Home Gym Equipment & Home Gym vs Commercial Gym

Matt & Niki discuss the tradeoffs of training in a home gym or commercial gym and how to build your home gym. Learn the equipment and gear to prioritize versus the nice-to-haves as well as the minimum amount of space required to have a functional home gym.


Commercial Gym: Not Created Equal

Not all commercial gyms are created equal. The big box or Globo Gyms may allow you to barbell lift, but deadlifting and chalk may be prohibited. Some gyms are simply not worth your time. Long contracts or the inability to do the four main lifts–squat, press, bench press, and deadlift–make the gym not worth it unless, temporarily, it’s your only option.

CrossFit gyms tend to have the equipment and space you need, but some may have an issue with you not doing CrossFit. That being said, they could be a valid option for you.

Powerlifting gyms or black iron gyms are the best typical option, as a good one will have everything you need and you’ll find people with similar goals.

The rare but optimal commercial gym solution is one like The Strength Parlor in St. Louis or Next Level Barbell in Portland, where you not only have access to the equipment you need but you get a great community of people who are excited to see you and will cheer you on. You also get access to expert coaching when you need it. If you are close to one of these gyms, you really should take advantage.

Matt’s quick go-to rule for evaluating a gym is if they provide chalk. If they provide chalk, it’s a good gym. Niki adds an addendum, that if they provide chalk and the floors are clean, it’s an excellent gym.

The downsides of a commercial gym can be crowded space and waiting for equipment. You can’t pick the music and there you lose time on the commute.

For benefits, you can often begin training with barbells sooner, as it may take time and you may have to budget over months to have enough equipment to barbell train at home (though you can always train TODAY with WHAT YOU HAVE ON HAND).

Home Gym Heaven

A home gym is YOUR SPACE that you can design, improve, make your own, fill with the equipment you want. You control the music, the climate (as much as possible). You don’t have to wait for equipment. It also provides a space for you to mentally take a break from other aspects of your life–it’s not work, it’s not family, it’s your space for your health and fitness.

Beyond this, the biggest benefit is the time efficiency. You have no commute time, and because no one is waiting on your equipment you can set up equipment to alternate lifts, do circuits, etc. to make preparation, gym time, and recovery as quick as possible.

A last huge benefit is your home gym stays open if the gyms close down again. Lots of people suffered interruptions and an inability to continue to train with barbells because of COVID. Have at least a functional home gym so you can always train.

Home Gym Equipment

If you’re looking to build a gym, you can design it and put some creativity into it. 4’x8′ is Matt’s minimum space required for a good gym.

Prioritize the barbell and weight first, as you can begin to do certain lifts without a squat stand (though there are also ways to build your own temporary squat stands out of construction material).

For the space, a power rack that can be bolted into a platform is best. If you can’t do that, a squat stand with safety pins and enough weight to keep it grounded works. Also, ensure you have a place to store plates. Many power racks have this built-in, but you can also purchase things like a-frame storage.

For all your gym equipment needs, there is no better place to look into options at all price ranges than Garage Gym Reviews.

Here are some notes on the small things. You need chalk. You can get this anywhere. Liquid chalk can also be good if you travel frequently. Springs collars stink but are cheap. Something like Rogue Oso collars are expensive but great and should last for decades. Having a deadlift jack makes loading and unloading your deadlift more convenient and quick. Get some fractional plates. MicroGainz has well-made yet affordable fractional plates made in America. Lastly, get a flat bench. Rep Fitness has a great one.

Gear to Get Going

Shifting to personal gear, you need to get lifting shoes. Lifting shoes are designed for lifting. They have a flat, hard sole (no squishy). Boots or Converse all-stars are okay, but get some lifting shoes, only wear them when you lift, and they’re last at least longer than a decade. Running shoes are the worst option. Adidas, Nike, Reebok, and Rogue all have good options, though ensure you don’t get some hybrid cross-trainer.

You’ll need a belt after awhile. You want it to be leather. We recommend Dominion. You can get 3″ or 4″, though 3″ is the safer bet unless you know you have a long torso. Lever and prong also is an option and based on personal preference. Lever requires more work to change holes but it easier and faster to take off during a workout. Prong you can change holes quickly but you lose the convenience of the quick snap to take off.

Lastly, it’s always important to start. That might mean walking, doing bodyweight exercises, or picking a gym as you build your home gym. Convenience matters regardless of home gym or commercial gym. A long commute or lots of work to do before a workout is a hurdle. You want to limit the mental, effort, and time commitment it requires to get started each workout.




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