Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Barbell Training: All You Need

by Robert Baker | September 14, 2021

locking out a deadlift in a garage

This article is about the bare-bones equipment needs for restoring the health, bone density and strength to new and aspiring Master Athletes, those over 40 years old, using the Starting Strength Method – and anyone else interested in a home gym. If you’re a man or woman 40 or 50 years old, or 60 or 70 plus like I am, and want to become less a worry for your family and get back to life as you once knew it, this article will give you guidance and hope to be a stronger you. People our age need “new food for thought” when it comes to maintaining and regaining or health, bone density and strength. What worked for us when we were young isn’t working anymore. The Starting Strength Method, thankfully, has given us all of the information we need to become stronger and more able-bodied.

Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training 3rd edition written by Mark Rippetoe is recognized as the best and most useful strength training book on the market. With book sales approaching 750,000 it’s in the hands of people across the U.S. and the globe. I want to strongly recommend a second book for you to buy and read in addition to Starting Strength: The Barbell Prescription: Strength Training for Life after 40, written by Jonathon M. Sullivan and Andy Baker, both of whom are Starting Strength Coaches. This book is written specifically for Masters Athletes, those of us over 40 years old.

Presently there are more than 30 Starting Strength Gyms and affiliate gyms in the U.S. (with many more to come), but one of the criteria for opening a new Starting Strength Gym is a large population base, which leaves many “outlanders” like me with nowhere to train. With the surging popularity of strength training across the U.S. what do we “outlanders” do? We build our own home gym.

I’ve spent the last 25 years or so chasing the newest bodybuilding and strength training fads, listening to the “professionals,” running in the park, joining the “Y” – and none of these things improved my strength. I’ve bought, sold, used, and given away most of the “strength training” impostors you may be thinking about buying, and in many cases at great expense. Fortunately, I started my journey years ago when my body and wallet could afford my many mistakes. This article will give you a clear vision of what you actually need for strength training, through my experience and sometimes costly mistakes, with no frills added. If you’ve been itching to pull the trigger on a Peloton or similar types of aerobic equipment, you’re preparing to spend in excess of $2000, while at the same time missing your target of getting stronger.

Below is a list of the essential equipment you will need for your strength training journey.

Item 1: One 45lb/20kg, Olympic barbell with a center knurl (the center knurl is important), and please don’t go cheap on your barbell. Spend the money for a good quality barbell, and it will last you a lifetime. There are also lighter barbells for women.

Item 2: A squat rack with 2” hole spacing, two “J” hooks, and four safety pins. You will have to determine the footprint of the squat rack you order based on the area of your home gym. It’s recommended that 4-post squat racks be bolted down to prevent movement. For 6-post squat racks see Item 4 below. Also check your ceiling height when ordering your squat rack.

Item 3: 300 – 350 pounds of round barbell weights. I’m getting by with two pairs of 45s, one pair of 25s, two pairs of 10s, one pair of 5s, one pair of 2 ½, and one set of fractional plates consisting of ¼, ½, ¾, and 1 for a total of 288 pounds. Order additional 45s as you get strong enough to need them.

Item 4: You need storage space for your plates when not in use. Most people are happy with a simple “A Frame” plate rack. It’s the simplest and most cost-effective method. If you have room and the extra money you can buy a “6-post” squat rack with plate storage pins on the rack. This configuration also gives you added weight on your squat rack, making it less likely to move.

Item 5: A flat bench 17” high, preferably with rollers on the back legs for ease of movement in and out of the squat rack. Go for one with a single center leg on the front of the bench for better foot placement during bench pressing.

Sundry items: A large clock with a sweep-second hand, a 3-inch leather weightlifting belt with a single-pin buckle, one ¾” thick horse stall mat for deadlifting, gymnastic chalk, a workout log book, and one pair of hard sole weightlifting shoes.

Always remember that getting yourself back into shape isn’t a foot race. You don’t have to win – you only have to participate. If you take your health and desire for a stronger and more robust body seriously and use the information in the two books mentioned above, you will see changes in your body and added weight on the bar long before a month has passed.

The big question you'll ask: am I too old start a strength training program at this stage of my life? Having never seen a squat rack or touched a barbell in my life, I was 74 years old when I started buying my equipment. A month before I turned 75 I was lifting weights, light weights I must say, but lifting none the less. That was two years ago and my PRs are still going up. Yes, you can do it too.

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