Courage Corner: Leaving the Big Gym for Better Training

The best gym for big gains can be what you build at home.

About five years ago, I did something that I never thought I would do: I closed my training facility. After operating it for over a decade, teaching all over the world had made me so busy I couldn’t provide the proper attention to my clients. While I knew this was the right business decision, one of my greatest apprehensions was “where would I train?”

With growing commitments and less time to train, I realized that my gym would have to be at home. I worried it wouldn’t be possible to train effectively without a big facility. Then I remembered a concept from Pavel Tsatsouline, known as a “courage corner.” As Pavel described:

“The Red Army, too pragmatic to waste their troopers’ time on pushups and sit-ups, quickly caught on. Every Russian military unit, even outposts remote as the Mars, has a gym. For some strange reason, maybe because it makes your sweaty basement dungeon look like a yuppie health spa, it is called a ‘courage corner’ (I wish it was a joke). Every courage corner, including the permafrost crusted cave in one of the units I served in, is equipped with K-bells.”

His description of courage corner took me back to my best days of training. When I was in high school, we had a makeshift gym in the basement of the school. The old pipes that ran through the room made the summer heat unbearable and and froze us in the winter. It was bare bones, with rusty old free weights and a few machines like a leg press and pull down unit. But it wasn’t the tools that mattered. It was but the training, the focus, and the effort – very much like what Pavel alluded to with the courage corner.

It’s not how flashy or fancy your facility is. It’s what you do with the tools. [Photo courtesy Pixabay]

The Essentials for a Home Gym

When I began to prioritize what was important in my training, I created my own courage corner. None of this motivation came from the idea of trying to be “cool,” hardcore, or a minimalist. Rather, I wanted to find the most effective means of training that complimented, not dominated, my life.

I quickly found myself streamlining key concepts and tools. I got rid of a lot of the novel training devices, and the elements that stayed had to fulfill some requirements:

  • Create a unique training stimulus
  • Can be used in a large number of ways
  • Helps to teach better movement
  • Trains all-around fitness qualities.

Streamlining my courage corner made accomplishing my fitness goals at home a reality. So what made up my own courage gym? I placed heavy emphasis on the following items:

  • Kettlebells
  • Sandbags
  • Bands
  • Pull up bars
  • Suspension trainers
  • Medicine balls.

What I found interesting about this set up is that this is how many progressive gyms are organized. You don’t have to own much equipment to have an innovative gym. When you focus on the tools and techniques that matter, you will avoid the extra “toys” that end up collecting dust. Unless a piece of equipment is profoundly going to change how I train, I leave it for someone’s else’s courage corner.

You might notice that I left out two items: a squat rack or barbells. The main reason is that neither fulfills my prerequisites above, especially the ability to create a unique training stimulus. The strength you can build with the tools mentioned above is just as good, if not often better than with a barbell.

In any gym, especially at home, space is one thing you can never replace. Troy Anderson performed an interesting calculation in floor space required using barbells compared to kettlebells and sandbags. According to his calculations, non-barbell related equipment (dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags) requires approximately 24 square feet of floor space versus 42 square feet for the barbell training area.

Another concept you can’t forget when training at home is your return on investment. When you spend a dollar, how much do you get in return in training effectiveness? As a powerful example, an Olympic bar and 160 pounds of bumpers runs about $450. That same cost could yield two 35 pound kettlebells, two 53 pound kettlebells, and a small and medium sized sandbag. I’m not great at math, but six pieces of powerhouse equipment versus one seems like a win to me.

Fitness Professionals Train At Home

When I first embarked on my home-training adventure, I often wondered what others would think. That maybe I wasn’t as serious about my training, or that training at home was nice, but when I wanted to get really strong l’d have to return to the gym.

A funny thing happens as you get older. You may wonder what others think, but the reality of your own life keeps you moving forward. I’ve seen more and more high-level coaches use home training as a means to stay on track and improve their training. Mike Yudin trains many high level athletes, and says that with the great functional fitness tools we have nowadays, training at home can be even better than the gym. He says:

“I chose to build my own home gym instead of going to a regular box gym for a couple reasons. Number one, box gyms are always so packed and it takes forever to use the equipment you want. Number two, most of the equipment Is dominated by machines with some free weights but again you have to stand in line and wait. That makes your hour workout turn into a two hour workout (not very efficient). The equipment I want to use; Ultimate Sandbags, TRX’s, kettlebells, battling ropes, Sleds, Jam Balls, etc. are not in most big box gyms. … And last but not least I don’t have to drive anywhere to workout, I could just do it from the comfort of my own home.”

Coach Yudin isn’t the exception. The idea of home training is becoming more and more popular. Kevin Larabee, strength coach at Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning, often finds himself training at home as well. He says:

“Lifting at home provides me the opportunity to get in a fantastic training session without the distraction of a shared gym or weight room. I become extremely focused on what I am doing, while listening to only the music I want to listen to, and focus on the best “bang for your buck” movements to continue to challenge myself with limited equipment while progressing with my strength goals.

When building the home gym I did it piece by piece focusing on equipment that had a wide range of uses. I started with a TRX, chin-up bar, bands and Valslides. Month by month I added kettlebells, Ultimate Sandbags, ropes, weight vests and an Airdyne. I have been having the best training sessions of my life!”

Your Fitness Needs Are Less Than You Think

You don’t need a fancy gym membership to get fit. With two in three adults in the U.S. being overweight or obese we need to make a change in how we approach fitness. There is no reason that fitness needs to be expensive, inaccessible, time consuming, or out of reach for anyone to attain. Hopefully this article will inspire you to think differently about what you truly need to reach your fitness goals.

If you want creative implement training at home, look no further:

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