Forget the all in one home gym solutions. They are OK but if you’re serious about fitness and weightlifting you need to train with free weights primarily. But what do you need and how do you get started? That’s what this post will outline.
Necessities for a home gym with free weights: To be able to perform all the exercises you want with free weights, you need the following piece of equipment;
- Power rack
A gym that has these parts is fully functional and can be used for all free weight lifts you can think of.
Why you need these pieces of equipment and what should you look for? Keep reading to find out.
Necessities for a home gym with free weights
There are a few things you absolutely need to be able to set up a proper free weight home gym. These are the basics you need to get started. They’re also the biggest and most expensive pieces. When you’ve got this equipment in your home gym, there isn’t much more you need for any free weight exercise. There might be a few small bits and pieces you could add but they won’t add anything you can’t go without.
The basics you need;
- Power rack
All of these pieces can last a very long time if you get decent quality items. You buy this once and you’ll be good for the next decade and probably two decades. Except for the bench, this equipment doesn’t need a whole lot of maintenance except keeping it clean.
Let’s take a more detailed look at these pieces of equipment.
The most important part of any free weights gym is the barbell. It’s what allows you to hold a ton of weight in your hands and lift it. This is the single piece of equipment you’ll be touching all the time. For most of the lifts in a free weights program you’ll be using the barbell.
There are just so many lifts and exercises that require you to have a barbell, you can’t do without.
Since this is the most important part of your setup, it’s worth it to get something good. Click here to find the barbell I recommend.
If you can fit it in your gym, get a full sized barbell that measures 7’2 with 2” sleeves on the end. There is a whole lot to know about barbells. I’ve written a huge post with everything you want to know about barbells. Click here to find it.
While the barbell is the most important part of a home gym, the weights that go on the bar are what puts the “weight” in free weights. Sure a barbell weighs something (click here to find out how much exactly), but without weight plates added to the bar, it doesn’t really provide enough resistance.
Weight plates allow you to exactly adjust the resistance the barbell provides. Of course that has to be different for every different lift you want to do. To do this properly you need a variety of different weight plates. Having a good variety of weights makes it possible to tailor the weight exactly. This allows you to progress over time. Keep adding 5 lbs. to the bar every week and you’ll be surprised how much weight you’re lifting at the end of the year.
The best weight plates for home use are rubberized and have a 2” inner hole that matches your barbell. Check out this page for more information and to find which one I recommend.
Next up is the power rack. It’s often the biggest piece of equipment in a home gym. While maybe not as essential as a barbell and weights, it’s almost on the same level. A big part of a free weight workout program will require a power rack.
Any decent free weight program will at least include squats, overhead pressing, pull ups and bench pressing. All those exercises are very hard to do without a power rack. Those four exercises are part of the foundation of many workout programs so making it possible to perform them is essential.
Of course there are things you can do without a power rack and there are other lifts you can perform in a rack. However, without a power rack I’d say you can’t have a complete full body workout.
Look for a power rack that can support the amount of weight you want to lift and is sturdy. Check out this page to find my recommended power racks for home gyms. That one is sturdy, well built and you can have it for a very affordable price.
Up next is the weightlifting bench. A bench is necessary for that most bro-tastic lift, the bench press. Brag worthy a big bench press may be, it’s a great exercise for building upper body strength.
Together with the barbell, weights and power rack, the bench is the final part of the puzzle to be able to bench press in your home gym. That’s not the only exercise you unlock by getting a bench. You can also do incline bench, pullover, DB fly, Dumbbell press, Seated shoulder press and much more.
For a home gym, look for a bench that’s adjustable and sturdy. Adjustability especially just opens up the opportunity for a ton of different exercises.
Dumbbells are another form of free weights. They complement barbell exercises pretty well. Where barbells make you use both arms at the same time, dumbbells move the weight separate from each other.
Barbells allow you to lift more weight in total but they can create some muscle imbalances from side to side. When one arm is stronger, that side will lift a bigger percentage of the weight and as a result that arm will get even stronger. You possibly won’t even notice this if you only use barbells.
Dumbbells move separately so it’ll be very clear if one side is weaker than the other. While noticing it doesn’t necessarily make it better, if you know that one side is weaker, you can do something about it. You can then use dumbbells to correct the difference. Just train that side more/heavier than the other side and dumbbells are the perfect tool for that.
While you can only use barbells and have a great workout and create a great body, dumbbells are definitely a great addition to your gym that is very useful.
Mirrors aren’t things you ever touch in a gym. However, you don’t need to touch something for it to be useful. While you can use your gym without the mirrors, in my opinion there are a few good reason to really add them anyways.
The most important one is to see your exercise form. Seeing your form is super important, especially when you’re just starting. Free weight exercises are a bit more technical and there is more you can do wrong than with (cable)machines. Doing an exercise the wrong way might not be damaging immediately but over time it could cause problems.
If you’ve got a mirror, you get visual feedback about your form immediately so you can correct it before things go wrong.
What are free weights? Examples of free weights are barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells. These weights are not attached to anything or forced into a set movement pattern. They can go anywhere without being restrained. This is what makes them free. Free weights, when used right, tend to develop a more complete musculature.
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