Bienvenidos a Gym Libre: House of pain, place of gain, land free of whining and excuses.
That’s one great thing about plates of iron and barbells and spring collars and benches. No matter how much sniveling and whimpering and complaining you do, it all still weighs exactly the same.
There’s no special gravity discount for simpering divas or lazy philosophizers or pseudo-intellectual cretins with lots of bad answers and no experience or grit.
There’s no set of weight plates that just look big but are actually filled with helium instead of hematite.
And there’s no room for negotiation or rationalization when your little grippies are wrapped around a barbell that only wants to fall through your chest into the floor.
It’s just quiet, purposeful, simple and persistent effort. You know, like all that stuff pseudo-intellectual cretins like to pontificate about but haven’t actually ever met.
So let’s get to know some tools of the trade for building the mental muscles needed for persistent effort and the physical musculos that make you stronger, more attractive and generally better.
I’ve organized the following tour of Gym Libre into three phases: 1) Core; 2) Advanced; and 3) Three.
This way, if you’re looking to build your own gym, you can start with the biggest and most flexible bang-for-the-buck stuff in “Core.” Useful add-ons for extra muscle-building capabilities are in the “Advanced” section. And, third, the more specialized stuff that is the domain of higher-level training is found in the creatively-named “Three” section.
If you’re building your own home gym from scratch, you only need two pieces of equipment to cover the overwhelming majority of exercises to hit every major muscle group.
1. Most important is a great set of adjustable dumbbells. Adjustable-weight dumbbells pretty much allow you to have an entire Planet Fitness worth of weight capabilities in a neat and incredibly inexpensive package.
For those with some knowledge of shopping for home gym equipment, you’re probably familiar with the rule of thumb that each pound of dumbbell weight costs roughly $1. And that rule applies to both new and used equipment. Because the other rule of thumb for dumbbells is that, whether new or used, a 50# dumbbell weighs 50 pounds.
So if you’re trying to replicate the rows of hex dumbbells laid out at your neighborhood gimnasio that run in pairs from 5# to 100# in 5-pound increments, you’re looking at a total of 2,100 pounds of hex weights. Or around $2k in dumbbell purchase price. Which is, yes, dumb.
To hack the math and have the same range of weights as an entire wall’s worth of dumbbells, go with a sturdy pair of adjustable-weight dumbbells instead.
I’ve got a pair that can be adjusted from 5# each up to #100 each.* And they’re great. Excellent grip, evenly weighted, quick to adjust… And the set costs less than $190 new. Which, for those of you too musclebound to work your abacus, represents over a 90% discount from the typical dumbbell set you’d find at the gym. Oh, and the adjustables take up way less space. So they’re excellent for small home gyms.
This (pictured) is what I’ve got at Gym Libre, and I use them pretty much every day.
Now, let me explain the “*” above: The total weight of the set is 200# (i.e., two dumbbells of up to 100# each). But a single dumbbell bar can be weighted with more than just 100# for single-hand exercises. For instance, when I’m doing dumbbell rows, I’ll load up a single dumbbell with up to 125#. (Which is about as much weight as can fit on one.)
Which means, depending on how you want to think about it, the savings compared with a traditional set of dumbbells is even more than 90%.
Bottom line: You can’t have a really great home gym without dumbbells. But, with just dumbbells and nothing else, you can pretty much do all you need to get great workouts in for the entire body.
2. An adjustable bench is the second piece of “Core” equipment. A flat bench allows you to do stuff like bench press and dumbbell rows and other sinewy stuff.
But you’ve gotta be able to put the bench in an incline position to hit the upper pecs, or you’ve gotta be able to put the back perpendicular to the floor for shoulder exercises, or decline position for other muscles, etc.
Now, the adjustable bench I have came as part of a larger piece of equipment I bought (which is a “power rack” and which is part of the “Advanced” lineup), but a standalone adjustable bench virtually identical to mine can be bought separately for around $100.
This one pictured is very similar to the one I’ve got. Ignore the bro standing by the bench like he’s waiting in line for a urinal. That ain’t me, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t arrive with the bench.
For added capabilities, two additional pieces of equipment are very useful.
3. The first is a “power rack.” Which is a totally stupid name. But whatever.
It’s basically an integrated squat and press rack.
I have this one, which comes with a fully adjustable bench. I like this model because, unlike some others, it’s got grips for pullups and dips, has catch bars that can be fully adjusted for different press and squat heights, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
On Amazon this one runs around $420.
There are other, similar setups with roughly equivalent functionality, but I think of this one as a good value. I’ve had it for over two years now and it’s held up well. My only beefs are: 1) There aren’t integrated weight plate “trees” for storage; and 2) there’s no pulley system for rows. The second beef isn’t a big deal, but the weight storage thing means this cage doesn’t always feel heavy enough to stay in place.
Which means I’ve done two things. First, I placed the cage’s rear feet against a wall, which keeps it from sliding back when I rack a heavy barbell. And second, I store my excess weight plates by leaning them against the cage’s bottom bars. It’s a convenient storage place anyway, and it helps keep the thing in place. (I don’t want to suggest these are super-serious problems, but I’ve had two other similar setups in the past that had these couple additional features that turned out to be pretty nice. So if I were in the market now for a new rack, I’d try to find one with weight plate storage and a pulley.)
One thing to look out for when shopping for these power cages/power racks is to make sure the bench that comes with the rack is not “built into” it. Some benches are bolted or welded to the cage’s crosspieces, which means the bench can’t be removed. That really limits the flexibility of both the bench and rack, so steer clear of these jobbies.
Also, if you shop around, you’ll see much cheaper setups that aren’t power racks, but are rather just bench setups with a rack for the barbell to rest in between sets of bench press. These are not suitable alternatives to power racks because they don’t offer near enough flexibility/utility or the safety offered by power cages. Steer clear of these jobbies, too.
4. An Olympic barbell with weights is another “advanced” piece of equipment.
To many (novice) gym-goers, this would likely be the first thing on the list. But in my mind, the barbell simply doesn’t provide as much utility as dumbbells.
For one, dumbbells engage accessory muscles better. They also enable better and freer range of motion during exercises. And you’re way less likely to maim yourself with dumbbells (which can be dropped to the floor easily in the event of muscle failure) than with a heavy barbell (which, if dropped, drops on you usually).
Crossfit bros out there are now getting all belligerent and going off about power cleans and other Olympic lifts. I’m not gonna get into it here, but I ain’t no fan of the Crossfit craze. The major problem is that Crossfit routines involve some seriously advanced powerlifting moves and heavy weights that require super awesome technique or result in devastating injuries. And most Crossfitters don’t start out great technicians. And often they stay sort of sloppy in technique even as their strength grows, which only amps up injury risk.
Yes, I do cleans as an occasional part of my routine. I love deadlifts. And I usually do squats with the Olympic bar bowed across my shoulders. There’s a place for lots of the moves Crossfit has co-opted even in a weightlifting regimen that (like mine) is more in the tradition of bodybuilding than powerlifting.
So I use the Olympic bar and weights almost every workout. But for my training, the bar serves a secondary role to the dumbbells.
I’d recommend getting an Olympic bar as part of a 300-pound set including weight plates. (“Olympic” bar means the bar is 7 feet in length and has 2-inch diameter ends for weights. The alternative is a “Standard” bar, which doesn’t have the same level of engineering or weight capacity; don’t bother with these Standard bars.)
The one pictured is pretty much what I’ve got. At $260 or so on Amazon, it’s a great value buy. Yes, there are more expensive barbells and weights that do the same thing. But I’ve had this setup for two years without any issues despite lots of heavy use.
Ok, so the really important stuff is behind us. Now it’s time to get fancy and unnecessary.
5. Flooring is a pretty important piece of the gym puzzle at Gym Libre because the gym’s in the garage. Which sports a superhard and unforgiving concrete floor. Which is about as fun to roll around on as nails.
I bought some awesome EVA foam interlocking flooring at Costco a couple years back for like super-cheap. On Amazon the same stuff runs about $0.83 per square foot. I don’t know what I paid, but I think it might have been around that rate. We’ve got almost 200 sf. of it in in Gym Libre. And it’s awesome.
It dampens sound. It keeps the ground from being frigid on cold mornings. It’s good for floor work like stretching and crunches and stuff. It helps with foot grip for squats and lunges. It keeps weights from getting dinged by a hard surface, and it protects the floor from the weights. And it’s super easy to keep clean.
Our gym wouldn’t be complete without it. But, depending on the setup, it’s hardly necessary.
6. An EZ Curl bar is really useful for triceps and biceps exercises. I mainly use mine for “skullcrushers,” and Lady Libre digs using it for biceps workouts.
The benefit of the EZ Curl bar is that its grip angles take strain off wrist and elbow joints. So it’s useful as an alternative to the straight barbell for some things.
I like the EZ Curl bar, but it gets relatively little use, and it’s definitely a bell/whistle kind of a feature of Gym Libre.
If you get one, get an Olympic style so your weight plates can be used on it. And look for one with sufficiently aggressive bends in the bar (since that’s the whole idea of these).
This one’s similar to what I’ve got. Around $50 is what these tend to run.
So there you have it. Gym Libre.
At the Amazon prices for everything listed above (including the power rack plus bench; so excluding the standalone bench product), the total cost is about $1,070.
If you knock a few square feet of EVA foam out of the equation and exclude the EZ Curl bar, you can have your very own home version of Gym Libre for under a grand.
And then all you’ve gotta do is, like, you know, um, work out.
Hope this is helpful, Luchadores! Holla with thoughts, etc., and happy lifting!!