T Nation

Setting Up a Home Gym


Been lurking & reading T-Nation for years though I've not had time to be a regular participant. I did, however, think you guys might enjoy my home gym project and I'm definitely interested in any advice or comments you might have. So ....

Setting Up a Home Gym 101:

Step 1: Acquire a rail car. In this case a really old inter-war era wooden sided grain hauler. The previous owner had painstakingly taken the 2x6 timbers off the steel frame and put tin sheeting between the two, as a result the car has weathered really well. Call me crazy but I think it has great potential:


If this post survives moderation I'll continue. The misadventures related to this project will likely be legion.


Good luck! I have a gym in my backyard and I love it.


Thanks aeyogi, I'm definitely looking forward to it!

Step 2: Clean. As near as I can tell the contents of the car had been undisturbed for decades and comprised primarily one small metal cabinet filled with empty file folders & rat-eaten copies of Popular Electronics (circa the mid 1960s), one fairly complete Liquid Carbonate Company soda fountain (probably early 20th centry), one matching cast iron tub / toilet / sink set, a hundred or so empty metal 5 gallon chemical cans and a couple hundred pounds of hay / rags / rats nests and small animal excrement. Yum!



Wow, that was ... horrific. Judging by the stench most of the dust you see malingering about in the second photo above was probably dessicated animal crap. It did not improve with shoveling. Nevertheless a couple of trips to the landfill, a couple to the salvage yard (which, somewhat inexplicably, was willing to purchase the empty chemical cans that the landfill refused as hazardous waste despite the fact that the landfill sells just such scrap metal to that selfsame salvage yard ... go figure) and we arrived at this:


The thought of sweeping the remaining stuff out was making me a bit nauseous and my poor little shop vac would probably have picked half of it up while putting the other half in the air. Luckily I was able to borrow a better vac up the road. Ladies & gentlemen, the Wallinga 6614 agri-vac, minimum 100 HP power source required & featuring your choice of 5 or 6 inch flexible steel tubing. It will suck the chrome off a proverbial trailer hitch or the tin patches on the floor of an old rail car right off the nails holding them down:


It also proved most excellent for sucking a half century worth of nasty crud from between old floor timbers. What would have taken an entire day with my shop vac took less than ten minutes. With the floor looking spiffier it was time to do something about the few dozen insect nests along the ceiling. Here is a shot of me employing a most excellent method for taking 'em down (luckily the little critters aren't as aggressive this time of year):


I may patent that, 'An Improved Method for Removing the Nests of Flying Stinging Insects.' Folks don't try that at home, at least not early in the year. The next morning brought a bit of disappointment when, upon opening the car, I discovered that the stench of rat was quite a bit stronger than it had been before anything in the car had been disturbed. Apparently the thick layer of dust had been holding the really offensive stuff down.

Luckily a friend who'd been helping me with this project immediately had one of those ideas. There are good ideas, bad ideas and those other ideas; you know the ones, the ones that immediately seem like a good idea, present an easily identifiable peril that doesn't seem too bad and yet keep nagging at you subconsciously, prodding you to recognize what terrible ideas they really are. Why yes, a pressure washer and a few gallons of bleach to load in the detergent bottle seem like really good ideas! And they really did a nice job cleaning the old timbers up and almost completely neutralizing the rat:


Said cleaning action was clearly visible in the prodigious amounts of white foam that were extant as soon as the bleach hit the floor. Tip for those of you playing along at home: when bleach initiates a very visible chemical reaction you should probably walk away rather than thinking, 'Oh yeah, that's really cleaning the place up!' because bleach plus anything will not produce things healthy for the human body.

I assume the culprits reacting with the bleach were either ammonia from decades of animal urine soaked into the floor of the car or residues of ammonium nitrate and other nitrogen based fertilizers once stored there. The best bad scenario was the diluted bleach aerosol from the power washer itself, next up the chlorine gas from the reaction with the nitrogen-based stuff on / in the floor and from there it could have gotten really bad but based on the facts that: a) I'm not dead; and b) no explosion or fire occurred; I'm guessing that the really nasty stuff like nitrogen trichloride, hydrazine, etc. that could have been produced weren't or at least not in significant quantities.

Never again will I bitch about cleaning the bathroom.

Next up: acquiring some equipment & setting up!


I'll skip the gory details of getting power to the car except to say that if you ever see an old piece of PVC sticking out of the ground with wires protruding from the top and hanging in midair be careful as they just might have been sitting there for a few decades connected to a 120 amp service that's still live. And if you have intelligent rats they'll have chewed a hole in the floor of your rail car near these wires and almost all the way in a corner. At least that was easy and no one lost an eye or anything.

No good setup happens without a Craigslist score, in this case I was lucky enough to stumble across a listing for an 'Entire Powerlifing Gym For Sale' (thanks again Randy and best of luck with your Travel Channel show about Bigfoot in the Midwest ... I don't think you're crazy but if I ever see one I'll never admit it).

Here're the pics of my setup. The bag & most of the bumpers were mine, the glute ham I bought new & nearly all the rest is from the Craigslist ad.









The roof leaks just a little in one spot, you catch just a hint or rat now and then, and there are these strange silver crystals growing in a few spots on the floor but I'm pretty happy with it thus far.


skylights and mirrors


powered exhaust fan


Way to go! That is one awesome and efficient little gym. I agree with another poster though....you need mirrors...not just to watch yourself but it will really cut down on the semi-claustrophobic feel of a "hallway".


breath vapour can condense on metal ceiling and drip / freeze / corrode

i would probably want a window somewhere (maybe the door)
so i could look out and see what's up without opening door
be hard to concentrate thinking the house could be burning down and you don't know even thought you're 50 feet away for couple of hours


That's a pretty sweet set up B.Dean. The steel structure combined with wooden floors and walls makes for a great aesthetic. I would hate to change anything, but I'd need a dedicated spot for deadlifting and olympic lifts.

You have stairs or a ramp leading up into the gym?


Agreed on both counts Bujo.

I'd intended to reserve a dedicated spot for deadlifing & Olympic lifting but wound up with quite a bit more equipment than I'd planned on. For the moment there's plenty of room to deadlift in front of the rack but I'll be trying to free up some space soon. That will probably entail moving the flat bench out; it's nice to have but with space at a premium it's entirely redundant.

I, too, really like the aesthetic of the space. It was obvious before cleanup began that it would be a great in that respect and I'm not at all disappointed in how it turned out. Not planning any significant changes beyond a 2x12 shelf on one end to get the stereo and one of the space heaters off the floor. To the earlier poster: I don't find it claustrophobic (it's like 350 sq. ft.) & while the house burning down would be a drag it is insured. :wink:

I liked the aesthetic so much that I didn't want to put much new stuff in there. Found the lights & switch in an abandoned building near by:


Figured the bullet holes really added character to the place but the mounts were worthless so we created some in keeping with the aesthetic of the place:


No stairs yet, for the moment it's plyometric singles on the way out. But there are piles of, wait for it, old railroad ties & bridge timbers out back that will make great stairs when I get around to it (read, "When I twist on ankle or blow out a knee exiting.")


Just curious, did you hang on to the old soda fountain? Seems like something that could sell well if handled properly.

And I say this facetiously, but...any signs of Hanta virus yet?


No on the soda fountain, it was complete but parts were broken, mangled or so saturated in animal waste as to be beyond salvaging. Hauled the nasty stuff to the landfill, took the rotten metal (except taps & pumps) to a salvage yard, gave the marble to a friend who's doing a small patio at his home & gave the porcelain buckets, taps & pumps to a friend who helped me clean the place & set up (his wife was just hit with a few grand in unexpected medical expenses and I figured he could sell the stuff to help offset the bill).

Also no on the hantavirus ditto plague, rabies, typhoid, tetnus and all of those other lovely things that might've been lurking there. That's actually the reason I went ahead and bleached the interior, I couldn't think of a better way to (mostly) disinfect the old timbers.