By Judy Torel
Commercial fitness facilities provide the general public with an amazing array of exercise equipment. Most facilities have multiple machines for each muscle of the body and an assortment of different cardiovascular machines. Clearly a gym membership is a good investment, but if your schedule or geographic circumstances make it impossible to get to one, you can create your own home gym without breaking the bank.
An absolute necessity for a home gym is a lifting bench. You need the bench to sit, lay or stand on top of in order to do many of the traditional muscle isolation exercises.
If you are a beginner, then you can invest in The Step, which can be used as a bench. By ordering online or directly from the company (The Step), as opposed to through a retail store, you can buy additional bubbles, which go underneath the step to increase the height. Each bubble is three inches so if you purchase nine bubbles (three each side of the step) then you will create a 12-inch bench (the top of the step is three inches). With nine bubbles you can also create an incline or a decline bench by making one side higher or lower, which will allow you to target different muscle fibers and do a larger variety of exercises. The Step and the additional bubbles run approximately $100 new. But, if you look on e-Bay or other buyer’s magazine, you can probably get a used step with bubbles for much cheaper, including shipping.
If you are a more seasoned lifter, then you will be best served by purchasing a weight bench. One that has an adjustable incline and decline will cost about $100. You can also purchase benches that have attachments for leg exercises, such as leg extensions and hamstring curls. If you will be bench-pressing with overload amounts that exceed 75 percent of your maximum lift, you will need the barbell holder. A multi–functional bench with barbell holder, leg attachments and an incline adjustment will cost about $350.
Many times people setting up a home gym think the best option is to buy a few pairs of dumbbells. Often times what ends up happening is that as you become stronger and more fit, you need to purchase more dumbbells then what you first purchased. Also, what you will use to challenge your chest will be significantly different then what will challenge your triceps. So, instead of ultimately investing in 10 pairs of dumbbells it is better to purchase the more recently created Power Block (www.powerblock.com). This is one pair of dumbbells that are designed in such a way that you can use the same dumbbells for weights between 5 and 50 pounds.
Another option is to purchase an adjustable set. These are dumbbell holders that come with a variety of small weight plates that can be added and subtracted to the holders to create a variety of overloads up to 30 pounds. You can purchase a set from SPRI at www.spriproducts.com for $39.95 plus shipping. Although you have to change the plates to create various weights, they require less space for storage, which is a plus for a home gym with limited space. And, as you get stronger you don’t have to buy more dumbbells.
You may be able to purchase dumbbells alone and have enough weight to work out your major muscle groups if you are just beginning a workout program. But, before long, if you are seriously committed to your program, you will need more resistance overload. If you are trying to strength train in order to improve bone density, you need to progressively increase the weight you are using so that you are working with weight loads that are more than 75 percent of your maximum. For these reasons and others, you will want to also invest in a barbell set.
A barbell set will come with a long straight bar, clips to hold weight plates on the bar, and weight plates. The two most common sets available are a 110-pound set and a 300-pound set. If you are setting up a home gym for a woman only, the 110 pound set will be fine; if there will be men and women working out then you need the 300 pound set. Concepts in Fitness, a local home gym equipment store located on Central Avenue in Colonie, sells the 300 pounds sets available for $149.
The barbells are used for chest exercises and standing leg exercises which utilize the larger muscle groups of the body and therefore require higher overloads to get a training effect if muscle strength, mass increase and/or increased bone density is your goal.
Certain body parts are hard to overload without the specially designed machines available in a commercial gym setting. The upper back is one of these areas that most needs training in order to keep proper posture in everyday life and proper form for sports and exercises for other muscle groups. For this reason, no home gym will be complete without a set of tubes and a door attachment.
Tubes are exactly what the name implies, but with handles on each end. They come in a variety of colors and each color represents a different thickness, which makes them vary in resistance. Generally yellow is the easiest and black is the hardest.
You can purchase tubes from SPRI products online. The cost increases as the tubes progress in resistance level, but they average about $8 plus shipping per tube.
The door attachment, a necessity, cost $5 plus shipping. With this you can turn any doorway into a multi-functional training machine that will allow you to perform standing lat pulls for your upper back, single arm side lateral pull-downs, (for the large muscles on the sides of your upper back) and a large variety of additional exercises as well.
The cardio machine
No home gym would be complete without one piece of equipment that will enable you to rhythmically move your muscles so that you increase your heart rate and breathing rate into a training zone. Cardiovascular exercise is necessary for every goal from weight loss to control of diabetes.
Cardio equipment is the most costly of all exercise equipment. But, keep in mind that if you don’t invest in a quality piece you will pay down the road with lack of enjoyment of the workout if the machine was inexpensive, but lower in quality.
The least costly way to get a cardio machine in your home gym is to buy an indoor bike trainer on which you can mount your outdoor bike. This can be purchased through Klarsfeld Cycles on Central Avenue in Colonie, where the basic model runs about $100.
If you choose to purchase a stationary bike, a good one will cost around $450. Or, you can purchase a good model treadmill starting at $900. There are models that sell for less, but you will generally be sacrificing quality and durability.
Home use elliptical machines are currently the most popular cardio machines in commercial gyms because they enable the user to get a great workout with minimal impact on joints. The low end you should look to pay for an elliptical is $1,200. Life Fitness has a home model that sells for $1,900 and received the Consumer’s Guide highest rating in 2005.
A few other items that will make your gym more comfortable and functional are an exercise ball ($20), an exercise mat ($10), and a boom box or TV, which provides entertainment while you workout and serves as a distracter when you need help pushing yourself through a tough spot in a workout!
Judy Torel is a therapist/personal trainer with a Master’s degree in psychology. She is certified through the American College of Sports Medicine as a fitness trainer and works out of Judy Torel’s Sweat Shop Exercise Studio and Planet Fitness. She can be reached at JTOREL2263@yahoo.com