27 November 2010 ~ Comments Off on Simple Workout Holiday Gifts: Iron Gym

Simple Workout Holiday Gifts: Iron Gym

The Iron Gym in its natural habitat.

With the holidays starting, there’s a dilemma that comes along with the thought of giving fitness-related gifts: will the recipient be happy or offended? It’s a dilemma that’s easily resolved as far as you’re concerned: don’t be afraid to drop subtle hints about the fact you’d like some new workout clothes, or fitness equipment.

In keeping with the Simple Workout charter, we’ll look at a few very simple gifts that can help you to exercise and eat better. Today it’s the Iron Gym Total Upper Body Workout Bar. This is an inexpensive piece of equipment that can help you with two of the best bodyweight exercises in the world: pull-ups and push-ups.


The Iron Gym really shines when it comes to pull-ups: in literally seconds it fits on any standard door with normal-size molding, and you’re ready to go. With five grip positions (wide and narrow with overhand or underhand grip, or palms in) you can start with the easiest position for you, then as you get stronger, try a more difficult grip.

With most home bodyweight or dumbbell workout programs, the only exercise missing is the pull-up, and the Iron Gym takes care of that. Some days I swear I can’t walk by the Iron Gym without putting it up and blasting out 10-12 reps. It’s just so easy.


As helpful as the Iron Gym is for pull-ups, it also makes a great base for push-ups. Put it on the floor with the curved part of the bar facing up, and you have padded hand grips. Because your palms are facing in, you’ll get a slightly different exercise out of the Iron Gym than you would with your palms on the floor. In this position you can also lower your chest slightly below your hands, giving you a greater range of motion.

Again, it’s as easy as putting the Iron Gym on the floor.

The Rest

The areas the Iron Gym doesn’t handle so well are sit-ups and dips. I’ve outlined this and more in my Iron Gym review at the Tao of Bachelorhood, but suffice to say you can do both of those exercises without the Iron Gym. It’s still an awesome enough value for what it does well that I can recommend it highly. If it will fit your door (very wide doors and doors with no moldings are a no-go) it’s a great part of a home workout.

So if you’re looking for an inexpensive fitness gift to hint at, you should strongly consider an Iron Gym.

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10 November 2010 ~ Comments Off on Machines or Free Weights?

Machines or Free Weights?

If you're not sure what it is, don't use it.

When you first step into a gym, the sheer number of devices can be staggering. Benches. Machines. Weight racks in odd positions. Equipment that looks not unlike medieval torture apparatus. If you don’t have a good workout plan to lead you, things can become quite confusing.

The first decision you’ll likely make is the choice between using machines or free weights for your weight training exercises. I’ll help you make that choice, which may be easier than you expect.

The Case For Machines

Simply put, if you’re stepping into a gym for the first time, machines are a good way to start:

  • Easy setup: you can quickly adjust your position and the amount of weight without having to move heavy plates around.
  • Good form: machines normally force you into the right position for the exercise, helping you avoid injury.
  • Heavier weight: you can use the heaviest weight you can lift without a spotter, knowing that if you can’t get it up for that final rep, you won’t hurt yourself trying to set the weight down.

The Case Against Machines

The flipside to all this ease is that most machines feature isolated movements. This causes a few issues that may hold back your progress:

  • Positioning problems: if the machine isn’t adjusted properly, you may be putting too much stress on joints or working the wrong muscles.
  • Muscle isolation: because you’re in a fixed position, you usually won’t be working stabilizer muscles or secondary groups (like your abs). This means you may need more exercises for an overall workout.
  • No balance required: because you’re locked in and stabilized by the machine, you won’t develop balance as you would with free weights.

The Case For Free Weights

With a little knowledge, free weights can help you with overall fitness. They also give you options you don’t have with machines.

  • More complete workout: weight training with free weights will also work stabilizer muscles, and help you develop better balance. You can also perform compound movements that work multiple muscle groups.
  • Variety of exercises: A simple pair of dumbbells is useful for hundreds of exercises.
  • Low cost: you can buy a pair of adjustable dumbbells and a simple bench for your own low-cost home gym.

The Case Against Free Weights

Finally, the reasons you may not want to start with free weights. They really come down to experience:

  • Form required: It’s important to stand, move and squat in specific ways so as not to injure yourself. With heavier exercises, like the squat or deadlift, form is essential.
  • Spotter sometimes needed: to build muscle effectively, it’s important to lift heavy weights until failure (your muscles fail to lift one more time). However, to do exercises like the barbell chest press, you’ll need a spotter to avoid becoming trapped under the bar! In others, like the squat, you have to learn to “dump” (drop) the weight.


Machines are a great idea if you’re new to weight training and want a self-guided gym workout. But once you feel comfortable, start using free weights for some simple exercises. When you can study and practice the form for complex exercises like the barbell squat, you’ll make muscle gains more quickly and improve your balance.

Whichever you choose, make sure to approach your exercise with focus and intensity for the best results.

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