Monday, March 9, 2015

Exercise Equipment for Low Ceilings

Many, including those just getting started, decide that a garage gym or basement gym is the right answer for their fitness goals.  But some basement gyms with low ceiling heights can present some challenges that might make you reconsider.  But before you rule out your basement as a great place to train, read on.

Training at home has the distinct advantage of convenience.  Whether it's at 5AM or 5PM or somewhere in between, the home gym is always ready and you'll never be late for the beginning of a class.  Since life always has bumps and twists, the convenience of making your own schedule is a powerful aspect of owning your own home gym.

Where some home gyms can fall short, so to speak, is in their available ceiling height.  A low ceiling can certainly curb our enthusiasm when we've got certain movements we want to train that just aren't possible without good overhead height.  But, even if you've got a handful of favorite movements that can't be trained in the home gym, here's some options to keep your gym open for business:

Barbell Work - Olympic Lifts are having such a tremendous comeback, it's hard not to want to jump on that bandwagon.  We're seeing an amazing level fitness being achieved with old school style movements and getting these types of lifts into your routine is a must.  Although the barbell clean can be trained anywhere that you can comfortably stand in, movements such as the snatch, jerk or even static overhead presses require a fair amount of overhead space.

In addition to needing your hands to clear the ceiling while overhead, the bumper plates on the bar require about ten more inches of clearance beyond the height of the bar.  That can add up to about two feet over your head for most.  And there's little compromise.  Even if your ceiling is just two inches short, getting the bar overhead with plates just won't work.  If your ceiling height is pushing down on you and keeping these movements out of your grab bag, we've got a few ideas to keep you working:


  • The Kettlebell - As one of the most versatile and effective tools on the market [and it's been around for hundreds of years], the kettlebell is a perfect solution to low ceiling heights.  Provided you've got enough room to clear your hands when overhead, the snatch and jerk movements are now easily trainable.  And don't think that kettlebells are too light, even 1-Arm kettlebell snatches at 70 pounds is more than challenging even for elite athletes.  And wielding dual kettlebells for the jerk is a challenge you might not want to soon repeat [that's a good thing].  And even more static moves like an overhead press or overhead squat are also at your fingertips with the kettlebell.  If your home gym isn't outfitted with a great set of kettlebells, it's time to pull the trigger.
  • Resistance Bands - Like the kettlebell, resistance bands provide fantastic resistance overhead at no higher than your hands.  They are amazingly portable, versatile and effective.  And even when outfitted with a few, they can be used stacked together to provide more than enough resistance even for the very strong.  They pack amazingly easy in your travel bag when you've got to go out of town and we promise they'll never break a toe if you accidentally drop them.  And even if you buy a set solely for overhead work, you'll be using resistance bands for countless other exercises in no time.

Gymnastic Ring Work - Ok, you're ceiling height is a little low for the muscle up?  No problem.  You might have to let that one exercise go until you can get outside and hang your gymnastics rings from a tree or the swings at the park, but don't let that stop you from putting one of the most amazing strength training tools in your home gym.

Even if your overhead height doesn't allow for a ring muscle up, not having a set of rings in your gym is like throwing the baby our with the bathwater.  Nearly any movement you train on gymnastics rings will benefit your muscle up even if you can't train it as often as you like.


  • Gymnastics Rings Exercises for Beginners - we use the term "Beginners" loosely here as any of the beginner movements we've listed can be intensified by changing the height of the gymnastics rings.  And the best part?  All of the movements we list can be done in a space with a low ceiling.
  • Gymnastics Rings - Get Built Like a Gymnast - Need a little inspiration on how to get started?  Here we outline a simple yet effective training program with four basic gymnastic ring exercises you can do right at home.

The Pull Up - arguably one of the best bodyweight exercises out there, the pull up is a fantastic measure of upper body strength.  For those with less than ideal ceiling height, executing a full range pull up can be a challenge.

We haven't got much magic here.  But we can say that even if your overhead clearance doesn't allow for your feet to hang free when grabbing the pull up bar, don't let that stop you from adding it to your home gym.

It's true that a kipping pull up just doesn't work if your feet touch the floor, but building pulling strength without the kip is arguably better.

We believe that having a good mix of regularly attending an instructor driven class and training at home is key.  Those instructed class settings push us out of our comfort zone while supplemented training at home allows us the flexibility to program our own movements, work on the things we need to or the stuff we really like.