With the busy schedules of today, it is sometimes hard to find time for exercise. Or, when you do find the time, it is after you have been at work all day, and you end up waiting 3 hours for the chest press machine shoulder to shoulder with everyone else who just got off work. Capitalism would lead us to believe that it takes a lot of fancy equipment to get an effective workout, but in reality the use of leg curl and hip abduction/adduction machines are not always necessary. I would like to use this article to explain how some basic equipment can be utilized for time-efficient, safe, and effective strength building workouts.
The Fundamental Exercises – Push, Pull, Squat, Twist
Nearly every movement of the human body in terms of strength training can be categorized into the following patterns – push, pull, squat, and twist. When we train with weights, we often utilize one or more of these basic movement patterns, such as in push ups, chest press, rows, squats, deadlifts, and trunk rotations. There are a number of variations derived from these basic movement patterns, but if we keep the movements compound (using many muscle groups) and simple, some basic strength training equipment can be utilized.
Basic Strength Training Equipment
The first piece of basic equipment is a pull-up bar. There are plenty of inexpensive options which can be hung from a door frame or secured along the frame. I recommend a model which can be adjusted to a few position along the door’s frame in order to allow for easier variations to be done. Doing a full set of complete pull-ups is not incredibly easy, allowing some room for variation is a good idea.
The second piece is a simple squat rack, such as the one pictured below. The arms (long pieces just above the base) should be adjustable and removable, and the top notches should be able to secure an Olympic-sized (45-pound) barbell. Adjustable arms are good in case you wish to use the squat rack for modified pull-ups; depending on your size, the arms may have to be lowered or raised to allow for full arm extension. Further, different exercises will have varying positions for that arms, such as a deadlift compared to a bench press. It would also be ideal to have them removable in the case you wish to perform front barbell squats.
An simple, adjustable bench would be a great piece to accompany the squat rack. An adjustable bench would allow for more variation, such as incline presses and decline presses, but a flat bench would suffice.
The third piece is an olympic barbell (45-pounds). It is an essential tool for movements such as the bench press, deadlift, squat, bent over row, and military press. Weights (plates) would need to accompany the barbell, along with two collars to keep the weights in place. The amount of weights required would depend on how much weight you can lift – ideally, you should have quite a bit of variation in the weights you own, anywhere from a set of 45 lb weights, 35 lb weights, 25 lb weights, 10 lb weights, 5 lb weights, 2.5 lb weights, and even 1.5 lb weights. Sets of very light weights, such as 2.5 lb and 1.5 lb are essential, as they may be necessary at times to prevent apparent plateaus in weight-lifting routines.
Unless you really dislike your floor, you will need a thick mat to prevent damages to it. Or, there is the option of acquiring bumper plates (weights) which are typically bounded by rubber and will not damage the floor. In my humble opinion, good weight lifting will require the lifter to drop their weights on most occasions to prevent strain or potential injuries. I do not believe a person lifting something that weighs 300 pounds to the point where their muscles are completely fatigued should have to worry about lightly placing such a load back on the floor.
Additional Strength Training Equipment
All of the previous equipment will allow you to effectively perform a number of compound exercises, including the pull-up (and modifications), squat (all variations), deadlift, weighted barbell lunge, chest press (flat, incline, & decline), bent-over barbell row, military press (seated or standing), clean & press, box jumps, and even modified push-ups.
There are two more pieces of equipment that are not necessarily vital, but can definitely make picking up plates easier and more fluid, saving a lifter’s back in the process. The first is a plate tree, and the second is a barbell jack, which are displayed below. Weights can be placed on the tree. The barbell jack has an area where the barbell can be inserted; this allows the barbell to be lifted a few inches off the ground, giving enough clearance for plates to be loaded. Once the plates are loaded, the handle can be used to place the barbell securely on the ground. If you do not have a jack, you can load the heaviest weights on the arms of the squat rack first (e.g. 45 lb plates), take that and place it on the ground, and then load the rest of your plates. You will typically have enough clearance for the additional weights; the barbell jack just makes the process a lot smoother :-).
Of course, a set of dumbbells can be purchased as well, along with a dumbbell tree, or a set of adjustable dumbbells, such as the Bowflex SelectTech sets, or even a “naked” barbell set in which plates can be added. This will allow for a number of variations on compound movements, but it is not necessary equipment if the goal is to utilize the least equipment possible for the best results. If considering purchasing a set of dumbbells, a microload pair of magnetic weights is a good idea as they can be attached easily to any magnetic weight set to allow for small, incremental weight increases. A full set of dumbbells can be a bit expensive, and in my use of naked barbells and adjustable sets, I have found that they tend to restrict movement, even if it is in the slightest, and I am therefore not a huge fan.
Furthermore, and although not a piece of strength training equipment, a good bag of chalk is a great addition to your strength training set! In my experience, chalking my hands between heavy lifts (such as while performing deadlifts) increases my ability to grip the bar exponentially. This allows me to increase the load in which I can lift and also decreases the risk of injury as I do not have to compensate by performing unnatural movements due to the barbell slipping from my fingers.
Where to Acquire This Equipment/How Long will it Last
On the topic of where to acquire the aforementioned equipment, the source is dependent on one’s budget. The equipment can all be acquired new and in mint-condition from a retail store, online or in-person, or used from a source such as Craigslist. The price will vary depending on quality, but I just did about 5 minutes of research and saw that the rack, barbell, weights, collars, pull-up bar, and mat can be purchased for under $800 new. Used, I would say it should be significantly less; the good thing about weights and strength-training equipment is that if you take care of them and don’t expose them to the elements, they will last for many, many years. On the front of buying it all new, you know you will not have to buy another set for a long time, and if you can buy it used from someone who is moving across country and cannot take it all, you can likely get a great deal and know that the set will still last you a fair amount of time. It is also important to note that bumper plates will cost more than regular plates, but are definitely good purchases for people lifting very heavy weights who cannot or do not wish to run their floors.
As most any gym-goer knows, a squat rack, pull-up bar, adjustable bench, a barbell, and some weights seem pretty primitive. How can you possibly get in great shape without a treadmill, an elliptical, stationary bicycle with TV & AC, a cable cross tower, Glutebuster 3000, and so forth? The truth is, they are all useful in their own way, and if available, they can definitely be utilized to their fullest potential to help a person get into shape. But, if the objective is to limit any equipment unnecessary for a safe, effective working focusing on compound, functional movements, the basic strength training equipment discussed is more than sufficient.The equipment, if utilized properly, will allow an individual to make significant strength gains week after week.
Now, I cannot claim that anyone who acquires this basic equipment will magically get in awesome shape. It still requires a proper understanding of how to utilize the equipment along with a lot of dedication and hard work. The ability to safely utilize the equipment must be present as well; if an individual is a beginner, they should definitely consult with a trained, knowledgeable weight lifting expert and a physician before starting a rigorous strength-training program. But, my point was, spending thousands of dollars on complete fitness systems for in-home use is not always necessary as a simple bar, rack, and weights is more cost effective and typically more effective in terms of achieving strength training goals; furthermore, buying excess equipment like BOSU balls, TRX bands, and hip abduction/adduction machines etc… is not totally necessary as they only add moderate benefits to an already sound, simple system.
I hope you enjoyed the article! Please let me know if you would like me to add or further explain anything. Unfortunately, I currently live in a forest far from a gym, but will produce more practical weight-lifting articles and videos when I am closer to civilization!