When creating a home gym, it’s easy to get distracted by all the different possibilities. There are just so many different pieces of gym equipment out there. But what do you actually need? Here’s everything you need to create a complete home gym and nothing more.
Here are the 10 most essential pieces of home gym equipment. It’s all you need to create a complete home gym.
- Power Rack
- Weight Plates
- Barbell collars
- Cardio Machine
That’s the basic checklist. Keep reading to find out why these are essentials and some information on which version of the item is the best for your home gym.
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- 1 Home Gym Essential #1: Dumbbells
- 2 Home Gym Essential #2: Barbell
- 3 Home Gym Essential #3: Power rack
- 4 Home Gym Essential #4: Weight plates
- 5 Home Gym Essential #5: Barbell Collars
- 6 Home Gym Essentials #6: Bench
- 7 Home Gym Essentials #7 Kettlebells
- 8 Home Gym Essentials #8: Gym Flooring
- 9 Home Gym Essential #9: Cardio machine
- 10 Home Gym Essential #10: Mirror
- 11 Favorite home gym tools
Home Gym Essential #1: Dumbbells
Something everyone needs is a set of dumbbells. They are very versatile and almost everyone will use them at some point in a workout. Dumbbells can be used for so many exercises that listing them would be like writing a whole book.
I put dumbbells in the number one spot because it’s a single piece of equipment that does so much. With dumbbells and a bench you can build a great body and even without a bench dumbbells are very versatile.
Dumbbells come in two main styles;
Fixed dumbbells are a handle with a fixed weight so you can’t change it. If you’ve been in any commercial gym, you’ll have seen this type of dumbbell. This type of dumbbell takes up more space and is more expensive for a whole set than adjustable ones. On the flipside, they’re a bit easier to use and more durable. If you go for this type, get rubber coated ones. The rubber helps protect your dumbbells and floor.
For home use, adjustable dumbbells are more popular. These consist of a similar handle as fixed ones but it’s possible to change the weights at the end of the handle. This means they actually save a lot of space since you don’t need a whole rack full, just one pair of handles and the weights.
There are two types of adjustable dumbbells.
- Screw collar
The selectorized type is more expensive but much easier and quicker to use. They work by returning them to the base station and turning a knob. Turning the knob or slider moves a mechanism that picks up the correct weight and drops the weight you don’t need. Of course you have to go back to the ‘base station’ every time to change the weights.
The type with the screw on collar is much cheaper but it takes longer to change the weights sine you have to screw off the collar, find the right weights, put them on and then screw the collar back on. This takes significantly more time than grabbing another pair of dumbbells or using selectorized ones. From personal experience I’ve also noticed they’re not the most comfortable to use. However, for the price difference, you might want to deal with the drawback. That completely depends on your budget of course.
Home Gym Essential #2: Barbell
It’s tough to decide which is number one, the dumbbell or the barbell. They both serve a similar purpose but are different at the same time. Dumbbells are a better introduction to working out for most people who are just starting to work out. That’s why they are better for more people.
However, if you want to progress to heavier weights and bigger muscles, a barbell is the way to go. Most body and power –building workouts will utilize a barbell for a large amount of exercises.
All the lifts like squats, deadlifts, bench, overhead press and many more require a barbell. Where the dumbbell is usually the first thing new gym-goers grab, the barbell is what you’ll be using a whole lot when you get a bit more experienced. That doesn’t mean the dumbbell is useless when you get a barbell. Dumbbells are much better for lateral movements and isolating smaller muscles.
A barbell is a long metal rod with sleeves on both ends where you can put weight plates. The shaft has a cross hatch pattern etched into it called the ‘knurling’ this helps you to keep a solid grip on the bar. The main benefit of barbells over dumbbells is that they can be loaded up much heavier and allows you to lift heavier weights.
Like a power rack, a good quality barbell can last for a very long time. So even if it seems expensive for something so simple, keep in mind that a good barbell will last you for 10-15 years easily. And since you’ll be using it for many different lifts, it’s a good investment, and worth it to pay a little bit extra for a better quality item.
For general home gym use, an Olympic barbell with a diameter of 25-28mm is the best option. Full sized Olympic barbells are 7’2 long but, if you’re not practicing for an official competition and you don’t lift extremely heavy, you can get away with a bar that is a bit shorter.
Women’s Olympic barbells are a few inches shorter at 79.14” which could help you fit it in a compact home gym. These barbells always fit on a power rack.
If you have a very tight space, there are 6’ long barbells. These are great because they are much easier to handle in a tight space. However, not all 6’ barbells fit on a power rack so make sure to check the outside width of your rack and the length between the collars of the bar you intend to buy.
Home Gym Essential #3: Power rack
A barbell can’t go without a power cage. You could use a squat rack but a full cage is safer which is always good. A power rack allows you to set the barbell and safety pins at the correct height for every different lift which allows you to lift heavier and safer.
A power rack or cage can be used for so many lifts and exercises it’s something that anyone who’s serious about lifting can’t afford not to have. In a commercial gym you might be able to avoid the power rack because they’ve got many machines that can replace the movements you’d otherwise perform in or around the rack.
A good rack will last you for a very long time so even if it might seem like a relatively big investment, if you look at it on a yearly basis, it’s actually quite cheap. Since you’ll likely use it a whole lot and it opens up so many opportunities for different lifts, in the end it’s more than worth it. Especially if you compare it to buying all the ‘replacement’ equipment you’d have to get otherwise.
For lifts like the overhead press, bench press, squat and all variations on those, a rack is an absolute necessity. Bench pressing in a rack with the pins set up properly is even safer than outside a rack. Since most of the time people train alone in a home gym, you won’t have a spotter. In that case having safety pins is a huge advantage.
Most power racks also allow you to do pull ups, chin ups and attach resistance bands. Resistance bands are great for modifying the power curve of a lift.
All in all, the power rack is probably the most important piece of equipment you don’t lift.
Home Gym Essential #4: Weight plates
Of course a power cage and barbell aren’t of much use without any weight plates. After the power rack and dumbbell this is the last part you need to use them properly. Without weights, the barbell and power rack are pretty useless. Sure, you can use the barbell without weights but it won’t take long before that will be too light to do anything for you.
There are a few different varieties of weight plates and even the cheapest versions are surprisingly expensive. In the end they’re just heavy discs with a hole in the middle. The different versions differ a little in price.
There are three different types;
- Bumper plates. These are made out of rubber and can be dropped from overhead without problems. They’re very sturdy and are used in official weightlifting competitions.
- Cast iron plates. These are made out of cast iron as the name already suggests. These are the cheapest and strong but also noisy when dropped and can damage the floor.
- Rubberized plates. This version has a metal core but a rubber casing outside. These are in the middle price wise.
Unless you like to drop your weights on the floor from overhead, you don’t have to get the bumper plates. For the vast majority of people rubberized plates are the ones to get. The rubber casing helps to dampen the noise and keep your floor in good shape. Metal plates can make a whole lot of noise when banging on the floor or banging together.
Combined with a proper gym floor, this will make your lifts pretty quiet. Also, you might be worried about the rubber casing wearing off. Again, in combination with gym flooring this isn’t a big concern. I’ve seen them last in commercial gyms for many years. If you’re using these plates in combination with a concrete floor they can wear a bit quicker.
Weight plates also come in two different varieties of inner hole. The diameter of this hole is important since it has to match the diameter of the sleeve of the barbell. The two sizes are 25 and 50 millimeter. If your barbell sleeve is bigger than the weight plates’ hole, it won’t fit. If the barbell sleeve is smaller than the inner hole, it will be loose and unsafe to use.
Most good quality barbells come with 50 millimeter sleeves so make sure to get matching weight plates.
While higher quality weight plates might be a bit closer to the weight printed on them, cheaper plates will be perfectly fine for any situation that’s not a competition.
Home Gym Essential #5: Barbell Collars
A tiny piece of equipment but in my opinion it’s essential for a safe solo workout.
Barbell collars clamp on the barbell sleeves to keep the weight plates on. So you put on the weight plates you need and then clamp on the collars. That means the plates don’t go anywhere.
It’s not necessary or even wanted on every lift but many lifts will be a bit safer with these things in place. A simple pair of spring clips will do the job although you can go much fancier for a bit extra clamping strength and ease of use.
When lifting near your limits, there’s always the risk that you fail a lift. When you fail a lift, there is a big chance you don’t drop the bar straight to the floor. It’s likely you lose control and one side of the barbell goes down faster than the other side. Without a collar, the plates on the side that’s pointing down can easily slide off. When that happens, the other side is suddenly much heavier which will whip the bar up.
All that is probably impossible to handle especially if you’re already near your limits. Collars prevent this from happening.
Home Gym Essentials #6: Bench
A surprising amount of exercises need a weightlifting bench although the one everyone cares the most about is the bench press. Without a bench, you miss out on too many exercises not to get one.
The bench is not a piece of gym equipment that directly makes you stronger. Many people who are looking at creating their own personal gym already have quite a bit of experience in commercial gyms so for those people it’s pretty obvious why. Others are new to this whole working out thing and might not be too sure why you need a bench.
The best way to explain might be a quick list of exercises that require a bench;
- Bench press
- Incline bench press
- Dumbbell press
- Incline dumbbell press
- Seated shoulder press
- Dumbbell fly
- Dumbbell row
That’s just a short selection of some of the most important lifts that require a bench. There are many more. So you can see that having a bench opens up possibilities for exercises that just aren’t possible without. You’ll still need all the other pieces of the gym puzzle to actually be able to perform these exercises however.
There are flat benches and adjustable benches. Flat benches are simple benches with some padding. You can’t change the position of the backrest. These are fine for exercises that require this but obviously you can’t use them for exercises that require the backrest to be in any other position than flat.
Adjustable benches have a mechanism that allows you to adjust the position of the backrest from 0 to 90 degrees. That means you just need a single bench for all the exercises you perform sitting.
In a home gym I recommend adjustable benches. You’ll always run into a situation where you’ll want to adjust the backrest. When that happens and you’ve already got a fixed bench, you have to get a second one. This is a waste of time, money and space. In a home gym, it’s unlikely that two people need the same bench at the same time so and adjustable one makes perfect sense.
Many home gyms aren’t too big either. Many people have to plan carefully to fit everything in. A second bench takes up unnecessary space you can’t afford to lose.
Good Adjustable benches do cost a bit more than a good flat bench but compared to other equipment they’re still not the most expensive part of a home gym.
Home Gym Essentials #7 Kettlebells
Kettlebells provide enough variability and added value that they earn a spot on this list. Sure you can have an awesome and complete workout with the items listed above but kettlebells are an awesome tool that allows you to switch things up a little bit.
It’s also possible to have a complete workout just with a few different weights of kettlebells.
I personally use kettlebells for warm-up/conditioning. They’re a great way to warm up since you can pick a light weight and go through a full range of motion without straining your muscles too much. Many kettlebell exercises are full body movements which use a lot of different muscles.
Kettlebell swings are one of my favorite forms of conditioning. They’re tough and get your heartrate up and also train parts of your body many people neglect during weightlifting.
But kettlebells aren’t only good for warming up. It’s possible to have a full body workout with just two or three different weighted kettlebells. There are simple movements that mimic other lifts like the kettlebell swings mimics the deadlift somewhat. But there are also movements, like the Turkish get-up, that are pretty complicated and will develop your muscles but also your balance and coordination.
Why not just use dumbbells? Dumbbells are constructed in a very different way with a different purpose in mind. Dumbbells are designed to be held with one hand where you can hold a kettlebell with two hands. Kettlebells are designed to be swung around and still be comfortable when there’s contact with your arms or other bodyparts. Dumbbells often aren’t too comfortable or practical to use in the same ways kettlebells are.
Another benefit of having kettlebells in your home gym? When you travel, just put one in your luggage and you’ve got one single tool that can give you a full body workout.
Home Gym Essentials #8: Gym Flooring
Flooring is an often overlooked part of home gyms. I’d say it’s an essential part however. It’s also important to get it in before anything else. It’s more difficult to put in after everything else since you’ll likely have to take out most of the things
Gym flooring does a few things;
- Protect your floor underneath. Dropping heavy weights can possibly damage the floor underneath. Getting some gym flooring is a whole lot cheaper than fixing your floor.
- Protect your equipment. Not only your floor can get damaged but also the equipment.
- Dampen noise from dropped weights. Gym flooring is slightly soft so it dampens the impact of the weights you drop. This will help limit the noise you make dramatically for yourself but also people outside your home gym.
- Create an easy to clean surface. Gyms get sweaty and dirty. Gym flooring is much easier to clean with just some water and soap than concrete or wood.
- Provide grip for your feet. It’s pretty dangerous to have a slippery surface to stand on with a heavy barbell on your back. Gym flooring provides better grip than most other surfaces.
For home gyms there are three types of gym flooring you should know;
- Interlocking foam tiles. Cheap and easy to put into your gym. Foam tiles work well but are not the most durable option.
- Rubber mats. Sturdier than foam tiles but more expensive. They come in much larger sizes than the foam tiles. This makes it more difficult to put them in your gym but if you do it right, it looks really tidy and takes your gym to the next level.
- Rubber tiles. The best of both worlds. The sturdiness of rubber mats but cut into the shape of interlocking foam tiles. Still more expensive than foam tiles but worth it for the upsides.
The best option for most home gyms is full sized rubber mats. They last the longest, don’t move around as much as tiles and are easy to clean. While they do cost a bit more than foam tiles rubber mats are worth the extra money. Foam tiles are cheap but also difficult to clean and don’t last as long.
Home Gym Essential #9: Cardio machine
No matter what kind of workout routine you’ve got, some kind of cardio is good for everyone. While there are plenty of ways to get your cardio workout done without equipment or kettlebells but most people still prefer to have some kind of machine.
There are good reasons to get a cardio machine;
- Low impact
- Easy monitoring of progression
- You can see exactly how well you did/are doing
- Easier to be consistent in your workouts.
The drawbacks are that cardio machines take up a lot of space and can be a bit expensive.
There are a few popular options for cardio machines at home;
- Stationary bike
- Recumbent bike
- Elliptical trainter
- Rowing machine
Any of those options is a good choice if you’ve got the space and you like it. In home gyms you often have to be careful with your ceiling height. An elliptical machine can easily be too tall for example. Sure you can fit the machine but you’ll hit your head while standing on it.
If you’ve got a low ceiling, get a rowing machine or a stationary bike. Those two options are quite low and can be used under any ceiling you can stand up straight under. Treadmills and elliptical machines are often too tall for home gyms. Home gyms are often in a basement and basement ceilings aren’t very high in general.
If you think a normal stationary bike isn’t tough enough, check out airbikes. These will give you the tough workout you want. People that have tall ceilings and a large floor space can pick any type of cardio equipment they like.
Is it an absolute necessity to have a cardio machine? That really depends on your preferences. Some people can’t do without their beloved treadmill or recumbent bike. There are plenty of workouts you can do that get your heart rate up without needing any machinery. Body weight exercises have a ton of variety and can do a great job of improving your cardiovascular health as well as your muscles.
Most people still prefer some type of machine for the benefits listed above however. That’s why I’ve included it in this checklist.
Home Gym Essential #10: Mirror
Mirrors are a piece of equipment that you almost never touch. Mirrors are not only for gym bros to appreciate their own physique all the time. It’s good to see your progress and find motivation in that. Motivation is always necessary to be able to keep going with your workout schedule so if seeing your progress helps that, that’s awesome.
Admiring your muscles not the most important reason to have mirrors in your gym though. The most important reason is to allow you to get immediate visual feedback so you can check your form. Being able to see if what you’re doing is very important for one reason; preventing injuries.
Doing a squat or deadlift with bad form can lead to injuries pretty quickly. Seeing some visual feedback on what you’re doing can help you limit the bad form and limit the chances you’ll get injured. Injuries are something that can keep you out of the gym for a long time so it’s very important to prevent them.
There are two types of mirror you could use for a home gym: Glass and acrylic sheets.
Acrylic mirror sheets are the best option for a home gym. They have many benefits over traditional glass mirrors. The biggest benefits are that they are cheaper, stronger and lighter. Gym mirrors should be 6’ tall while the top should be mounted at 8’ height. The width should be at least 36”
Mirrors can be pretty expensive, even if you go for acrylic sheets. Quite often, people will sell their old mirrors after a remodeling. Those mirrors can be had much cheaper than new ones. They might not be the correct size but if you can get a few and put them together without too much of a gap in between, it will work without costing too much.
Favorite home gym tools
Many people often forget a few important pieces of their home gym that isn’t directly gym equipment. Here are my favorite home gym tools.
- Interval timer: To time your intervals and all types of other workouts, the GymNext Flex is easily the best and easiest to use.
- Mirrors: Fab & Glass (Amazon link) makes the best large mirror sheets so you can see your exercise form.
- Flooring: American Floor Mats gym flooring (Amazon) or equipment mats make your gym quieter, easier to clean and keeps your floor and equipment safe.
- Fan: The Rowenta VU5670 (Amazon) is a great way to stay cool while working out.