My Garage Gym & Path to Fitness

Setting up the Garage Gym

When we moved in to our house 4 1/2 years ago Miss FFBF gave me full rights to use our single car garage as a gym. This was the only room in our property where I had a full say in what went in there and how it looked. I didn't have a lot of space to work with, but it was enough to get me started. I wanted to make sure I made the most of the available space, kept the total cost down yet buy quality equipment that will last the test of time. 

I bought a bench, an Olympic Barbell and plates, Bowflex Dumbells, a Pull-up/Dip Tower, and last year I bought a Squat Rack with safety spotters.

The bench was made by Powertec, and I've been very happy with it. It can be lowered to a decline position and up to full vertical position for shoulder pressing. It has an attachment for Leg Extensions/Curls, and for Preacher Curls.

I bought the Olympic Barbell and plates at the same time as the bench and saved money on delivery costs. I purchased a set with 140kg of weight (including the 20kg bar). This was more than enough to get me started on the road to strength.

I wanted a set of dumbbells to accompany the barbell. There wasn't a lot of space to put a rack of fixed, expensive, dumbbells. I came across a great value alternative called Bowflex Dumbbells. You can see the set on the Top Picture, on the right side just above my shoes. They have a cog at either side of the dumbbell, where you can set the weight you want. Once selected you pick the dumbbell up and it will connect to the plates that make up your preference. The weight ranges from 10-90lbs. For me, they represent fantastic value and don't require a lot of space. The only downside is their durability to erratic handling. If you drop them on the ground, they won't last very long. For most people this isn't a problem. 

The Pull-up/Dip Tower was my next purchase. I bought a weighted belt to go with it to load additional weight to both exercises. You put plates on the chain, and the belt is then wrapped around your waist. 


Weight Training VS Cardiovascular Exercise

I have always loved training with weights. There is something primal, satisfying and grueling about it that I adore. I've experienced 'Runners High' many times after a session, yet I seldom enjoy the process. When I'm weight training, I thrive off the 'pump' it gives me. I feel stronger when the blood has accumulated in the working muscle. It expands the body part and you become physically bigger. There's instant gratification. When I run, row or swim* I start off enjoying the activity. I take pleasure in switching off from the outside world. I'm at one with my thoughts and I can feel the stresses of everyday life drifting away. As fatigue settles in, my mindset alters. I no longer appreciate the isolation. I yearn to finish. The more gruelling the exercise, the more satisfaction I receive from completing it. I experience a similar fulfillment from weight training, with the added benefit of witnessing physical change. Albeit for a temporary period. 

*I prefer the sensation of concluding a swim over a run or row. The combination of chlorine and water submersion contribute to a perception of cleanliness. You can argue that a shower/bath following a run feels equally brilliant, and you would have a point. I merely associate the smell of chlorine with purity. Is that odd?

Training Fluctuations

My use of the gym varied over the first three years. Motivation has never been a problem for me. I've always been hungry to train in some way. I've had my share of injuries which have halted my training. I loathed being injured so much that I wouldn't train at all. I didn't want the injury to flair up again and prevent me from working out for longer. It doesn't make any sense does it? It's like trying to get over a drinking problem by consuming all the alcohol in your house. Then you won't have anything to drink. Problem solved. 
I'm pleased to say that I've adopted a different strategy now and I will find another way to train around the injury**. I've 'suffered' from a bigger distraction which is an internal inclination to develop my weakness. For example, I would start a training cycle with the aim of becoming physically bigger and stronger. After a few months the impending muscular and strength goals would be replaced by a new craving to be fitter and faster. My weight training would be replaced by swimming or running. This led me to a lower bodyfat percentage and increased cardiovascular capacity. Furthermore, it steered me back to smaller and weaker muscles. Guess what happened next? 

To demonstrate how extreme my fluctuations were, I went up to 103kg in bodyweight through weight training, and down to 77kg when I was training for marathons. 

I would fall into this trap time and time again. I was a jack of all trades and master of none. I longed to stand out in an area of Fitness, yet I was preventing myself from ever achieving that by continuously changing my goals after a few months. 

Between 2012 and 2013, I managed to maintain a more stable bodyweight of around 85-90kg. 

**I believe this conservative approach has prevented significant progression more than any other factor from training over the years. More than the injuries themselves. 

Enter Crossfit

In May 2013, I stumbled upon Crossfit for the first time. I was intrigued with the concept of covering all areas of Fitness - Strength Training, Gymnastics, and Cardiovascular exercise all mixed together. 

Crossfit is known as the Sport of Fitness. The creator, Greg Glassman, was the first person in history to define fitness in a meaningful and measurable way - "Increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains". 'Increased work capacity' meaning more reps, sets, miles run, or weight lifted, 'Across broad time' refers to time periods of exercise from short to long, 'and modal domains' represents various movements like gymnastics, running or weight lifting. 

Crossfit optimises Fitness by - "Constantly varied, functional movements performed at relatively high intensity". 

The idea is to cover all areas in your training, even at the same time. The premise being you're physically more prepared for anything life has to throw at you, from bending down to pick up a pen, to carrying two people out of a burning building. It's specialty is not specialising. This sounded like a program designed for me. I was ready to play my jack of all trades card. 

I started to train at home using the Crossfit home page workouts of the day - WOD's - and I got bitten by it. The progress I was making was satisfying however I read that Crossfit was a community sport. Every person at a gym would do the same workout. The movements wouldn't alter but the loads would. For example, a class would all do 10 x overhead presses. Some people would use 60kg while others use 15kg. As everyone in the class is completing the same challenging workload, at their max intensity, you share a common bond. You all push each other to work harder and perform to a better standard. 

I've habitually trained on my own for years. I found the concept of training and suffering together appealing. After one month of training at home I decided to find my nearest Crossfit box and sign up to a membership. I wanted to test myself against others and meet like-minded people.

Here's a picture of me prior to joining the Crossfit gym last year:

I trained at Crossfit Glevum in Gloucester for 6 months and I loved it! There I started to feel part of a big family. We worked hard, had fun, socialised, and I was in the best shape of my life. I was going three times a week, and fitting in additional training at home in the garage. The gym was about 18 miles away, and the car journey would take anything from 40-60 mins depending on the country roads and traffic. A typical evening involved me leaving my house at 6pm and getting back by 10pm. I would shower, have a brief catch up with Miss FFBF and then go to bed. It was tiring, I didn't like leaving Miss FFBF that regularly, but I truly loved it. I was physically and socially fulfilled. 

Here's a picture of me five months into training:

This is the leanest and strongest I'd ever been. I lost 7kg in bodyweight, which was mainly fat, and I managed to build some muscle mass on top. 

Switching and Cancelling my Gym Membership

After three months of Crossfit and getting the hang of the basics, I decided to switch to Olympic Weightlifting. The classes were 90 mins instead of 60 mins, the membership went down from £50 per month to £40. Olympic Weightlifting was one of the worst elements of my Crossfit performance. I was able to reduce the cost of the membership, focus on a weakness, and spend more time training at the gym. This option seemed like a better return on investment for me. I missed the Crossfit classes, but I was still apart of the gym and the culture. 

In January 2014 I made the difficult decision to cancel my Gym Membership. The decision wasn't easy to make because it had helped me out of a rut I was in last year. The reason I cancelled was due to the financial outlay. The membership fees were affordable, it was just the travelling. At that time I was reviewing my spending in all areas and the running cost of my car was the second biggest after my house/mortgage. The fuel bill had gone from £40 per month to £200. That's £480 per year up to £2,400! My car was ideal for driving two miles to work and back everyday. The longer journeys that involved road speeds over 50mph reduced the benefit of having a smaller petrol engine. My insurance premium would eventually inflate due to the additional mileage, and the general wear and tear on the car would have increased expenditure over time. I started to invest in shares at this point and I was reviewing options to increase my disposable income to enable me to invest more money. Something had to give.

I decided to trial a strength training program at home in my gym. I would forgo the high level of coaching, friendships, and the use of some equipment. It wasn't all doom and gloom. I would save more money to invest with, free up time in the evening to spend with Miss FFBF, and I would still improve my fitness by incorporating what I had learned - albeit not to the same extent.  

Training Today - 6 months on

From training at the gym, I discovered that my cardiovascular (CV) performance is at a high level. I was able to compete with the top athletes with rowing and running. My resting heart rate was recorded at 36 beats per minute last year, which is a big asset in prolonged, intense exercise. My gymnastics were above average for a beginner. There were a few occasions where I was able to execute movements that some of the more experienced members were unable to do. I completed four strict 'muscle ups' within my first two months. The coaches said this was rare for most people. There was still room for improvement. 
My area for development stood with the strength movements. This is where the people with even a small amount of experience would move ahead of me. I made it my mission for 2014 to get stronger and more accomplished with the barbell. I would accept a drop in CV and gymnastic ability as a consequence. I've learned it is less time consuming to develop CV endurance than it is for strength. I decided to focus my efforts on getting stronger for now as my starting level in CV was higher in comparison.

I'm currently training as a Powerlifter. I lift weights four times a week and progressively increase the loads. I'm running once or twice a week to maintain or minimise the decline of my endurance, and I continue to bike to work. I'm pleased with my progression thus far. I'm planning on entering my first Powerlifting competition in October this year to focus my efforts and test my development. I haven't decided how long I will continue on this program. My barometer is based on happiness and progression. If I'm no longer enjoying the training or if my progression plateaus I will re-asses my options. 
I was recently thinking about how I miss the gym, and how I might return one day. The transition was weighted towards the financial benefits of training at home and the extra time in the evenings. I was able to start this Blog with the extra time. It has been difficult to adjust to the lack of social fulfilment. I haven't experienced being around so many like-minded people before. I was starting to get closer to a few people in particular, and the strength of those relationships have diminished as a consequence of me no longer attending. I'm aware this is in my control and there are some simple steps to improve it. The distance we live apart and my lack of transport freedom are the main sticking points. I plan on making some progress with my finances and through Powerlifting for now, and who knows what the future will bring....

I want to thank Miss FFBF for her photography in this post. I asked her to take some photos of me using the equipment. She went a bit 'snap happy' when I was working out. I think she did a nice job of capturing my training in an artistic way. 

I hope you enjoyed it and thank you for reading!

Do you have a home gym? Do you train on your own? Have you sacrificed something you enjoy to save money? Has it been worth it?

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