Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Only space for a tiger to lie down

Let me start off by saying I’ve got nothing against gyms.  I was a gym-goer for many years, and when I was younger, less miserly and more flush with me-time, belonging to a gym was a good option.  Over the years, however, and especially since having kids, I’ve found that in order for me to consistently stick to a workout plan, I need to create my own gym. That way, when I have a time window from say 10:30-11:00 pm (as was the case last night), I’ve got no excuses.  I don’t need to get into a car and drive to another place, lock up my stuff, etc.  I just go out to my garage or backyard and there it all is.  I could rant a bit here on the lunacy of getting into a car to drive to a gym and then hop on a treadmill/stationary bike, etc., before driving home (instead of just throwing on a pair of shoes and heading out the front door) but I’ll save that for another post.

Now aside from the vices of so-called Globo Gyms, I do have a lot of respect for Crossfit boxes and the like, and I think that for a lot of people they work great.  For me personally, there aren’t any nearby options that work with my schedule.  Many of these types of gyms are only open in the mornings and early evenings.  As a parent, those and the two times of a weekday that I actually get to spend with my kids and I’m not about to sacrifice that to head off to a gym.  And again, the drive across town thing is a deal-breaker for me.  Most of the time, I find myself scheduling workouts after about 9pm, when my kids have both gone to bed.  All the Crossfit gyms are closed by then, and I’d be unlikely to hop in a car and drive out to some 24-hour Globo Gym.  My garage never closes. 

Now the other thing that people often cite is the camaraderie that is gained my working out with others.  Now I don’t argue that this can be a great motivator for some.  Just not for me.  I like to be alone when I train.  I’ve got nothing against people (generally), but I just don’t want them around when I’m lifting weights. I want loud-ass metal playing, I want to look like shit, I want rusty piles of iron on the ground, I want to spit, yell at myself, swear.  I don’t want climate-controls and antiseptic wipes.  It should be as uncomfortable as possible. For that moment in time, I’m not accountable to anyone but myself.  Come to think of it, it’s very selfish.  Oh well.

Anyway, you don’t need a lot of space or equipment.  My former martial arts master in Korea (now in Holland) told me an old quote once that’s stuck with me: “You should be able to train in the space that a tiger takes to lie down.”  That is, that there aren’t any viable excuses.  Many prisoners (at least in the old days before some prisons became Club Med resorts) have kept themselves strong and athletic in cramped, spartan quarters, with minimal equipment.

Here’s a photo of my current set-up.  It’s not much to look at, but I wouldn’t trade it for the fanciest shit out there.  

I built the squat cage a few years ago for about $40 worth of lumber, gas pipe and brackets from Rona. Spotter bars are fixed to my depth, but it would be simple to drill adjustable ones.  Weights have come in phases, as required from garage sales, online classifieds, etc.  Some particularly killer buys have been an Olympic bar for $20 on Kijiji and 200 pounds of plates at a garage sale for $10.  There’s a power tower for dips and chins that my lovely wife got me for a birthday several years ago.  But even that’s not a requirement.  Half the time I use a tree branch in the backyard instead, and in the side yard my old house I built a free-standing pull-up station entirely out of scrap lumber.  A few other nice additions have been the ab roll-out wheel (I got mine given to me for free, but they’re cheap anyway and would also be super-easy to make), and the T-bar (essentially an adjustable kettlebell) made from about $10 worth of 1” gas pipe. The idea for that came from Tim Ferriss’s book - see here for how to make one. A climbing rope in the backyard is also a nice addition that costs all of $20 (and mine detaches via a carabiner so it doubles as a tire swing for the kids)

I’d say my whole set-up takes up about 8 feet by 8 feet in the garage.  Having a roof over top is nice, but not a requirement.  At our old place, I had everything set up in the driveway (BTW I’m still married, but it was close there for awhile…).  Shovelling snow off stuff first was a bit of a pain, but not a major issue at all.

Anyway, just some ideas for cheap, simple, small home gyms.  Mine’s still evolving and I’ve seen a lot of other cool ideas that people have built for themselves.  Mine suits me very nicely.  I haven’t seen any tigers sleeping there yet, but I imagine one would fit.


  1. Hi Dan,

    Love the Blog. Great writing especially. Hope to talk you more about training.


    Chris (Elissa's long suffering husband)

  2. It's been a while since I had a gym membership, I remember going a couple times after midnight when it was empty and I enjoyed that the most. However, most of the time I did go was during "Normal" hours when everyone and their friend was there. I never liked waiting for a turn on any of the equipment and having to drive there and back. I also prefer working out in just boxers, but that's kind of frowned upon in a social gym setting.

    The last couple years I've put together my own little setup in the basement and I love it. It's about as frugal as one could get for gym equipment. Got a squat rack of kijiji for $40, a bench press with bar and 140lbs of weights for $70. By the way, I think your squat rack is quite badass!! Wish I had thought of building my own. I've also seen those power towers every so often at Canadian tire on sale for 49.99. Most of the time they are way overpriced ($249), like most other equipment.

    I also suffice with a simple door frame pull-up bar, and a home made dip station I made from a video on youtube. This is the link : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2qxFrDP6rg. Can be made for about $20 from hardware store material. Might be a good project for all those D.I.Y. Hobo-fitters out there.

    Without the need to drive to and from the gym, there is more savings with gas, car wear and tear maintenance, and the value and better use of one's own time.

    The other piece of equipment we have, is a treadmill. I don't really think it's essential, as I feel that nature is a treadmill itself. It does however come in handy on icy winter days as far as safety is concerned.

    I agree with Anonymous, your blog is great!! Looking forward to reading future articles!

  3. I don't know if Sean "swears" while he's in our basement gym... but there's an awful lot of grunting noises lol

  4. Hi Sean and Amanda,
    Thanks for the comments! That's the best part of a home gym - to swear and grunt with impunity...not to mention dress down for the occasion, should one so choose. $40 for a squat rack is a steal - I don't think I built mine for any cheaper than that. Words can't express my happy feelings toward Kijiji! What a resource! You're right too about the wear and tear on the car, driving to the gym, waiting around, etc. - it seems to complicate unnecessarily what should be the most basic thing in the world...general maintenance of one's own body. Like you, I have a treadmill too. I prefer to run outside but on those -30 days, it's a nice little treat. Here's another idea for safe running in the icy weather: http://runningwithrhyno.blogspot.ca/2013/12/guest-hobofit-shares-some-weirdo.html
    And thanks for sharing the links to the dip station! Very cool.