Home Sweet Home 

You’d be surprised where some of bodybuilding’s greatest stars got their start. Many hoisted their first barbell in their basement on Christmas Day. The primary advantage of training at home is convenience. You can train pretty much any time you want. You don’t have to worry about finding a parking space or waiting for equipment. However, training at home does have a few drawbacks. First, you’ll have a limited amount of equipment. Unless you have deep pockets and a lot of space, you’ll probably have access to only a few dumbells, a barbel land an adjustable bench.

While this equipment is fine when you’re starting out, your muscles will eventually need variety in order to keep growing. You also must consider safety. It won’t be long before your strength will be enough to kill you. You’ll be capable of lifting enough weight on exercises such as squats and bench presses that a slip-up could have grave consequences. Bodybuilders have been found dead in their basements with a loaded barbell across their necks. If you are going to be training heavy at home, make sure you’re not alone when performing a heavy set of squats or bench presses. At a commercial gym or fitness center you are guaranteed to have a spotter or at least someone else around to keep an eye on you.

Another disadvantage to training at home is the lack of social contact. Unless you manage to convince a few buddies to train with you, you’ll be working out alone most of the time. Not having a spotter affects your safety, but it also limits the amount of weight you can use. In addition, you won’t have anyone around to motivate and push you. 

Unless you have incredible internal drive and motivation, you’ll probably put the bar or dumbells down once the muscle starts burning. Remember that it’s those last couple of reps that really stimulate the muscles into new growth. There’s nothing like having a training partner yelling at you to complete those painful, but highly productive, reps. He can even help you finish a couple extra. Even if you don’t have a training partner, knowing other people might be looking at you often inspires you to squeeze out a few additional reps.

If you still decide to train at home, your first task will be setting up the training area. If you live in a house, the basement or garage often work best because they usually offer a large space that’s removed from the general living area. This gives you room, privacy and prevents you from distracting other members of the household.

Keep It Simple

To start your training you’ll need some equipment. You can’t go wrong by keeping it simple and buying a set of dumbells and an adjustable bench. The best dumbells are those that can be adjusted to change the weight or that will allow you to add and remove weight plates. A set of dumbells will allow you to train just about every muscle in the body. In terms of the bench, definitely get one that adjusts everywhere from flat to a 90-degree incline, because itwill allow you to vary the angle. You’ll need this variety to hit the muscles from different angles. 

With time (and provided you have the room) you can add a barbell to your inventory.A barbell will allow you to perform the basic mass-builders such as squats, deadlifts and bench presses. With time, you’ll want to consider adding a squat rack to your training room. This will almost certainly require a move to the basement or garage!While a set of dumbells, a barbell and an adjustable bench limits you in terms of exercise variety, it does save you money. For less than $100 you can set up a small training area in your house or apartment.

In fact, if you check around you might get the whole setup for less than $20. As soon as the last kid goes to college, many parents have a garage sale to get rid of their children’s weight sets. Alternatively, check out the paper – you never know what former bodybuilder might be selling off his workout gear! 

The Best Place to Exercise

The Gym

Despite some of the advantages to working out at home, I feel that the gym is by far the best place to work out. Besides the huge assortment of equipment, you’ll be surrounded by highly knowledgeable people. You’ll get motivation, encouragement and variety, all in one spot. Of course working out at a commercial gym does have a few disadvantages.The first disadvantage is commute time. 

It takes mere seconds to walk to your basement or bedroom, but unless you live within walking distance, it could take you 20 minutes or more to drive to the gym. Throw in the occasional weather delay or accident and you might waste an hour or two just going to and from the gym. All that extra driving will also mean extra money,given the price of gas these days!While your home gym could be set up, at least in the beginning, for $50, a gym membership will cost $40 to $50 per month (normally about $500 per year). Although this might feel like yet another extra bill, it’s really not a huge amount to improve your health and appearance. 

What you get for that $500 is well worth it. Perhaps the biggest problem with training at a gym is that they can be really busy during peak times. Most people tend to work out in the evenings, and this means most gyms are over-flowing between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. One trip to the water fountain and you lose the squat rack. 

A quick chat to a friend and your dumbells have disappeared. Then you have the equipment hogs who are not satisfied until they’ve done no fewer than 20 sets.Depending on how busy things are, you may not get to do one single exercise that you had planned in advance. Now, there’s nothing wrong with occasionally modifying your training program – in fact times when you have to switch around your routine can be a blessing in disguise when it comes to growth – but if this situation becomes the norm, it’s time to considers witching gyms or changing times. It won’t take you long to determine which times are the worst when it comes to getting your workout completed.

Other factors to consider when choosing a gym include location, cost, hours of operation,clientele and equipment variety. You may be faced with a situation where cost or location prevents you from joining the gym of your choice. Consider all of these factors before you join any gym. You need to find the best one for you and your lifestyle, and it won’t do you any good to join the perfect gym but find you can never get there.

The Big Three

Gyms fall into three broad categories: health spas, hardcore gyms and middle-of-the-roadfitness centers.

Health Spas

Considered the high-end of training establishments, health spas tend to cater to the wealthy and to business executives. Most health spas have a small weight-training area, a sauna, pool, cardio section, and a massage room. Health spa fees normally run from $1,000 to$2,000 dollars per year. Even if you can afford it, you have to ask yourself if you really belong there. Health spas tend to have very basic strength machines and often no free weights other than a few light dumbells. If you’re planning on adding some serious strength and size to your physique, health spas won’t give you the type and variety of equipment that you’ll need.

Finally – and this is probably the biggest drawback against health spas – the owners probably won’t want you there! The last thing the owners and clientele of health spas want is some bodybuilder doing a heavy set of squats or deadlifts. Heaving, grunting, and sweating like that seems to offset the soft, relaxing atmosphere of the place. In their eyes you’re nothing but a big intimidating muscle head and you’re frightening away the regulars.

The Multipurpose Fitness Center

They go by many names, including health clubs, fitness centers and recreation centers.General fitness facilities such as the YMCA are middle-of-the-road training establishments that try to cater to everyone. In fact, the popularity of the general fitness industry has grown so much over the last couple of decades that many of the old hardcore gyms either closed down or decided to go mainstream. PowerHouse, World Gym and Gold’s Gym all once catered exclusively to hardcore bodybuilders.

Most multipurpose fitness centers have a large floor area that contains hundreds of cardio and strength machines. You’ll also find a good selection of free weights, along with squat racks and other equipment created for the bodybuilder. Many have a pool, indoor track and a couple of group fitness and spinning studios. Prices are reasonable and discounts are often given to teens, seniors and employees of corporations. The better fitness centers tend to be well-maintained and are constantly upgrading their equipment. Also, your membership card is usually accepted at any club that is part of that organization, no matter where it is – usually allover the city, often all over the country and sometimes even in other countries. This means that you can train at a different gym every day if you live in a large city 

Hardcore Gyms

If your goal is serious weight training and bodybuilding, then hardcore gyms are probably your best bet. There’ll be hundreds of dumbells and dozens of barbells and various racks to put them on. If you need to load the leg press up, no need to worry. There will be literally tons and tons of weight plates at your disposal.Hardcore gyms like the original Gold’s Gym in Venice, California and Temple Gym in Birmingham, England became world famous because of the champions that trained there. 

Even at your local hardcore gym, you’ll probably be working out next to city and state champions.The person with the answer to just about any bodybuilding-related question is probably doing squats or bench presses a couple of feet away. Just try asking the typical health spa member how to improve your upper pectorals – their eyes might glaze over! Hardcore gyms offer a no-nonsense approach to bodybuilding at very affordable prices (usually in the range of $400 to $600 per year).

However, depending on you, your goals and your self confidence, the atmosphere can be pretty intense. It can be intimidating to begin your bodybuilding training using 90 pounds on the bench for your work set while the 250-pounder next to you is warming up with 225. Then there’s the drug issue to be aware of. Many of the guys (and some of the ladies) will be using steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. One of the side effects of these chemicals is attitude and irritability.

Sometimes a glance is all it takes to set these individuals off. Also,unlike health spas, where clean clothes and showering are practically imposed upon members,the same cannot be said of hardcore gyms. Members at these gyms are totally into their workouts, and having a clean appearance or scent is just not a priority. Also, as you have probably already realized, hardcore gyms cater to just that – the hardcore. There are no idle exercisers at these places, so don’t expect to have a chat between bodyparts. 

And be prepared to see nothing but massive physiques! Finally, the location of hardcore gyms may be an issue. Hardcore gyms tend to be located either in rough city-center neighborhoods or in industrial parks. Parking could be an issue, you could simply feel uncomfortable or you could in fact be unsafe. Ultimately, where you decide to work out is your decision. One suggestion is to take a one-month membership at a couple of different gyms and see how it goes at each place. A month is usually enough time to determine such things as parking, commute time, equipment and atmosphere. It will also become apparent whether you like working out, period – bodybuilding either grabs you or not, and is not something that you’ll stick with if you’re just going through the motions.

The Great Outdoors

Another possibility, if you are lucky enough to live or work near one, is an outdoor fitnesscenter. Many larger gyms in warmer states like Florida and California have outdoor training areas. The weight pit on Venice Beach, California, is famous the world over. Bodybuilders have been training there since the ’30s and ’40s and it seems you haven’t made it in the sport until you’ve done at least one photo shoot there!Training outdoors offers numerous advantages. Even though the best gyms and fitnesscenters have air conditioning, it’s still not the same as natural clean air. 

Training outdoors also offers those who train in non-air-conditioned gyms a chance to train in a cooler environment on hot summer days. Hot, humid gyms can be brutal to train in and will drain even the most energetic trainers. If you’re lucky enough to have access to an outdoor training area located on a beach, just think how much more fun it would be doing squats with the ocean in the background instead of a gray wall. The same applies to doing bench presses under a blue sky versus the ceiling. There’s also something psychological about training outdoors, especially if it’s on a public beach. Most trainers will do that extra rep or two if they know people are watching them. 

But you don’t have to train at a beach. Why not bring your bench and dumbells into your own backyard, if you have one? Arnold and his friends would load up their cars with benches and weights and head to the woods. Here the future governor of California would squat until he could barely walk. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.Do keep in mind if you’re training outside that the sun can play havoc with your skin. Time passes very quickly while you’re training under the sun. Before you know it you have been exposed to harmful rays for an hour or two. 

And don’t let cloud cover mislead you – the sun’s powerful rays easily penetrate clouds, and can cause just as much skin damage on cloudy days as it can on clear blue days. Always wear a good sunblock when training outdoors, and try to avoid training when the sun is at its highest peak (11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. in most areas). You’ll also want to pay attention to your clothing when hoisting iron outdoors. Cotton is an excellent choice because it offers good absorption and ventilation. Lycra is also a good choice because it’s light and allows sweat to evaporate quickly. A sweatband or bandana will help keep the sweat from your eyes, and a towel will come in handy for cleaning up after yourself.

Source:
Robert Kennedy: Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, The Complete A-Z Book On Muscle Building. 2008
Nick Evans: Bodybuilding Anatomy. 2012
Arnold Schwarzenegger: The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, 2013