Last updated on March 16th, 2021 at 01:39 pm
When I was building my garage gym, I searched on Google for “what makes a great weight bench for a home gym”. The only results that came back were site after site listing their “best benches of 20xx”. There was no good advice. There was no one explaining what to look for.
In reality, every one of those sites was simply a giant list of affiliate links that contained meaningless specs and the manufacturer’s ad copy. All of which were positive. None of which helped me learn how to pick the right bench for me. At best, they simply regurgitated things that reviewers on Amazon had said.
A few key qualities should be looked for when buying a weight bench for your home gym. A bench that is adjustable, well-built, stable, comfortable, safe, and reasonably priced will serve you well for years.
How do we figure out which benches have those things and which don’t? Read on. By the end of this article, you’ll know exactly what to look for, what will work best for your needs, and how much you’ll have to spend to get it.
Want to skip all that and just get a great bench? Check out my recommendations at the end of this article as well as on my recommended benches page here!
Why does it matter?
Can’t you just go on Amazon and grab a low priced bench? Isn’t one bench as good as the next? I’ve heard that and lots more from people trying to get away with spending as little as possible on their bench. I can see doing that on some things, but a bench deserves a little more consideration than that.
Not only is a weight bench an essential piece of gear for your home gym (see my article on all the essentials here), but it’s one of the pieces that you shouldn’t go cheap on. There are a lot of places you can save money on your gym, your bench shouldn’t be one of those.
Your weight bench will be something you use almost every time you use your gym. It’s right up there with your bar when ranked by the amount of use. And, more importantly, it involves your direct contact and supports you during lifts. Hopefully safely.
When you are laying on your bench, with 200-400+ lbs. suspended over your chest, the last thing you need to worry about is the stability and build quality of your bench. When you are supporting yourself in any manner with additional weight involved, it’s critical that your bench is bulletproof.
Not only does it need to be safe, but it also needs to be comfortable. Pressing on a bench with a .25” pad made of cheap foam is a world apart from a pad that’s over an inch thick and made of quality material.
And speaking of quality material, a good bench should last for years. Saving money on your bench but having it fall apart quickly didn’t actually save you money at all in the long run. Your bench will take a beating. Make sure you buy one that can take it!
As you can see, a quality bench is an important piece of gear for your gym. And that piece of gear will come at a price. You simply shouldn’t go cheap when it comes to buying a bench.
That said, it certainly doesn’t mean that your bench should cost a fortune. There are a lot of overpriced options out there too (cough, cough, Rogue, cough, cough). They are overbuilt, overpriced, and a complete waste of money for most home gym owners.
Armed with a few pieces of important knowledge, you should be able to find a great bench that meets your needs perfectly. It won’t be cheap but it won’t break the bank either. Now, on to finding the best weight bench for you!
How much room do you have?
It doesn’t matter how nice of a bench you buy, if you don’t have anywhere to put it, it won’t matter. Home gyms can often be crammed into the smaller, unused spaces of our homes. Sometimes, they need to be able to disappear altogether because they share space with others in our family.
Other people may be luckier. They get the use of the entire basement. They take over both bays of a two-car garage. Space isn’t at a premium and that opens up options not possible in tighter quarters.
Knowing how much room you realistically have to work with will help you choose the right bench (or sometimes benches) for you. Think about not only how much space you have when using your bench, but think about where your bench will live when you aren’t using it. Where will it go when you need it out of the way?
And speaking of that, what if you need it to completely go away when not in use? Those of you carving out space in a small apartment to train know exactly what I mean. In that case, you’ll want something that folds down flat to store under the bed or in another out of the way place.
Fixed or adjustable?
Once you know the space requirements of your particular situation, you are now equipped to make the first decision in buying your new bench. Fixed or adjustable?
You are going to want to be able to work from, at minimum, a flat surface and an inclined surface. For those with a lot of space to work with, you have room for two or more fixed benches. A common set up here would be a flat and incline at minimum, and a third bench, a decline bench, in many cases. All separate and all dedicated to a single purpose.
For those of us without all that room, we need to consider the versatility of an adjustable bench. That’s why for me, an adjustable FID bench was the absolute right choice. FID stands for flat, incline, and decline. One bench to serve all three purposes. One bench to rule them all (sorry, I couldn’t help myself)!
Adjustable benches have another advantage over fixed aside from space savings. When it comes to the incline settings, you have more choices on an adjustable than a fixed. A fixed incline bench is typically static at about a 45-degree angle. A good adjustable will give you several steps between 0 and almost 90 degrees!
Which is right for you? Only you can answer that question, but I usually suggest the adjustable option. Not only will it be more versatile and take up less space, but it will also be better on the pocketbook.
I’d rather spend my home gym budget on one great adjustable bench instead of several middle of the road fixed benches.
How adjustable is it?
I already referenced that adjustable FID benches can be flat, incline, or decline. I even talked about how there are several choices when it comes to the number of degrees of incline. But there’s more to adjustability than that.
First, how many different angles of incline are available? While you want several (shoot for 3-4), you don’t want infinite. Some benches have a sliding adjustment that allows you to lock them at literally any number of degrees.
This isn’t the best option as these mechanisms typically wear over time and are not as secure as fixed incline steps. Fixed steps also makes it easier to regularly set the bench at the same angle every time. With the infinite adjustments, it takes extra work to get them to be at the same spot you used previously.
The mechanism which adjusts the bench should be considered as well. I recommend sticking to the “ladder” type adjustments where possible. This is a simple and easy to use method of adjustment where a bar rests in grooves cut out in the support of the bench.
Other types of benches have spring loaded pins that you pull out, adjust, and then let pop back into holes drilled in the support of the bench. These are harder to use and can sometimes not seat properly.
The type of adjuster isn’t a deal breaker, but if you can get the ladder style, that’s ideal.
Minor adjustments are not necessary and are less stable. Stay away from the benches with infinite adjustments. Go for a bench with solidly selectable positions that are fixed at easy to set intervals. This will ensure consistency from training session to training session. It’s safer because of the way these benches lock into position too.
If you need to make minor adjustments, that’s easily achieved by putting a plate or two under the feet of your bench. Even this is rarely needed.
You’ll also want to make sure that it’s not just the back that adjusts. A big part of comfort and stability when a bench is inclined is the ability to tilt the seat portion up as well. Otherwise, when doing incline movements, you could end up feeling like you are sliding off the end of the bench.
The anatomy of a bench
A big part of knowing how to buy a great bench is becoming familiar with its different parts, their function, and what makes that part good or not. Let’s take a run through the full anatomy of a weight bench.
The frame of the bench should be made from heavy gauge steel. While most bench mfrs. won’t tell you what the gauge is, they will tell you what their bench weighs. If the adjustable bench you are looking at weighs in at or around 35-40 lbs., it’s probably made of pretty thin steel.
On the other hand, if it weighs 75 lbs. or more, you can bet it’s built from heavy gauge steel and you are well on your way to what constitutes a durable, solid, and long-lasting bench.
It’s also important to look at how the frame is built. Is it bolted together? Welded? You want welded as much as possible. All benches will have some bolts, but you want the major joints to be welded.
This is key to having a bench that lasts a lifetime. It’s also a huge safety factor as bolts can come loose and fall off. You only find out about that when the bench is under load. And that’s the worst possible time for your bench to fail.
Legs, as you would probably guess, provide the support for a bench. They should be sturdy, made of heavy gauge steel, and be welded to the main body support. Just like you want the frame to have more welds than bolts, the same is true of the legs.
At the base of the legs are feet. There should be at least some form of foot on the bottom of each leg. The wider that foot, the more stable each leg will be. Those feet shouldn’t be too wide, though. Otherwise, they’ll get in the way.
Speaking of getting in the way, the number of legs is important as well. What you’ll notice is that better benches only have 3 legs, not 4. At first glance, this seems counter-intuitive. With a second look, it makes a ton of sense.
The most stable way to support something is on 3 points of support. This is why camera tripods have 3 legs. With 4 legs, it’s easy to have wobble (see every table at a restaurant ever!). With 3 it’s virtually impossible to wobble.
When loaded with you and the weight you are training with, the last thing you want in a bench is a wobble. 3 legs prevent this.
Another reason to have only 3 legs lies in the location of the 3rd leg (insert your own dirty joke here). It should be located at the foot, or bottom end, of the bench. This allows you to bring your feet back under you and closer to the centerline when bench pressing. With only one leg, it won’t get in your way.
One of the keys to a powerful bench press is using leg drive. This is a lot harder with a 4 legged bench. Those legs get in your way. With a single leg at the foot end of the bench, you have nothing getting in the way of setting yourself up for solid leg drive during your bench press.
The last benefit of 3 legged benches is that they usually have a handle attached to the single leg and wheels attaches to the to legs at the head end. This allows you to easily pick up one end of the bench and wheel it around your gym. I would never, ever buy a bench that doesn’t have this feature.
Once you know you are dealing with a well built, solid, and safe bench, you also need to make sure that the pad that sits on top has several qualities as well. After all, that’s where you interact with the bench. It’s what you’ll be touching every time you use your bench.
For starters, the pad needs to be securely fastened to the frame. It can’t wobble, wiggle, or otherwise move. Luckily, if you have a strong frame, you’ll by default have a well-connected pad. It’s not something you need to ask about specifically.
Where it does come into play is when you are buying used (see my guide to buying used gear here). Make sure the pad is securely connected. That’s one place that a lot of used benches have seen repair. Many times it’s a sub-par repair job leaving you at risk.
You’ll want to make sure the pad is of good width. The Thompson fat pad, considered the best aftermarket pad for a flat bench measures 14.5” wide. For an adjustable, you won’t need something that wide, but you will want something in the 12” range.
For thickness, 2” or more is ideal. You want enough padding to support you and the weight you are training with. It needs to be comfortable, yet also uniform. It needs to compress evenly and spring back evenly when unloaded.
The pad itself contributes in part to your safety. It guards your body from bruising and injury by cushioning the contact points between you and the bench. If you are looking at a well built bench from a reputable company (read that as a company you can find other places in addition to Amazon), odds are it will have a good pad.
The pad covering will usually be vinyl. But all vinyl is not created equally. Some is slick as ice. Some is tacky and grippy. Some is thin and will tear, wear, and rip easily. Some is thick and durable.
What you are going for is thicker vinyl that has some grip to it. You want to be able to drive your shoulders into the bench during a bench press without them sliding. You also want to have it for years without it developing tears or holes in it.
Even the best benches will be a little slick, so here’s a cheap hack that works amazingly well. Get yourself some rubber drawer liner (see the image below) that you can get here on Amazon. Cut a rectangle of it and lay it on top of the bench under your shoulders.
You can buy $50 bench press shirts or $50 bench wraps. Or you can cut yourself a piece of drawer liner and have something that works better than both at a fraction of the cost. I bring this up because even the best benches lack good grip. I recommend this hack no matter the bench you use.
Mind the gap
Much has been made about the gap in an adjustable bench. That’s the space between the back and the seat. It’s a big enough concern that many bench manufacturers have built specific “no gap” benches. Priced at a significant premium of course!
The idea is that when laying on the bench, a flat, gapless surface is more comfortable, stable, and less distracting. It does feel weird when part of your body is laying across or in the gap. But should this matter to you? There are three reasons it may not.
First let’s consider the arch in your back. My original bench (the Body Solid GFID 225) had a pretty large gap. Did it bother me? No. Whenever I lay down on the bench, I simply made sure the gap was under the arch of my lower back. I never touched or felt the gap.
Next, let’s consider the size of the back pad on your bench. My current bench (the Rep Fitness AB3000) has a nice, long back pad. Even at 6’6”, I can fit my entire torso, butt to head, on the main pad. The gap doesn’t even come into play.
Last, let’s consider your height. I’m tall, so the longer pad of the Rep Fitness bench I use works great for me. The shorter you are, the more benches will work for you in this manner. If you are 5’5” tall, I can’t think of a quality bench out there that wouldn’t support your entire torso without the gap coming into play.
So, is the price premium of a no-gap bench worthwhile? In my opinion, for most average home gym owners, it isn’t. Personally, I wouldn’t pay a single extra dollar to simply get rid of the gap. That’s me, though. Your mileage may vary and it’s something you need to consider when shopping for your bench.
Remember, the goal is to buy a bench that you keep for a long time. There is nothing worse than owning something that bothers you every time you use it. If the gap will be an issue for you, and you can’t work around it, then spring for a no-gap bench. Just be prepared for the price difference.
Buying your bench
So let’s put all this together and get you a bench! Follow the simple advice below and you’ll end up with a great bench that will fit your needs and you’ll love for years to come!
What should a good bench cost?
The answer to this question will vary by both bench type as well as what quality level you are after. In general, though, you can expect to spend the following on a quality bench in each of the listed types.
Flat bench – $150.00
Adjustable FID bench – $250-$450
Adjustable FID no gap bench – $500+
If you stick to these general guidelines, you can be pretty sure that the bench you are buying has most or all of the qualities listed above that you should look for.
Where to buy
Or better yet, where not to buy!
I’m a huge fan of Amazon. I shop there almost weekly. I’m a Prime member and an affiliate. I have nothing bad to say about them at all. That said, I don’t think they are the right place to buy a bench.
There is too much crap cluttering up your selection. So many companies that are simply rebranding the same cheap gear, adding pretty marketing copy and a ton of fake reviews, and taking advantage of people.
You are almost always better off buying directly from the mfr. website when it comes to benches. You’ll often get lower pricing, faster shipping, and better customer service. You will also often find color and finish options not available on Amazon’s listings.
I’d also stay away from Rogue in this category (go ahead and start sending your hate mail now, Rogue fans). If you were building a commercial gym, Rogue would be the absolute best choice (along with Elite FTS). But you aren’t building a commercial gym, you are putting together a home gym!
While Rogue benches are really well made, they are overpriced. You can get benches that are as good and often better at much lower prices elsewhere.
And that brings me to where I think most people should buy their benches. Rep Fitness. In my opinion, when it comes to weight benches perfect for the home and garage gym enthusiast, you simply can’t do any better than a bench from Rep Fitness.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that ALL of their benches are the best choice. In fact, of the 12 or so benches they make, only 3 of them are benches I regularly recommend. But man oh man are those three benches awesome!
So let’s take a look at those 3 benches so you can get on with your life, order a bench, and start training!
Best weight bench recommendations for your home gym
Dont’ want to wade through site after site after site of bench options? Want to buy a great bench without doing a ton of research? I’ve got you covered.
I overanalyze everything (just ask my girlfriend). I put way too much thought, time, and research into pretty much every purchase I make. Buying a bench for my home gym was no exception. Not only did I do hours of research, I actually sought out as many different benches as I could in real life to test out and try.
Based on that research, I’m confident that if you go with one of the following benches, you’ll be thrilled with your purchase. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other solid options out there, it just means that for the money, these are, hand down, some of the best options available to you.
Best budget bench:
Rep Fitness FB-4000 (check the current pricing here on Rep Fitness)
Usually around $120, this is the best budget flat bench out there. Yes, it’s $20 more than some other strong budge offerings, but it’s the only one at this price point with three leg construction, critical to the bench’s stability.
Best flat bench:
Rep Fitness FB-5000 (check the current pricing here on Rep Fitness)
Usually around $150 and sometimes on sale for less, this is an amazing bench that tics all the boxes outlined in this article. Worth the price for the pad alone!
Best adjustable bench:
Rep Fitness AB-3000 (check the current pricing here on Rep Fitness)
I like this better than the more expensive AB-3100 and it usually comes in around $250. In my opinion, this is the absolute perfect bench for 90% of all home gym owners.
If you take nothing else from this article, please take this one important point…
Your bench, along with your barbell, is one of the two most important pieces of gear you will buy. These two items are the ones that you absolutely don’t want to go cheap on. You’ll be sorry you did in both cases. Please, do the right thing and buy nice the first time. You’ll be happy you did!
Whether that’s one of the Rep benches listed above, an overpriced Rogue bench, a built like a tank Elite FTS model or something else you’ve found that meets the criteria of a great bench, I hope you get one you love.
Having a bench you love to use, is safe, reliable, solid, and comfortable will help you enjoy every training session just that much more. Good luck and happy training!