All You Need To Start a Home Strongman Gym
As a strongman trying to make serious improvements and lift big weights in training without distractions or interruptions, nothing boils my blood more than having to train at the local “fitness club” or Globo-Gym. I’ve been required to move to new cities a couple of times now for work and school and if your experience has been anything like mine, you know that it takes time to get connected with the local strongman crew or gym (if you’re fortunate enough to have one in your city). In the interim you are forced to endure whatever gym is nearby or that you have access to. There’s nothing worse than waiting for someone quarter-squatting 225 to use the power rack, or being told you can’t use chalk or you are "dropping weights" and making too much noise when deadlifting.
It didn’t take me too long to find a strongman team to train with on weekends during my most recent relocation, but it did take almost a year of lacklustre progress at the nearest Globo-Gym before enough was enough. I had purchased a year long pass to a chain of fitness centres in Canada before moving from Toronto so that I had the assurance of at least being able to lift something no matter where I moved to without being stuck in a contract. Before the year was up though I started to think more and more about how I could realize this dream I’ve had for a long time of building a home gym...
I knew it would have to start out as an incomplete vision of my home gym dreams, living in a basement apartment, but I still felt like it would be a better option than the misery of seeing everyone else around you entranced by their own biceps as they do set after set of curls, while you’re trying to make actual progress.
There were several considerations I had to make when deciding on how I would outfit Home Gym 1.0:
- Space in my second bedroom/office/library/new gym was extremely limited and everything had to be as portable as possible to stow away when not in use.
- I didn’t want to break the bank. Basically I wanted to keep the initial cost pretty close to a year at a typical gym which is around $700-$800 in Canada.
- When you dream of having a home gym that would be the envy of any strongman, the question of what is essential vs. extra can be a tough one to ask yourself. In order to keep the cost down and maximize my space and equipment portability I had to only purchase what was absolutely essential.
- What I missed more than anything else when training at the Globo-Gym was dropping weights, especially from overhead. I wanted bumper plates more than anything else for my home gym and considered that a top priority.
- Equipment quality - strongmen beat the hell out of their equipment. Most strongmen can destroy expensive, top-of-the-line equipment as easily as cheap quality bars and plates, so I was looking for a balance between affordability and quality when choosing equipment.
The Home Gym 1.0 Equipment List:
Since some fellow Brothers and Sisters of Iron in Canada might be shopping for gym equipment I will list the brand names of the products I chose and a little bit on how they're performing, since there aren’t many great reviews out there and it’s important to know if your investment in a home gym will withstand your fury. If you live outside of Canada, the list is still composed of what I would consider as the bare minimum for training for strongman.
All-in this list of essentials costs $715 plus tax. I started searching early for bumper plates in the hopes that I would find someone who was selling some used ones, but after 2 months of searching, it must have been a dry spell for weight plates, because I had no luck. I happened to be passing through Toronto where the store that sells the bumper plates and squat stands I listed is located, so I finally bit the bullet and purchased them to save on having to ship it all to me.
I really like these squats stands and chose them, because they include "safety hooks" that work for bench pressing and floor pressing. The safety hooks aren't going to do much to save you if you get pinned on a squat, but that's what I have bumper plates and a better bar for. I haven't been focused on squats, so I don't think I've loaded the stands passed the recommended 400 lb. max yet, but I've gotten pretty close and over time I've become more comfortable with believing that they'll hold up. I also bought a second pair of pins off of Amazon for loading heavier weights on the rack, because if anything is going to give out when it's loaded up it's the pins for adjusting the height. The other reason I picked out this squat stand apparatus is because the maximum height listed for adjustments is 78" and being just a smidgen shorter than 6'6" I can indeed walk right under bar if it is racked at this maximum height. This is what I use to do pull-ups with, since I don't have the freedom of a garage gym setting where I could put up a bar just for that. The stands are also way more versatile than a rack and I take them outside to train regularly and store them in my closet when not in use.
AmStaff Fitness Bumper Plate Set + 2 extra 45 lb. Bumpers
I decided to buy new bumper plates after looking for several months for used ones as my patience with the plebs at the Globo-Gym grew shorter and shorter and I had to get out of there. A strongman can destroy equipment the same whether it is top-quality or super cheap. I don't think the bumper plates I chose are terrible, but they are still quite cheap at $1.17 / lb. for the set and $1.25 / lb. for 45s not in the set. They stunk up my car and my spare bedroom for the couple of months that I had them. In the half a year I've had them they have held up really well and I beat the crap out of them. I drop several hundred pounds from overhead onto the road and they're still holding up. Although I will mention that after a while of dropping them on cement surfaces and roads I noticed some of the rubber around the bar sleeve on the more heavily used plates did start flaking and the sleeves on two of the 45 lb. plates are no longer perfectly flush with the rubber. While there is not looseness in the sleeve yet, over time this could happen from the harsh usage, so I started using a rubber stall mat outside so that when I drop the weights there is a bit more shock absorption and this has helped tremendously. After all I want to make sure my investments lasts at least a couple of years and isn't just a money sink by constantly destroying plates.
More important than the quality of the bumper plates is the quality of the bar you buy. My bar is definitely not a super-fancy olympic lifting bar or powerlifting bar, but it spins smoothly, the collars are nice and quiet and don't rattle excessively, and it comes with a lifetime warranty. Hopefully strongman training falls within the purview of such a "lifetime warranty," but I do know that is has so far withstood being dropped from overhead onto paved roads and has been loaded up to 600 lb. and is still in perfect condition. With a 1500 lb. rating, it should be able to last me a good, long time.
Nice To Have
The nice to have category makes your training infinitely more versatile. Once you have added these additional tools, which all together cost about $100, you will be able to do isolation exercises for any and all weak points and hypertrophy goals.
A must have for more strongman-specific training. Loaded up with metal 25 lb. plates it is very similar to a circus dumbbell. Also great for rows and different holds to build up grip strength.
If you have the space to set up a more permanent landmine apparatus in a garage or basement gym I would suggest going with the typical set-up. This landmine is great however if you need it to be more portable. Because it requires 3 plates to create the base for the landmine, you'll eventually need more weights to load up your accessory landmine lifts.
This is a really cool tool I found at SportChek that anchors around a closed door. Great for spare bedroom gyms, but if you're in a garage or basement you might need to go with an anchor that attaches to the wall or wherever you need it. You'll also need resistance bands to make use of this. I already had a set of resistance bands to make use of the anchor with.
Things I Already Had That Helped
- Some Olympic weight plates including a couple of 25 lb., 5 lb., and 10 lb.
- A pair of 35 lb. and 40 lb. dumbbells - these are great for accessories and also holding down the squat stands so that don't tip when racking and unracking weights.
- A couple sets of collars for olympic bars.
- Resistance bands
- Fat Gripz, sleeves, belts, wraps, straps, etc.
Note: In its current iteration, I don’t do much training with actual strongman implements in Home Gym 1.0. The strength foundation is built in the home gym along with some event simulation and then competition training mostly takes place with my team at the Clydsdale Power Team Gym. You'll also notice that I haven't mentioned a bench anywhere. That's because I still don't have one. I don't have the space for it with my current set-up and so I have been focusing on floor presses as my main horizontal pressing movement. My main goal emphasizes overhead pressing strength anyway, so I usually do a lot more overhead pressing.
You probably noticed more plates in the photos than what I listed. Not too long ago I found an add for someone selling plates and they had 45s as well as 35 lb. bumpers. I got 250 lb. all together for $60 to upgrade my stock pile of plates, which helps when loading up the bar for deadlifts.
I’m pretty good at making use of basic strength equipment in ways that do a decent job of simulating actual strongman events, so if you’re interested in this kind of stuff let me know and I’ll work on doing a series on simulating strongman implement training with basic equipment.