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Setting Up a Home Gym
By Gary Zeolla
This article is continued from Setting Up a Home Gym: Part One.
For pictures of all of the equipment discussed in this article, see Setting Up a Home Gym: Pictures.
My plan initially was to get a flat/ incline bench (without uprights). Such benches can be found in just about any gym. I figured this way, with just one bench, I could do flat benches and incline benches in my power rack (using the hooks on the power rack for the uprights). Then later, if I had room for it, I might get a decline bench to do decline benches and ab work on.
I first looked at the local sporting goods stores. Neither of them had the kind of bench I was looking for. But then I saw that New York Barbell (NYB) had a "FID bench." The FID stands for "flat/ incline/ decline." I thought this would be great. With one bench I would be able to do all three forms of benches. This would save money and space. But boy was I wrong!
Let me first say that I am rather short, 5'1". But I never had a problem with any bench being too high at any of the six different gyms I worked out at or at any of the several contests I have entered. I never had the problem with any bench of not being able to put my feet flat on the floor while lying on the bench. So I never even thought of measuring the bench I was using at the gym and comparing it to the measurements of benches I was looking at. And that was my first mistake.
I should also have checked the rulebook for the International Powerlifting Association (IPA) that I compete in. The ideal would have been to get a bench that had measurements similar to what is required for a bench at a contest. These are for the bench to be: "Length not less than 1.22 m (4 feet)…. Width shall be 29-32 cm (11-1/2 to 12-5/8 inches)… Height 42-45 cm (16-1/2 to 17-3/4 inches) measured from the floor to the top of the padded surface of the bench with being depressed or compacted."
The measurements for the FID bench on their Web site is 67" X 30" X 53"H. The height measurement made no sense to me. So I assumed it was a mistake and simply ignored it. As it turned out, it refers to the height of the end of the pad when it is in the upright position. The width refers to the width of the base of the bench. But what is not given on the site is the actual height of the bench when in a flat position and the width of the bench pad.
When I got the bench, I found out that the bench was 23" high. This is over five inches higher than the highest allowed height for a competitive bench. And with it being so high, I could get my only get my toes on the floor when lying on it. Needless to say, this would not do. I tried using blocks under my feet, but I simply didn't feel stable. Also, the width of the pad of the bench is only 8". This is 3-1/2" narrower than the narrowest allowed width and much narrower than any bench I had ever used. So when I tried benching on it, I felt like I was going to roll off.
Also my initial plans when moving bench out of the power rack was to take it out of the front and around. But with as wide as the base was and as cramped as my workout area is, this was very difficult. So I tried taking it out of the side, but this was even worse. The uprights on my power rack are only 25" apart. So the 30" base wouldn't fit. I had to angle it, but it was a struggle every time.
I struggled with it for a week or so, then realized I had to get a new bench. But to return the FID was not a good option. NYB barbell would refund the cost of the bench itself, but minus a restocking fee, and I would not get back the cost of freight. And, of course, I would have to pay to ship it back. So I decided instead to try to sell it. I put two ads in local newspapers, but got no calls. So I was stuck with it, and wasted even more money on the ads.
Meanwhile, I still needed a bench. I Googled "incline weightlifting bench" but could not find anything close to the type of benches I had used at the various gyms I worked out at. So I went back to NYB's site and found an incline bench in its "closeout" section, so it was rather inexpensive. And the measurements were 21" X 48" X 18"H. So it looked to be about the right height; only 1/4" higher than the highest allowed height of a competition bench.
When I got it, I measured the width of the pad of bench. It was 11-1/2". So that was within the legal range. But when I tried using it, I could barley touch my heels to the floor. When I measured it, I found the height was actually 21", not 18" inches as advertised. I complained to NYB, and they said I could return it, but I would still be stuck for the shipping costs both ways.
Another problem with both benches was the gap in-between the two pads was rather wide. I was short enough that I could fit (once I arched) on just the larger pad. But it was a pain not being able to just lie on the bench anywhere. And for most people, their butt would probably be right in the gap.
A final problem was the height of the bench in relation to the power rack. I mentioned in Part One that when benching alone you want to set the safety bars at such a height that you can touch your chest without hitting the safety bars. But then if you miss a rep, the safety bars are just high enough that you can flatten yourself out, set the bar on the safeties, and squeeze out. But with either bench, I wasn't able to set it up like this. But I found if I put two of the remaining Dick's mats under the bench, it would work. But the problem with that was my feet would slip on the mats.
So I now had two benches, neither of which really worked for me. But I kept trying with the newer bench for a while. But my bench workouts were really suffering. So I decided that what I needed was a really good plain, flat bench. Dick's had one such bench. But it didn't look sturdy enough. And checking their Web site, I found it was only rated for 400 pounds. That's not really a powerlifting bench. And most other benches I found elsewhere on their Web looked about the same.
So I went back to NYB's Web site. And they had two such benches. Their regular model and their "pro" model" (listed under their "Commercial Equipment" line). The measurements for the first were given as 21" X 48" X 18"H, and for the latter: 22" X 48" X 19"H. The first was rated for 1000 pounds, and the latter for a whopping 6000 pounds. But to be sure on the height measurements, I called them. I was told the measurements were accurate. I also asked about the width of the pad of the bench and was told it was 12" for both.
I got the regular model. It would have worked out well, except the base was mislabeled. It was only 16" wide. This mattered as the height in relation to the power rack was such that I still needed to put the Dick's mats underneath. I could have kept my feet from slipping by wedging them against the base, if it was as long as advertised. But as it was, it was too short. So I called NYB once again to complain. I was told they would send me a mailing label to ship the bench back at their expensive. That was nice of them; I just wish they had made the same offer with the other two benches! In any case, I ordered the pro bench. And its measurements were all as advertised.
But one problem was, the base was right where I wanted my feet to be. But it has 4"x2" tubing. And four inches was wide enough for me to put my feet on the base. This was great. The rubber "feet" on the ends keep my feet from slipping. And the height from the top of the base to the top of the pad is only 16-1/2". So I now effectively have a bench that is within the legal range. I can position my feet just as I would at a contest and really drive with my legs. I still need to put the slippery mats underneath for the correct height in relation to my power rack, but this doesn't matter as my feet are not on the floor. So I finally found a bench I could actually bench with!
Fixing the Other Two Benches
But what to do with the other two benches? I figured I had to make use of them somehow. As mentioned, the base on the FID bench was too wide to get out of the rack easily. But the base on the incline bench was shorter, and the holes for the bolts were in the same places. So I put it on the FID bench.
Another problem with the FID bench was it was the pads were way too narrow. But I noticed that the large pad on the incline bench was the same size as the one on the FID bench. However, the holes for the bolts were in different places. To drill in new holes and put in bolt holders required taking the pad apart and then gluing and stapling it back together. It was a job, and I would not recommend trying such a thing. But once I did that, it fit on the FID bench just fine. The final problem with the FID bench was that it was too high. But I found when doing inclines on it, I could place my feet on the base. When doing declines, the height doesn't matter.
Recommendations on Benches
It took purchasing a total of four benches, combining two benches into one bench, while returning another, but I now have a really sturdy flat bench which measurements are effectively within the legal ranges for a competitive bench. And I have a bench that works for both incline and decline benches. So when all was said and done, I finally got what I wanted in the first place, a way to do flat, incline, and decline benches. But I wouldn't recommend doing it this way!
I would recommend either of NYB's flat benches though. Which would be best for you is hard to say. It depends on where you need to place your feet as the bases are in different places for each. Look at the pictures for them on their Web site and you'll see what I mean. But I would not in any way recommend their FID bench. If you're a lot taller than me, the height might not be a problem. But then, it would be way too narrow for you.
After all of this was when I found York Barbell's real Web site. And they also have an assortment of benches. The most intriguing is their incline bench. Its measurements are listed as: Length 57 1/4" Width 22 1/4" Height 19". So the height is the same as the bench I now have. But most interesting about it is there is no gap in-between the pads. This is because they interlock like a jigsaw puzzle. So that would be one option. They also have a couple of sturdy looking flat benches.
York Barbell also has an FID bench that looks similar to NYB's. But its measurements are Length 65" Width 25" Height 19". So it looks like it wouldn't be too high. And even the base isn't quite so wide. But the site doesn't say how wide the pad of the bench is. If I had it to over again, I might have gotten this FID bench and a flat bench. Or, I would have gotten York Barbell's incline bench, and then maybe a decline only bench latter like I had ordinarily planned. Ether such option would work.
A different option altogether would be to get a flat bench with uprights. Both York Barbell and NYB have such benches which have measurements within legal limits. But this would require having room apart from the power rack to put the bench. So you would need a much larger workout area than I have. It would also require always having someone around to spot on benches. It simply is not wise to bench alone if you're not in a power rack. Both companies also have incline and decline benches with uprights. But again, this would require a lot of room to set everything up. Such benches are also a lot more expensive than benches without uprights.
Weights and a Power Bar
Buying weight plates should be easy. Right? I mean, what could possibly go wrong when buying solid pieces of iron? Let me tell you, plenty!
First off, I knew from weighing weights at the various gyms I had worked out at that weights do not always weigh what they are supposed to. For instance, 45 pound plates I had weighted actually weighed anywhere from 43-48 pounds. Does this matter?
Ever be lifting at a gym and at times the weights just "feel heavy" while at other times they "feel light?" Well this could explain it. You just happened to choose weights at one end or the other of this range. Also, did the bar ever feel unbalanced, like it was misloaded, with maybe an extra 5-pound plate on one side? But when you checked, it was not. Well, if you had a 45 that actually weighed 48 pounds on one side and one that only weighed 43 on the other, then that explains it. There was in fact five pounds more on one side than on the other. And as a powerlifter, this problem gets even worse. If you have eight 45s on the bar, that should be 405 pounds. But if the plates all only weigh 43 pounds, then it would only be 389 pounds. That could really mess you up come contest time!
So what I had done in the last two gyms I worked out at was to weigh a bunch of 45s and put little marks with a magic marker on the ones that were within 1/2 pound of accurate. But the problem was others picked up on my system and began to steal "my" weights. Given all of this, I was leery about ordering weights. I knew that when I got them and weighed a 45-pound plate and it only weighted say 43 pounds I would not be satisfied.
Another problem with ordering weights is the cost of shipping. On NYB's web site you would pay more for shipping than for the weights themselves. So there is no way it would be worth returning them. So I figured it was best to purchase the weights locally. Both Dunham's and Dick's sell weights. Both even had 300 pound weight sets on sale. The bar that came with the set at Dunhams' had better knurling on it, so I got the 300-pound set there. But at the time they didn't have any weights available separately, so I had to get additional 45s at Dick's. I needed at least eight 45s.
I had the foresight of taking a scale with me to the stores. But I literally had to weigh every 45 in both stores in order to find eight that were anywhere close to actually weighing 45 pounds! The weights ranged anywhere from 41-48 pounds. The 35s were also off considerably, weighing from 31-37 pounds. Some of the smaller weights were even off, with some 10s weighing as little as 9 pounds. But I did find enough plates that were close enough. It was a workout weighing all of those weights, but I figured it was worth it to get what I wanted, and I thought I was done at that point.
However, when I started using the weights, I was having problems with the bar rolling off of my back when squatting and rolling out of my hands when deadlifting. At first, I thought it was the cheap bar I got with the 300-pound weight set I got at Dunhams'. Checking it closely, it did have a slight warp in it. And besides, it was not that good of a bar to begin with. Even with the knurling, it was hard to hold onto while deadlifting. And I knew that it would probably warp even more as I did heavy lifting with it.
Initially, I had planned on getting a good power bar. I figured that was not a place to skimp. But then, when I saw that cheap bar at Dunahm's, I figured I would try to make due. But with the bar slipping out of my hands deadlifting, I knew I had to go with my first inclination and get a good power bar. So when I was placing one of my orders with NYB, I ordered one of their power bars. But when I got it, it was not a power bar; it was an Olympic bar. There is a difference. A power bar has knurling in the middle to keep it from slipping off of the back while squatting, while an Olympic bar does not. So I called NYB to complain. After having to explain to them the difference, they admitted it was their mistake. So they sent me another mailing slip to send it back to them at their expensive. But they didn't have any actual power bars in stock. So I had to get one elsewhere.
I called Elite Fitness, as I heard their Texas Power Bar was very good. They had them in stock, and I actually got it just in time for my next deadlift workout. And it is a really good bar.
However, I still had the same problem of the weight rolling on me. So that is when I inspected the weights by putting them on the bar and spinning them. Some of them "jerked" all over the place. They were obviously unbalanced. Looking at them closely, some of the holes were nowhere near round! They looked more like ovals, others had "notches" in them, and some of the holes were just too big. This was causing the weights to jerk around, and hence my problems.
But it wasn't all of the weights, just the ones I had gotten at Dick's. The Dunham's were all okay. I later found out that there are two ways to make weights, by machining them and by casting them. You can tell the difference by looking at them closely, especially at the hole in the middle. A machined weight will have smooth edges while a poured weight will have rough edges. It is the latter that will be unbalanced.
Fortunately, Dick's had a 90 day return policy, so I could still return those weights. It was at this point that I had found York Barbell's real Web site. So I called them about getting some replacement weights. But I was shocked when they told me that their 45-pound plates could range from 42-48 pounds, but at least they were honest about it. I then called NYB. And they told me their weights are machined to be within 4% of face weight. 4% of 45 is 1.8. So this means the 45s could range from 43.2 to 46.8 pounds. That's better than what I had found at the sporting goods stores and at gyms, but it was still more than I preferred.
Am I the only one who finds this situation intolerable? I mean, if a weight says it weights 45 pounds, why can't it actually weight 45 pounds?
In any case, I figured my best bet was to go back to Dunham's to see if they got any more weights in stock. Fortunately they did. And I found enough 45s that were close enough in accuracy to replace the 45s I had gotten at Dick's. So I now have ten 45s that range from 44.2 to 46.2 pounds. That is probably the best that you can do.
I kept two of the Dick's 45s as they are the "wider" type of weights. They're 1-3/4" thick as compared to the Dunham's weights that are only 1-1/4". The wider ones are good for standing on for platform deadlifts and calf raises. But I never use them on the bar, so they are always there to hold the power rack down.
September 2014 Update
By way of update, it is now September 2014, and I continued to have problems with the FID bench, so I eventually got a new one. For details, see New FID Bench. However, the mentioned flat bench has held up well. It shows no signs of wear, even the pad. There's a few scratches on the metal, but that's about it. I later nailed together some boards to extend the area to put my feet on. I also use these boards for platform deadlifts instead of the Dick's 45 pound plates.
The Texas Power Bar has held up great. It shows no signs of wear or bending, and the knurling is still as it was when I got it. So I still have no problems holding onto it while deadlifting.
I didn't expect weight plates to ever wear out, and they haven't, with again, no signs of wear. However, later I paired off the 45s into five pairs, so that I both plates in each pair weigh the exact same weight. That way, I can put one of each pair on each side of the bar, and it is always balanced. I put labels on them and wrote on the labels the exact weights and numbered the pairs. When I put them on the plate holders on the power rack, I always put them on in the same order on each side, so I always take off the paired plates at the same time.
The final part of this article is located at Setting Up a Home Gym - Part Three.
Setting Up a Home Gym - Part Two. Copyright © 2006, 2014 by Gary F. Zeolla.
The above article first appeared in the free FitTips
for One and All newsletter.
It was posted on this site January 1, 2006.
It was updated September 7, 2014.
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