Building a Home Gym in the DRC

There are a lot of things I can live without in this world, but there are a few things that if I don’t have them I start to get irritated and even a bit depressed. While Peanut Butter withdrawals only really cause the irritation (Thankfully Africa is on the ball when it comes to Peanut Butter, unlike Ukraine and Russia), not having access to weights, and in particular a bench press, really gets me down.

Now I did plan ahead and purchased a nice set of exercise bands, which I will say are very awesome and if you’re looking for a set I will go out and say that the BodyLastics bands are the best around, but as an everyday device they just don’t match the feeling of lifting a heavy barbell.

The wood for the Bench Press

So, about a week ago I was inspired and decided to go out and buy some wood and make myself a bench press and barbell. Didier helped out with the project, particularly when I told him that he could have all of the excess wood for whatever project he’d like.

First I sketched out a basic design and guessed at a few lengths (I used the ledge on our front porch to estimate how wide I wanted the bench to be). Then I took a completely random guess at the amount of wood I’d need. I wasn’t able to go along because if they saw a white man the price would quadruple, so I just gave good instructions to Didier and talked to him a bunch on the phone. In the end, we got most of the things we needed, and they were cut to the relative size necessary.

DRC Transportation at its Finest!

Getting them to the house was pretty humorous as Didier paid a guy with a bicycle $3 to stack 60 pounds of lumber on the back of his bike and ride it down the street to the house.

We then had to cut out the handles to place the barbell, and have the bench sanded down, but that wasn’t too big of a problem with a carpenter right down the street who could do it for five bucks.

Still had a few support nails to go, but this is it.

Next came the assembly. This was a pain in the ass. Hammering nail after nail in the hot sun was not an easy job. I’m sure anyone at the house would have done it for me, but I was determined to do the work myself and ignore the confused stares of the security guards and the handyman, Raphael, as I did the work. After a while it all came together and I had a completed bench press. Then Raphael immediately understood what I was building and said, in his limited English, “For Sport! Arnold!”

This is a solid iron barbell!

The barbell was actually a bit more work. I had a plan in place to have one made by my friends at a construction company using a pipe and concrete, but I was skeptical it would be heavy enough, and it would take time. Instead, we found an old guy who had a pipe the right length and two metal gears (very heavy) which he could weld together. In the end, I had my 80-90 pound barbell for $25.

For the past two days, Raphael and I have been out in the back yard lifting weights. I’ve taught him how to use the bands and also a bunch of other exercises. While I can’t do everything with only the bench and barbell, I can do a lot more and I at least get the feeling of lifting something heavy rather than an elastic band.

Pumping Iron: DRC Edition

In the future, when I live overseas again, this will be the first thing I do upon arriving – unless I can just find a gym like in Ukraine. But it does give me a bit of joy having made it myself basically out of scrap. It feels like Rocky in part 4 when he has to train using whatever he has around off in Russia. It’s a great feeling.

It's a bit light. I can do 50 reps easily, but the locals are only doing 8-10.


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