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Building a home gym is almost as complicated as choosing furniture for a new house. Whether it’s in your garage, your basement or in a dedicated building like The Rocks, there are a few tools every serious lifter needs.
You need to have a vision in your head of the end result before you start shopping so you can stay focused and only purchase the “garage gym must-haves“.
Similar to home decor, there are many tools within the home workout space that are deemed “less-than-essential”.
These include super isolation-focused tools that are not used frequently in exercise programs. These must be ignored.
Instead, the focus for building the most efficient, all-in-one home gym should be on acquiring workout equipment that solves your basic compound lifting needs of squatting, bench pressing, and deadlifting.
Again, we can take a cue from Dwayne The Rock Johnson. He has perhaps the most glorious home gym in the world.
You don’t have to get to THIS level but The Rock’s gym should definitely be able to give you some inspiration on types of equipment and optimal space utilization.
These types of compound lifts will contribute to 80% of your overall gains so making sure you have quality equipment to perform them correctly is essential.
What Exercises/Lifts Must Be Covered
We break down the tools required to complete your compound lifts like benching, squatting and deadlifting but also can be used for variations of these lifts including incline/decline benching, overhead pressing, and barbell rowing. Because so many core lifts are included we consider the below reviewed equipment to be “home gym essentials” for any serious bodybuilder or powerlifter.
*Note this is a list of “must have” pieces of equipment. There are tons of fun pieces of equipment you can add on top of this list later on, but we recommend you focus on covering these basics first!
1. A Tall Sturdy Power Rack
A power rack is a steel cage with multiple cutouts and supports that can be used as a squatting platform, benching platform and deadlifting platform.
Most quality power racks also have built-in pull-up bars and a large variety of attachments that allow for maximum versatility in a small space.
There are other steel cages designed for more specific exercises. For example half racks are designed for squatting, bench racks for benching, etc.
If you happen to have a ton of space and a massive budget then it can be nice to have a dedicated bench set up and a dedicated squat area as well so you don’t constantly have to re-adjust your safety pins and benches.
If you are on a tight budget however a power rack is the best bang-for-your buck in terms of versatility, functionality and of course, price.
Below are some of the best options when it comes to makes and models of power racks.
The Titan T-3: Reddit’s Favorite Power Rack
When it comes to reviewing aggregate opinions on pretty much any subject Reddit stands out as a go-to option because of it’s stringent publishing moderation and popularity among younger lifters.
Doing a quick perusal of recommendations and you will regularly see Titan Fitness’s T3 mentioned as a solid all-arounder.
The T3 has all the features you need like adjustable barbell hooks, adjustable safety pins, built-in pull-up bar, and built-in weight racking pins.
- Now includes version 2 uprights featuring 6" side hole spacing.
- T-3 Series of Power Racks contain 2"x3" steel tubes.
- 1,100 LB rackable capacity and 4,400 LB total rack capacity.
Titan has a few variations of the T3 as well including a folding version and short rack version for those really pushed for space as well.
The power rack will be the fixture of your home gym, so this is where you should look to invest most of your budget.
Weights can be had for cheap in solid iron form and benches and dumbbells can also be had for cheap s they are more simple in design and construction.
If you have a few extra hundred dollars it would be worth looking at a more advanced power rack system that integrates more options such as the Fitness Reality X-Class Light Commercial rack system.
Fitness Reality’s X-Class Review: The X-Men’s Rack of Choice
While most power racks can only be used for body weight and barbell related exercises the X-Class Commercial Gym from Fitness Reality features an integrated cable pulley system which triples the functionality of the rack.
- 1500 lbs of real weight capacity with 2" x 3" tubular steel frame construction. A BONUS pair of J-Hooks included
- Two adjustable 2"x 20" high Density rubber grip dip handles with user weight capacity of 600 lbs
- Two 11.5" safety bars and two 35.5" dual mounted safety bars with each set combined weight capacity of 1500 lbs. Compatible with 7' Olympic bars
Now instead of just free-weight barbell movements you can incorporate cable exercises as well.
This is great for the type of isolation work bodybuilders need to build out smaller muscle groups that are not necessarily targeted with bigger compound lifts.
The X-Class is heavily re-enforced, with more steel used than the gold standard Titan T3, and it also has a built-in vertical pulley system so you can get in cable rows, curls, pull-downs and tricep extension work in as well.
Stand alone cable systems usually take up massive amounts of space so having a power rack that incorporates this even resistance training equipment is a huge win for bodybuilders.
If you are purely into strength training and power lifting then you can probably skip the cable system as you’ll be spending 95% of your time with the basic barbell movements.
2. A Olympic-Weight Barbell & Weight Set
Once you have the foundation of your home gym established in a power rack setup then you will need to look at acquiring some actual weights to move in/on it!
While your power rack provides the framework of your exercise program it’s the weights themselves that turn gravity into gains.
We recommend first checking your local neighborhood classifieds, second-hand equipment stores and even donation centers like Goodwill and St. Vincents to see if they have any weights.
The reason being is weights are heavy and thus getting them shipped can sometimes be a bit of a hassle.
If you can’t find any rusty old iron plates at your local stores then ordering online will be necessary.
In terms of ordering brand new you don’t have to be picky, look for something simple with an overall high aggregate review score.
Rep Fitness Bumper Plates: Affordability & Solid Online Reviews
There isn’t any fancy technology associated with weights, which means as a shopper you only have to focus on quality and price.
The king of bumper plate manufacturers is Rep Fitness as they strike a beautiful balance between price and quality.
A quick search on Amazon shoes them having the highest average user reviews for their bumper plate category. They are also extremely price competitive.
- HIGH PERFORMANCE: 250 lb Set of Olympic Bumper Plates, Includes Two Pair of: 45 lb Plates, One Pair of: 25, 10 lb Plates, Solid Rubber with Steel Inserts. Fits Olympic Bar with 2 inch sleeves
- CROSS TRAINING ESSENTIALS: A good bumper plate set is the centerpiece for modern HIIT training. Perform Olympic lifts, squats, and deadlifts safely and confidently with our tough, 100% rubber bumper plates. Perfect for large training facilities, garage...
- SUPERIOR DESIGN: We made our 10 lb plates extra thick for high durability, while the 45 lb plates are thinner so you can fit more weight on your bar. Plus, our bumpers are extremely low odor and won't stink up your gym. Our plates are made from virgin...
We recommend bumper plates if you can only buy one set as they allow more variety of lifting in the long-run.
With bumper plates you can try olympic lifting like the snatch or clean and jerk which regularly involves dropping the weights on the floor.
The bumpers also help protect your cement floor from chips and cracking associated with regular bombardment of heavy weight.
Rep Fitness has both plain black plates as well as colored plates and precision weighted olympic plates.
Personally we’d just go with the plain black plages since we’re into bodybuilding but if you plant to do any powerlifting investing in olympic standard plates might be a good idea so you have solid continuity between home training and official meets/performances.
CAP Barbell: Old School King of Iron
If you are purely into bodybuilding and don’t plan on doing any sort of olympic lifting that involves crashing weights then save yourself some money and just buy cast iron plates.
- CONSTRUCTION - Made of solid cast iron with a machined center hole and coated in a durable, black baked enamel finish. These Olympic weight plates have a 2-inch center hole to accommodate Olympic bars.
- FEATURES - The black baked enamel coating ensures a durable, reliable weight that will last through grueling workouts. Raised silver numbers help to easily identify weight size.
- VERSATILE - Weight plates can be used to perform muscle strengthening exercises and endurance training, and to increase flexibility and balance. A single weight plate can also be used for warm-up exercises.
Cast iron is great because it A) lasts for freaking ever and B) sounds cool as hell when they clank together as you perform your lifts.
All of the biggest names in bodybuilding from Phil Heath to Ronnie Coleman to Arnold himself trained with iron plates.
Having a home gym stocked with iron plates instantly tells any visitor you’re a no-nonsense kind of old-school lifter, whereas colored bumper plates maybe cause people to think you’re a mere Crossfit fiend.
CAP’s Olympic Plate set has all the required weight increments, from 2.5 pound plates up to 100 pound plates.
We recommend ordering 1 set of 100lb plates, 2 sets of 45lb plates, 2 sets of 10lb plates, 1 set of 5lb plates and 1 set of 2.5lb plates weights.
This spread of weights should cover any combination you could want including pyramid sets and drop sets.
3. A Sturdy Multi-Function Adjustable Bench
When we say bench we mean only a bench. Most benches are small, narrow, and feeble setups designed with built-in bench pressing features like a barbell mount.
For a squat rack though all you need is a sturdy bench without any added features.
The only things required are a firm, broad panel for back support, a broad stand system to prevent tipping, and adjustable incline angles.
For example you’ll want to be able to put the bench at an incline angle to target your pecs, or at a 90-degree angle to perform delt-destroying military presses.
Conversely, you can just keep it flat for benching and most importantly one-arm dumbbell rows as demonstrated by Arnold below:
A broad back pad is important for support during heavy bench pressing. A sturdy base is important for all lifts as a stable foundation is critical for pushing heavy weights.
The ability to incline allows the user to perform incline pressing, military pressing, and other modified rowing exercises as well.
Once again CAP Barbell comes through with an adjustable weightlifting bench that strikes the perfect balance between affordability and quality.
- Full size utility bench; Assembled specifications are 53"L x 27"W x 45"H (in upright position)
- Use weight bench alone or with dumbbells or resistance bands/tubes or use with the CAP FM-CB8008 Ultimate Power Cage (Not included) for more options
- Weight Bench features all steel construction
With a solid steel constructed frame, nice wide back support and fully adjustable back and seat segments the CAP Deluxe Utility Bench is an amazing value proposition at the price point.
If you have the space then you might want to get a dedicated bench press setup in addition to your power rack and bench combination.
The benefits of having a dedicated bench press setup is usually a broader back that is more stable as it’s fixed in place in the horizontal position, in addition to a weight rack position that doesn’t require repositioning after different type of lifts.
In terms of fixed benchpress setups look for solid steel construction, broad back support and a stable barbell racking system.
The guys over at Muscle Kiss have written up a great post on their favorite bench press setup that’s worth reading if you’re going down this road.
4. Dumbbells For Greater Exercise Variety
Dumbbells are a tough one because there’s no way around it, they can be quite expensive simply because of the weight variety you’ll need.
Unlike plate weights, the sheer variety of exercises that require dumbbells also means you’ll need a huge variety in weight increments.
For example you’ll want light 2.5lb and 5lb sets of dumbbells for performing movements like rear delt flyes or warm up movements.
You’ll also want a pair of 50+ pounders for doing heavy rowing and pressing.
Thus, for maximum flexibility you’ll want dumbbells ranging from 2.5lbs up to 50lbs beyond your current maximum potential (to allot for progress you’ll make over the years).
We highly recommend you go to a local used fitness equipment store to get your dumbbells. Invest in fixed-weight dumbbells.. the adjustable ones are a huge pain in the ass.
Adjustable dumbbells take forever to change weights, the little plates get lost, and the screws on the end never stay secure or get rusted in place.
Trust us, you are MUCH better off getting old fashioned fixed weight dumbbells.
Another solution would be to get a lock-adjusted dumbbell set like those offered by Bowflex. Yes, we know, “that” brand.
What started as an informercial gimmick company has actually grown into a solid home gym brand.
While we think some of their “all-in-one” training solutions are a bit… impractical, we have to admit their adjustable dumbbell system is a feat of engineering.
The Bowflex SelectTech 552 setup for example has stellar user reviews on Amazon and Reddit, and have a great warranty to boot.
- Each dumbbell adjusts from 5 to 52.5 pounds; adjusts in 2.5-pound increments up to the first 25 pounds
- Lets you rapidly switch from one exercise to the next
- Combines 15 sets of weights into one, using a unique dial system
If you just don’t like the Bowflex brand there is a great set of weights loved by professional bodybuilders called the Merax Deluxe Adjustable Dial Dumbbells.
- Each dumbbell adjust from 11 lbs to 71.5 lbs in 5.5 lb increments.
- With the unique dial system, you can rapidly switch from one exercise to the next.
- Combines 12 sets of weights into one offering versatile workout for your whole body.
These go up to 71 pounds and are adjusted with a cool little safe dial on the side. The clicking as the wheel spins is an addictive sound and these make a great alternative to the Bowflex SelectTech systems.
Regardless of what dumbbell brand your what plate weight manufacture you go with, you’ll probably want something to protect your floors as over time the wear and tear of iron can cause havoc for smooth cement floors.
5. Protective Flooring Mats
Unless your basement is already cracked to hell or you plant to do most of your lifting out in an old shed you’ll probably want to lay something down to protect your floor.
We know what you’re thinking, you don’t care about a few cracks here and there. Well, we’ve seen floors disintegrate in under a years time just from iron plate lifting alone.
Cracks grow, merge into other cracks and then chips start popping out. Once this happens you’re in a real pickle in terms of repairs.
Investing in a super high density floor mat that is specifically designed for weightlifting is key to protecting the longevity of your home gym.
There are hundreds of various EVA foam mats out there. Don’t buy these. These are designed for hobby lifters at best, but most commonly yoga or pilates types of workouts.
Heavy weights with 90 degree edges require extra heavy duty impact resistance.
You also don’t want want a foam mat that is too compliant as you will sink in when doing heavy deadlifts and squats, throwing off your stability and potentially creating a dangerous lifting environment.
So what is the best mat for my home bodybuilding gym?
Out of the dozens of best-sellers on Amazon the best weightlifting-specific protective mat we could find was the XMark Fitness XMat Ultra Thick Equipment Mat. Stupid name but quality product.
- Heavy duty rugged equipment mat
- Measures 4' x 6' ; one half inch thick; approx 75 lbs
- Textured non-slip surface
The XMark XMat is extra thick and extra dense, so it will absorb impact of your weights but won’t absorb the impact of your feet when you try to drive through the floor when deadlifting or squatting.
They are also 6ft by 4ft, meaning you only need a couple to have your entire home gym covered.
We’ve found giant single-piece mats to be superior to interlocking small mats as you never have to worry about corners pulling up, tripping or shit falling in the cracks.
What’s more is the XMat is made right here in America so hey, you’re supporting your country AND making a smart gym decision as well.
That covers the basics.
If you can afford all of the above and still have a budget, and more importantly you still have room in your basement or garage, then below are a few “nice to have” pieces of equipment that will make your workouts more efficient and allow you to laser-target various muscle groups.
6. EZ Bar For Selfie-Muscle Development
EZ bars are those warped shorter bars that usually weigh about 15lbs and are used for curls, upright rows, tricep extensions, rows and a whole variety of other complimentary exercises.
These bars aren’t essential, as you can perform most of the exact same exercises with ease with your standard 45lb olympic barbell but the grip setup on the EZ bar makes for a more comfortable position when performing isolation work.
EZ bars are pretty much all the same. Look for something with a moderate bend, unless you like extreme arm rotation angles, in which case, you do you.
Make sure the EZ bar is standard 15pounds and that the metal is protected, either with a chrome finish or some other rust-resistant paint.
These bars are fun for hitting the ego muscles of the biceps and triceps and make a great little addition to any home gym.
7. A StairMaster Instead of a Treadmill for Conditioning
This is by far the most dominant piece of cardio equipment in the bodybuilders arsenal.
Stairmills aka “Stair-Steppers” are not cheap but they are a great way to get your cardio in, stretch your leg muscles, activate your glutes and hamstrings and all in the comfort of your own home.
When it comes to stair steppers, unlike EZ bars, it does actually pay to look for a specific brand. You see, stair machines are an often duplicated, never well engineered type of equipment.
Unlike treadmills, which have dozens of quality manufacturers, all sporting the same features and reliability, when it comes to stair stepping machines there is only one brand that enjoys a healthy reputation among serious bodybuilders and that is StairMaster.
- High-quality stepmill designed to offer superior cardio and lower-body workout
- Patented revolving staircase with 8-inch-tall steps that mimic the feel of real stairs
- Adjusts from 24 to 162 steps per minute; 20 resistance levels and 6 programs
The StairMaster series have been used by amateur and professional bodybuilders for decades to dial in their conditioning while also being able to watch TV, listen to music or even read a book comfortably.
You’ll see in every single “Train With Kai” video series (we’ve collected all the videos and put them in one place for you here) the Arnold Classic champion Kai Greene begins each workout with a solid session on a StairMaster. Not a treadmill. Not a bicycle, but a Stair Master. Get it? Good!
The StairMaster series you see the most in professional bodybuilder training footage is the SM916 Stepmill and the original 7000 PT Stepmill.
These are solidly constructed, legendary pieces of equipment that allow home gym enthusiasts to stay conditioned all year round in-doors.
They have the same cubic foot footprint as a treadmill but are much better at burning calories with minimal impact on the joints in the long run than treadmills.
StairMaster has a new model called the SM3 Stairmill which is supposed to be smaller and more compact, which we believe it is, but also appears to sacrifice some of the quality of the original version in the process.
The SM916 and 7000PT have a solid 3.5, almost four exposed steps per belt rotation whereas the SM3 only has 3.
We like having the extra half step, it gives us more room and time to get our footing without having to worry about falling off the last step.
The extra space allows for a little more play in your pace and is worth the extra bulk in our opinion.
8. Arm Blasters, Belts & Grips for Skin Splitting Arm Pumps
An arm blaster is a tool that holds your arms in place in front of your torso so you can perform perfect-form bicep curls without the need for a preacher bench.
They also strap around your neck and can be stored flat, which make them a great addition to any home gym for bodybuilding-focused individuals.
Secondarily investing in things like squat belts and grip enhancers like Fat Gripz also allow you to hit your muscles in different ways and push your weight totals safely.
We did a whole write-up on how to grow your arms where we reviewed the most popular arm blasters on the market as well as grip enhancers and strengtheners.
When it comes to squat belts there are only a few rules to keep in mind.
First, when in doubt, go old-school and that means leather. There are some great hybrid belts out there but they can be almost double the price as regular leather belts which work just fine.
The ProFitness Genuine Leather Belt is one of the thickest most beefiest belts we’ve seen and is also one of the most price-competitive. No other lifting belt enjoys a solid 5-star average review/rating like the ProFitness does.
- IMPROVED FORM & TECHNIQUE - Maintaining proper squat and lifting form is essential to not only strength gains, but for reducing injuries. This weightlifting belt helps ensure you sustain balance and stability throughout your sets.
- PREVENT BACK INJURIES - Properly supporting your lower back (lumbar) is important, especially when lifting, twisting or supporting heavy weights. Our weightlifting belt is perfect for Cross Training exercises, powerlifting and daily fitness.
- COMFORTABLE LEATHER - Each 4" wide genuine leather belt is comfortable, adjustable and won't slip or "ride" while you're performing squats, power cleans, dead lifts, or clean and jerks; just lift, gain and support your physicality.
Second, when in doubt go thick. The thicker the leather the more rigidity it will provide, the longer the eyelet holes will keep their shape and the longer you’ll be able to use that belt, which SHOULD be for life if it is well made.
We put these things in the “nice to have” section of this guide though because you can definitely lift heavy and make gains without arm blasters, Fat Gripz and belts.
Still, they can be had for not that much money and add a whole new fun element to your home gym setup.
9. Loud Ass Speaker System to Fuel the Rage!
One of the greatest perks about working out at home, whether it be your basement or garage or pole shed is the ability to listen to YOUR music as loud as you damned well please.
Free yourself from the prison of headphones and invest in a quality sound system for your home gym.
Music can be just as powerful as stimulants like pre-workouts when it comes to getting yourself hyped up to lift heavy.
The KRK Rokit series are THE best selling home studio speakers on the market and have pretty much the best reputation for home/professional grade speakers that won’t coast you an arm or leg.
- Bi-amped, class A/B amplifier offering large headroom and low distortion
- Proprietary waveguide optimized for superior imaging
- 1" Soft-dome tweeter provides pristine clarity and extended response up to 35kHz
A pair will usually run somewhere around $300 but they will A) last a lifetime and B) retain their value extremely well so you can sell them and get your money back later on down the road if you move or quit lifting (which you should never do btw).
Conversely you can invest in a Bluetooth boombox of some sort but nothing projects sounds and bass clearer and more excitingly then a pair of quality, dedicated speakers like the Rokits.
Skinny Yoked Summary
We hope we’ve helped you out with your gym planning and purchasing decisions. Go through and do your own research, read all of the user reviews and try to test out things whenever possible.
Also take note of the types of weights you have used in the past, from your school gyms to your local fitness chain.
Don’t like contoured dumbbell grips? Then make sure to buy straight grips for your home gym.
Addicted to the old school clanking of solid cast iron plates? Then buy those instead of rubber plates or bumper plates.
Customizing YOUR gym around YOUR preferences is what makes home gym building so awesome.
You don’t have to use what someone else has deemed “the best” equipment, which often times isn’t even the best it’s just the cheapest.
Invest in quality as weightlifting and bodybuilding are lifetime sports, or at least near-lifetime sports.
You are going to put a lot of sweat and tears and probably some blood into your gym so it’s worth taking the time now to invest in equipment and tools that can take a punishment and reward you with gains for years to come.
Whatever you do don’t give up on your home-gym dreams. The Center for Disease Prevention and Health Promotion list “integration (of exercise) into daily routine” as one of the pivotal factors when it comes to an individuals ability to accomplish their fitness goals.
Bodybuilding is a day-in and day-out sport that requires continual work. Having a gym, whether it is your primary workout spot or a supplement to a commercial gym, is key in staying focused and achieving your goals.
Invest in quality. Invest in yourself. Cutting corners doesn’t lead to gains and doesn’t lead to quality home gyms. Take the long road, the hard road and the slightly pricier road and reach the Valhalla of gains!
Last update on 2019-04-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API