I started this post before this Covid pandemic has made in-home training a necessity. This post is about getting a serviceable STRENGTH training setup for as cheaply as possible, with a focus on amazon supply. If this is something that interests you, you might want to buy what you need now, as the Chinese manufactured equipment supply will be slow to return. Now it the time to attempt to build strength. You might need it.
Carving my own gym out of a corner of my basement has been the best thing I’ve done for myself in the last 3 years. You can read about my experience with the Starting Strength Novice Linear Progression here. If you are interested in improving all the other facets of your life, I recommend giving it a 3 month try. It is working for my mom and my 83 year old grandfather, and several other friends. It will for you, too.
If you are sufficiently convinced that you need to be stronger, I’m going to show you how to get a workable gym together as cheaply as possible. For well less than a yearly membership for you and your significant other at a poorly equipped over-populated gym, you can have everything you need to get stronger than you’ve ever been. And you can train in your pajamas. Here’s Mark Rippetoe with the basics to successfully complete his Starting Strength Program.
Your budget will be whatever it is, but I’ll assume you’re like me and want to dip your toe into the pool without a huge expense, but also knowing that inferior equipment will hamper your ability to successfully complete your work. So when I check prices for LA Fitness (for instance), I see a monthly fee of $31 with a $100 activation fee. So we’re looking at $375 per year. If you train with a spouse or friend, now you’d be looking at $750. Since weights don’t go bad, and vacations and illness mean there would be time where you’re paying for a gym but not using it, it pretty quickly becomes apparent that a home gym is a worthwhile investment. Besides, how much would you pay to not have to watch idiots curling in the squat rack and sweating on your bench?
First rule is buy used whenever possible. Facebook marketplace and craigslist are both places to look for used equipment. Here is a list of things from Amazon that will get you started.
- Power Rack
- Platform/Horse Stall mats
At a bare minimum, you need set of uprights with j-cups to hold your bar and some form of safety that can be set at an appropriate height to allow you to set down a squat or protect your throat when you’re benching. I like a full cage because it seems less tippy than the simple squat stands. Here’s a few options from Amazon that would work just fine. Most of these are under $250.
- CAP Barbell Full Cage Power Rack
- Goplus Power Rack
- Fitness Reality 810XLT
- Fitness Reality Multi-Function Adjustable Power Rack
A bench need only be sturdy enough for you to lock into and not shift under load. If cost was my most driving factor, I’d be happy with any of these.
As a general rule, unless you already have one, don’t buy a barbell with hex-screws holding the collars on the bar. That’s a sign of a crappy bar and you’ll bend it as you start lifting heavier over the next few months. If you already have one, use it until it bends and consider an upgrade. Price is once again our main driver here, so I’ll ignore $350 Rogue bars in lieu of more affordable, and still functional, options.
- CAP barbell – This is WAY better than the below option and worth the cost.
- CAP 7′ cheapo. It’s not great but it would work in a pinch.
This one is always best done locally. Look for a play it again sports, craigslist, facebook market, etc. If that’s not an option, look at big box to do free ship-to-store. Expect that you’ll need about 350lbs for the first few months, but pretty soon you’ll need another 200lbs of 45’s as you get stronger. Make sure you’re looking at plates with 2″ holes (olympic pattern). It’s hard to find complete weight sets online, so if you’re forced to do that, it might take some hunting around. You’ll need a set of 2.5s, 5s, 10s, 25s, and as many 45s as you can afford. If you’re not strong enough to deadlift 135, you might also get a set of 10lb bumpers so you can work from the appropriate height in the deadlift and build from there.
At a bare minimum, you don’t want to crack your basement floor. I recommend 3/4″ horsestall mats from a tractor supply store. If you can’t find that, just make sure you’re protecting your floor from impacts with something like a sheet of 3/4″ plywood or even just these under the weights when deadlifting.
Nice to Have equipment
- Belt – Get a leather, single prong belt. I like Dominion Strength or Pioneer
- Deadlift Jack
- Lifting Shoes
- Knee Sleeves
- Elbow Sleeves
- Wrist Wraps
Nice To Have Gear
If you need help, let me know. Next I’ll write a more minimalist list for apartment people or those with very limited space or budget. Thanks for checking it out and be safe.