Gittin’ Diesel in Your Own Home Gym

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I’m always telling my wife that there are two really smart things I’ve done so far in my life. They are in this order:

1. Marry her

2. Build a home gym

Seriously, nothing outranks my wife but building a home gym was pretty damn close! (Ok, just kidding honey. Not THAT close!)

A little background

I’ve been extremely lucky in the past. I’ve always had hardcore places to train, and most importantly, I’ve had like-minded individuals around to make sure I stay focused on the goals at hand.

My first real gym was the athletic weight room at Ball State University (BSU). When I started, I really didn’t know what “training” was. I had always just “worked out.” When I joined the BSU powerlifting team, I quickly learned the difference. In that facility, I was constantly surrounded by either really strong powerlifters or really strong athletes! There’s nothing like watching guys power clean 405 lbs or squat 675 lbs below parallel in track shorts and a belt! Needless to say, those two years formed my development from that point forward.

After I graduated from BSU, I moved to Ft. Wayne, Indiana, where I was again firmly entrenched in a powerlifting setting. My training partners were powerlifters with either national or international level experience, and within three years there, I saw my total increase by almost 250 lbs. Most importantly, I learned how to train myself and become a better coach.

However, when the opportunity arose to return to Indianapolis (my surrogate hometown), I jumped at the chance. It was a great opportunity from a work perspective, and I had all my old high school and college friends there as well. The problem was though, I didn’t have anywhere to train!

The first facility I tried didn’t allow chalk. Seriously, have you ever tried lifting in the middle of summer without chalk? Because my hands were slipping on the bar, I strained my pec on bench day. That was all it took to get out of that gym pronto.

Next, I joined a Gold’s here in town. It was decidedly more “dungeon-like,” and it didn’t appear to have nearly as much chrome. Twenty minutes into my first squat session (and 21 minutes after I’d signed up to join the gym!), the gym attendant came over and told me I had to get out. Seriously? He said that the next attendant hadn’t shown up and that he would lose his job at Meijer cutting meat if he didn’t get to work.

So what’s worse than getting thrown out on squat day? The next day, the gym was closed—for good! So much for that membership and sign-up fee!

Finally, I tried one of the local chains here in town. The nice thing was that if you joined one gym, you could train at any of the gyms in town. So it was very convenient. The downside? There were quite a few drawbacks, but the worst was that each gym only had one squat rack. It might not sound bad, but I’d love to see your reaction when you wait 20 minutes to squat while the guy in the rack finishes up his reverse curls with the empty bar.

So I decided that I wasn’t going to deal with this anymore. I was tired of having people look at me funny for foam rolling, doing mobility work, and just training hard in general. It’s like somehow, someway, I was the weird one!

At that point, I’d sent Jim Wendler an email bitching and moaning and telling him how bad my training was suffering from trying to “train” in a “workout” facility. His response was pretty brief, but I’ll paraphrase to make this quick:


Quit your bitching. Start a home gym and start getting strong again.


So I did. And for those of you interested, I’m going to take you step-by-step through the process so you can reap the benefits of having your own gym too.

The benefits of setting up a home gym

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, what ARE the benefits of training at home?

First, you can train at any time you want. Eight o’clock pm? Sure thing. Four in the morning? That works! When you own your own gym, you can train at any time that suits your schedule.

Second, you will never again be greeted with weird looks for training the way you want. Betty Boop can do plié squats in the corner ‘til she’s ready to puke and no one bats an eye. But the second you load up five wheels and start pulling, it’s like you’re an endangered species on display in the zoo. I don’t care how self-confident you are, at some point in time this gets old.

Third, you’ll never have to talk to bozos at the gym again. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE helping people improve their physique, gain strength, or just get healthier. That’s why I got into the industry. What I don’t enjoy is telling some guy how to fix his bench technique only to watch him make the same mistakes that I just corrected for the next ten Mondays.

Fourth, music is a big part of training. Try getting psyched up for a heavy four-board press with Justin Timberlake blaring on the loudspeakers. I’m all for bringing “Sexy Back,” but I’ll save it for the dance floor, not my training session.

Finally, you can surround yourself with people who are as motivated and driven as you are. I firmly believe that many people in commercial gyms don’t see changes in their performance because of the types of people they’re surrounded by! Ask any person who trains with attitude in a gym and they’ll tell you the same thing—it’s not the programming or the gym itself. It’s the attitude and the people around them that dictate the success of the gym.

Notice I didn’t even bother discussing drawbacks. The only possible drawback in building your own home gym is that it costs money to set one up. With all the frivolous things we spend money on nowadays, this shouldn’t even be an excuse. As the saying goes—if there’s a will, there’s a way.

Without further ado, let’s go through all the steps you need to take to make sure your home gym is a huge success!

The space

First off, you need to figure out how much space you can/will dedicate to your new training facility. Figure out the length and width of the space, but most importantly, measure the HEIGHT. This is something that many don’t think about, but if you have short ceilings, it’s going to be tough getting a power rack in there!

I actually have a very small space. It’s about 15 feet long, 10 feet wide, and about eight feet tall. Needless to say, I wasn’t going to get a ton in here!

The budget

Next, you need to figure out EXACTLY how much you can spend and be sure to think about EVERYTHING. I’d been saving my cash for a while so I knew I could spend between $3000 and $4000 and get a pretty sweet set up.

Once you have your budget set, figure out what your training priorities are and make sure to get all that equipment FIRST. I train for powerlifting so I knew I needed at bare minimum a power rack, a solid bar, weight plates, and collars.

Let me interject one small piece of advice here too. If you’re going to buy a power rack, buy the best. Here’s an analogy. If you could buy one car for the rest of your life and you knew it would run forever, would you buy a Porsche Carrera or a Honda Civic? You’d buy the Porsche because it’s got all the options and all the things you look for in a car. In other words, don’t buy a basic, bare bones rack when you could spend a little more and get your dream rack. I purchased an R3 rack with band pegs, monkey chin bar, and band/chain holders. Not only is it about as sturdy as you can get, but it helps with storage since it holds plates, bars, and weight plates.

This same advice goes for the bar. Don’t buy a flimsy, $39 bar at your local sporting goods store if you’re looking to use heavy weights. I’ve never seen a bar break in half, but I’ve watched one warp on someone’s back and that’s a very disconcerting thought.

Beyond the basics, I also chose to order some Powerblock dumbbells. However, you could just as easily go with the plate-loaded dumbbells as well.

Lastly, don’t forget that you HAVE to include shipping in your estimates. I hate to be the bearer of bad news here but shipping heavy metal isn’t cheap. The last thing you want to do is get all your equipment in the shopping cart only to find that you’re $300 to $400 dollars over your budget due to shipping.

The platform

By now you should have everything ordered and ready to go. I suggest taking the time now before your equipment arrives to prep your gym. Unless you want to crack some concrete, I’d suggest building a platform for all of your lifting work.

Here’s what I did, but feel free to customize this to the size of your training area:

Go to Lowe’s and purchase four, 4′ X 8′ sheets of ¾” plywood. This will serve as your platform base. Lay two sheets down long ways and then place the other two on top of and perpendicular to the first level. This will give you a 1½” thick lifting platform that’s 8′ X 8′ square. Take 1¼” wood screws and screw the entire thing together.

I’ve lifted on a platform like this before, and you need to be aware of one small issue. When you deadlift heavy over an extended period of time, the boards have a tendency to develop “divots.” To counteract this with my platform, I went to the Tractor Supply Company and purchased a bunch of 1” thick stall mats. They come in funky sizes so you’ll have to do some cutting with a reciprocating saw to make them fit the platform. Lay these down on top of the wood platform and use an adhesive to stick them to the boards if you like. This alone will give you one sturdy platform, but I went one step further.

I like the look and feel of carpet when lifting so I purchased some basic carpet that you can get from Lowe’s. You don’t need anything fancy. You just need something to give you a little more friction and give your platform that “finished” feeling.

The rest of things

So you’ve got your platform built and you’re waiting on your shipment to arrive. What else is there to do?

The last thing you need to do is give your gym a little “character.” Whether it’s getting some posters laminated and hung or maybe setting up a TV and VCR with training hall tapes, you want to make this place feel like home. Some sort of stereo system is a must as well. Right now I’m using my iPod and its docking station so I can continually add new music to my training mixes.

The last thing I did to finalize my set up was to write down all my goals and post them right in the middle of my gym. It is great posting your goals on the bathroom mirror, but nothing reminds you of your goals like seeing them while you’re training!

The time is now

How many of you have been in the same situation that I was in? You’ve been stuck grinding away for days, months, or even years in the same shitty gym with the same lifts and the same physique to show for it.

Carpe diem! Seize the day! There’s no time like the present.

Ok, enough clichés—but you get the point. Your gym isn’t going to change. The people in your gym aren’t going to change. But you can change! Start taking the steps today to make your home gym a reality. I’m willing to bet thatlike it was for meit’ll be one of the best decisions you make in your life.

Mike Robertson, MS, CSCS, USAW, is the director of Custom Athletics and president of Robertson Training Systems in Indianapolis, Indiana. Mike received his masters in sports biomechanics from the Human Performance Lab at Ball State University and has been a competitive powerlifter for the last six years. To contact Mike or sign up for his free newsletter, check out his website at

Also, be sure to check out Mike’s Magnificent Mobility and Inside-Out DVDs here in the Elite Fitness store.

Elite Fitness Systems strives to be a recognized leader in the strength training industry by providing the highest quality strength training products and services while providing the highest level of customer service in the industry. For the best training equipment, information, and accessories, visit us at


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