A lot of the articles on this site address the issues of space and budget constraints. Building a great home gym when you are short on space and/or money can be challenging at best. But what if you have both space and the budget? What then?
Even after limited casual shopping, you’ll find more home gym equipment than you could ever possibly use. It’s a big part of why I put this website together.
All home gyms need 3 things: Room to train, resistance to train with, and an indoor cardio option. Resistance is usually a barbell, rack, plates, and dumbells, but can be as simple as bands or kettlebells. Indoor cardio includes treadmills, ellipticals, and rowers but even a jump rope can work great.
I’ve spent a lot of time and money buying equipment I felt was “essential”. Turns out that most of it wasn’t. A lot of it was fun. But I could have done without a lot of it. To hopefully make things easier (and far less expensive) for you, I’ve put together a list of what I feel is essential in any home gym.
What is “essential”?
A good place to start is by telling you what essential doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean useful. Lots of things are useful yet not essential. It doesn’t mean good. Lots of gear is really good, but again, not essential. It doesn’t mean my favorites.
Much of my “favorite” gear will not make this list.
It’s that last point that tends to convolute most compilations like this. One of my favorite articles written about the equipment every gym must have listed a sandbag in the top 5 pieces. A sandbag is useful, a great piece of gear, and even one of my favorites.
But I’m sorry, a sandbag is definitely NOT essential. It’s just something the author of that article really liked.
So what then, is essential? For me, it’s equipment without which you don’t have a fully functional home gym. Without it, you can’t train effectively. It’s the stuff that can’t be substituted for or done without. I can both substitute for and do without a sandbag.
Essential for what?
If you’ve read many of my articles here on Gym Crafter, you’ll know that I’m a huge proponent of knowing what you are training for before making any other decisions. Determining what is essential in a home gym is no different.
Some training goals will require equipment that I don’t list here. Some sports specific training will dictate quite a few things that I won’t include.
That’s why I’ve written several articles on creating sports and activity-specific home gyms. In those articles, you’ll find what I feel is essential for those specific activities.
In this article, I’m going to stick to what I feel is the core of a great home gym. I’ll hold to the pieces of equipment I feel everyone should have. These will be the things that I feel are foundational to every home gym.
No matter your sport or activity of choice, the core of a home gym should, in my opinion, be composed of the following items. If you have the room and the budget, these are the must haves.
Resistance training is king
There are a lot of fads in training. They come and go like the wind. They become fashionable and popular and then die away only to be replaced by the next one.
What stays true through all that is resistance training. It’s the single most versatile and effective method of building strength, health, skill, power, speed, and overall wellness that ever has been or ever will be.
There is simply no substitute for training with weights!
That’s a strong statement and I know not everyone agrees. But it’s true nonetheless. When you look at all-cause mortality in elderly people, virtually all causes could be eliminated or improved through resistance training.
Resistance training improves your overall hormonal profile. It builds agility and prevents falls. It builds strength to protect from injury. It slows aging. It boosts mitochondrial function. It aids in the ability to heal from injury and infection. The list of benefits could go on almost forever!
This is why this list is composed of the must-have items you’ll need to do resistance training at home. With the exception of one item, everything else is designed for this goal.
If you have people telling you that you are too old, too injured, too fragile, too weak, or too anything else for resistance training, I would advise you to look elsewhere for advice.
Build your home gym to facilitate a great weight training program and never look back!!!
Prioritizing your purchases
I’m going to list these essential gym items in the order they should be purchased. I’m sure a case could be made for altering this order, but if you came to me tomorrow and asked me what you should buy, I’d give you this list and tell you to buy it in order from top to bottom.
This is for two reasons. The first is that the items at the top are more versatile than those at the bottom. You can do more with the earlier items on the list than the later.
The second reason is that the items at the top of the list will generate more results than those below. You’ll build more muscle, strength, and athletic ability using item number one than you will item number nine.
The big three
If I was to pick the most essential out of this list of 9 must have items for your home gym, it would be the first three. These three give you the biggest bang for your workout buck. They will provide the most visible and noticeable results of anything on the list.
A quality barbell
As the only thing you actually touch when weight training (outside of dumbbells which we’ll discuss later), this has to be at the top of the list. Not to mention you can’t really weight train without it.
I won’t go into how to pick a great barbell here (I already wrote a really great in depth guide for you that you can see here), but I do want to take a moment and discuss the reason I recommend a “quality” barbell.
If you look on Amazon, there are a plethora of cheap barbells. While I’m not saying you should spend a ton of money, I am saying to avoid the cheapest options.
A cheap barbell will corrode very quickly. The finish will chip and crack. It will not have a quality knurl and will either be hard to grip or tear up your hands. It will squeak and rattle and eventually fall apart under even the lightest use. Some will even bend easily and become totally unusable.
If you just want my quick recommendations, I have two.
For those of you on a budget, there is no better barbell than the CAP OB86. Also known as “The Beast”, it’s your single best choice in a lower priced bar. Because a lot of bars go by the model “OB86” (it just means “Olympic Bar 86 inches long”) and most of them are junk, follow this link to get to the right one!
If you want my favorite bar, that’s the American Barbel Grizzly Power Bar. It’s what I reach for every time I train and if I had to buy another bar today, this is the one I’d buy. It’s only available on the American Barbell site and before you buy a bar, you need to check it out by clicking here!
***Update. While I still own and love the Grizzly bar, the bar that I now train with daily is the Stainless Steel Power Bar V2 by Rep Fitness. If it fits your budget, THIS is the bar to buy for most home gym owners!!!
Always start your home gym with a great barbell. It’s a foundational piece of gear that will allow you to train effectively for years to come.
A squat rack
This will probably be your biggest investment when building a home gym. Item number 3 may come close, but for most, it will be a rack. It doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg, but you should budget for something nice. If you do, it will last you forever.
It’s really important not to make a mistake on higher dollar items like this. Because of that, I put a ton of effort into a complete step by step guide to selecting the best squat rack for your needs that you can see here.
A rack is what allows you to get your barbell in position for most lifts. Without it, you will never be able to squat or press meaningful weight. This is especially important when training alone.
Speaking of training alone, your rack is also your spotter. With the inclusion of built-in safety and spotting devices, your rack will allow you to lift heavy without the risk of serious injury. This is a huge benefit of a garage or basement gym!
Also, a rack will typically have one or more integrated pull up bars. I would recommend buying one separately if this wasn’t the case, but luckily, you’ll get one already built into any quality rack.
Make sure to check out my recommended racks page here. I’ve taken the time to list the racks that I think are amazing in several different size and budget ranges. I’ve used and tested all of them and am confident that you’ll find one that’s perfect for you on that page!
If you just want to see what I recommend and would buy if building my gym today, it’s these two…
The rack I own and love is the Titan Fitness X-3. It won’t break the bank and is built to last. It’s so popular it’s often sold out, so check to see if one is available for you over on the Titan site here!
If that’s not in stock, or if you want something equally good but that come in some really cool color options, definitely look at the Rep Fitness PR-4000 and all of its options here!
A set of weight plates
Rounding out the top three essential home gym items is a set of weight plates. In reality, items one through three all compliment each other. You can’t really use one without the other.
As with the first two, I wrote a complete guide to selecting the best weight plates for your home gym that you can see here. There’s a lot to choose from and that guide will walk you through the complex land of materials and types and wildly varying prices.
I’ve also written a nice piece on how many plates you’ll need. Once you decide on the type of plates you want, you’ll have to decide on how many.
Or, just head over to the Fringe Sport website to see what I think are the best bumper plates any home gym owner could want. They aren’t the most expensive, but they are by far your best choice!
No matter the type or the amount you decide on, you’ll find that once you add the plates to the bar and the rack, you can start using your home gym to great effect. There’s very little you won’t be able to do. But of course that’s where the next items on this list come in!
The next three
While you can do a whole lot with the first three items on this list, I don’t think they make a complete home gym. There are still some items left that fill “essential” roles. That’s where the next three items come into play.
While not as important as many might think, a bench is still a critical component of your home gym. Getting your body safely in the correct position for some exercises is a key function of a solid bench.
Another key function is allowing you to do exercises not possible without one. Basic exercises like the bench press come to mind, but others like chest supported dumbbell rows are also in the mix. Having a stable adjustable bench facilitates a wide array of movements not possible without one.
I recommend an adjustable bench for both cost and space-saving reasons, but I know several people who use multiple fixed position benches to great effect. It really comes down to how much room and how much money you have.
In my opinion, the absolute best bang for the buck adjustable bench for the home gym is the Rep Fitness AB3000. It is reasonably priced, built like a tank, has every option you would want or need in a bench, and is a bench I cannot recommend highly enough!
I recommend you always buy Rep Fitness direct from them. You’ll get more options, faster shipping, and better service than ordering their products through other sites. Check out the AB3000 on Rep Fitness here!
For those who want to buy their “forever bench”, the one that will be the first, last, and ONLY bench you’ll ever need, step up to the Rep Fitness AB-5200. It’s what I train on every day and I wouldn’t use anything else!
I’ve written quite a bit about this implement. As I was putting together my own garage workout space, I bought adjustable dumbbells before any of the first three items on this list.
Dumbbells have multiple benefits. They are critical for isolation movements, provide an improved level of safety, and facilitate movement patterns not possible with a barbell.
My favorite benefit of using dumbbells is that they recruit stabilizing muscles that a barbell does not. The recruited muscle fibers of a dumbbell overhead press are far different than that of the barbell version. The same can be said of quite a few different movements.
You can also go lighter with dumbbells than with other pieces of equipment. This is critical in many ways. In some cases, even a 45 lb. unloaded barbell is too much weight. This is where dumbbells come into play.
To see why I recommend an adjustable set for most home gyms, you can see my full article here. To see which dumbbells I use and recommend, see my recommended dumbbell page here.
Or skip all of that and just go buy a set of PowerBlocks adjustable dumbbells (See all the options here on Amazon). They are a considerably better choice than their closest competitor by BowFlex and the only set of adjustables I would ever buy.
While I own and use quite a few different kettlebells, when it comes to recommending what is essential, all you need is one. This, of course, assumes you are using it in addition to the aforementioned barbell and dumbbells.
A single kettlebell was my original home gym. That combined with Pavel Tsatsouline’s book “Kettlebell Simple and Sinister” got me through almost an entire year of home training. In that year I gained size, strength, and stamina. All with only one bell.
One of the biggest benefits of kettlebell training is their simplicity. The number of movements you can perform with a single bell is staggering. The list of benefits of using one in conjunction with traditional free weight training is equally impressive.
If you are buying only one, a common question is what weight to buy. When using a kettlebell as a supplement to standard resistance training implements, I’d go with a 45-50 lb bell for men and a 30-35 lb bell for women.
The primary movement these will be used for is swings, but get ups, presses, snatches, and carries all come to mind an key movements you can perform with that single bell.
***Before anyone gets all bent out of shape, this is a general recommendation. Pick a weight that is challenging for you regardless of your sex.
As for which kettlebells to buy, I’ll refer back to Pavel: “If you get quality bells and take care of them, they will outlive you. You might as well get good ones.” I have several recommendations that will fit this description on my recommended kettlebells page here.
If you want to go straight to the only place I’ll ever buy kettlebells from again, check out the kettlebells by Rep Fitness by clicking here. They make incredibly high-quality bells and sell them at really reasonable prices.
The final three
I guess technically speaking you could live without these last three. But I’m still going to include them as “essential” because the roles they fill are essential. You could use different implements, but I strongly feel that for each role, these are the best choices for the job.
The category these fall into is suspension training. Until you’ve used something in this category, you may not see just how amazingly impactful this type of training can be.
There are several well known suspension training devices and I review the two most popular (TRX and standard rings) in an in depth comparison you can see here. In the end, for a dedicated home gym space, I think that traditional gymnastic rings are the best choice. Especially since high-quality rings don’t cost much! Check out this set for under $40 that Rep Fitness makes!
There’s simply no better way to do bodyweight pushups, pullups, dips, and rows. They are easy to loop over the pull up bar that’s already on your rack. They are inexpensive and one of the most versatile pieces of gear you could own.
Sure, I guess you could train without them. But once you’ve owned and used them, you’ll never go back to training without them again! And that’s why they are on this list.
I’m going to list two kinds of rope here, but they both serve the same purpose. So far I’ve only addressed implements for resistance training. Now is where I deviate from that and throw in one conditioning tool.
There are a million different ways to get conditioning into your program. You could go run hill sprints. You could get an air assault bike or rower. There are lots of options. So in the end, I guess the two items I list here are my preferences more than anything. But I’ll still put them up against any other option when it comes to effectiveness.
What’s essential is that you have something for conditioning. It’s good for your heart. It’s good for your stamina. It’s good for your overall health and well being. In other words, conditioning is definitely a “must have”.
For me, that comes in the form of either a battle rope or a jump rope. If it’s nice outside, I prefer jumping rope. If not, I’ll go indoors with a battle rope. In either case, they are ideal conditioning tools.
In just 10-20 minutes 1-2 times a week, these simple and cost effective tools can impart benefits that last your entire life. Get yourself a rope or two, you won’t regret it.
Battle ropes can get expensive unless you know where to look. It’s amazing to me what people want to charge for a 50’ length of rope with some tape on the end! To me the best value is this set over on Titan Fitness. Don’t forget this anchor so that you can securely attach them to your rack!
For jump ropes, there are too many options to list. I own a few, but my favorite for those that don’t want to spend much and still get a great rope is this set by WOD Nation. You can get it over on Amazon for a really reasonable price!
This one is simple. If you are injured, you can’t use your home gym. Of all the things I’ve used to alleviate aches and pains as well as warm-up to lift safely, resistance bands are by far the best.
With the right assortment, you can also use them to enhance your weight training by attaching them to your barbell. They can even be used to assist with pull-ups and dips for those not strong enough to do those movements unaided.
You can pick up a set up 4-6 bands relatively cheaply and they will serve you well for a very long time. Don’t go too cheap, though. Having a band snap mid pull can be extraordinarily painful.
In my opinion, you can’t do any better than a set from the Rubber Banditz. Check out their pricing and resistance levels here on Amazon.
The Most Essential of all
If you build a home gym with the above 9 items, you’ll have all you need to train at home for years to come. You won’t ever find yourself wanting for anything when it comes to effective resistance training in your garage or basement.
That said, I want to add a 10th essential… Consistency.
You can have the best gym in the world, but if you don’t use it regularly, you’ll get nothing from it. Consistency is the key to your results above all else.
So go build yourself an amazing home gym. Start with these essentials. And then use them consistently to build a strong and healthy body.