What Your Gym Needs

By Brian Carroll

You don’t need a gym filled with fancy bullshit equipment to get jacked and brutally strong.

I used to train in a commercial gym myself. At this point, however, I’d rather retire and go sedentary than train in a Planet Fitness—or pretty much any other chain commercial gym. This environment is not conducive to big lifting, and if you try to lift heavy in a commercial gym, they’re not going to be happy with you.

Commercial gyms want us to be average, and they want to take our money with the least amount of wear and tear on their investment. In other words, they pretty much want to take your initially payment, and then they’d rather see you never come back at all. I don’t want that, and I don’t want to be average. Do you?

Why do you train? Do you need to have others see you lifting big weights? Does that shit matter to you? Or do you train because you love it and you have goals you want to hit for yourself? It’s cool to be the strongest gym rat at your commercial gym, but think about the people you’re comparing yourself to. Who are they? What does this mean to them? If you’re reading this article, it probably doesn’t mean nearly as much—so who the f**k cares what they see from you?

For the past ten years, I’ve trained in the equivalent of a two car garage. This “gym” has been home to some of the strongest lifters in the world—along with many world class guests who visit us on a regular basis. How did we do this? How did we create the atmosphere and setup that’s generated multiple world records over the years?

Here’s what you need in your gym:

1. POWER RACK: You can bench, squat, and deadlift in a power rack, and you can do them all safely because of the spotter bars. You can also do pull-ups, dips, rows, shrugs, and whatever else you want, and you can also use bands and chains. The potential is unlimited with just a simple power rack. You can even turn it into a makeshift “monolift” through creative use of the spotter bars. If you have a power rack, a barbell, and some plates, you can do 10/20/Life successfully and get super f*****g strong.

2. A BARBELL AND PLENTY OF PLATES: Sound overly simple? Sure, this should be a given, but sometimes it’s not. If you want to lift big weights and get strong as hell, the barbell is king—and barbell exercises like squats, bench pressing, and deadlifting should be the staples of your program. This may sound like I’m pointing out the obvious, but to be perfectly honest with you, again, a rack and some weight are all you need for success.

3. AN ADJUSTABLE BENCH: You need this for all kinds of pressing, for bench dips, for core exercises, and multiple other crucial exercises. You also need someplace to rest and make fun of your training partners between sets. Stick your adjustable bench in your power rack, and you can bench press a thousand different ways to your heart’s content.

4. DUMBBELLS AND KETTLEBELLS: These are the icing on the cake. They’re the finishing touch in terms of all the actual necessities—especially if you want to create a world class garage setup. Kettlebells are awesome for core work, and they’re great for warm-ups or cool-downs for your main movements. Even if the implements you have aren’t heavy, you still need these options, especially for your 10/20/Life “fluff and buff” day.

5. BANDS: The purpose of having bands is threefold. First, they’re a great resource for building speed out of the bottom of your lifts. Next, you can do just about any assistance exercise with them—or you can use them to make any assistance lift harder and different. Finally, reverse band lifts are a staple of the 10/20/Life program, and you need to incorporate these into your programming.

Your Personal Equipment

You need a belt and a solid pair of flat shoes. I really like either the Inzer Lever Belt or the Inzer Forever Buckle Belt which you can purpose on the Inzer website. You can literally break these belts in perfectly, are easily adjustable and they will last you for years. Keep your belt in your gym for heavy days where you need to brace your core.

Keep your shoes in your gym, too, if you can, so you don’t have to wear them on concrete and wear out their grip. The key with virtually every big lift is to lock down your footing on whatever surface you’re dealing with, and your shoes make a huge difference when it comes to gripping the floor like a monkey.

I cover this in great detail in 10/20/Life, but these two things count—bracing your core and getting a good grip on the floor no matter what you’re doing. I suggest going with the Adidas Pro model for your universal shoe—or Chuck Taylors if you want to save a few bucks.

This is all about your personal preference, though. I wear Adidas, and I use a belt. If you want to lift barefoot without a belt, more power to you. Have fun and save some cash.

Getting It Done

I started with Adam Driggers in his gym 11 years ago, and I’ve never looked back. I don’t miss training in commercial gyms, because I don’t have any desire to go back to the zombified nature of being average, or training alongside average people on average equipment. If you get a group of friends together, chip in some money, and build your gym over time, you don’t need much—and your results will be far better than anything you’d get from a chain gym. Even if you’re doing it all yourself, as discussed earlier, you can still get phenomenal results by simply investing in a power rack and some weight for your garage.

This approach isn’t feasible for everyone, obviously, but if it’s at all possible, this is exactly what you should do. If you must train at a commercial gym by yourself, make sure you belong to one that, at the very least, has a good power rack you can stay in for the duration of your workouts. Forget all the other shit around you, forget about all the idiots walking around, and focus on getting your work done.

10/20/Life Second Edition is now on sale for half price! 

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Brian Carroll

Owner and Founder at PowerRackStrength.com
Brian is a retired world-class powerlifter with over two decades of world-class powerlifting. From 1999 to 2020, Brian Carroll was a competitive powerlifter, one of the most accomplished lifters in the sport's history. Brian started off competing in bench press competitions 'raw,' then, shortly into the journey, he gravitated toward equipped lifting as there were no "raw" categories then. You only had to choose from single-ply (USPF) and Multi-ply (APF/WPC). Brian went on to total 2730 at 275 and 2651 at 242 with more than ten times his body weight in three different classes (220, 242, 275), and both bench pressed and deadlifted over 800 pounds in two other weight classes. He's totaled 2600 over 20 times in 2 different weight classes in his career. With 60 squats of 1000lbs or more officially, this is the most in powerlifting history, regardless of weight class or federation, by anyone not named David Hoff. Brian realized many ups and downs during his 20+ years competing. After ten years of high-level powerlifting competition and an all-time World Record squat at 220 with 1030, in 2009, Brian was competing for a Police academy scholarship. On a hot and humid July morning, Brian, hurdling over a barricade at 275lbs, landed on, fell, and hurt his back. After years of back pain and failed therapy, Brian met with world-renowned back specialist Prof McGill in 2013, which changed his trajectory more than he could have imagined. In 2017, Brian Carroll and Prof McGill authored the best-selling book about Brian's triumphant comeback to powerlifting in Gift of Injury. Most recently (10.3.20) -Brian set the highest squat of all time (regardless of weight class) with 1306 lbs – being the first man to break the 1300lb squat barrier at a bodyweight of 303 lbs.
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