Fitness 101: How to start, build a home gym, choose a gym

Happy New Year!
It's that wonderful time of year when fitness becomes a mainstream movement, exercise is discussed around the office water cooler, and folks remember that they're entitled to the joy of moving and being fit and healthy.

If you’re starting out, the best investment you can make is in quality education and motivation. It’s not always as clear-cut and fun as shopping for equipment and deciding what color you want to paint the gym walls, but laying your foundation will determine everything about your fitness life.

Spend some time actively figuring out what you want from your efforts. I say “actively” because this isn’t the part where you sit across the desk from a Bally’s sales rep and describe where your flabby spots are. You need outside stimulus to figure things out. So get out of the house and go to as many different kinds of sample classes, gyms and studios as you can. Drop in on seminars. Grab personal trainers, athletes and the person who looks like he or she is fulfilled and having fun and ask them what they do and why they do it. This is your shopping.

Don’t linger long enough for sales associates to talk you into anything. Avoid anyone selling anything at all costs. You want to hear from the real people who are walking the walk, and the experts legitimately talking the talk. Surf the Net, but not for long – it makes you sit still and too often gives little return on time and energy. Use it later, after you’ve begun to figure out what you might be interested in. Then you’ll know just what you’re looking for, and that’s the kind of search the Net is set up for.

Scouting a gym to join

Use an active approach to scout out a gym, too. Most gyms will let you try them out for free on a trail membership, but the real cost is they will subject you to a sales pitch. If you’re strong enough to weather it, go for it, but if you’d like to be low on the radar, ask to buy a punch card or a temporary pass instead. Don’t advertise that you’re shopping around, but rather, be the person who is in the area for a short while and needs to work out. Each place has its own philosophy and atmosphere, and choosing which one is a good fit for you is a big decision. You may simply fall in love with the adventure of exploring different gyms, like me.

Setting up your home gym

If you are setting up a personal work out space, how exciting! You can invest in exactly what you need, equipment made for your body and your goals. You won’t have to conform to the gym’s hours or wait for equipment, and the germs will be the ones you bring in. The music will always be stuff you like, and no one will know if you’re half-dressed or worse. Here’s what I have bought and spent over the years - and I'm frugal.

While everyone’s goals are different in setting up a work out space, there is a basic set-up that can serve everyone well, from a teenager to an octogenarian. The main things you want to do with your body are push, pull, lift and get your heart pumping.

If you want to work out most efficiently for your health, strength and looks, get out of Dick’s and Joe’s equipment sales floor. Steer clear of machines like the ones in the gym – Nautilus and Universal. Shut off the Bowflex infomercial. Steer clear of fad fitness gadgets. Go to the heart of it and build a “real” studio, stocked with the classic basics that you can spend the rest of your life growing into and exploring. Invest in the following list of perennials and the education to use them.

  • Squat rack, squat stands, or power rack/cage (spacesaver = squat stands).
  • Pull-up bar or Pull-up tower (spacesaver = doorway bar).
  • Freeweights – Options include dumbbells, kettlebells, and/or an Olympic-style bar with plates, and more homegrown alternatives like cans of food or paint, or homemade sandbags (spacesaver = sandbags - infinitely adjustable).
  • Flat bench (it’s almost impossible to find an actual flat bench residentially; you’ll most likely get an adjustable incline/decline/flat bench).
  • If you like to do cardio on a machine, pick one you already use and like.
  • Punching bag – a heavybag on a stand, or hung from a rafter. There are exceptional, foundational benefits you can gain from even modest bag work.

This is most basic formula for a solid, fully-functional studio. Beyond this basic studio, figuring out what else you want depends on what you’ll be doing. Each discipline has its own list of required gear. Developing your studio will depend on your educational search and journey.

My studio

Related: How to build your own weightlifting platform

window in snow melt

with BB holeand without

Xmas images 2008

my weightlifting percentages table

Click here to access my original weightlifting percentages table designed for training cycles, figured in pounds and kilograms. Starting from five pounds on the 45# bar, calculate load from 50% to 130% of your max, in 5# increments.

As a handy bonus, view the amount to load on one side, the total weight on the bar, and the total weight including the bar.

There are lots of tables out there, but mine starts from lower weights, moves in smaller increments, and provides poundage, plus the handy stuff I already mentioned. In the spirit of sharing, I've posted it as a Google document.

Many thanks to Kristoffer Toffel of Virtual Meet for sharing his Excel expertise.

Virtual Meet 2009

Latest topics from

  • January 23-25th, 2009: Push-pull (bench press and deadlift)
  • February 6-8th, 2009: Weightlifting
  • February 20-22nd, 2009: Military bench
  • March 13-15nd, 2009: Powerlifting
  • April 10-12th, 2009: Weightlifting
  • April 24-26th, 2009: Bench press
  • May 15-17th, 2009: Deadlift
  • June 26-28th, 2009: Weightlifting
  • July 10-12th, 2009: Powerlifting
  • August 14-16th, 2009: Military Bench for reps
  • September 18-20th, 2009: Challenge meet (TBA)
  • October 23-25th, 2009: Weightlifting
  • November 13-15th, 2009: Powerlifting
  • December 4-6th, 2009: Bench press

New shirts are available

Becoming Batman: a must-read?

* BUMP * My copy has arrived at last! Amazon had a devil of a time, with three false starts that they couldn't get this book, in the last month. But here it is at last! I'll certainly post a review, eventually.

How realistic is Batman? At best, this book will lay out a strategy for aspiring superheroes not imbued with superpowers. At worst, this book will stifle a decades-old ongoing discussion at college coffeehouses and bars everywhere. You know I "preordered" mine.

BatmanzehrrrrComing in October -- A book by E. Paul Zehr -- Becoming Batman: The Possibility of A Superhero. Zehr is a professor of kinesiology and neuroscience at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, and a karate expert.

Scientific American - Dark Knight Shift: Why Batman could exist, but not for long. JR Minkel interviews Zehr about how one might train as the Dark Knight. A good read. Zehr's done his homework.

excerpt from Scientific American

What's most plausible about portrayals of Batman's skills? You could train somebody to be a tremendous athlete and to have a significant martial arts background, and also to use some of the gear that he has, which requires a lot of physical prowess. Most of what you see there is feasible to the extent that somebody could be trained to that extreme. We're seeing that kind of thing in less than a month in the Olympics.

What's less realistic? A great example is in the movies where Batman is fighting multiple opponents and all of a sudden he's taking on 10 people. If you just estimate how fast somebody could punch and kick, and how many times you could hit one person in a second, you wind up with numbers like five or six. This doesn't mean you could fight four or five people. But it's also hard for four or five people to simultaneously attack somebody, because they get in each other's way. More realistic is a couple of attackers.

I haven't posted a review because I just... can't ... get through this book. I keep hoping it will pick up, but the first few chapters have been dry textbook introductions to genetics, biology and training. I'm actually caught in an unhealthy approach-avoidance with this book. So that gives you some idea, but I can't weigh in officially until - if - I make it to the end.

on the lake


Virtual weightlifting meet

ETA: Meet is complete. Judging may take until Oct. 15.

Virtual Meet is holding its first Olympic-style weightlifting meet the weekend of October 4th. Get in on the ground floor by signing up to lift or, if you're qualified, judge. The deadline to sign up is this week's Thursday at 11pm GMT (6pm CST).

It's already shaping up to be something special. So far, some Bulgarians, a Canadian and a couple of us Americans are signing on.

Read more here.

Window study

bump - a few additions

no power rack? no problem

No power rack? No problem. Here's one alternative to make overhead power work possible. (Renowned coach Jim Schmitz says lifters who don't train in the jerk support & recovery suffer for it.)

ETA: I did replace this with a real power cage that I bought for a steal off Craigslist. But this served me very well. There was no other way at the time that I could have made the gains it afforded me.

Sweet moment for the sweet science

I got the exclusive on this heartwarmer - read it at Straight to the Bar and the Oregonian newspaper (Clackamas County weekly edition 9/25).

Carl “The Swede” Hayford

A dream came true for an old boxing salt in
Portland, Oregon. At 81, Carl Hayford’s fondest wish was to hit the bag again. West Portland Boxing Team made it happen – with style.

There was the press of boxers, the sound of leather bounding leather, the smell of sweat – and balloons, t-shirts, a trophy, and cake. On Monday evening, Sept. 15, Carl’s friends and family brought him from the care center where he lives to the old-style boxing gym.

Carl was very much at home in the gym. He sparred, told war stories, and hit the bag.

Carl “The Swede” Hayford – named for his wavy blond hair -- was a champion with a record of 46-4 with 26 KO’s. He fought in smokers and did prize fighting in Eugene, Portland & Seattle.

Carl first learned boxing from his father, and went on to box in the army at Camp Roberts in California. When the Army World Class Athlete program heard about Carl’s big night, they sent him an Army Sports t-shirt.

He stopped boxing when an opponent was seriously hurt during a match. Carl said he just wanted to box, not risk seriously hurting anyone.

Coach Bill Meartz told Carl he was welcome anytime, although they wouldn’t always have cake.

the magnificent PNW coast

virtual deadlift meet triumph!

201 deadlift from The Mighty Kat on Vimeo.
Virtual powerlifting deadlift meet was a success! I hit my goal and a PR - 201# deadlift at 129#. Whoo-hoo! I scored 176.6911 - Malone relative strength scoring system.

Read my full article on VM and my experience with it at Straight to the Bar.

Especially pleased since my August training schedule suffered considerably between injury and vacation.

Also, the results are in from the July powerlifting meet. Proud to say I am the first female to complete a virtual powerlifting meet. I'm also the first one to come back for more.

Related links
Ready for a virtual meet?
Mighty Kat does virtual powerlifting meet

funny tomato

From my garden. I'm so proud. Reminds me of Beaker from The Muppets.

Labor Day weekend pics

What is Olympic-style weightlifting?

Nice piece from CBC, hits all the main points. "It's not bodybuilding, it's not powerlifting, and it's not a strongman competition. Olympic weightlifting is two lifts: a one-motion lift called the snatch and a two-motion lift called the clean-and-jerk. They test more than just muscle."

read more | digg story

Photo: Canada's Maryse Turcotte gets ready to use her leg and back power to finish off her lift at the World Championships in 2005. (Karim Jaafar/Getty Images)

weightlifting in the park

...or, How to get private space in a public park

Labor Day weekend, our neighbors smoked us out with a big burnpile, so we took to the park. Nice diversion. Fresh air, quiet open space. Yeah, it gets private pretty quick because people aren't really ready to see this going on. It started raining on my last set.

Tips for working out in the field

  1. Take minimum equipment. This isn't the time for fiddling with lots of small plates.
  2. Take a pen with your work out log.
  3. Ideally, take a spotter who can act as a rack, and cameraman if you blog.
  4. Take a chair for your spotter.
  5. Take extra batteries for the camera (Doh!)

Ohio August pics

Back from a lovely visit to Ohio.