Get Rich With: Olympic Barbells

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.

  • L. M. January 6, 2017, 12:29 pm

    Starting teaser: Following this and other MMM articles, I lost 20 pounds (135 lbs to 115 lbs; 5’6″ tall) in a little over seven months and to quote my husband “gained a six pack.” I have kept the weight off even now 1.5 years later.

    Backing up, I started following MMM back in April 2014 based on a very wise friend’s recommendation. MMM and his family (thank you Mrs. MMM for setting up the site!) have completely changed our lives for the better in all areas. I figured that it probably it is not going to be read being at the end of comments (fine by me), but I wanted to do an electronic way of getting down on my hands and knees and bowing to MMM and his wisdom.

    With regards to barbells, I actually could not focus on this method due to back and rotator cuff injuries (prior snowboarding- I am embarrassed to say, a lot of costly snowboarding). My doctor said that I was overweight (I was like damn! Seriously?! ) and the excess weight probably was contributing to my back problems.

    I took MMM’s advice to heart and adapted it to what would work. The Brad Schoenfeld book MMM mentioned was not available at the local library, but his “Women’s Home Workout Bible” book was. Life changing for me.

    In it Schoenfeld has $100, $500, and $1,000 personal gym options for three different types of workouts. I elected to do the $100 option involving resistance bands and a stability ball for a core stability routine to help my back and shoulders. No, I did not spend $100. The work out ended up not only truly helping my back and shoulders but also in providing a powerful overall sculpting solution as well. The whole book is filled with good advice.

    I would throw out that we do a lot more hiking, swimming and outdoor activities because of MMM which also contributes to being fit. I think that goes back to the essence of what MMM is telling us. Every piece of everything that you do clicks together to create an overall picture of health and happiness. Everything IS connected. We still have a looooooooooonnng way to go on our Mustache journey. But truly it is a fun journey of happiness. Isn’t that what life is really about?

  • James C February 18, 2017, 4:54 pm

    I did crossfit for a few years, and like you, absolutely fell in love with the clean and presses. The other olympic lifts were always my favorite part. It’s the one part I truly miss since quitting. Dumbbell clean and presses just dont measure up. Reading this article gave me a new “must have” when I purchase a home: a space for a home gym.

  • Ray in Dublin April 25, 2017, 3:54 am

    Can’t agree to this one.
    Hitting 45 years old working at a PC I needed to make a choice, let the shape go or work it off. While I hate anything that resembles a monthly utility bill I did tally up the costs of some good weight equipment Vs space at home Vs Time. I went with the gym next to the office. The lunch hour for me is usually dead time wasted, now I can get a good pump. What I didn’t expect was the emotional boost I get from it, going through a divorce right now can get me right down so motivational speakers like Arnold on YouTube “Even when I didn’t want to do it I still got up and did it” gets me into the gym on my worst days of depression. When I’m leaving the gym I’m feeling great, loving the tunes on the radio, enjoying my food and overall feeling positive again. Hard to put a price on that. Maybe €50 per hour in divorce counselling.

    You could argue that you get that from the weights at home but you have to factor in lifestyle. And the quality of the weights in this gym are outstanding. Then there are also machines that allow you to work on parts of the body that you can’t easily do with free weights. I’m talking the space of a small warehouse Vs 10′ x 10′.

    So for me, you have your big house, I have my highly addictive smelly gym subscription. Oh and this is going to annoy you…. my daughter goes to the pool on Friday’s for lessons. It costs me €7 for a swim with her and my son (3) which I feel is very important to encourage them. I’m not one of those parents that just pushes the kids away for an hour. So €7 x 52 weeks = €364… a yearly subscription is €299. So I might be joining a second gym just to cover that. The thoughts of it kills me but that’s the maths and reasoning :)

  • Joey Graziano August 25, 2017, 11:40 am

    As a person that often works late shifts and travels I found that a home gym was hard to accomplish in practice when I needed to up my cardio. This is because I just cannot run around my city at 10pm for a good cardio burn. However, I did find that the jump rope is a super cheap lite weight mechanism that allows me to still get a good pump in correlation with thorough bur pee routine regardless of time/space constraints. Just another tip for the readers!

    Thanks for the post, this vindicated what I was already feeling. :)

  • Tinian Crawford September 21, 2017, 12:08 pm

    I built myself a gym in my garage about ten years ago and have been getting in there with varying degrees of machismo since. I recently (about 2 years ago) decided the best way to expand on what I had was to try to make whatever possible from things I had kicking around, or occasionally buying some cheap materials. After some research I found The Buff Dudes youtube channel, which features their dad DIY Duke building all kinds of excellent workout equipment. My personal favorite, and something I use frequently still, is the home made squat rack. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dy5eyMDt3c
    I don’t have any affiliation with them, but I like their content and I want them to succeed, so check them out Mustachians! And stay Buff!

  • Simon January 18, 2018, 12:57 am

    A few people have suggested bodyweight training as an equipment-free alternative, and I completely agree for upper body – pullup, pushup (+ muscle up if you can manage them!) and ab variations are all you need, http://www.alkavadlo.com/ is a good resource, as is the book Convict Conditioning someone mentioned.

    But for for lower body, certainly you can get most of the health benefits from bodyweight (and one-leg squats are great for flexibility), for me I missed the heavy weight feeling of squats and deadlifts (this is not because I am awesomely strong by the way, my max deadlift is 127.5kg @ 70kg bodyweight) and I think they have better carry-over (no pun intended!) to athletic performance. I am hoping to acquire a barbell set eventually, but for now I am using sandbags, which I find have most of the benefits of barbells need to substitute variations like shoulders and cleans for deadlifts, and lunges for squats) with some extra benefits (grip, and ability to manoever odd-shaped objects) and are very cheap to put together – http://rosstraining.com/blog/ has good information on these and lots of other inexpensive DIY exercise equipment, I think moustachians will approve!

  • Quincy December 9, 2020, 11:28 am

    I stoopped going to my local Crossfit gym when Covid hit. I made my own set of barbells out of concrete and old bike wheels. The bar is just an old metal bar I found. They’re not super heavy but I use resistance bands looped around the barbell and my feet and it gets really hard really fast! I also made a kettlebell and dumbbells out of concrete! No excuses! (PS I am a woman and def agree that everyone should lift weights!)

    • Kay April 18, 2021, 4:50 pm

      Hi Quincy – would you be able to share your method for creating barbells? Thanks!


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