I have written before about working out at home, but I never thought that this post would be anything more than a dream; something not to be achieved in my lifetime. But, no – this time I made the dream real.
“What do you think?” the man asked, “they are about £2k for a basic one with heat, light and electricity”.
I gave him the old-fashioned look, the one that says, Yeah, right…
“2 grand?” I asked.
The girl behind him straightened at my tone and her smile went to glass.
We were standing in a “garden room”, a sort of prefab room dropped anywhere you have space in the garden. I had seen lots of them in Japan, where they are mainly used as temples and tearooms, either opening fully on one side or with crawl-height doors for shuffling in for a cuppa’. This one was much more British and resembled a brightly fitted out front room, somehow avoiding the acoustics of a normal outside portacabin. At that point Cesca and I moved on. We were at the Suffolk show and she was here to see the animals, not the man-cave vendors. I, however, looked back at the stand and at the flyer in my hand.
Oh, to have a space for a real gym.
And then something clicked in my mind. I was mentally placing the garden room in my garden space, when I turned it 90 degrees and suddenly realised that I already had a garden room, with power, light and a door into the main garden. It was the garage. An insidious idea formed in my heart and here, six months later I am standing in that idea made flesh:
Convert the garage into a gym.
The first problem with this project, and indeed the main one to be overcome, was that the garage was full – and by full, I mean stacked six-foot-high full – of stuff. Of course, any modern couple collect a lot of stuff in their lifetime, but Cesca is especially good at it. She had her first shoes. In their box. She had her Christmas cards from high school. All of them. We had enough stuff to have packed out a 40ft shipping container when we went travelling. It needed clearing and, although some progress had been made, the garage was absolutely rammed and had been since we moved in. So, the first step was convincing Cesca and help me clear a third.
That took a month.
A month later I had enough cleared to start planning. Firstly, I was currently paying £60 per month at Bannatines gym next to my London office of Tower 42. I added up the cost of this over two years and that set my budget.
Next, I noticed to my horror that the floor in the garage was unsealed concrete, which dusted and created lots of floating cement particles in the air. This would make working out not only uncomfortable, but potentially dangerous. So, the next step was sealing that floor. This, of course, required me to take everything out of the garage to get at it.
A plan formed.
Since I would have to empty the garage into the garden, I should also take the moment to improve the lighting. Not much in this life can be achieved without the help of a friend. And here my friend came to my rescue. A brick layer and window fitter by trade, Mark was a phone call away and offered to come help fit some windows. So, I went down to the local Wicks to buy everything from a list he gave me. I also ordered two lintels – whatever those were I thought at the time – and some very large tarpaulin sheets.
I then took a week off work.
During that week, I coordinated everything arriving and ferried the orders from Wicks.
I also ordered some garage paint and floor sealant. Mark then arrived, having borrowed some high-end tools from his friends. Using his incredible knowledge and skill he hand cut two holes for the windows, and we both fitted them in one afternoon.
He was using a special set of screws that went straight through the frames into the brickwork, preventing the need for complex hanging equipment.
I bagged up the debris and bricks and put them for offer on the local websites. A man building out his driveway came and picked the whole lot up.
Mark well-earned his reward of food and my affection that day.
Next came the floor painting. The one bit of equipment I had not hired was a floor sander, and the basic swept concrete had many ridges. I spent a couple of hours hammering off bits of dropped concrete. Anyway, I knew that the actual surface area of the floor would be higher than basic measurement of the space. I therefore over-ordered on the paints, but in hindsight I should have made the effort to flatten the floor as even this over order wasn’t truly enough. Indeed, I should have doubled it. I painted the sealant on and then got to work painting on the floor. This took a night of work and two days to dry. Of course, being Britain, it rained and I had to cover everything in the garden carefully to prevent too much water damage.
Next came the wall painting. In order to best use the light now coming into the space from the windows, I painted the opposite walls a bright white to catch and reflect it into the room. For room, it now was! After that dried, came the matting. I ordered 9m square of 40mm mats to define the space and to give the very best workout surface. They needed very little cutting and I should be able to swap them out easily if something gets damaged.
Now my space was ready for equipment.
I am a martial artist of the Taekwondo style and I wanted a space to practice that, however I had also recently completed a CrossFit 4-week course on how to work out in their methods. How to lift, for I had never lifted before, and how to use a small space to your advantage, I was also bit fan of Calisthenics, and wanted to be able to use as much of that knowledge as possible.
So, my equipment list is:
Airdyne bike. These bikes look harmless, just a gym bike – yes? No. This is a monster. Being an Airdyne bike, which has a mechanism based around a central fan for the wheel, it can provide an infinite gradient of resistance. In fact, the harder you push it, the harder it pushes back. A good workout on here will break you.
Plyometric box. Dynamic martial arts power requires training. Being able to jump is key to Taekwondo, which will often use jumps to switch stance and kick at the same time. This box came flat packed and I screwed it together. Such boxes are very expensive and I spied one online during the sales and grabbed it immediately.
6ft 40kg heavy leather bag. A good graded heavy bag is a key component of any martial arts gym. Rated for kicks as well as punches. Handling such a beast can be fun, and my first attempt was kicked off the wall within a day. Now it is hung on a frame that is bolted at the top right through the wall beam and at the bottom spur with a brick screw rated at 280kg. Of course, after a few sessions o abuse from me, the bag itself broke at the chain yolk. So, I replaced it with a ubolt designed for pulling cars and rated at 3 tons. I would like to think that will be enough.
Pull up bar. I am not very good at pull ups, which is exactly why I bought this. One should face one’s weaknesses and improve.
TRX. This is a China-rip off TRX, but just as good as the real thing; only a ¼ of the price. I love the TRX for its versatility and ability to really polish off a work out.
Break board holder. As a Taekwondo martial artist, breaking boards is what we do. This wall mounted holder provides for a safe and cheap way of perfecting that skill. I have two plastic reusable red boards and have a standing rule to smash them at the end of every workout.
Poster of Arnie at his moment of triumph. The Governator is a huge inspiration in many aspects of his life and I love this poster.
Kettlebells. I have beginner 16kg and intermediate 24kg. I was turned on to kettlebells after hiring a Russian guy at work and he telling me of how the Russian army uses them all the time. I absolutely love using them and tend to rotate them into every workout. I have found my lifts vastly improve after a few weeks of swinging and snatching.
Dumbbells. A good 12kg hexagon set for use connected with something else, like the Plyometric box.
Olympic weight set. This is a basic set collected over time. With rubber plates in Kg increments of 15, 10 and 5, making for a total of 80kg with bar added. Not a great load, but I am collecting rubber plates as I go along.
Various martial arts aids: kick shield, focus mitts, wooden weapons, etc. All used for my own practice and teach my children self-defence.
Wall mounted Amazon tablet. I have a WIFI extender in the garage to provide internet and this tablet connects to Amazon’s music service and pumps out workout tunes to the nearby Bluetooth speaker. It also has a nifty Tabata timer app, which I use a lot.
Heater and Gym fan. It is a garage. It does get cold in winter and hot in summer.
I am also a big Polar fitness technology fan, using their latest Bluetooth chest strap to monitor and report my workout output. This model also auto sync’s the heart rate to the Airdyne, which then shows my effort on the bike. I find such careful monitoring to assist me in listening to my body and knowing just how hard to push myself to train hard enough to improve.
My workouts. My workout builds are focussed around combat and the needs of defence. Sure, strength is important, but so is flexibility, dynamic power and some cardio. When I designed the program, I soon found that it is very similar to a CrossFit workout, only with a more focussed purpose. CrossFit with a purpose – imagine that!
So, I tend to do three “pure” Tabata’s as a warm up (It consists of eight rounds of ultra-high-intensity exercises in a specific 20-seconds-on, 10-seconds-off interval). Moving between the Plyometric box, the Airdyne and the heavy bag (mixing up the first two with the pullup bar, but always using the bag). I then throw my complete Taekwondo Syllabus into the bag, 5 kicks for each technique, and both left and right sides (around 100 kicks).
Being 40 years old I find that the only way to maintain, let alone improve, my ability is to walk the walk every day. After this, I move onto the Kettlebells with another Tabata and then a complex covering the snatch (6 per side), goblet squat (for 10) and swings (3 sets of 15). After this comes the bar. Here I start “heavy” (I am very warmed up by this point) and load up the weights and kettles to deadlift 120kg (for 10), dropping weight then to deadlift 80kg (for 10) and again down to 60kg to snatch (for 10 – I admit to not being able to squat the snatch, but the bar goes up well). Then down again to 40kg to rear squat (for 10), military press (for 10), good morning (for 10) and whatever takes my fancy – usually thrusters. After this the bar goes down and I finish on the TRX with a simple complex of squats, ring rows, rollouts and twists.
Finally, the break board holder. A red board, especially a new one, is to be considered an advanced board for a 40-year-old. It is easy to break a knuckle if you’re tired. So, I tend to punch it in a light glove and – of course – I work out in Taekwondo shoes, which make kicking it easy peasy. I keep the height at around 5ft5 to keep me honest.
Once, every 3 workouts or so I do a standard Yoga routine to prevent injury. I also have very targeted supplements to assist in recovery and prevent drops in testosterone from nervous system shock.
That comes in around 700/800 Kcals burned, which is great for a work night. This is repeated 3 times a week minimum, and 1 night a week playing football. It has been 6 months so far, and while I haven’t lost much in terms of weight I am in much better condition (I have “guns”!) and able to function at a much higher fitness level.
I noticed it first when carrying in a large and heavy IKEA box from my brother-in-law’s car.
“Did I need help?” He asked.
Did I f*ck!
Since building the gym, it has become somewhat of object of interest to many of the men of my ancient Suffolk village. Clearly, many men have had the same dream, but haven’t the space or the ability to convince the wife to commit to the debt – I merely pointed out that a) I would have spent the money on a gym subscription and b) we own the equipment, so the true cost is the difference between what I paid and what I could sell it for. Finally, having a gym of this type is wife friendly and child friendly. Everyone comes and joins in.
Anyway, after showing the gym to a few lads at a drinks party, I now have gym buddies who come around occasionally to join me in a work out. Even through 9m2 is relatively small, it is more than possible to fit 3 people in if they rotate.
In the future, what would I like to do? Well, firstly clear down the rest of the garage so that the space is “emptier”. After that I have a plan to film my martial arts in the form of lessons and produce them into a video series for sale on my website.
That is the next project and I am working myself hard to achieve it by the end of the year.
Many kind regards,