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Home Gyms: Everything You Need To Know To Get Started!

Are you thinking along the lines of setting up a home gym in the garage? Learn what you need to get to have a full body workout!
If you're just starting out, going to a gym might feel a bit intimidating. This is natural, but it's a mental barrier that I urge you to try to get past sooner rather than later. When you sign up for membership, most good gyms will offer some free instruction with a personal trainer, and perhaps give a discount for a package of, say 10 sessions to get you started. Pounce on it! It's the best introduction you can possibly get!

However, if you are not so sure about the whole thing and don't want to tie yourself up by any memberships, or simply doesn't have the money to spend on the fees, you're probably thinking along the lines of setting up a home gym in the garage and take it from there. Once again, this is not the approach I would recommend, but many great bodybuilders started out like this so I'd be dumb to claim it's not working. Let's instead focus on what you CAN do!

Basic Equipment

While it's technically possible to get a workout without hardly any equipment at all, I think it's a little like trying to build a house without a hammer and nails, but only using chewing gum and sewing thread to keep it together. I guess it's possible, but it's really making things hard on you, while not getting optimum results.

The bare minimum, basic set up would look something like:

  1. A bench with a leg-curl addition
  2. An adjustable rack
  3. A barbell and two dumbbells with adjustable weights
  4. A pulley addition to the bench, with a wide bar and a handle
  5. A variety of plates to allow for proper up- and down-scaling

Basic Exercises

Assuming that you're fairly new to training, I'll start off with a simple 2-split of the body:

Day 1:

Day 2:

This should be plenty for a beginner. Consider this to be only pointers on how to go about it - go back and read my previous articles regarding the form or buy a good book if you're the least unsure of how to execute the motion.

Day 1 - Chest, Shoulders, Back

Chest - Flat and inclined dumbbell-presses.

Lie down with your back flat to the pad, flexing your abs and keeping your shoulder relaxed and down/back against the pad. Strive for balance throughout the movement, keeping your wrists straight, shoulders down, and hands in a vertical line with the elbow (no twisting/turning motions).

Chest - Push-ups

Same as in the army - drop on your face, keep the body erect (that means a STRAIGHT lower back! Keep those abs tense!), and pound away.

Shoulders - Military Presses

Using either a barbell or dumbbells (I prefer dumbbells), sit balanced with knees wide apart, abs tense, shoulders down/back and neck relaxed. As with the dumbbell-presses, ensure that your elbows are vertically in line with your hands, and actively avoid getting a "turning" motion in the shoulder.

Shoulders - Lateral Raises

Grab two dumbbells, stand balanced with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, abs tense, and shoulders down/back. Hold the dumbbells together in front of you with a slight bend in your elbows. Keep the wrists straight. Without lifting your shoulders, slowly swing the dumbbells in an arch upwards, straight out to the sides, but stop exactly halfway, when you look like a big T. This should take about 2 seconds, so keep the rep speed slow. Focus on squeezing the delts rather than handling big weights.

Shoulders - Reverse Flies

If you have a high bench, lie down with your face and chest flat against it. Hold two fairly light dumbbells so that they hang straight down. They must NOT touch the floor. From there, try to keep your back relaxed while bringing the dumbbells up as high as you can straight to the sides, in a slow, controlled manner. If you don't have a high bench, lean forward and try to find something to support you chest against that won't compromise your range of motion.

Back - Lat Pulldowns

Place yourself under the pulley so that you're straight under it. Grab the bar with even spacing, wide enough to keep the forearms vertical throughout the movement. Arch your back slightly, and bring down the bar until it touches your upper chest OR your elbows starts pulling backwards rather than straight down, whichever comes first. Don't push it if you got an inch left when your elbows starts wandering.

Back - Dumbbell Rows

Place one knee and one hand on the bench, plant your foot firmly to the ground (think of yourself as a balanced tripod), flex your abs and grab the dumbbell. Emphasizing a straight back, pull the dumbbell up and back as if you were trying to start a lawnmower.

Back/Overall power - Deadlifts

This is a fairly advanced movement so I strongly suggest that you start out light and follow the detailed instructions given in the article. It's an unbeatable exercise for developing overall power though; so don't let this scare you away.

Day 2 - Arms, Abs, Legs

Biceps - Barbell curls

Stand balanced with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, abs tense, and shoulders down/back. Grab the barbell with a comfortable space between your hands (wrists shouldn't hurt). Keeping your elbows against your sides, curl from a fully stretched position to full contraction. Make sure to keep them elbows still, and avoid swinging your upper body. You might want to try standing with your back against a wall.

Biceps & Forearms - Hammer Curls

Sit down with your knees apart, back straight, and abs tense. Keep the shoulders down/back. Let the arms hang down at your sides, and curl up with your palms facing each other throughout the movement. Keep the elbows at your sides as if they were glued there.

Triceps - Skull Crushers

Lie down on your back on the bench, abs tense, shoulders down/back. Grasp the barbell (6-8 inches apart) and hold it above your head with straight arms. Keeping your upper-arm still, bend your elbows so that the barbell almost touches your forehead. For an extra stretch, continue the movement by bringing the barbell behind/below your head, and then straighten the elbows as you go back to the top position. Remember to keep the elbows parallel and close all the way through.

Triceps - Pushdowns

Stand in front of the pulley with knees slightly bent, abs tense, shoulder back/down, and grasp the bar about shoulder width. You may keep your feet parallel or not - whichever makes you feel the most balanced. Keeping the elbows to your sides, press down to the very bottom and squeeze for a second before going back up to a full stretch. A full range of motion is essential!

Abs - Cable Crunches

Attach a rope to your pulley and hold both ends with a steady grip in front of your shoulders (if you're making the rope-attachment yourself, make sure to make sturdy knots at the ends so your hands won't slide off). Kneel in front of the pulley, lean a little bit forward, and consciously try to bring your ribcage as close to the pelvis as possible. This is slightly different than bringing the forehead to the floor, so make sure to target the abs properly.

Quads - Squats

This is a fairly advanced movement, but very effective. Start out light and make sure to get the form right before increasing the weights. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, abs tense and back slightly overextended. A training-belt may be a good idea to provide extra protection for your back. Shrug a little, and balance the bar on your shoulders before you unhook it from the rack. Balance is absolutely essential, just as maintaining a straight back. Smoothly go down to the bottom position, without bouncing, where you make a distinct turn and bring yourself up to standing again. Read more about squats in the dedicated section on this site.

Quads - Leg Extension

Sit at the end of the bench with your lower chins against the rolling pad of the leg-extension addition. Make sure to have three fingers width between the back of your knee and the edge of the bench. Keeping your abs tense and feet relaxed, stabilize your body by holding onto the bench while slowly extending your legs. Avoid bouncing at the top.

Hamstrings - Leg Curls

Lie on your stomach on the bench, with the rolls against your Achilles-tendons. Check so that your kneecaps move freely and don't touch the bench. You want to avoid curling your back, so keep your abs tense and consciously keep the pelvis as straight as possible. Keep your forehead against the pad, and grasp the edges of the bench to maintain balance.

Calves - Dumbbell calf-press

Unless you have a Smith-machine standing around, you must use one hand to stabilize yourself throughout the movement. Put a phonebook or similar on the ground so that you can stretch your calves completely without touching the floor. Grab one dumbbell (probably heavy!) in the same hand as the calf you're about to train. Put your foot on the phone book (or whatever) so that the ball of the foot is on the surface but the heel is hanging in the air. Keep your knee straight without overextending it. Maintaining balance, stretch down to the very bottom and push your way up. Hold for a second, and slowly descend. As always, avoid bouncing!

These simple exercises should give you a flying start. Now, remember that all these instructions are simplified, and hands-on training by a professional can only show that there is some fine-tuning that. Always stay in control of the weight, not the other way around. If you feel strange pain, stop training and see a medical professional. It could be an injury building up, so don't fool yourself by thinking that an aching joint will be "just fine" if you keep training it at high intensity.