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Home Gym Essentials

Home Gym Essentials - Build A Basic Home Gym - Title Pic

Good news everyone! You don’t need a room full of expensive equipment to achieve your fitness goals. 

My aim with this article is to give you the information you need to build an efficent home gym that meets your specific goals, space constraints, and budget.

Build a basic home gym

The four most important factors to consider when building a home gym are:

  1. The space available to you for exercise
  2. The space available for storing your equipment
  3. Your interest in a particular style of training
  4. Your budget for equipment

Some would argue that budget is the most important factor, but I think not.

Having the money to buy a big fancy power rack won’t help if you have nowhere to set it up and use it. And, that power rack may just sit and collect dust if you’re not particularly interested in Powerlifting. 

My goals are more practical – I want the minimum amount of equipment I need to stay healthy and fit, while offering enough variety to help me stay motivated to exercise.

To keep things simple, my recommendations center around the essentials for three main styles of exercise – Functional Training (CrossFit), Powerlifting, and Olympic weightlifting.

Home Gym Essentials - Basic Home Gym

Basic home gym, bass guitar not strictly necessary

Quality versus price

The equipment you choose for your home gym will be the tools you use to shape your health and fitness for years to come. Like any good craftsman, you should carefully consider the quality of those tools when deciding what to buy.

My motto is “Buy Nice or Buy Twice”, since cheap gear inevitably needs replacement.

All of my recommendations are focused on value – the best combination of quality and price I can find for the benefit provided, regardless of brand name. 

Home gym essentials

You can build a cost effective and practical home gym with some basic pieces of equipment and a little bit of smart shopping.

You don’t need everything I’ve listed below. I’m offering these recommendations with the understanding that you’ll pick the things from the list that best suit your needs.

However, if you have any questions by all means drop me a comment and I’ll do my best to guide you 👍

Kettlebells

If you have limited space to exercise and to store your equipment, kettlebells are a great option.

Kettlebells are easy to store, relatively inexpensive, and provide a time-saving way to work nearly every part of your body in a short period.

You can read my Ultimate Kettlebell Comparison Review that covers every major brand of cast iron kettlebell, but the top picks are:

The Ultimate Kettlebell Comparison Review - Featured Pic

I’ve tested nearly every brand name cast iron kettlebell on the market

If you need workouts, I have several simple and free kettlebell workouts I’ve put together that can be done in 30 minutes or less.

If you prefer instructor-led workouts, I recommend the well designed programs put together by Kettlebell Kings via their Living.Fit online platform.

There’s also an entire sport dedicated to kettlebells, unsurprisingly called “kettlebell sport”. Kettlebell sport has many benefits and is suitable for both men and women.

The kettlebells used in kettlebell sport are made of steel instead of cast iron, and unlike cast iron kettlebells, “competition” kettlebells all conform to a single standard size.

Kettlebell Reviews - Classic vs Competition kettlebells

Kettelbell types – cast iron (left) vs steel competition (right)

The consistent size of competition kettlebells allows you to stay focused on your technique as you move up or down in weight rather than having to adjust to different sizes as you would with cast iron kettlebells.

Here are my top three recommendations for competition kettlebells:

One kettlebell sport event in particular called ‘long cycle’ is an efficient way to work your entire body in ten minutes with just three moves – the swing, clean, and jerk. It looks easy, but long cycle is actually very technically and physically challenging.

Here’s an example of kettlebell long cycle done by a world champion in the sport. You don’t have to watch the entire video, just watch for couple of minutes and you’ll get the idea.

Dumbbells

Dumbbells can be used in place of barbells and weight plates for most exercises, which makes them a great option for those who have limited space to exercise.

There are basically three types of dumbbells – fixed weight, loadable, and adjustable.

As the name implies, fixed weight dumbbells are single fixed weights. If you want to move up in weight, you’ve got to buy a new dumbbell.

Loadable dumbbells are the old-fashioned type where you load weight plates on two ends of a short bar.

Adjustable dumbbells are new-fangled contraptions where you select the weight you want using a dial or pins, no need to add or remove weight plates.

Home Gym Essentials - Dumbbell Types

Dumbbell types left to right – fixed weight, loadable, adjustable

I’m not a fan of fixed weight dumbbells for a home gym because they require the most space to store. They can also potentially incur the most cost, since you have to buy new weights to keep making progress.

Loadable or adjustable dumbbells are much more versatile, although their initial cost will be higher than a single pair of fixed weights.

However, that one time cost covers a wide range of weight which could end up saving you money over multiple fixed weight purchases.

Here are some recommendations for each type of dumbbell:

Home Gym Essentials - Rep Fitness Adjustable Dumbbells

Rep Fitness Adjustable Dumbbells

Barbells

Barbell exercises are by far the most superior option for improving overall strength, size, and general fitness.  Nothing else comes close. 

If you have the space and budget for a barbell and bumper plates, then these pieces should form the cornerstone of your basic home gym.

You don’t even need a rack and bench to get the most out of your barbell. Here are just a few of the exercises you can do with only a bar and bumper plates:

  • Power Cleans
  • Front Squats
  • Push Press
  • Overhead Press
  • Olympic Snatch
  • Olympic Clean
  • Olympic Jerk
  • Lunges
  • Deadlifts
  • Bent-Over Rows
  • Bicep Curls
  • Hip Thrusts
  • Overhead Squat
Barbell Buyers Guide - CrossFit - Snatch

The overhead squat

Throw in some pull ups and push ups and you can work nearly every muscle in your body with this setup. 

If you’re unfamiliar with what to look for in a barbell, I’ve written a Barbell Buying Guide that explains everything you need to know before making your first barbell purchase.

Barbell Buyers Guide - Title Pic

Everything you need to know about barbells!

Here are my top barbell recommendations:

If your space is tight and can’t accommodate a full size barbell, there are some great options for “shorty” bars as well.

Check out my short bar roundup, where I compare every rackable short bar I’ve been able to find.

Best short barbells for home use - Reviews - Title picture

Short barbells are great when space is tight

Here are my top picks for shorty bars:

Don’t forget barbell collars, I have a set of inexpensive Lock-Jaw quick-release compression collars and they’ve served me well for many years.

Bumper Plates

I prefer bumper plates over steel plates for a home gym because there’s less risk of damaging your floors if you accidentally (or intentionally 😱) drop a weight.

Along with a good barbell, a set of bumper plates is one of the best investments you can make to improve your strength, size, and overall fitness level.

I’ve written a Bumper Plate Buying Guide that explains everything you need to know to before making your first bumper plate purchase.

Olympic Bumper Plate Buyer's Guide - Title Picture

Everything you need to know about bumper plates!

Here are my top bumper plate recommendations:

Squat Rack / Squat Stands

You’ll need a rack or a pair of stands if you want to do barbell back squats or bench press. However, there’s no need to drop a lot of money on a big complicated power rack.

I used a pair of basic inexpensive squat stands from Valor Fitness for several years and they served me well.

It’s also possible to get a good squat rack at a decent price, and some of them include a pull up bar as well.

If you’re short on space, there are options for folding racks that can be stored out of the way when not in use.

Fringe Sport Garage Series Squat Rack Review - Looking Good

Fringe Sport Garage Series Squat Rack

Here are my top recommendations for stands and racks:

Home Gym Essentials - Rogue RML-3W Fold Back Wall Mount Rack

Rogue RML-3W Fold Back Wall Mount Rack

Bench

A sturdy bench has a lot of uses regardless of whether or not you own a rack or squat stands. I own a basic flat bench, although having an adjustable bench increases the range of exercises you can do with it.

Here are my top recommendations for a bench:

Home Gym Essentials - Rep Fitness FB-3000 Flat Bench

Rep Fitness FB-3000 Flat Bench

Flooring

Depending on where you plan to exercise, you may want to consider putting down some protective flooring. If your budget’s tight, horse stall mats from Tractor Supply can be used as basic gym flooring.

However, these mats are made from recycled tires and they have a strong rubber odor, so they’re not ideal if your home gym is inside your home rather than in your garage.

If your gym will be inside your home and if you’ve got some money to spare for protective flooring, here are a few options to consider:

I’m using a Shock Mat with blue color flecks on my DIY lifting platform and my only regret is that I didn’t buy one sooner.

The unique waffle pattern on the underside of the mat deadens even the hardest impact and the color options add some really nice flair. 

DIY Lifting Platform 3.0 - RubberFlooringInc Shock Mat

Shock Mat from Rubber Flooring Inc

Cardio

Exercising with free weights and kettlebells is awesome, but if you really want to burn off calories you’ll need some cardio in the form of high intensity interval training (HIIT).

Don’t worry though, no need to spend a lot of money on a machine when a simple speed rope is cheap and efficient.

Aluminum Speed Rope

However, if jumping up and down repeatedly isn’t your thing then there are other options.

Here are some basic low cost ways to get your cardio on:

  • Speed rope – modern take on the old-as-dirt jump rope. Light, fast, and easy to store.
  • Inertia Wave (full review) – a more efficient variation on battle ropes that will work your entire body. Discount available with code ‘TESTLAB10’ 👍
  • Running – all you need is a good pair of shoes!
  • Swimming – not really low cost, but great if you have access to a pool 🏊‍♂️

If you’re interested in machines and you have the space and cash for one, I’ve got you covered.

Here’s what I like and recommend:

  • Assault Fitness AirRunner (full review) – a curved motorless treadmill built like a tank
  • VersaClimber (full review) – low-impact climbing machine that targets all the major muscle groups
  • AirDyne Pro – one of the best air bikes on the market. I own one that I’ve not yet reviewed but I like it a lot
  • Rogue Echo Bike – another great air bike, and one of the most affordable
  • Xebex Rower 2.0 – a lower cost rowing alternative to the Concept2, with the added benefit of folding in half for ease of storage
Assault Fitness Air Runner Review - Installed in the Freedom Corner

Assault Fitness AirRunner

Other useful gear

This section covers equipment that doesn’t fit into any other category but is still useful to have.

  • Ab wheel – old-school core strengthener. Don’t spend more than 20 bucks on one, they all work the same way
  • Weight vest – simple way to kick any workout up a notch. I did a weight vest comparison review, you should check it out.
  • Sandbags – shifting sand will seriously challenge your stabilizer muscles as you try to heave the bag around
  • Resistance bands – so many ways to use resistance bands. They don’t take up much space and they are relatively cheap
  • Pull up bar – Pull ups are one of the best back strengthening exercises you can do. A door mount pull up bar is great for pull ups in tight spaces
  • Gymnastic rings –  way better than a pull up bar if you have a place to mount them. See my article on how to mount them from your ceiling.
Home Gym Essentials - Ab Wheel

The ab wheel is simple and effective for strengthening your core

Conclusion

As I wrote at the beginning, you don’t need a room full of expensive equipment to achieve your fitness goals. 

My aim with this article is to give you the information you need to build a basic home gym that meets your specific needs, space constraints, and budget.

I’ve outlined several categories of equipment I think are best suited for a basic home gym, including recommendations for each category and some upgrade options for those with extra funds.

Armed with this information, you should be able to build a home gym that suits you.

If you have any questions that I did not cover, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer you.

About the Author Mario

I'm a software engineer with a full-time job, family, and a desire to stay strong, mobile, and fit. I separate fact from fiction to find the most effective and affordable options for home fitness. If you'd like to build your own home gym, start here.

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