Outfitting and Using Your Own Gym

By Tim Irvine and Jamie Bussin

Lots of people gave up their gym membership during the Covid shutdown and never went back. If you’re like me, you might have set up a home gym. We’ve got a treadmill, rowing machine and a Peloton, and lots of weights. Strength training is a part of many people’s home gym regimen. Others are reluctant to do weight or resistance training outside of the gym.  I interviewed personal trainer and entrepreneur Tim Irvine about this on episode #185 of The Tonic Talk Show/Podcast. This article is a digest of our discussion. 

Why Strength Train? According to Tim, once people hit their mid-20s, which typically coincides with a decrease in overall levels of activity, they definitely stop moving their bodies in a way that really challenges them. If we start the decline using our muscles, what ends up happening is that we experience a decline in overall muscle mass. When you have a decline in muscle mass, eventually that catches up to you with reduced levels of mobility, and the ability to actually do things that are physical.  By the time you reach your 60s you can’t do the things that you used to. You’re old before you need to be old from a movement standpoint. Doing strength training makes a big difference in maintaining some of that muscle mass. The good news is that muscle mass is recoverable. It’s not gone forever. You can always rebuild it!

You don’t need to spend a fortune outfitting your home gym. While during Covid, supply chain restrictions in the midst of rising demand sent fitness equipment prices through the roof, years later prices have stabilized. Here is what you need to build an efficient home gym.

Dumbbells:  The truth is you can strength train using your own body weight. It’s also possible to get a full body workout with a single dumbbell and, of course, a pair of dumbbells. If you’ve got the flexibility to be able to have a full set, even better. The more variety, the better it works. Ideally you want to have a set of light, medium and heavy weights. What “light, medium, and heavy” means to one person is different for another. Someone who is stronger to begin with can start with heavier weights. For someone just starting, Tim recommends; “… a 10-pound pair, a 20-pound pair and a 30-pound pair would give you some really good options for a whole bunch of different types of exercises.”

Barbells: Not everyone has the space at home for a barbell and a set of plates. Like most trainers, Tim loves them. The biggest advantage is that you can load up on more weight with a barbell as compared to dumbbells. And for exercises like a bench press or floor press, a barbell will offer better stability. Tim’s favourite exercise with the barbell is the deadlift – a full body exercise. Says Tim “Even though you’re lifting from your legs, you’re using your low back, your core, your arms, muscles in your neck, and it’s very good for posture when done properly.”

Racks: If you’re outfitting your home gym with barbells, you’ll want to get a rack. There are many different options to choose, from a simple set of adjustable stands (perfectly suitable for squats and presses) all the way up to more complicated built-in units with safety options. It is a matter of budget, but Tim recommends not to go for the cheapest option. You’ll want something sturdy.

Kettlebells: Tim recommends kettlebells for strength, stability and core activation. But he cautions that their use involves a lot of swinging,which is a motion that some people aren’t familiar with, and therefore can lead to injury.

Mirror: The benefit of working out in a gym is that there is likely someone there to watch your form and spot you. At home that isn’t the case. However, setting your home gym up with a mirror can be helpful as you can watch your form while you’re exercising. Tim has a hack if you don’t have a mirror set up. “You can set up the video camera on your phone to record your workout. Just do a set of your reps with a very lightweight or no weight to begin with, to check your form and compare it against an instructional video that gives some guidance on how to do these exercises.”


Tim’s  4 Safety Protocols

  • If you’re using heavy weights, work out with a spotter
  • Warm ups are crucial: Roll or activate the muscles you intend to exercise if you’re intending to use heavy weights
  • If you’re not sure whether you’ll be using heavy weights, mimic the motion of the exercise you intend to perform without weights first
  • Visual feedback via video or a mirror is important to make sure you’re using the correct technique.