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Creating a Home Gym

In This Article:

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Cardio Action
What type of cardio machine should you buy? And how much can you expect to spend? Let's do a little imaginary shopping.

A stationary bike with bells and whistles like the Lifecycle can cost as much as $2,000, or you can spend as little as $300 for a basic stationary model. Here's the Catch-22. If you're not sure that you'll use it, it's best to start with the cheaper model. If, however, you're planning to become the next Lance Armstrong, the sturdier machine is preferable. Years ago, one of Jonathan's future teammates on his cycling team, a guy who hadn't cycled or exercised in years, started riding on a low-rent stationary bike he bought for a song. Before long, he rode it so often he ground it into pencil shavings. Afterward, he started riding on the road and went on to become one of the best riders in the state. If you already have a bicycle, a fine way to work out indoors is to buy a contraption that allows you to remove the front wheel and ride your bike indoors. Usually, such an apparatus goes for between $100 and $200.

If biking isn't your thing, let your feet do the walking and buy a treadmill. As is true for the stationary bike, there's a whole range of options for the treadmill, ranging in price from $500 to $5,000. Again, if you're going to use it regularly it's far better to drop four figures on a solid machine. Three brands we particularly like are Star Trac, Quinton, and Precor.

Don't like to run or bike? There are a variety of other machines that will help get your heart pumping, including the Concept II rowing machine, Nordic Track cross country ski simulators, stairclimbers like the StairMaster, and the increasingly popular elliptical trainers that provide a great, low-impact workout.

The Weight Stuff
Now that we've explored the world of cardio equipment, it's time to discuss the meat and potatoes (or better yet, the broiled fish and brown rice, but we'll get to the diet stuff later in the book!) of the home gym: resistance equipment.

Here's what you should look for in an "all-in-one" unit:

  • A variety of exercises. No matter how effective the exercise, a continuing routine of the same few exercises will leave you feeling bored.

  • Ease of movement from one exercise to another. If transitioning from one exercise to another is difficult or time-consuming, you're not likely to use the machine. Or if you do use it, you're not likely to get a good workout.

  • Enough resistance to grow with you as you get stronger. Right now, the lightest weight on the machine may be just a little too heavy for you to lift, but – as hard as it may be to imagine now – you won't be in that position for long. You'll get stronger and stronger, and you'll want a machine that will help you do just that. If you have to do 38 repetitions of an exercise to tax yourself, you need to increase the weight.

  • An objective measure of your progress. In other words, you need a way to tell how strong you're getting from one week to the next. Progress is inspirational. If you see that you're able to do 10 more repetitions of a particular exercise, you're more likely to keep at it.
There are quite a few multifunction strength-training machines on the market that are versatile, sturdy, and safe. Of course, each has its advantages and disadvantages. Three of the best-selling and most effective units are the Total Gym (in which you slide a sled and your body weight through a variety of exercises, adjusting the angle to change the resistance), the Soloflex (which uses elastic bands for resistance), and our personal favorite, the Bowflex (which uses patented "Power Rods" for resistance).

The Power of Freeweights
If newfangled ideas like rubber bands and Power Rods don't do it for you, you can buy an adjustable bench ($300 to $500) and a set of freeweights, and knock yourself out (but not literally!). Although initially this might seem like the simpler, less expensive way to go, the costs quickly add up, and it can become far more expensive than you anticipated. Furthermore, for the novice, the use of freeweights in an unsupervised setting makes us more than a wee bit nervous. Still, a freeweight setup at home can work quite well if you take the time to learn the rules and then follow them.

Now for the cost. Unless you're training to be the next Barry Bonds, you probably don't want or need a full set of dumbbells in your home. A good option is a pair of adjustable dumbbells such as the PowerBlock. Selling for roughly $200, the PowerBlock allows you to easily and quickly adjust the weight of the barbell from 5 to 45 pounds.

When shopping for a bar and weights (also known as plates), you have a few options. "Olympic" bars, found in just about every gym, are seven feet long and weigh 45 pounds. (There are shorter, lighter bars available.)

Plates are available in 2.5- through 100-pound increments. Figure on spending about 25 per pound, a sum that adds up if you're a budding moose. Throw on a pair of collars (the clips that secure the plates at either end of the bar), and you're good to go for just about any of the exercises we'll describe. We say "just about" because there are a few that are unsafe to do without a spotter. We'll note which are the risky ones so you don't end up with an imprint of a barbell on your nose.

As we've already said, unless you're willing to spend a small fortune, you'll never duplicate the wide range of equipment that a good gym can offer (to say nothing of the guidance trainers can provide). However, even the best gym in the solar system does you no good if you don't use it. Working out in a gym is the most reliable way to build a fitter body, but a home gym option is certainly the next best thing.

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Excerpted from he Complete Idiot's Guide to Weight Training © 2003 by Deidre Johnson-Cane and Jonathan Cane. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide website or call 1-800-253-6476.


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