A great gym welcomes all shapes and sizes, but that doesn't mean it's actually equipped for the needs of bigger athletes. Most bars, dumbbells, grips, and machines are designed as one-size-fits-all, and that means accommodating the smallest users. These tips will solve the four most common equipment and mobility problems big guys face.
Problem: Big hands using thin dumbbell and bar grips
Fix: Use fat grips
Bigger palms mean less surface contact with a weight's handle. This can throw off the pressure distribution, and lead to joint stress during pressing exercises, especially in the shoulders. Most gyms don't pay attention to barbell and dumbbell thickness, but you can buy and bring your own larger grips (I like Fat Gripz, and they run about $40 a pair). In addition to joint relief, they'll also challenge and build your grip strength.
Problem: Dip station is too narrow
Fix: Make your own
The standard dip station is often too narrow for wide guys. Instead of trying to squeeze in, set up two barbells in the squat cage so you can customize the width. To do it, set the safety pins around ribcage level and lay two barbells perpendicular across them, setting the bar angle at what you like best. If you're worried about the bars sliding while you're doing your set, drape yoga mats over the pins to add stabilizing friction. If thin weight bars are also a problem, you can add fat grips around the barbell, too. You can watch my example here.
Problem: Can't hold the barbell for front squats
Fix: Grip the bar with straps
With size often comes less mobility, and it's a particular problem for the front squat. Many times, guys can't assume the proper clean-grip rack position. Instead, use straps to create a makeshift clean grip. Simply wrap the straps around the bar where your hands will go and then hold the loose end instead of the bar itself. This will allow you to get your elbows up and hold the bar in place while squatting without it wrenching on your wrists. But keep in mind: The ultimate solution is to generate the mobility to properly hold the bar in your hands with a good clean grip. This tutorial can help you get there.
Problem: Too big for machines
Fix: Use barbells
This sounds straightforward, but it's surprising how many people pander to machines rather than focus on compound movements, which guarantee the best bang for the buck. Remember, the big barbell lifts — deadlift, squat, overhead press, pull up — are the gold standard strength movements, and there's no size limit for doing them.