Home gym essentials can mean something different for everyone. However, there are a few things we think most people should have if possible. But if not, no worries… you can make do with what you have and can afford. Everyone’s budget is different and not everyone’s setup is the same.
But if you’ve trained for any length of time, you’ll know that spending a little on equipment can make your training life so much better. Nothing can kill motivation like training boredom and by the same token, variety can truly be key to making your best gains.
In this guide, we give you our best list of things to have in your home gym setup…
There are many different rack designs, sizes, and price points of which they’re offered. Consequently, this will determine which is ideal for each person.
Difference between a squat rack and a power rack
A squat rack typically has a smaller footprint and consists of two bars with holes that allow you to rack a barbell. Some have spotter arms, and other features can include a pull-up bar, plate holders, and resistance band anchors.
A power rack/cage is usually larger with four vertical bars and a square design. Power cages have a pull-up bar/s, spotter arms that insert into the front and back bars, plate holders, and depending on the type, there can be more features like dip bars, a cable pulley, landmine device, and more.
Neither is necessarily better than the other but rather, it comes down to which is best for you.
Check out our review of workout racks here to find a good one for your home gym.
Why you should have a rack
A rack is a very useful piece of equipment whether a half-rack or power cage. Now, does everyone need one? No. However, if you take your lifting seriously, then it will make your life a lot easier and possibly keep you from getting crushed or injured.
That’s because, while not the only advantage of having one, they usually have safety spotter arms that you can bail the loaded barbell onto if worse comes to worse. But you could also use the arms for rack pulls, half presses, and for other things too.
In addition, many racks have a pull-up bar, a place for squats, and possibly other features depending on the model.
So while there are a lot of different barbell shapes and sizes, if you’re going to have one and one only, we highly recommend an Olympic barbell. However, if you’re more advanced, you can specialize with a power, deadlift, or other bar made for a specific lift.
Keep in mind, women tend to use a lighter bar than the standard 20kg/44 lbs that most gym bars weigh but we offered a few great options below.
To learn the differences between barbells, check out our article on barbell weights.
Olympic barbell pick
For an Olympic barbell, we’re going to make it easy for you whether you’re a guy or gal.
The Synergee Regional bar is a top-notch option that’s 79.1-inches long and comes in 15kg/35 lbs (ideal for most women) and 20kg/44 lbs (ideal for most men and some women).
It’s made of heavy-duty steel and has a tensile strength of 190 000 psi and 1500 lb capacity. You can choose between a black phosphate or hard chrome coating. Both protect the bar from corrosion after repetitive use.
It has 5 needle bearings on each side to ensure a smooth spin for many different types of lifts. The Synergee Olympic barbell is a very versatile bar.
Standard barbell pick
We recommend the reasonably priced Sunny Health and Fitness STBB-60.
It’s a 60-inch chrome barbell with ring collars that accommodates weight plates with a 1-inch hole. The bar weighs a lot less than an Olympic barbell at 12 lbs and as a result, it’s made to support up to 250 lbs.
But it’s a great overall choice especially for exercises that require 250 lbs or less.
Why you should have a barbell
Ah, the almighty barbell…
Whether you power lift, weightlift, or just lift in general, the barbell should be a part of your home gym arsenal if you have space for it.
What are the advantages of a barbell over a dumbbell?
For starters, you can load a barbell heavier and typically lift more weight than you could if using dumbbells. That’s because barbell training is considered bilateral which means both sides work at the same time.
As a result, less balance and coordination is required which leaves you to focus more on lifting the weight, although, there’s still a degree of balance and coordination since it’s still considered free weight training.
A good example of this is the deadlift. If you’re someone who deadlifts heavy, a barbell is going to be superior to dumbbells. Not only can you lift more weight, but it’s also more comfortable especially compared to adjustable dumbbells.
Fixed and adjustable dumbbells are equally useful although each does have its advantages. For instance, fixed dumbbells are generally pricier than a certain type of adjustable dumbbell typically secured with collars. But fixed dumbbells are often more comfortable to use and more secure compared to a lot of adjustable options.
However, a good quality pair of adjustable dumbbells can much cost less including the weight plates made specifically for them. Although you have the selectorized dial-adjusted dumbbells that can cost a pretty penny for the convenience and tech. Additionally, adjustable or selectorized style dumbbells can offer more comfort compared to the common ones that secure with ring collars. Not to mention, adjustable dumbbells can take up much less space.
There are pros and cons of both.
Below we’ve shared our top dumbbell picks that each offer something unique. Keep in mind, if you need dumbbells up to 100+ lbs, you’ll probably need to order elsewhere.
But these options can offer resistance up to 80-90 lbs.
Papababe fixed dumbbells
If you prefer fixed dumbbells, then we think you should have a look at these from the brand Papababe.
They’re hexagon-shaped rubber-coated cast iron dumbbells with diamond knurled handles. The shape prevents rolling.
You can choose dumbbells up to 80 lbs each.
Powerblock EXP Stage 1 Selectorized Dumbbells
PowerBlocks are legendary for offering a compact design that replaces several pairs of dumbbells. We like this model because it’s adjustable from 5 lbs each to 50 lbs each and the auto-lock feature allows you to make micro adjustments by 2.5-5 lbs.
Even better is that it’s compatible with the expansion set (sold separately) that allows you to increase each dumbbell to 70 and 90 lbs.
The set is made from solid steel construction that ensures quality and durability.
It’s an open design with rubber grips and unless you have huge man (or women) paws, it should be suitable for most users.
Yes4All adjustable dumbbells and weights
Yes4All adjustable dumbbells and weights are a popular option. You get two chrome dumbbells and they do come with weights of your choice. The weight plates are made of cast iron, and the handles are knurled for good gripping.
You can also opt for a connector that will combine the dumbbells into a barbell.
Why you should have dumbbells
Dumbbells are undoubtedly more versatile than a barbell. Not to mention, if you have limited space, dumbbells are probably better.
You’re also not locked into one position so training feels more natural. Additionally, they’re better for identifying and fixing imbalances, are better for training with injuries, and can be safer to train with (e.g. you can bail the weight if you get stuck on the bench press).
Athletes and anyone looking to be fit and functional can benefit from using dumbbells.
This one is sort of obvious but if you have a barbell, you need weight plates, unless, of course, you’re content with just using a barbell.
But it’s good to have a few 45’s, 25’s, 10’s, 5’s, and 2.5s. This will, of course, depend on how strong you are. But there are advantages to having a little of everything if possible.
This is recommended so that you can make small, incremental jumps in weight as you get stronger but also because it’s good for drop sets, and other training methods.
In addition, having a few 45 lb plates is necessary as it places the bar at an ideal height to train with for certain exercises (e.g. deadlifts, hip thrusts, etc).
Plates with 2″ holes are made for Olympic barbell sleeves whereas the ones with 1″ holes will only fit the standard bars.
As for material, there are iron, rubber-covered, and urethane bumper plates. Iron will be the first to lose its aesthetics after extended use and can sometimes be smelly and not to mention, scary for your hard floors (unless you have gym flooring).
But it’s also less expensive and classic and it makes for a great option if you can take care of them.
The rubber-covered plates are obviously going to be safer for the plates and the floors but rubber and bumper plates aren’t necessarily the same thing. Rubber-covered plates can be standard weight plates that aren’t meant to be dropped from various heights. Bumper plates can, however, be dropped from various heights. The rubber can sometimes carry a stench but that also depends on which plates you opt for.
These are our weight plate picks…
AMGYM bumper plates
If we could recommend to you a top-notch set of bumper weight plates these would be it. They are IWF standard 17.5 inches diameter and made with natural, high-density virgin rubber that creates minimal bounce when dropped, which is ideal.
The plates have 2″ holes and contain a stainless steel “hooked” insert to ensure quality and performance. The plates are available in 10, 15, 25, 35, 45, and 55 lbs.
The company also offers a 3-year warranty on these weights.
They’re ideal for weightlifting, CrossFit, and other forms of training that require the weight to be dropped from various heights.
If you want to brighten up your workouts (literally) and really look the part, here are the same weights with several color options. Of course, they also meet IWF color standards and are great for keeping organized. Check out these weight plates options.
Synergee bumper plates
Hey, you might as well consider getting matching plates for your Olympic barbell from the same brand. Plus, they’re excellent quality.
The plates fit any standard 2″ inch sleeve and are made from a rubber polymer designed to minimize bounce. So the plates should last long and so should the floors and you’ll have better control over the loaded barbell.
The plates have highly visible and raised letter markings which make for easy identification and the rubber supposedly doesn’t carry any odors.
Cap Barbell standard grip plates
If you need plates that have 1″ holes to fit the standard barbell and adjustable dumbbells then Cap makes a good quality product as they have for several decades.
The plates are made of solid cast iron with a three-hole design for easy gripping and handling.
There’s nothing too fancy about these but they should be a great addition to your home gym.
While this isn’t necessary for all home gyms, there are situations where it’s probably a good idea to invest in appropriate flooring.
Dropping iron plates or anything on unprotected flooring or using a sled on concrete probably isn’t a good idea but the good thing is, you don’t have to equip your entire floor with protective covering. You can simply lay down a few pieces of flooring where you train.
The type of flooring may also depend on the activities performed. For example, a thinner mat may be ok if using lighter rubber weights or if you simply do calisthenics and similar workouts.
If you’re training really heavy and/or use iron plates, then a thicker flooring with good grip material makes sense. When you’re deadlifting, squatting, and doing similar activities, you must be able to plant your feet firmly and know that you’ll stay put for both safety and performance.
There’s turf, rubber flooring, tile flooring, and rolls.
All are great options however, we advise against foam unless you’re doing real light activities. Rubber typically provides a more rugged and firm surface and is especially preferred for longer-term use. It also tends to hold its shape and provides a more stable surface to lift.
Geneflex Pro gym tile
This rubber flooring is actually commercial grade and suitable for gym flooring. The rubber can handle weight drops and protect the floor as well.
It’s made from 1″ thick heavy-duty, dent-proof rubber that’s shock absorbent and has a laminated top.
The tiles are also simple to install.
Turf is commonly used for sled training, tire flips, and more. The backing on this one has a 5mm foam pad and it’s a half-inch thick. The strip is 6 feet wide and 50 feet long which is plenty.
BalanceFrom EVA foam puzzle exercise mat
Again, EVA foam may not be the best choice for powerlifts, weightlifting, etc, although it could technically work. But it’s probably best used for light work, bodyweight activities, exercises that require lying on the floor, and even MMA, and other similar activities.
It’s made from high-density, non-slip EVA foam at either a 1/2, 3/4, or one-inch thickness.
You can choose how much area you want to cover as there are a few different purchase options.
You simply connect the pieces to be used for your exercises and activities.
Rubber-Cal Shark Tooth mat
We also highly recommend a shark tooth mat made from recycled rubber tire crumbs. It’s a good choice for heavy lifts and dropping weights due to the heavy-duty material, thickness, and very good grip surface.
These mats can be used for gyms and are often used for animal flooring (horse stall mats). It’s also eco-conscious.
You can choose from 2 ft x 3 ft, 3 ft x 4 ft, and 4 ft x 6 ft mats.
Benches come flat or adjustable and both have their advantages over the other and we recommend having both if possible. An adjustable bench allows you to not only do incline press variations but also chest-supported exercises and other incline variations as well.
A flat bench isn’t as versatile but is typically able to handle heavier loads being a bit sturdier overall with better supportive cushioning which is why it’s a powerlifting staple. And there are workarounds to train muscles at angles you’d use an adjustable bench for.
Before buying, make sure the bench is rated for the weight it’ll have to support.
There are many quality workout benches on the market and we picked some of the best ones in this review.
Why you should have a bench
It’s totally possible to train all your muscles without using a bench. But honestly, why would you want to?
While you could floor press, the range of motion is shorter and you won’t be able to stretch the pecs under load which may be a very important component of developing maximum strength and hypertrophy.
That’s not all though, in fact, the possibilities are endless regarding the number of exercises you can use a bench for.
A few examples include incline presses and flies, chest-supported movements, triceps dips, lying triceps extensions, incline curls, seal rows, incline and decline push-ups, and just a variety of seated and lying exercises.
Many things that you can do using a bench, you cannot without it, especially using weights.
There are so many categories of pull-ups bars including doorway bars, outdoor bars, and wall-mounted bars, that you can sift through our pull-up bar product reviews to find one suitable for you.
Many of the home gyms also have a pull-up bar and do the squat racks/power racks that you can find under the rack category above.
Why you should have a pull-up bar
Pull-up variations are a must-have in your workout routine. Don’t take our word for it though, just look at this weight plates options that found the pull-up and chin-up to be superior for building muscular lats that add a lot to the appearance of your back.
Want bigger biceps? Pull-ups work them hard too.
And just because you may be strong and can lift a lot of weight, that doesn’t mean you’re strong enough to be able to pull your own body weight up. Think about that for a second…
Weighted dips and pull-ups/chin-ups are honestly some of the most effective exercises you can do to build a powerful back and big biceps. For many, body weight alone isn’t enough to continually challenge the muscles. As a result, there comes a point when these variations become much less effective.
A belt that allows you to add weight plates will ensure you’re making progress and not doing endless reps.
Jayefo dip belt
For $20, you can get a pretty decent quality dipping belt. This one from Jayefo is made with neoprene and triple stitched for maximum security. It’s padded for comfort and has a 36″ inch long steel chain which is ideal as many belt chains are too short to use with a 45 lb weight plate.
It’s rated to support up to 350 lbs and can be used by both men and women.
Dark Iron Fitness dip belt
The Dark Iron Fitness dip belt is a good option for a few bucks more. It’s made of genuine real leather and has a 40″ strap rather than chains which is lengthy but good. It comes with quick-release carabiners and D-rings and is overall a heavy-duty belt.
What’s also great is that it’s lightweight and comfortable and can hold up to 270 lbs.
Also read: 12 Gym Bag Essentials for Better Workouts
A weightlifting belt, when used properly, helps to keep your core tight and spine stable which is a very important component of safe and effective lifting. An unstable midsection can cause you to collapse under weight and fail your lifts.
While a belt may not increase your numbers on its own, it can help you to perform better overall. Although, it shouldn’t be used all the time but rather when training with heavier loads of about 80% your one-rep max and heavier.
These are our top lifting belt picks for 2021.
There are a few different types of resistance bands. For example, there are the ones with the handles and then there are loop bands that don’t have handles.
The ones with the handles are great for exercises that require the use of your hands (e.g., rows, presses, curls, etc). The loop bands come in different sizes.
Small ones (mini-loop bands) are typically used for yoga and butt workouts. The larger ones are great for training aspects of compound lifts.
Why you should have resistance bands
Bands are a very effective training tool that can help you build muscle and strength. For many, buying a cable machine is too expensive and they also take up a lot of room.
With a few bands that range in resistance, you can easily wrap the bands around a solid object and have the same effect that you would if using cables.
For example, a power cage, pull-up bar, or even a tree can be used as an anchor for face pulls, rows, chest flies, triceps pushdowns, and much more.
Additionally, you can use loop bands for lower body training and compound resistance exercises.
Suspension trainers are a phenomenal exercise tool that, in many cases, is all you need to get a total body workout. It works by using your body weight and different body positions for resistance and is adjustable for different individuals.
You can go with the OG TRX suspension trainer and its variations that are tired and tested. But for those who don’t want cheaper and still great quality options, we shared a link below to our review of the best TRX alternatives of 2021.
Something for Cardio
There are many great choices for cardio equipment but it really comes down to individual needs and wants.
A few factors to consider before purchasing a piece of cardio machinery include budget, available space, cardio equipment features, and preference to name a few. All have their advantages but no one can tell you what you’ll enjoy or prefer more.
That’s why we’ve suggested a few different options below.
Schwinn Airdyne Pro Exercise Bike
If you can shell out a grand in exchange for a phenomenal piece of cardio equipment then this is one we’d highly vouch for.
Air bikes are used by CrossFit and other athletes for cardio and conditioning. But it actually makes for an excellent total body workout.
Try these 12 Best Assault Bike Workouts
The Schwinn Airdyne Pro is operated by single stage direct belt drive which means a very smooth experience and it responds to the exerciser’s power and helps to regulate performance. It also has a custom-designed 26-blade fan and tachometer that visually displays your performance. There’s also a display screen for standard performance stats.
The Schwinn Airdyne Pro is of commercial quality and quiet too.
Again, it’s a little pricey but well worth the investment, especially for your home gym.
Marcy ME-709 recumbent exercise bike
A recumbent bike allows for a more relaxed body position during exercise. As a result, it’s ideal for those with back issues and is a lower impact form of cardio that’s great especially for those easing back into activity, recovering from injury, or anyone who wants to get their heart rate up and burn calories.
The Marcy ME-709 is a popular option that has a large, comfortable, and adjustable seat, 8 tension control settings, and a performance LCD screen that displays time, speed, distance, and calories and it has an odometer.
It also has weighted pedals and adjustable foot straps and the weight capacity is 300 lbs.
A sled not only makes a fantastic cardio tool but you can build muscle and strength and it’s also a functional activity. Athletes and anyone looking to improve the level of fitness will benefit greatly from this useful contraption.
Sleds are offered in different designs but the most commonly seen are the ones that actually look like a sled with curved bars, a weight loader, and handles. These are good to use on turf strips that allow them to slide.
But there are sled-like speed trainers that use nylon bags and sand to perform the same activity. The only thing is they don’t support as much weight as the more robust versions that use plates. But that’s fine because not everyone has the same goal.
Synergee sled trainer
The Synergee sled trainer is made from durable nylon and includes 5 bags that you can fill with 10 pounds of sand. The weight is adjustable from 5-50 lbs and the trainer has a 50-pound weight capacity.
It’s also nice that you can use both sides to pull and the leash adjusts from 38-71 inches.
This one is ideal for those who want a challenge but aren’t looking to use an actual sled.
But if you do want to use a sled, here are picks.
Armored Fitness XPO Trainer push sled
This one, unlike other sleds, has 3 knobby tires so you can use it on any surface without having to worry about getting turf flooring.
But it’s not any easier. It’s actually designed to push back and adjust to the effort of each individual using a chain-driven motor. You’ll also add weight plates to create max resistance. The sled is also very quiet which many will prefer compared to a lot of conventional sleds.
While it’s not cheap, we really like the design, function, and convenience that this sled offers.
Titan low bar sled
If you want something for a lot less money, we recommend this one from Titan Fitness.
It does have a lower bar design but this can be good for getting sufficient leverage when pushing. It also includes a harness if you prefer to drag the sled.
You can load it with standard and Olympic plates.
You’d have to use this sled on turf or grass.
Learn about sled training and the benefits here.
Check out the following reviews for other cardio equipment options.
Why you should have something for cardio
Treadmills, ellipticals, rowers, bikes, sleds… these all make for useful indoor (or outdoor) cardio tools.
Maybe the weather is too extreme outside, or you’re too busy to leave the house. Whatever the reason, if you’re looking to get your heart rate up and burn calories then we recommend a cardio machine/equipment of some sort.
If you train in the garage, outdoors, or even under AC, well, it can get pretty toasty during summers… we wouldn’t want you passing out.
A fan can really make a big difference and you don’t need to spend a lot of money for one either. Although, we did provide a few different options that vary in price relative to the features each offer.
Honeywell HT-908 Turboforce 12″ fan
The Honeywell HT 908 Turboforce fan packs a powerful punch at a very affordable price point.
It has three speed settings and 90-degree pivot function that maximizes airflow. We think this is a great option on a budget.
Amazon Basics 16″ Standing Oscillating Fan
We like this fan for many reasons. It’s an affordable option that oscillates and subsequently provides overall good airflow for decent-sized spaces. The fan is also height adjustable and has three power settings, and three breeze modes (nature, sleep, normal).
It also comes with a remote so that you can operate it from across the room which is very convenient.
Other Stuff To Add To Your Home Gym
Here are some other things that we think are also great to add to your home gym setup.
Also check out: 12 Best Fitness Equipment When Home Workouts Are The Only Option
Aside from these home gym essentials, most people won’t need much else. Of course, if you can afford more equipment and believe it’ll benefit you, then go for it.
A good barbell with plates, a bench, and rack may be all you need. In fact, this is more than enough for a lot of people. But to be more well-rounded and have more options, why not include many of the options in this guide. After all, variety keeps from boredom and allows you to train in ways you otherwise couldn’t.
The good news is there are many great options that’ll allow you to add variety at an affordable price point.