How to set up a home tinygym
Plus: why athletes should not "drop the routine", eating $28 worth of Taco Bell, and my final word on plate-facing. This is Link Letter 58!
Usually I save question-answering for the weekend Ask A Swole Woman editions of this newsletter, but yesterday a reader wrote to me:
Just listened to your interview on NPR. Loved it! Thanks. Now following you and will buy your program.
I saw your post with recommendations for things to buy to work out but they seem to apply to bringing them to a gym. Do you have any posts /advice about setting up a small footprint home gym? I live in NYC so space and budget are a consideration.
Karolyn, I’m so glad you asked! Please meet the Home Tinygym. This is what I would consider the minimum effective dose of at-home workout equipment , and it takes the discerning LIFTOFF student all the way through two of the three Phases. These items all take up minimal space and can be stored easily.
A long, straight, sturdy, lightweight thing. A Swiffer handle, a broom handle, a PVC pipe. This can be used for practicing lifting movements and form anytime, including in Phase One of LIFTOFF, but also for doing lat pulldowns. You probably already have this in your house, but can also get PVC pipe cheaply from a hardware store.
Resistance super-bands. Resistance bands come in two main flavors: There are ones about a foot long, and the big long hula-hoop-size loops. The latter are super-bands (I suggest the “medium” size). Super-bands are what you want and are the best kind to use for hacking together a lat-pulldown setup. You can also use them to, for instance, add resistance to RDLs by looping them through/around your weights and under your feet, or doubling them up to use for smaller accessory movements. Here are a bunch of things I do with (long and short) resistance bands.
There are infinity brands and makes of these things, but some are of dubious value; I would not roll the dice on the cheapest set you can find on Amazon, because they can break and snap back right in your face. Perhaps you are so blessed that nothing bad ever happens to you; this absolutely would happen to me.
A (doorway) pull-up bar. Pulling work is notoriously difficult to do without equipment, because you need somewhere above you to situate your body below, to which you will pull yourself. You don’t have to be able to do a pull-up, or even want to do a pull-up, to get mileage out of a pull-up bar! You can use it to attach super bands for lat pulldowns, or some kind of strap for inverted rows. You can also do sub-pull-up work, like dead hangs, scapular pull-ups, and negatives. If not this specific one, get a model that gets its tension from resting on the doorframe, not one that is screwed inside the door frame itself.
Adjustable dumbbells. If you want to even gesture at seriousness about building strength at home, you need SOME weights, particularly to challenge your legs. Those are big muscles, and they need you to knock them around in order to build that strength and stability we love. Do not say to me “no thanks; my muscles get enough stimulation by carrying my body from the bed to the car to the desk to the car to the bed.” No!
Yes, okay, no one likes to spend this much money; brand-new sets of these run $300, $400, $500. But look on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, and you will almost certainly find someone selling theirs used for half-price (or shop around; many stores carry them and have sales). The preferred brands of the hallowed Beasties Discord are the Bowflex Selecttech 552 dumbbells and the Powerblock Sport 50. If you are militantly sure you are only going to ever work out at home, you want a set that goes up to at least 50lbs per hand. Trust me on this. You may think you will never lift that much in your wildest dreams, until you do the bare minimum of completing Phase Two in LIFTOFF, showing up to work out and eating your protein for a couple months, and suddenly you could carry a baby seal to safety, no problem. (I still advocate for progressing to Phase Three eventually, but many people extend Phase Two at home while they psych themselves up to go to a gym; if that’s you, give yourself the gift of at least one good home weight set). If you think you do want to progress to a gym eventually, a 25lb-per-hand pair will work in a pinch.
If you absolutely cannot swing a pair of adjustable dumbbells financially, The At-Home Workout Compendium, Part One has a nice long list of objects you can find in your home to use as DIY weights.
A yoga mat. This isn’t totally essential, but I like a soft place to stretch, or to do the Phase Two floor-press adaptation. If you don’t actually do yoga and don’t need an advanced grippy-surface situation, even something like this will do.
~Discord Pick of the Week: These doily dumbbell art pieces, for one. I have no current plans to open a gym, but if it ever happens, this display will be in the budget. I anticipate we will go bankrupt immediately. Also, Christmas for us: a new “How to Deadlift” video from Alan Thrall!
Many took my claims last week that people on the West Coast tend to face their weight plates the wrong way (inward) pretty hard. I’ll say again, this is simply not anything anyone should stress about too much; I heard from at least a couple people who actually put their plates on any old way and had never thought twice about whether they should be out or in. While they would get weird looks anywhere, almost certainly more of us should be living like this. This is not something that really and truly matters.
But many of you sent me this Mark Rippetoe video, where he claims that the right way of doing things is for plates to face out stored on a rack but to be loaded on a barbell inward.
I can dispense with this pretty quickly: His method involves deftly flipping the plate up into his hands, which he attributes to “a hand skill he learned over the years.” This is exactly the problem with MOST fitness instructions and content, though: They are created by people for whom things like split squat jumps have never been particularly difficult, and they will just throw them into any old workout. Rip has been flipping plates up into his hands using only his four simian fingers and no opposable thumb since before I was born, probably.
At no point does he acknowledge that you can rest the plate on the floor, reorient it however you want, and pick it up again. Is this the plate-loading equivalent of a granny-style free throw? Maybe. Is it extra steps? For sure. But if there is supposed to be shame in it, then call me William H. Macy, because my conscience is pure. In this way, you can orient plates on barbells and racks however you please, therefore plates face outward (except the first one, which faces inward). I will further note, when plates face out anywhere, you can use the lip to put upward pressure on the plate so it slides off more easily. Thank you, I yield my time.
The Black Panther sequel press is rolling out, we have Michaela Coel rollerblading, and THE man Jonathan Majors is profiled in Men’s Health. Chris Hemsworth who??? In that vein:
Majors has been in Jordan-esque attack mode since he was 17, when his high school coaches put him on the B team. “Basketball, football—I was a B teamer,” he says. “I was like, ‘You got me fucked up.’ No disrespect to the B team, but I felt like I’m better than that guy. I’m faster than that guy.”... “You couldn’t outrun me. You wouldn’t outlift me. I was determined [not to feel] less than,” he says.
Ilona Maher has quickly become one of my favorite follows on Instagram, but I really love this from her: a quick explainer on why it does not make sense for her to “drop the routine” as a professional rugby player. “My workout plan is whatever my coaches TELL ME to DO!”: She’s right and she should say it! This is not a knock against her, but athletes’ training can range from general strength-building stuff to movements that are highly specific to not only their sport, but their personal athletic or rehab needs. More to the point, many athletes aren’t even necessarily able to parse one of those things from the other; that’s why they have trainers. If Chris Hemsworth ever came out and said something like this, I’d be dropping to my knees in the Walmart.
Read about training to become a Red Bull cliff diver, which includes:
I lift weights in the gym, do dryland flips on the ground and trampoline, and train in the pool. During the season, it’s more about maintaining a healthy diet and making sure that I get good sleep… A single high dive competition feels like I ran a marathon. I feel it throughout my entire body. A lot of times I don’t even train between competitions. I really have to rely on my offseason training and keep my mind clear to visualize my dives, so that when I do step back on that platform, I’m ready to go.
Finally, someone bravely asked, Why aren’t barbells thicker than a Snicker?
Close viewers of the cuckoo-bananas trendy Instagram diet space may remember the Tanya Zuckerbrot high-fiber, extremely low calorie “F-Factor Diet” dustup from… god, was that two years ago? Anyway: She is being sued now! By eight plaintiffs who say the diet gave them “internal bleeding, gastric distress, and intestinal blockages that required surgery.”
I’m not sure how much body shaming about muscularity actually holds back either women’s sports or women athletes, but it’s of course something that no one should have to suffer through.
Why does every fitness influencer suddenly hate seed oils? I admit I’ve resisted even learning what a seed oil supposedly is, because those words in that order have yet to cross the lips of someone whose opinion I actually value. But this is a very sober and thorough breakdown from friend of the blog Ashwin Rodrigues.
On eating $28 worth of Taco Bell because some dingus claimed he did (to bend over backward and make a claim about inflation).
I already said go see The Woman King (that wrestling move I love is called a hurricanrana! Thank you to everyone who wrote in with the answer), and I admit bias because my sweet boyfriend works on this show, but the Hot Ones with Viola Davis knocks it out of the park.
“Nature Has Its Way of Ending Life. I’m Changing the Manner and the Time.” A breathtaking interview from Rachel Handler with her grandpa-in-law who is choosing voluntary assisted death.
Instant smash for any podcast with George Saunders, but especially one about food.
A quick but wonderful interview with prolific painter Steve Keene.
William Shatner’s trip to space filled him with overwhelming sadness.
That’s all for this week! I love you for reading, thank you, let’s go—
- Some of the links contained within may earn She’s A Beast commission; that said, I strenuously and equitably encourage shopping around, buying independent, buying used, taking advantage of buy-nothing groups, and the like! Making your setup happen matters more than the precise specific products.