You want to build a weightlifting room at home. Your own personal home gym is a great thing. But what are the basics you need to get a complete workout?
A home gym weight room only needs a few key pieces of equipment to be able to do a complete full body workout;
- Power rack/squat stand
- Weight plates
That is enough to lift free weights at home. Gym flooring and mirrors are great additions but not strictly necessary.
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
- Weight plates
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.
Below is a deeper explanation why you need those parts.
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.
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.
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.
What you can do with this setup?
So just to make clear that you can get a complete workout with this setup, let’s take a look at a selection of your exercise options. This is by no means an exhaustive list but just an indication that this setup is very flexible.
|Barbell (BB) Bicep curls||Barbell, Weight plates|
|Dumbbell (DB) Bicep curls||Dumbbells|
|DB tricep extensions||Dumbbells|
|Skull crushers||Barbell, Weight plates|
|DB hammer curl||Dumbbells|
|Overhead should press||Barbell, Weight plates, Rack|
|Arnold Press||Bench, Dumbbells|
|Front delt raise||Dumbbells|
|Rear dealt fly||Bench, Dumbbells|
|Bench press||Bench, Barbell, Weight plates, Rack|
|Incline bench press||Bench, Barbell, Weight plates, Rack|
|Incline DB press||Bench, Dumbbells|
|Dumbbell press||Bench, Dumbbells|
|Dumbbell fly||Bench, Dumbbells|
|Barbell back squat||Rack, Barbell, Weight plates|
|Barbell front squat||Rack, Barbell, Weight plates|
|Glute bridge||Barbell, Weight plates|
|Deadlift||Barbell, Weight plates|
|One arm DB row||Bench, Dumbbells|
|Barbell rows||Barbell, Weight plates|
|Good mornings||Barbell, Weight plates|
|T-bar row||Barbell, Weight plates|
And that’s not even half of all the possibilities.
Besides the necessary equipment, there are some good extras you can add to make your workouts a bit more comfortable and effective.
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.
Flooring is one of those things that’s a bit of an afterthought for most home gym builders. The problem with that is that it’s quite difficult to put in after setting everything else up. So making the flooring a bit more of a priority in the home gym planning process will make your life easier further down the line.
Flooring isn’t completely necessary but very useful to have. It has a few big benefits for your weight room;
- Protects your floor: Gym flooring is cheaper and easier than fixing a broken floor.
- Protects your equipment: A softer layer between the equipment and floor is good for both. especially dumbbells and weight plates.
- Quieter workouts: Rubber or foam gym flooring dampens a lot of noise especially from weights dropped on the floor.
- Looks good: High quality gym flooring makes your gym look much better than a bare concrete slab.
- Hygienic: Gym flooring is easy to clean.
As you can see, not essential but certainly very useful. Learn more about gym flooring here.
Resistance bands can be used together with dumbbells and barbells or alone. There are many uses for them. They don’t take up much space and are relatively cheap. Adding them to your gym opens up a lot of new exercise variations.
However, there is no need to do this from the beginning. It’s easy to get a set later when you need/want to.
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.