Saturday, April 18, 2020

Back to the basement: COVID-19 and my home gym revolution

I love my Rogue R-3.

COVID-19 was the final push I needed to invest in a home gym, and now that I’ve got a taste of working out in the basement I can safely say I’ll never set foot in a commercial gym again.

I’ve been working out with weights for more than 30 years, going back to my high school days when my freshman football coach handed us an offseason workout plan. God knows I could have used it prior, when I was an untrained, un-athletic, 14-year-old lineman taking his lumps. By the time my sophomore year rolled around the allure of iron had gotten its hooks in me. I realized I could get bigger and stronger through my own efforts, and powerful at an age when many kids feel powerless. Working out and watching my bench press go up and my biceps get bigger I felt a little like a sword-and-sorcery hero from my favorite comics and books.

Back then I had some weights at home, which came in handy on weekends and over school vacations when the high school gym was closed. My uncle gave me a classic 310-pound Olympic barbell set from York, and I purchased used a solid, 2-inch steel framed bench with uprights suitable for squatting or dips. I’d kill to have that set now, and not just to use—I could probably get $800 for it on Craigslist in this environment. Unfortunately I decided to part ways with my equipment at some point during college. Ever since I’ve been a gym-goer, paying monthly memberships to work out at various locations—World Gym, Bodybuilder’s Gym Boston North, a half-dozen other stops over the years.

Over the last couple years I’ve gone back to a back-to-basics, barbell training regimen built around the squat, deadlift, overhead press, and bench press. Starting Strength and Wendler 5-3-1 have been my training bible. Movements that can be done at home with a barbell, plates, a power rack, and a bench, no machines required. Months before COVID-19 hit I had begun giving serious thought to a home gym. The commercial gym I use is convenient during the work-week, as it’s located 5 minutes from the office. I can get up early, work out, and be at the office by 8:30. But weekends are another matter. My four day a week regimen had me training Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and the gym is about a 33-35 minute drive from home. Which means a lot of wasted time on Saturday mornings driving back and forth.

I’m kicking myself for dragging my feet. I was SO CLOSE to having a home gym prior to COVID-19. I did the research and had my eye on a rack, barbell, and bench from Rogue Fitness. These guys are your Cadillac of home gym providers. I decided to premium on rack, barbell, and bench, then scour the second-hand market for a good deal on cheap iron plates (weights are pretty much weights, unless you’re competing and need precision, or expensive bumper plates for Olympic lifts). I had saved some money, cleaned out a place in the basement, and was about to pull the trigger. Then came the pandemic. March 13 was my last day in the gym, which shut down under orders from the Governor of Massachusetts along with a host of other non-essential businesses.

The prospect of not being able to lift weights finally got my ass in gear. I placed my order with Rogue on March 17. By then Rogue’s website said they were experiencing “delays” in processing and shipping, but crucially they were still taking orders. Many fitness sites have exhausted their inventory and are not taking any more orders. Apparently tens of thousands of other gym-goers around the nation got the same idea, and the rush to buy was on.

For two+ weeks I made due with bodyweight exercises—pushups, planks, air squats, every day. I do have to say that the full-body, high rep work felt great. My joints are pain free, my cardio capacity has improved, and I feel strong and fit. But not being able to squat and deadlift heavy was wearing on me.

Newly assembled! Just add weights...
On March 31 the shipment from Rogue arrived. Two weeks, order placed to driveway delivery, was better than I hoped. A day later my rack was assembled with a barbell in the j-hooks. I could now add pullups and squats (bar only) to my routine. A week later of friend of mine swapped me a pair of old 45-pound plates for a 4-pack of beer. I got the better end of that deal, even though it cost me three premium New England style IPAs and a great stout from Burlington Beer Company. I was back in business overhead pressing, squatting, and Romanian deadlifting, low weight, high volume training, but something.  

I don’t know what’s rarer these days—toilet paper, N95 masks, or Olympic plates and dumbbells. The stuff people are asking for on the second-hand market is so grossly overpriced that I’d be embarrassed to put my name on it. I’ve seen a single pair of 80-pound dumbbells, old shit freshly painted, going for $350. One pair of dumbbells. This stuff typically goes for .50 to upwards of a $1 a pound. No way I was pulling the trigger. I tried my local Dick’s Sporting Goods, which is offering equipment for curbside pickup, but not Olympic weights. According to a store search no Dick’s within a 100 mile radius of my house had any available plates. Shit.

Then, miraculously, I heard that an outfit named Rep Fitness was taking orders for Standard Olympic iron plates, backordered but open for business. I placed an order on April 3 for 3 sets of 45-pound plates (6 total), two 25s, two 10s, two 5s, and a pair of 2 1/2s. The volume of orders was so high that Rep Fitness has since announced that it is not taking new orders until April 27 (and that was two weeks ago). But I’ve been told by their customer service dept. that my weights will be shipped sometime between April 15-30. I’m checking my email multiple times a day for the notification.

Will I get my weights this month? Am I losing all my hard-earned gains? Time will tell when I step back under a loaded barbell again. But at least the future is set, and I’m all in on working out from home. No more waiting for skinny dudes during 65 pound curls in the squat rack, or listening to shitty pop music. If you need me I’ll be cranking Battle Beast in my ear buds and knocking out pullups in the basement.

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