Want to build a basic that home gym where you can lift free weights? If you’re a beginner it might be difficult to figure out what you need to do that exactly. That’s why I’ve made an easy list here that shows you exactly what you need.
There are five essential pieces of equipment that create a complete weightlifting home gym with free weights;
- Power rack
- Weight plates
That is enough equipment to do a very wide range of exercises for a wide variety of different goals. Of course there is more you can add to this setup to make your home gym more flexible, comfortable and better.
For more information about the equipment you need and why, keep reading below.
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What do you need to lift free weights at home?
First, let’s take a quick look at what makes something ‘free weights’. When you say ‘weightlifting’ you don’t necessarily mean lifting free weights so let’s make sure we’re all on the same page.
‘Free weight’ means that the weight isn’t connected to anything. They can go anywhere they/you want which makes them free. So that means free weights can still be many different things. Many commercial gyms have a ton of machines you can use to work out your muscles. While that is weightlifting, it has nothing to do with free weights. The weight in a machine can only go up and down in a set path, they’re not free to move outside that path unlike free weights.
Now we know what free weights are and what you can do with them, here are the basic pieces of equipment you need.
There are just five essentials you absolutely need.
- Power rack
- Weight plates
Let’s take a closer look at those pieces of equipment below.
It’s often the first thing that pops into mind when people think about a weightlifting gym; the barbell. What’s so special about barbells? Barbells are great because they allow you to lift very heavy weights. The heavier the weight you can lift, the stronger you become and the more muscle you can build. Because you hold a barbell with two hands, there is more stability than when you’re using dumbbells for example. That means you can lift heavier weights.
With a barbell, you can often move more weight than the combined weight of the dumbbells you can lift. For example: You can DB bench press with 50 lbs. dumbbells. In that case you can likely bench press more than 100 lbs. when using a barbell.
The downside of a barbell is that you can create muscle imbalances. Maybe one arm is just a bit stronger than the other and you’ll compensate. That means the stronger side is doing more and gets even stronger. This can create uneven development over time. That said, a barbell is an amazing tool to build a solid foundation of strength and muscle. Many very strong bodies have been built with just a barbell.
What to look for when buying barbells?
The barbell is very important. You’ll have to wrap your hands around it for almost every exercise in your gym. That means it’s worth it to get a good one. Here are some aspects to look out for;
- Length: At least 6’ long, preferably longer.
- Spinning sleeves: The sleeves are the part you slide the weight plates on. If they can spin independently of the rod, this will be easier on your joints.
- Tensile strength: This says something about how much the bar bends under load. A tensile strength of roughly 180K PSI to 210K PSI is good for general use.
- Finish: Bare metal rusts. A stainless steel, ceramic or chrome coating helps drastically reduce corrosion and makes the bar last longer.
There is much more to know about barbells. If you want to know more, Check out this article for a more in depth explanation.
2. Power rack
The centerpiece of any weightlifting setup is the power rack. You’ll be using a rack for a lot of exercises. It’s just a piece of equipment that is so versatile, you can’t go without it. Some popular lifts you absolutely need a power rack for are squats, bench presses and overhead presses. But there are way more uses for a power rack. There is a huge list of exercises that requires a power rack to do. Most exercises that aren’t started from the floor, require a power rack to be able to do.
What to look for in a power rack?
- It should fit in your home gym. Power racks are big. Make sure you can fit the power rack into your home gym while still being able to do everything you want.
- Take special note of the height since this is often a problem in home gyms
- The load limit should be high enough
- There should be plenty of attachments available
- Anchor points so you can bolt it down for safety
- Sturdy so it doesn’t shake with every touch.
Find my favorite power rack for home gyms here. It ticks all the above boxes for a very reasonable price.
3. Weight plates
An empty barbell is not all that heavy. Maybe for the first workout It’ll be enough but soon,you’ll need some weight plates to be able to get stronger. Adding weight to the bar and moving it is what makes you stronger. There are tons of different weight plates that will all do the job. You could even use sandbags and hang them from the bar but that’s just not very practical in most situations. Weight plates allow for an easy and even load on both sides of the bar.
So what should you look for in weight plates?
There are a few things that are important before buying weights. Of course any weight is better than no weight but to be able to train effectively it’s important to know a few things about weight plates.
- You need enough weights to lift whatever amount you want.
- You need a variety of weights to be able to increase the weight in small increments. That means you don’t only need the bigger weights but also the small ones.
- Make sure the inner hole diameter of the weight plates matches your barbell. Common sizes are 1” and 2”. Most high quality barbells have 2” sleeves so make sure to match that with the weight plates.
- Pay attention to diameter. Deadlifts are often set up with Olympic sized 45 lbs. plates on the bar. Weight is weight so the size doesn’t size matter very much except that a different size could slightly change the starting height of a lift.
- Rubberized. A rubber layer helps to protect your floor and makes less noise. It also makes your plates a bit easier to grip.
- Grips. I personally prefer weight plates with cut out holes They are easier to handle, pick up and load on the bar.
The previous pieces of equipment are all you need for exercises you perform standing up or bent over. There are also a lot of exercises you want to do sitting or lying down. The bench press is probably the best example for this.
To do this, you need a bench in combination with all the equipment listed above. Like the other pieces of equipment, a bench opens up a ton of exercise options. The bench press is the most popular but there are tons of other lifts where you can use a bench as well.
A flat bench is good but an adjustable bench is the best option for a home gym. The adjustable backrest allows you to do incline presses, flies, rows, etc. A flat bench is smaller and cheaper but an adjustable bench makes sense if you have the money and space.
What to look for in a bench?
What are some things to keep in mind to buy a good bench for your home gym?
- Good upholstery material
- Foam padding
- Load limit
An adjustable bench makes it much more versatile and make it possible to do different exercises at different angles. It should be easy to adjust and get into the position you want. It’s also good if it’s comfortable enough to not be distracted when lifting.
Dumbbells do a lot of the same jobs as a barbell and weight plates. You hold them in your hands and lift them. Dumbbells and barbells do the job in a different way however. They are different enough to justify getting both if you’ve got the space and money.
Dumbbells can move independently of each other. When holding a barbell, your hands are connected. Dumbbells move separately. That means there are benefits in muscle balance from side to side by using dumbbells.
Another benefit of dumbbells is that you can move them in different planes. A barbell is difficult to lift to the side of your body while that’s easy with a dumbbell. That means you have more exercise options and can do exercises in different ways. Using these options will result in more strength and muscle over time.
What to look for in dumbbells
There are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for dumbbells.
- Fixed or adjustable: The biggest choice is between fixed and adjustable dumbbells. Click here to find out more.
- Weight range: To have the right weight for every exercise it’s best to have a range of dumbbells from 5 to 50 lbs. and more if you’re strong.
- Shape: Most dumbbells are round but some are hex shaped. Round ones are a bit more comfortable to use but can roll away. It’s a small difference.
- Materials: The outside should be rubberized for comfort and safety. Alternatively you can go for urethane dumbbells.
- Handle: A handle with 1.25” or 1.5” diameter handle are best for grip and comfort.
- Numbers: Get a set that has the weight clearly marked on the sides.
As with all the other equipment, there is much more to know about dumbbells than is mentioned here. Click here to find more information.
What are free weights good for?
Is a free weight setup right for you? Well, that depends on your situation and your goals.
Free weights are great for people who have limited space for a home gym. Most machines can only be used to work out a single muscle or muscle group. That means to get a full body workout, you need a whole set of machines which all take up a lot of space and cost quite a bit of money.
A free weight setup is much more flexible in the sense that with a few pieces of equipment, you can perform an almost endless amount of exercises. Which means that in the end you spend less money and use less space to be able to do more exercises.
Free weights are great tools for building strength and muscle mass. Although it’s also possible to use free weights to lose body fat, increasing your fitness and even HIIT workouts.
Which equipment do you need for what?
Let’s go at it from a slightly different angle. Which pieces of equipment do you need for which lift? Since they don’t all require the same equipment, so let’s see which lift needs what. To make things a bit clearer, here is a small chart that shows the exercises and the equipment you need.
As you can see you need a barbell and weights for all exercises. The power rack is necessary for squats, OHP and the bench press. A bench is only necessary for the bench press and gym flooring is necessary for the lifts where the weights hit the floor.
Does this build a complete gym?
The five pieces of equipment listed above are all you need for lifting weights. That doesn’t mean that just those pieces of equipment will create a perfect gym when thrown into a space.
There are some other things about that should be a part of any gym for it to be any good.
Of course you need a good space that’s large enough but, inside that space there are some pieces that help creating a good gym like;
So while you don’t strictly need those things to lift free weights, having them sorted out makes your home gym much more usable, comfortable and durable.
If you want to know more about these things, click on the links above to get more information.
Do the big five lifts build a good body? The big five are chosen because they build a strong body when done right. A person that can lift a lot of weight will have big muscles. That doesn’t necessarily mean you will look like a bodybuilder. The big five are more focused towards powerlifting then bodybuilding but it will create a great foundation to build from.
Is a bar pad necessary to do squats? A bar pad is not necessary to use for most people. The barbell during the squat should rest on the back of the shoulders. The rear delt muscle should make a little shelf the bar sits on. A bar pad might make things more comfortable but puts the weight in the wrong place and change your movement pattern.