weight at an amount I can do 5 sets of 10 reps. Once I get to the point I can do the 5 sets with 12 reps I increase the weight. My old rule of thumb was that my maximum bench was 100 lbs more than the 5 sets of 12 reps. As I have gotten older I found that this keeps me strong and leaves me feeling in control. I do similar work with any other lift were you can get stuck. I have not gotten stuck under a bar in a very long time. Although someday I assume someday my wife will find me dead under a bar.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
A good rack, a flat bench, and a platform provide a way to safely perform all the barbell exercises alone in your home gym. By setting the cross-pins just under the range of motion for the squat or bench press, they eliminate the need for a spotter — the defining limitation for training at home by yourself.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think the clowns that bend perfectly good bars are doing worthless shrugs with a ridiculous amount of weight (4-5 plates on each side) and then dropping the bar on the safety bars. How many times have I seen that and cringed.

Nice article!
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Amen. If those idiots want to ruin their own equipment, fine. The problem is they ruin equipment at the gym where you pay good money I. The expectation that the equipment will be in good working order.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thanks Mark. I purchased a Rouge R-4 Power Rack and Flat Utility Bench. I also spent extra for their 'Beater Bar' to replace the junk bar that came with my weight set. I still keep the junk bar (which surprisingly weighs 36 lbs) for my wife's use since she only weighs 105 lbs and is just starting to join me in our weight room. I LOVE my Rouge. I am still less than 2k for my entire set up though.

I also purchased Starting Strength 3rd edition. Basically, I was doing about 5 things wrong while squatting. It is amazing how much better you can lift when you do it correctly.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thanks, Mark. I'm starting to get tired of all the "what's-wrong-with-you" looks in the gym from dropping a heavily-loaded deadlift bar back to the floor after completion of the pull. I've started considering a home gym in the unfinished basement of the house, and this is a helpful dose of knowledge to make plans with.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
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