Home gyms offer ultimate flexibility and privacy.
You can work out when and how you want to. Whether that’s at the crack of dawn before work or an 11pm treadmill session with ’90s classics blaring. It’s your call.
The ideal fit out of your home gym will depend on a range of factors, including your fitness goals, available space and budget. Our handy home gym guide includes a range of options to suit different needs.
We recommend that most people undertake some form of resistance training, given the heavily researched and widely published health benefits. For this reason, resistance equipment features in most of our suggestions.
The heart of your gym
For most people, there will be one or two key pieces of equipment that will be pivotal to many of their workouts. For example, if your goal is to increase your strength, then your key equipment would probably include a power/squat rack and some weights (barbells, dumbbells, etc).
Power racks: the ultimate home gym centrepiece
For most home gyms, we highly recommend a power rack (sometimes called a squat rack). Power racks offer a huge variety of exercise options and can also dramatically increase the safety of your home workouts.
Our top choice for high quality and value for money is the Force USA Power Rack. We recommend the Force USA Power Rack / Lat Pulldown package (pictured below) to expand your options with exercises such as lat pulldowns, seated rows and cable bicep curls.
With a huge range of attachments on the market, power racks can be used for a staggering variety of exercises. This is particularly true when cable and pulley systems can be added to the rack.
Pull-ups, chin-ups, dips, bench presses, squats, land mine presses, lat pulldowns, rows, cable curls, cable crossovers, etc. The list goes on and on.
Safety is paramount
Safety is particularly important for home gyms, as you’re probably working out with no one else around.
For example, if you’re going to be bench pressing in your home gym, then we highly recommend that you have safety bars, arms or straps; as you typically won’t have someone there as a ‘spotter’. A spotter is someone that stands directly behind the barbell, helping you with the lift-off from the rack and with re-racking the barbell at the completion of your set. The spotter should also be staying alert throughout your set to keep you safe, ready to grab the barbell if you lose your grip or reach failure before the barbell has been re-racked.
Whether you have a spotter or not, we always recommend the use of safety bars, arms or straps, as they’ll do a much better job at keeping you safe. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, people often won’t catch the bar in time if you lose your grip or they might be unable to lift a heavily-weighted barbell back to racking position if you reach failure before completing your set. Steel safety bars that are set at the right height will always catch the barbell before it crushes your ribs or neck.
One of the many benefits of using a power rack is the safety offered by the bars, arms or straps. Simply move your bench into the rack and you can bench press safely with spotter bars ready to catch the bar if you lose your grip or reach failure before re-racking the weight. If you’re performing a weighted squat, then you can simply adjust the safety bars, arms or straps to the correct height and they’re ready to take the bar if you have to dump it part way through a set.
Resistance training equipment
Further to the essential power rack, there are some other staple items that every home gym should include.
You can opt for a flat bench (fixed bench) or for an adjustable bench. If you have limited space, as most of us do, then we recommend going for a high quality adjustable bench, because it will give you a greater range of exercise options with just one piece of equipment.
The Force USA Commercial FID Bench offers flat, incline and decline positions; and is built like a tank with a 600kg weight rating.
If you would prefer a flat (fixed) bench, then we use and highly recommend the wheeled Commercial Flat Bench from Force USA (pictured below), as it can easily be moved in and out of a power rack for safe bench pressing. If your bench will be set in one place at all times, then the Force USA Heavy Duty Commercial Flat Bench is a great choice – and has a massive 800kg weight rating!
‘Olympic’ or ‘Standard’?
There are two options when it comes to weight plates, barbells and other free weight equipment: ‘Olympic’ or ‘Standard’. This simply relates to the size (diameter) of the weight plate holes and the weight plate sleeves on barbells, dumbbells, etc.
Olympic sized weight plates have holes to accommodate 50mm sleeves, whereas Standard sized weight plates have holes to accommodate 25mm sleeves. The weight plates have centre holes slightly larger than the sleeve diameter, for example Standard weight plates typically feature a 28mm centre hole (although they can be as large as 30mm on some weight plates).
The naming is somewhat deceptive, as ‘Standard’ isn’t at all the industry standard.
The Olympic option is actually the industry standard, both for competitions and for commercial gym facilities. Confusing right?!
Standard equipment is cheaper and so is often the popular choice for people with a limited budget.
Some equipment is only offered in Olympic sizing; and this is particularly common when it comes to the best quality equipment. If you start out with Standard sized weight plates and bars, then it can be frustrating when you look to expand your selection of equipment, as many items simply aren’t available in Standard sizing.
Although it will cost a little more, we highly recommend going with Olympic sizing from the start, as you’ll always be able to get the equipment that you want.
As a final precautionary note on sizing, some discount stores offer weight sets (e.g. adjustable dumbbells) with unique sizing that’s smaller in diameter than both Standard and Olympic options. We recommend you avoid these sets, as they’re not compatible with conventional weight plates (i.e. Standard or Olympic). They’re also typically very poor quality.
Dumbbells offer a huge variety of exercise options.
You can opt for a set of adjustable dumbbells, which is cheaper, but more time consuming (i.e. you will often be changing the weight plates for different exercises); or you can opt for fixed dumbbells at various weights, which is more expensive and will require more space, but is far more convenient over time.
For fixed dumbbells, we recommend investing in a good quality rack to keep the dumbbells neatly and safely stored away. We also recommend going for hex shaped dumbbells rather than the round-ended dumbbells, as the hex shape gives a flat, stable surface for exercises such as renegade rows. We like the Force USA Rubber Hex Dumbbells (pictured below).
A good quality barbell is essential for many fundamental exercises, such as the bench press and barbell squats.
In addition to the standard barbell, there are also numerous specialty bars.
There are two specialty bars in particular that we believe will benefit most home gym users. Both of these specialty bars offer neutral grip exercise options, which can be more comfortable for many people, particularly those with shoulder issues.
The hex barbell, sometimes called a trap bar, can be used for a range of exercises, including: shrugs; deadlifts; squats; and farmer’s walks.
For a terrific space-saving option that also offers three different grips – check out the Compact Trap Bar from SMAI.
The swiss barbell, sometimes called a ‘football bar’ or ‘multi grip bar’, typically offers a number of neutral grip handles; allowing the user to choose an appropriate grip placement (e.g. narrow or wide). Many also include angled or ‘hybrid’ grip options, such as the SMAI Multi Grip Bar (pictured below) or the Force USA Swiss Bar 01.
The swiss barbell is a terrific option for the bench press, but can also be used for other exercises, such as bicep curls.
There are numerous weight plate options on offer.
We recommend getting either rubber coated or bumper weight plates, as this will greatly reduce the noise of banging plates and also help to protect your equipment, for example if you accidentally bump your weight plates on the rack posts when re-racking your barbell.
Bumper weight plates are designed to withstand the impacts of being dropped. For example, if the barbell is dropped rather than lowered after performing a deadlift. Bumper plates tend to be the most expensive option, but they’re also made to last. If you’re going to be dropping your weights, then in the interests of preserving your flooring, you’ll also want thick gym flooring tiles or even a dedicated lifting platform. Bumper plates are thicker than other options, which can reduce the number of plates that you can fit on the sleeves.
Rubber coated weight plates are a great option at a lower price point. They’re not designed to be dropped repeatedly, but they will tolerate a bit of rough treatment. The rubber coating deadens the noise of banging plates, and also helps to protect your equipment and flooring.
Cast iron weight plates have an old school aesthetic that appeals to many people. They also tend to be thinner and so allow for maximum weight plate loading for heavier lifts. Cast iron plates are incredibly durable, but can be on the expensive side for the higher quality brands. It’s also important to note that they don’t offer any noise deadening or protection against bumps.
Keeping your equipment safely stowed away reduces the risk of injury from accidents, such as tripping over a barbell laying on the floor.
Weight plate storage
If you invest in a power rack, many offer pins for weight plate storage. Weight plate stands are also a convenient way to store your plates safely.
We absolutely love the low profile ‘toaster rack’ from Iron Edge (pictured below). This rack makes it super easy to grab and stow weight plates. SMAI offers a wheeled version, which is handy if you need to move weight plates between stations in a larger space.
Toaster style racks are best suited to bumper weight plates or rubber coated weight plates, because repeated contact between harder steel weight plates and the rack may cause the surface coating to chip off over time.
We use the rock-solid barbell stand from SMAI (pictured below), which offers storage for nine barbells.
The combined weight plate and barbell storage stand from Force USA represents great value for money as a dual purpose storage system.
If you’re going to be using free weights, then it’s sensible to buy some gym flooring tiles.
Gym flooring tiles are typically sold in 1 metre by 1 metre squares. They can also be cut to suit your specific layout.
We recommend the VersaFit Flooring for its quality, longevity and absence of nasty chemicals that are present in some other tile brands.
Body weight (calisthenics)
You may be thinking “why would I need any equipment for body weight workouts?”
While it’s true that you can do a lot with no equipment at all, there are some items that will dramatically increase your range of exercise options and the effectiveness of your workouts.
Gymnastic rings are versatile, cheap and portable. You can do a whole range of exercises with rings, such as: pull-ups; chin-ups; dips; and inverted rows.
We use the SMAI Wooden Gym Rings with Easy Straps.
Plyometrics box or squat box
A plyometrics box (sometimes called a squat box) can be used for a range of exercises, such as step-ups, dips and elevated push-ups for increased challenge (i.e. performing the exercise with your feet elevated on the box). Of course you can also do plyometrics exercises, such as box jumps.
The top three options for cardio equipment
Cardio (aerobic exercise) will feature in many workout programs. Of course you can jog, run, cycle or swim outside, but sometimes the weather is miserable and indoors is far more pleasant!
Cardio equipment is also handy if you’ve only got a short amount of time. A high intensity session on a stationary bike can have you feeling toasted in 5 minutes.
Skipping is a fantastic cardio exercise!
A skipping rope is cheap, portable and takes up very little space. Every home gym should have one.
We recommend the CrossTraining Deluxe Skipping Rope from SMAI (black variation pictured below).
Stationary bikes (sometimes called exercise bikes) are fantastic for cardio workouts or warmups.
Our three recommendations are:
We love the Assault AirRunner Manual Treadmill (pictured below). It runs on your energy alone – zero electricity!