Just over ten years ago, I was happily living in my first house. This house was within easy biking distance of work (9 miles) and the grocery store (2 miles), and walking distance of the city’s Recreation Center (1 mile) which I enjoyed visiting for workouts about three times per week.
I was especially pleased with this rec center because the membership dues were only about $25 per month, much less than the private health clubs I had been visiting for the ten years prior to that.
A triangle of the Big Three: all the main places a person has to visit on a regular basis, available without having to drive. What could be more frugal or efficient than this?
But then one day I was doing my monthly stock-up of bulk groceries at Costco, and there was a special item on sale: A full 300 pound set of Olympic plates and bars, including collars, clips, a long bar and a curling bar, for only 99 bucks. Next to this in the display area was a complete bench and squat rack set – a nice bench with adjustable angle, curling platform at the end, and a superb squat rack. Also 99 bucks.
I was only a Junior Mustache at the time, but I could already tell this was a great opportunity. I loaded up the whole system onto a flatbed cart, bought it, and stuffed it all into the 1993 Civic Hatchback to rush home and assemble it.
Because of this $198 investment, I am almost $9,000 richer today. And probably a lot less flabby.
You see, having this simple but complete weight set has allowed me, my wife, and even occasional visiting friends to get amazing muscle-blasting workouts at all hours of the day, on weekends, holidays, during snowstorms, whatever. At a savings of $25.00 per month each! And that is assuming that we would never have driven to the gym for exercise, something that would have changed once we moved to our current town.
It’s incredibly motivating to have your gym at home too – there are no excuses about not wanting to go out or not having time. You just pick up the barbell and start moving. This feels good, so you put on some music and take up the intensity. Before you know it, you have done a complete workout and improved almost every aspect of your body and overall well being. The convenience is astounding.
I just walked over and did a set of clean and presses in my own gym between typing the last sentence and typing this one, just to prove my point!
If a few pounds of steel is all you need to stay fit, why do our indebted countrymen spend $20 billion annually to accomplish the same thing in more complicated ways like <insert adjective>Yoga, bouncy aerobics and indoor bicycling classes? Why do they burn money in their cars doing unnecessary driving to go to gyms? This has always been a mystery to me.
When I ask around, I get misguided answers like ladies saying “I don’t want to bulk up and be one of those frightening women in Flex magazine”. Or men saying, “I don’t really know how to use free weights, I just want a circuit of machines I can work my way through”.
It’s wrong, all of it.
If you do the research and read a gigantic pile of fitness books and magazines*, you will come to the conclusion that Free Weights – barbells and dumbells and that’s it – are by far the best way to get in shape, lose all your fat, build healthy amounts of muscle, and amazingly enough fix almost every other possible ailment.
Barbell exercise will drastically reduce your later-life incidence of arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, bone loss, many forms of cancer, and all the common old-age injuries. Weight training will make you live longer and healthier. Every person on the entire planet who still has control over their arms and/or legs should be lifting weights regularly – no question about it.
On top of that, ladies do not “bulk up” from lifting weights at a regular-person level. They lose fat, gain nicer curves, and accomplish everything that YogaLatesAerobics stuff does, in much greater quantities and less time.
Ironically, this best form of exercise is also the cheapest.
Big gyms spend over a million dollars per location on stupid treadmills with LED television screens and fans built in, powder-coated and padded electronic pistony gizmos that let you wiggle your arms and legs around in strange patterns. And meanwhile, the worthwhile amenity – the barbells, benches, and racks – barely show up on the budget (and they get surprisingly light use too, unless the gym is near an army base).
If your monthly budget has any sort of health club spending on it right now, you should slash it, and take this opportunity to add yet another 10-20 thousand employees every 10 years to your ‘Stash.
All you need is a 10 x 10 area of a basement, spare bedroom, garage, or covered porch out back to have a wonderful home gym. Find a big old mirror and set up a radio. Check the book “Arnold’s Bodybuilding for men”, “Sculpting her Body Perfect” or another suitable title out of your library and take some notes. Shop on your local Craigslist for an olympic-style bar with some metal plates, a combination bench/squat rack, and some dumbells of varying weights if you can find them. These things never wear out, so there is no reason to buy them new. If you have a nearby friend who already works out at home, make a recurring workout schedule and you will both become more motivated.
If you are ready to get in shape but don’t spend money on health clubs right now, the decision is more tricky, because I don’t want you to increase your spending just yet. You can start with free exercises like taking every staircase you can find, push-ups, and solo skipping in your driveway.
And of course, biking – you are doing a lot of that now, since I published the article – aren’t you? Biking is perhaps the cornerstone of this whole operation. And my whole plan to save the Human Race.
If you can start using a bike regularly, all other life accomplishments will flow naturally from that skill and you will join Me and all the Mightiest Mustachian Eagles as we soar daily through the skies above the Grand Canyon.
Are you ready to make another ten grand, feel and look better, and extend your youth by 20 years or so? Good – keep me posted on your lifting!
*From 1991-1993, I worked as a convenience store clerk in high school. During the slow evening hours at the store, I got to read every issue of Men’s Fitness, Muscle & Fitness, Flex magazine, and any other nutrition and bodybuilding book showed up on the store shelves. That has turned out to be pretty useful knowledge over the years.