During the Covid-19 national lockdown in early 2021, we asked our members to tell us about their home gym for strength training.
Pros and cons, what to buy, will they use it after lockdown?
Our members train in powerlifting, olympic weightlifting and strongman, so the ideal home gym is full of weights and strength equipment.
However, many members live in London in small flats. So home kit ranges from a couple of dumbbells in the lounge, all the way up to the full garage gym.
Therefore if you are wondering whether to get strength training kit for home, this will be a helpful read, whatever your situation.
What are the Pros and Cons of a home gym for strength training?
For most people, convenience is key. Being able to get a workout in at any time has been a lifesaver
Olympic weightlifter Jon loves the convenience: “[the] key pro is knowing that I can get some kind of workout each day. It’s convenient, stress relieving, scalable.”
Powerlifter Anna-Marie feels similar: “[It’s] mental as much as physical – something other than work to do in the day; feeling of normality being able to do a program; my own space and time to relax.”
Fellow powerlifting team member Joanne, who has a garage gym up in her second home in Newcastle, says, “I love having the equipment at home and it has been a life saver for me being able to continue training despite everything else going on.”
However, just because you have kit at home, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to work out! Lack of motivation and not having your team around you can make it an uphill battle.
Joanne comments, “I’ve found motivation really difficult, and consistency and keeping a regular schedule is hugely important. There are many days when I really don’t feel like doing anything, especially when its dark and cold. On those days it’s important to just show up and be kind to yourself, even if you just do 30 minutes.”
Anna-Marie finds that “not having people around – for safety as well as company and support, and also checks on form and technique” is a downside of the home gym set up.
Space and surroundings often mean you can’t go as hard or as heavy as in the gym
Weightlifter Jon says, “Space and floor means I can’t go heavy – which I do miss.”
Lizzie agrees: “I live in a small flat so space is definitely an issue. I am very jealous of those with space for barbells and plates. It’s barbell lifts I enjoy the most so obviously miss that and would rather be back in the gym.”
Ash feels similarly: “I don’t intend on buying any as I train at the gym and my home is for relaxing, not training. It would be a waste of money as I would just go back to the gym.”
Overall, those who have some kit, even if it’s just dumbbells and bands, are happy that they have it. Some missed out during the first lockdown and made sure to get supplies in this time around.
Emma comments, “I definitely made sure I had more equipment this lockdown because the weather is crap so working outside isn’t too appealing, and I want to keep my strength up if I can.”
Anna-Marie points out, as a potential ‘con’, that it is “difficult to know what to buy when you’re just starting out – what are good brands, prices etc.”
And that leads us nicely onto our next topic, which is
What equipment to get, and where to get it from
You might think that having a garage is the perfect solution to having the complete home gym – but not always.
Anna-Marie relates, “When we first went into lockdown we were considering a complete emptying and refurb of the garage. That was clearly too big a project that meant it would never happen. By November I had switched to a mindset of just make space and get it done. That then shaped my kit buying.
I moved away from a cage to squat stands as they’re more flexible for making space when you need it, and, rather than all the toys, I just got what I needed for the program and can add to it as I go along if needed.”
That said, Joanne and Amila love their garage gyms. Amila comments, “the only thing that I regret is not buying racks with safeties so I can squat on my own.”
Joanne has even made her own kit. See Exhibit A – a ‘kettlebell’ made from a paint tin filled with sand!
Anyone who tried to get kit during lockdown knows that demand massively outstripped supply!
Jon already had some kit at home, but comments “it still seems difficult to get dumbbells and kettlebells (budget end).”
Joanne has some great advice for those struggling to get kit: “Even if you’re not sure, it’s often better to buy something as a short term solution, as you can usually resell easily. I’ve changed several things over time, selling my original bench and bar once I’d later found better ones.”
When it comes to finding kit, Joanne comments, “Social media can be useful in finding recommendations on what is in stock, and which suppliers have been reliable. For example, the Facebook page Garage Gym UK has lots of good suggestions. The other important thing to do is get on mailing lists for anything you want, so that you find out when things are back in stock.”
Joanne says, “Suppliers I’ve been impressed with include Strength Shop, Mirafit, Muscle Squad, Tribe Active.”
Mirafit also gets the thumbs-up from Jon: “I’ve been impressed with the quality and value of Mirafit equipment.”
But if kit is out of the question for you, don’t worry. There’s a lot to be said for bodyweight training.
Amila comments, “I was lucky enough to have some adjustable dumbbells when lockdown 1.0 started. Surprisingly, I found using weights in my bedroom pretty miserable and enjoyed bodyweight focused classes much more than those using the dumbbells or resistance bands (quite fiddly when you’re short). More helpful was a step / bench which I used mainly for lower body movements like pistol squats and modified floor squats.”
Lizzie had similar thoughts: “Would recommend adjustable dumbbells for space saving, but overall I like that home workouts have forced me to do bodyweight stuff I would normally neglect like push up strength and core work, as I have seen real progress on those for the first time.”
But after almost a year in lockdown, the delights of home training are wearing off for some. Ash comments, “First lockdown was like a novelty to do mobility/flexibility, but it feels now like it is all I do and has lost its appeal.” Lifters gotta lift, after all.
For those in rented accommodation, it’s possible to get pull up bars that require no fittings. They cleverly brace themselves against your door frame and are perfectly safe.
Emma says, “I purchased a pull up bar for door frames after our chat at the mulled wine and mince pie evening- you probably don’t remember but I was inspired! It’s been quite fun playing around with it.”
What about the future ‘new normal’?
What will our home-gymers do when things get back to normal? Has the current situation changed their view?
Jon envisages a hybrid situation: “Once things are back to normal, the gym will remain my core focus for lifting, but I’ll use the home equipment for missed sessions, accessories and mobility.”
Joanne sees it as temporary: “You can spend as much or as little as you like and build a nice space, but you can’t replace the sense of community that we have at Strength Ambassadors and for that reason I don’t see the home gym as a permanent solution, but more as a temporary necessity.”
Amila agrees: “I hugely miss the atmosphere of lifting with the SA crew! I’ve found I have to be a bit careful with pushing myself as the added stress outside the gym was resulting in lots of little injuries and niggles. Overall, I would definitely say it’s worth the trouble if you have the space and money to do so, but it’s not a panacea.”
A home gym is not for everyone
Ash says, “No physical proximity of people = less banter, fun and motivation.” He also points out that at home there is no “separation of work/home/gym and no dedicated room”.
Emma has a similar experience with separating home, work and gym, “I definitely prefer going to the gym. Firstly, I find it hard to finish work for gym time because I often get caught on calls. I like the commute to the gym because you can’t pick up calls on the tube and then I leave my phone in my bag and deal with any work related stuff after the session. My colleagues also know I’m going to the gym.
I love the social aspect of the SA gym but the team/community spirit is definitely coming through the online building strength classes”.
The overwhelming sense from members is that the Strength Ambassadors community is the big draw. Training alongside others and having that support is key.
Perhaps one positive of lockdown is that we’ve learned more about what we really value and what is worth going the extra mile for.
Do you have a home gym, or aspire to have one? What are your thoughts about training at home in the future? Comment below!
Many thanks to all our contributors: