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Injured at Home – An Inconvenient Truth to Home Fitness

Cutting the cord from the big box gyms is a great feeling.  You get more money in your wallet at the end of each month, the convenience of not having to add time in transit to the front and tail ends of your workouts, and also the general feeling that you are training what you need to train, when you need to train it.

There is a dark and gloomy down side to the home fitness/RefuGym phenomenon though, and it’s nothing really new, but often overlooked.  Getting injured while working out from home can be a major roadblock towards pursuing your goals.  In this post I hope to cover some of the things you can do to overcome these barriers and get back into the gym.

Working out from Home is the Holy Grail

Several years ago when I realized how easily and cheaply I could create an efficient and effective home gym, I was super stoked.  The biggest hold-back in my fitness progress up to that point was having the motivation (and time) to get all my gear together and transit myself to and from the gym every day.

The time spent getting to and from the gym on many occasions kept me from going at all.  I knew how much it would cut into my leisure time after a long day of work, and I would have rather spent that time with my family, cooking, eating, or relaxing.  It got to the point that I spent more time in transit than I spent working out.  Momentum killer.

I used some very basic fundamental equipment, some of which you can find here, and built my own gym in about 2 months, after budgeting a little bit to afford some of the higher end gear, such as the Concept2 Rower.  I justified it all by subtracting my annual gym fees, which were at that time pushing $1,100.

Now I was in heaven.  My schedule used to consist of waking up 2 hours before work.  45 minutes to get going and get to my gym; a quick 20 minute workout; a 20 minute drive home; 20 minute clean up — maybe have a snack if there was time; and then off to work.  In the afternoons it was about the same amount of time budgeted.  Working out from home was truly liberating.

Rise of the rotator cuff

I never took Newton’s talk of equal and opposite reactions at face value, even though I’m sure it makes perfect sense.  With my newfound freedom of having my gym only about 20 feet from my bed, let’s just say that I was in there a lot.  So much that it started filling in those 2 hours that I had freed up.

Overtraining started to occur.  Even though I felt great having everything within an arm’s reach, I was spending a lot of time working out and not much time recovering.  Time that I used to spend warming up, getting ready and cooling down, was now spent just going at it.

I had recently installed a StudBar Pull-up Bar, to round things off in my setup and I was loving it.  I had gotten into kipping pull-ups and was amazed what a beating this bar could take, and I was doing tons of them!  And then I started running into a problem I hadn’t expected: overtraining.

Until recently I had spent so much time getting ready to work out, and so little time actually working out, that over training was never a risk.  But with all of this newfound freedom, I was taking an unknown toll on my body.

One cool morning I woke up before work and went into my garage.  I did a few arm circles, some push-ups, jumping jacks… something to get the blood flowing.  And then I decided to get into some tabata kipping pull-ups.  I dropped down when the workout was done, felt an unfamiliar pinch, and entered into what would end up being a 6 month recovery process from a rotator cuff injury.

Recovering from a rotator cuff injury

I’m not a doctor or physical therapist but I know how to listen to my body now more than ever.  Sometimes it takes a “life altering injury” to get you to change your ways.

My biggest road block to recovery was my home gym itself.  The convenience of being right there made it a very tough temptation to resist.  And so my injury got worse… and it got worse.

Knowing when to recover is one of the most important parts of getting fit, and it’s a tough lesson to learn.

By the time I sought medical treatment, I was told my labrum was about to tear.  I was one workout away from requiring surgery and possible permanent injury to some degree.

And so my home gym started to collect dust

I’m a proud person and I don’t like finding out I have limitations, but there it was.  Instead of adjusting my workouts to cater to my injury and limitation, I stopped working out.  My beautiful home gym became clutter in the garage, and before I knew it, the garage was back to a storage room for boxes, christmas decorations, goodwill items.  It was no longer my shrine and sanctuary.

Four months into my recovery, which consisted of weekly physical therapy, lots of rest and stretching, my injury started to improve.  I was getting my mobility back, and by month 5 it was mostly pain-free.  Unfortunately, my fitness was now my biggest injury.

I had forgotten my philosophy about home fitness that had made me so motivated, happy and healthy.  I was so focused on my injury that I think to some degree I had forgotten that my shoulder was just a part of the larger machine that was me.

The road to recovery has a lot of curves… and sometimes requires a U-Turn

There I was at month 6.  I was pretty low.  I had gained about 15 pounds of not-so-great weight.  My heart rate rarely elevated in any sort of positive way.  And I was back to being your standard U.S. drone, waking, working, eating, and sleeping, but not quite living.

My shoulder was better at this point.  I had stopped my physical therapy appointments.  On occasion I would still do some mobility exercises at home when there was literally nothing else to do.  The physical therapy and recovery were so monotonous, and — other than reduced pain — unrewarding that I had forgotten what physical fitness progress felt like.

One morning I went into my garage again.  The morning wasn’t too dissimilar from the morning of my injury.  I noticed my garage was packed; a far cry from its glory days.  I opened the garage door and a breeze blew into the room, and I saw a coat of dust blow clean from my pull-up bar.

I don’t know if it was one of those “A-ha!” moments everyone talks about, or if it was some sign from above.  But as I sat there watching the dust swirl about the room in the sunbeams, I realized how different my life was now.  It was a visual and visceral feeling and it jolted me awake.

Being human means never settling

Once we decide that things are good enough, life stops.  I think as human beings, we should never be satisfied.  Happy, absolutely, but satisfied?  Never 100%.  We would otherwise stop exploring, stop learning, and stop improving.

I realized I was primed to get back into it.  I noticed the weight I had gained, the dust on my gym equipment, my lack of energy, motivation, and thrill of life.  It all hit me on that morning in the garage, amidst the swirling cloud of backlit dust.

And I resolved to start anew.  Again.

The Trilogy is now complete

I’m hoping the story doesn’t end here.  But I’m also hoping that this concludes the ever-emotional freedom-prisoner-freedom trilogy that has illustrated the last few years of my life.  I’ve now felt the feeling of being reborn as an independent, progressive, home fitness enthusiast.

I’ve witnessed the profound improvements that getting fit from home brought to my life and my family.  Then I felt the rebirth of injury, and how it can so quickly change and uproot everything you’ve worked for.

And finally I lived the rebirth of post-injury revelation.  I feel now that I am more resolute and committed toward a total life fitness.

Having the freedom to exercise and improve yourself on your own terms carries with it a lot of responsibility as well as pitfalls.  At a big box gym, there is a structured way of things.  There are trainers, gym partners, and everything is built to cater to your weaknesses.  This is one of the great things about box gyms, but also one of the biggest drawbacks.  There is little room to improve if you are constantly catering to your weaknesses.

But one must look at fitness as a whole image… a sum of its parts.  If you never challenge your weaknesses, they will never improve.  But if you abandon structure and ignore your weaknesses all together, they tend to become injuries.  They then tend to handicap you and force you to either quit the game or at least hit reset.

Pay attention to your weaknesses.  Listen to your body.  Train so your weaknesses don’t become injuries.  And if/when they do, do not let them defeat you.

Studbar Wall or Ceiling Mounted Pull-Up Bar Review

Studbar Mounted Pull-Up Bar

In our post on how to start outfitting your garage gym we talked about 3 of the most critical pieces of equipment you should start with: an economic set of bumper plates, a reliable barbell, and most importantly a bombproof, sturdy wall mounted pull-up bar or ceiling mounted pull-up bar. The studbar pull-up bar, available here, is a heavy duty, reliable pull-up bar that mounts easily to a standard 2×4 stud wall, or ceiling rafters designed for load-bearing. We’ve recommended the studbar as the first piece of equipment for every home gym we’ve helped to build.

In this post we will discuss the pros and cons of your standard door mounted pull-up bars and how they compare to a permanent stud installation. We’ll also talk about some training methods you can use to truly master the pull-up and use it as a foundation for a strong functional fitness program.

Why a pull-up bar?

Being able to master your own bodyweight should be one of your first goals of achieving a broad level of overall fitness. You may have seen our endorsement of the Bar Brothers Workout, and if you haven’t, go check it out. You’ll see why a heavy duty pull-up bar can and should be the foundation of your gym and fitness program.

Once you’ve mastered or at least made progress at mastering your own bodyweight, the sky is the limit. You may want to move on to free weights, barbells, squat racks or other specialized equipment. But just like any other structure, you need to start with a foundation.

Can you just use a door frame mounted bar?

You may be familiar with door-mounted pull-up bars like this one here. They are great for isolation. Some of them offer varied handles and grips so that you can do all different kinds of pull-ups. But in the end they are good for one thing, and that is isolated, specialized pulling exercises. We encourage you to try to be a specialist in not specializing.

A door mounted pull-up bar can help you build muscle memory and create neural pathways that condition your body to get used to the motion, but they just aren’t as effective as a sturdy wall mounted one.

Why not get both?

Start With “Grease the Groove”

Having a pull-up bar in the doorway of a room you enter and leave regularly will encourage you to get more repetitions in and build some of the upper body strength required for mastery. Doing many (10-15+ sets) of about 50-60% of your maximum throughout the day is a good place to start. This is a method pioneered by Pavel Tsatsouline, who trained Russian SPETSNAZ, U.S. Special Forces and more.

Greasing the Groove helps build muscle memory, muscle mass, and strength, without overtraining.

It is a hot topic amongst fitness enthusiasts; many argue you can’t make progress without doing max reps. In our experience this is not true. Greasing the groove is what we use in our initial training program for new clients who have little experience, or for those who have plateaued.

This is one area where a door mounted pull-up bar may be more beneficial than a wall mounted pull-up bar or ceiling mounted pull-up bar like the studbar. The studbar, once installed, is staying put. If it happens to be in your garage, that means if you really want to grease the groove, you’ll be making a lot of trips there on the regular.

A door mounted pull-up bar means you’ll do more sets and more repetitions

If, on the other hand, you put a door mounted pull-up bar in the doorway of your bedroom or bathroom, it is likely to get much more routine use. Door mounted pull-up bars mount in seconds and are held up by a cantilever so you can put them up or take them down quickly if you need to close the door.

Iron Gym makes a great, reliable door frame mounted pull-up bar with some very basic features. You’re welcome to splurge and buy one of the more elaborate versions, like this one from ProSource, but at that point you’re getting more into the realm of specialization.

We strongly recommend Iron Gym’s Door Frame Mounted Pull-up Bar for both price and function.

When a door mounted pull-up bar won’t cut it

Like we’ve said, you can milk some actual use and function out of a door mounted pull-up bar. But it should be treated as a stepping stone towards bigger and better things.

You can’t safely kip on a door mounted pull-up bar. Since it is held in place using cantilever force, any quick upward momentum from your body that transfers to the bar is very likely to cause the bar to come loose and could lead to a fall, injury or damage to your door frame.

Also due to the height of most doors, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to mount accessories to the bar (think TRX or gymnastics rings for example). While there is some stuff you’ll be able to augment with, it’s more than likely your door mounted pull-up bar will just get used for slow, controlled, dead-hang pull-ups.

And that’s just fine.
Studbar Mounted Pull-Up Bar

Studbar Wall Mounted Pull-Up Bar

The next step after you’ve bought (or decided not to buy) a door mounted pull-up bar, is a permanent fixture.

The studbar mountable pull-up bar is the leader in this field.

DeWalt Cordless Drill SetCH Hanson Stud FinderThe studbar offers performance and function that you simply can’t get from other portable bars. It is versatile enough to be mounted either to a standard 2×4 frame, or attached to the ceiling rafters, even through drywall. Installation is easy with some very basic tools like a decent corded or cordless drill, stud finder and ratchet set.

More importantly, installation is rock solid!

We have seen 225 pound athletes swinging, kipping, doing muscle-ups, front levers, you name it. The studbar ceiling mounted pull-up bar did not budge. With proper installation, we feel that your framework will fail before the bar does!

Safety Safety Safety!

This is an important note. Following the installation directions is critical to using the studbar pull-up bar correctly. If you miss a stud or a rafter, you are asking for trouble. Take your time. Measure twice and drill once. Always ensure you have drilled directly into the mounting surface and stud for safety purposes.

Your best friend will be your studbar once it’s installed. Ok that’s a little weird. But you’ll wish you had one in every room… and maybe one day you will!

What can I do on a wall mounted pull-up bar that I can’t on a door mounted pull-up bar?

As soon as you realize how structurally sound your studbar pull-up bar is, you’ll start to get ideas of what you can do on it.

We are huge advocates of kipping pull-ups. We’ve fought the good fight and heard all of the negative comments, as we are sure you have as well.

The truth is, a kipping pull-up is completely superior in every way to a dead hang pull-up, when it comes to building overall functional strength and fitness.

You have to think of it in terms of work performed. In a dead hang pull-up, you are moving your bodyweight (say 175 pounds) a specific distance (up and over the bar). If you’re only using your arms, shoulders and back to do this, you are likely to exhaust yourself after a comparatively small number of repetitions. You’re also likely to do it considerably slower than if you were kipping.

A good kipping pull-up, on the other hand, will use your entire body to propel itself over the bar. This involves considerable coordination, flexibility/mobility, upper body strength, and muscular endurance and stamina.

Kipping vs. Dead Hangs

If you can do 40 kipping pull-ups in a minute, but only 20 dead hangs in that same time, which method has performed more actual work? With kipping pull-ups, you have moved the weight the same distance, more times, and in less overall time than with the dead hang pull-ups.

This isn’t us hating on dead hangs. It’s just science.

You can’t kip on a door mounted pull-up bar. You can kip on a studbar wall mounted pull-up bar.  This is critical for overall functional fitness, and the kipping pull-up will be your launching point for your new home gym and your new fitness program.

Studbar Pull-Up Bar Features

We recommend picking up the Studbar from Amazon and taking advantage of their pricing on it.

If we haven’t convinced you already, that’s ok. We’ve had a lot of readers skip the pull-up bar in favor of a barbell and weights. We’ve also had a lot of readers contact us after doing so to let us know they were wrong. They’ve all found, universally, that there is no stronger functional foundation than the mastery of your own bodyweight.

  • The studbar wall mounted pull-up bar has mounts at 48 inches. This gives you plenty of space for wide and narrow pull-ups. More importantly, it is designed to match all stud/rafter spacing in all standard home construction. You should always verify your stud spacing using a stud finder if you’re mounting over drywall.
  • It is available in several sizes depending on the height of your ceiling:
    • Within these heights, the studbar allows a fine adjustment as well
    • 10′ ceilings
    • 9′ ceilings
    • 8′ ceilings
  • High quality, powder coated, 14 gauge steel, rated up to 600 pounds for life!

The studbar is built “bombproof,” and you’ll see why as soon as you start using it. The installations we have helped with, when installed correctly, do not bend, flex, sway or warp.

Studbar Pull-up Bar Accessories

Nayoya Gymnastic RingsWe are all about function here at RefuGym. The kipping pull-up is a truly phenomenal exercise for developing total body functional fitness. But this is not the limit of the studbar pull-up bar.

Grab a pair of high performance gymnastics rings and mount them to your studbar pull-up bar. If your ceiling height allows it, this opens up the doorway for learning and performing all manner of gymnastic movements, like muscle-ups, skin the cats, and more. Rings also can expand your studbar’s usefulness from pulling motions to pushing:

Lower your gymnastics rings to a few inches from the ground and use them for some insane push-ups. You’ll thank us when you feel sore stabilizer muscles that you didn’t even know you had.

Not quite a pro yet? Can’t do a pull-up?

WODFitters Assistance BandsYou can attach assistance bands, such as theses ones by WODfitters to help you learn how to do pull-ups (even kipping pull-ups). You can’t attach them to door mounted pull-up bars as safely, because they can create excessive upward momentum, which might cause your bar to dislodge from the door frame. However with the studbar, these asssistance bands can be used with no risk all day long.

Assistance bands are not just for beginners. They are great for breaking through plateaus, particularly if you’re stubborn and trying to work specifically on dead hang pull-ups.

What’s the bottom line?

The studbar wall mounted or ceiling mounted pull-up bar, available here, is our favorite focal point of a home gym. We recommend it first to all of our clients. We encourage you to practice kipping pull-ups and to use it for a variety of exercises incorporated into your workouts.

The sky is the limit with the studbar.

Pick up a studbar and give it a shot. Many athletes (both budding and experienced) have found that starting their gyms off with a tool like a solid wall mounted pull-up bar will open up the gateway towards a more well rounded fitness outfit. We think you’ll be less likely to spend money on unnecessary machines. Starting with a proper foundation will get you into the mindset of getting the most out of your equipment.

If you’re not a fitness enthusiast yet, you will be once you get a studbar in your home gym.

 

Got a studbar already? Like a different product? Want to hate on kipping pull-ups?! Let us know in the comments!