New Year’s resolutions have a tendency to cause gridlock at gyms. If you’re a regular, you see all sorts of new faces, some of them tying up the equipment that you need. That’s fine, if they’re actually using it; but it’s frustrating to have to go looking around for a pair of dumbbells because some inconsiderate soul didn’t have the manners to put back the weights.
It will pass, of course, as people drift back to their old, non-workout habits. But you don’t have to wait for that to happen. If the seasonal crowding discomfits you, why not set up your own personal gym at home? We’re not talking about spending thousands of dollars on equipment. For not much more than you might spend for a night out, you can get enough gear to provide a decent workout while you await your gym’s return to normalcy.
Dumbbells cost roughly a dollar a pound and can be kept neatly out of the way with a dumbbell rack. These racks can be found for under $25 at most big-box stores, along with dumbbells and weight plates.
One of the most valuable pieces of equipment you can own is a pullup bar. These also can be found for less than $25. They install in a doorway and, with most models, the bar can be removed when not in use. Before installing, be sure the threshold is sturdy enough to support your weight.
Install the pullup bar high enough to allow room to lower your body as well as lift it up. If you are not able to lift your body weight in a pullup, start training to accomplish this by using a process called “negatives.” This is a technique that creates rapid strength gains by doing only the eccentric — that’s trainer jargon for easy — part of an exercise.
Instead of standing on the floor, you start an eccentric pullup from a step stool. (A folding step-stool that supports 250 pounds can be found for just under $10 at big-box stores.) Grasp the bar while you’re in the “up” position, then slowly lower yourself.
Eccentric movements can be done with almost any exercise. In an eccentric bench press, for instance, you would lie on a bench and have a spotter place a loaded bar into your upraised hands; you would then slowly lower it to your chest. Eccentric movements overload the muscles being used, and within a surprisingly short time of repetitive workouts, you will be able to perform the concentric (hard) part of the exercise.
Ankle weights are another handy addition to your home gym. While they come in fixed sizes beginning at as little as 1 pound, an adjustable-weight version allows you to increase the load as your legs strengthen. A 20-pound set provides the most versatility; as with dumbbells, expect to pay about $1 a pound.
Ankle weights are great for building strength and muscularity in your quadriceps by doing leg extensions. With the weights around each ankle, sit up straight without leaning against the back of your chair. Lift each foot until the leg is straight, then slowly lower it. Do this 10 times on each leg for a beginning set, to be performed on alternate days. Add weight as your strength grows.
It’s necessary to equalize a quad workout with a hamstring workout to stabilize the thigh. While standing with the ankle weights still on, put one leg forward, then slowly pull it as far back as possible. Use the alternate-day schedule.