7 Home Gym Essentials You Need to Have (In-Depth Guide)

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: March 28, 2024
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As a personal trainer, I’ve helped many home gym owners to get an ideal setup for their fitness needs and overall training level.

What surprises many people the most is that you can get set up for highly effective workouts with just a few home gym essentials.

And those don’t have to include expensive machines and racks that take up a load of space.

To help you get the ideal setup, we visited a few dozen home gym configurations to see what's working for different experience levels.

Quick Summary

  • To set up an effective home gym, essential items like a workout mat, resistance bands, and a jump rope are sufficient and cost-effective.
  • A full home gym setup doesn't require expensive machines; basic equipment can provide a comprehensive workout.
  • Cleveland Clinic suggests that resistance bands can be as effective for muscle building as free weights.
  • In my professional experience, the practicality and affordability of setting up a home gym make it an excellent option for maintaining fitness without the need for a gym membership.

What Do You Need In Your Home Gym?

Jumping ropes, dumbbell, yoga mat and rubber shoes essential for home gym

There are only a few essentials that you’ll need in your home gym to get it up and running with a solid at-home fitness routine.

With as little as a yoga mat, a few resistance bands, a jump rope, and some enthusiasm to get fit, you should have plenty to work with.

Start with a few basics, and then look at adding machines that are compact enough but still provide a wide range of functions.

Our team has tested dozens of the top compact home gyms.

And that’s why I have developed training session plans that require just a few pieces of equipment.

As you get used to weight loss and strength training at home, you can always add more items later.

Let me show you where to start.

Must-Have Equipment

Woman stepping on a yoga mat with dumbbells and kettlebell

Having a home gym is worth it, but you should have the necessary equipment. Here are the home gym essentials I would recommend buying to get started.

Workout Mat

This is going to be the essential home gym equipment, and I would recommend buying more than one yoga mat.

And here’s why.

Some of the exercises that you can do at home include plyometrics, where you would jump and move around the room. Having more than one mat will allow you to create a designated floor space for working out.

Secondly, you really want to protect the floor in your living space, especially if you have carpets.

If you’re doing things right, you’ll be sweating, and if you’re using weights, you want to place them down onto some sort of padding.

Related Article: Best Floor for Home Gym

Resistance Bands

I've found resistance bands to be a game-changer in my own home gym. Not only do they save space and money, but they also add versatility to my workouts.

I advise my clients to start with a basic set of bands and gradually incorporate them into various exercises.

Resistance bands in a home gym are a great way to save space ​​and money. They can allow you to do the majority of exercises that you would do with dumbbells and barbells but cost a fraction of the price.

Cleveland Clinic suggests that you can gain as much muscle mass with resistance bands as you would with free weights [1].

I’ve had a resistance band home gym setup that cost me about $25 for a set of six different strengths, and the great thing is that you can add multiple bands together to achieve more tension.

Push-Up Bars

Performing an exercise using a push-up bar indoors

This is another inexpensive piece of home gym equipment. Now, you can do push-ups directly on your exercise mat.

But once you gain more strength with your home gym workout plan, these simple bars will increase your range of motion.

And according to a study in the National Library of Medicine, you’ll increase hypertrophy with a better range of motion, which means you can improve how fast you build up new muscle tissue [2].

I also find that doing push-ups on bars doesn’t cause as much strain on my wrists, and I have had a few clients with carpal tunnel issues who simply can’t do these exercises without the bars.

Workout Bench

The next thing you want to consider before building a home gym is a good workout bench. It doesn’t have to be adjustable, and it will open up a load of more workouts that you can do to strengthen your upper body.

Don’t try to save money by choosing the cheapest weight bench you can find.

You need one with high-quality steel and a weight capacity for you and the weights you’ll lift.

And you also need to check for rubber coating on the bottom to ensure that the bench won’t slip or slide with you on it.

I like the workout bench because of the variety of exercises it unlocks. I can do everything from bench presses to dumbbell rows.

Jump Rope

Showing a jumping rope while giving an 'okay' sign

You can start with an inexpensive jump rope for less than $20, but avoid the cheapest ones you can find in a toy store.

The great thing about jumping rope is that it’s a cheap way to do cardio without having to go for a run or cycle.

Maybe even consider a weighted jump rope or a speed rope if you’ve gained enough coordination. Speed ropes allow you to gain a lot more control over how fast you swing the rope. And that can allow you to create a pretty tough cardio workout.

Adjustable Dumbbells

This is one piece of equipment that can be of great value and be a lot easier to store at home.

See, a full set of dumbbell pairs can cost you over $600 dollars, and you’ll need to find somewhere to set them up.

With adjustable dumbbells, you can achieve a range from as low as 5 pounds to over 50 pounds. And they don’t take up much space, so you can store them in a closet and avoid tripping over them.

Just try and avoid those that require removable pins to set the weight. I find they can be difficult to set up properly.

Pull-Up Bar

Bearded guy pulling up indoors

Pull-ups are probably the most effective bodyweight exercises for the upper body, as you’ll be targeting your arms, shoulders, and upper back.

And according to another study in the National Library of Medicine, doing compound exercises can have great effects on muscle growth [3].

I started with a pull-up bar that simply attaches to a door frame, and this allowed me to get a full range of motions.

But once you get stronger, I would suggest expanding your home gym equipment to a free-standing one.

Alternatively, you could wait until you’re ready to invest in a multi-gym, and I’ll get to those types of recommendations now.

“For healthy athletes who are trying to get the most out of a training program, compound exercises are generally recommended.”

- Tara Laferrara, CPT at Verywellfit.com

Nice to Have Home Gym Equipment

Holding a barbell, top view of weight plates and jumping ropes

Here are some tips I would give for home gyms that are a bit more advanced. But if you find that you’re regularly working out at home, then making such an investment could ultimately save you a gym membership.

Barbell And Weight Plates

If you want to take a step up from exercise bands and do some targeted weight training, then you should invest in an Olympic bar and weight plates.

These will allow you to do a lot more weight training, including heavy squats, deadlifts, and bench presses.

And there are many things you can’t do with dumbbells or even the best kettlebells available.

You can also start doing exercises that involve heavier weights, but for those, I would suggest that you make an additional investment in a proper rack.

Squat Rack

A man struggling to perform a barbell squat

A squat rack is a pretty basic piece of equipment. It essentially allows you to set up your barbell with weights at different heights.

You’ll also see it advertised as a power rack, and it’s essentially a steel frame with support pins to rest a barbell on.

Out of all the more advanced home gym equipment, I find weight racks for squats the most helpful.

Being able to safely do squats and bench presses without a spotter to help you out if you can’t complete a rep is an important safety consideration.

For me, a squat rack is more than just a piece of equipment; it's a safety tool that has allowed me to push my limits without the need for a spotter.

Related: Full Rack vs Half Rack

Multi-Gym Station

This can be a huge step up in home gym workout equipment, but you’ll need to be prepared to transport your home gym equipment and spend over a thousand dollars for a great quality setup.

They will typically include a power rack and cable pulley system, as well as a bench to set up a whole host of different exercises.

From safely doing squats to leg extensions and cable flies, you’ll be able to do pretty much everything you do at the gym.

Rep Fitness is a good brand to look at, but I’ll have some resources for you shortly.

Treadmill

A treadmill inside a tight room

If you enjoy running and want more options to do cardio on a wet day, then a treadmill could be a great investment for a garage gym. I would suggest you avoid the most basic models, as they will have limited functions.

The one I use at home has Bluetooth connectivity, and it integrates with different fitness apps to record each run.

However, it’s one piece of cardio equipment that will take up the most amount of space.

And if you don’t plan on using it regularly, then it might not be the best use of your available space.

While treadmill is a staple in home gyms due to its convenience and accessibility, it can feel monotonous to some.

People also often forget to properly maintain and regularly lubricate this home gym equipment.

This is why Josh Petrawski, CEO of Sports and Fitness Exchange, advises people to consider their fitness goals, space availability, and preferences to decide if a treadmill aligns with their needs.

Rowing Machine

Rowing machines are a great investment for people to do cardio on exercise equipment that has a low impact on joints.

Because you’re sitting on a moveable seat and you’re not constantly impacting your ankle, knee, and hip joints like with running, it can be a lot easier to get some extended cardio time into your workout plans.

It’s also a great full-body workout as it will strain your legs, core, shoulder, back, and arm muscles.

You also have to make sure to clean your home gym equipment after use to prevent bacteria build-up.

Indoor Cycling Bike

An indoor cycling bike isolated in a room

And the final one of my recommended cardio machines is a stationary bike.

If you do a lot of cycling, then you can buy small attachment stands.

But if you have a designated workout space at home, then having a proper exercise bike can be a great way for more diverse cardio sessions.

The one I own allows me to adjust the intensity at different intervals, so I can even use it as part of a high-intensity interval training session.

If you are not sure what to include for your home gym, you might want to check out our guide on home gym design ideas.

Smart Massage Guns

A smart massage gun is a handheld device that's designed to provide deep tissue massages, helping to alleviate muscle soreness and improve recovery times.

These are the benefits of smart massage guns:

  • Targeted muscle relief: These devices are engineered to target specific muscle groups, offering relief exactly where you need it.
  • Adjustable intensity: With varying levels of intensity, you can control the pressure to suit your comfort level and recovery needs.
  • Enhanced blood flow: Regular use can help improve circulation, promoting faster healing and reducing recovery time.
  • Convenience: Compact and easy to use, these massage guns can be used anytime, right in the comfort of your home gym.

FAQs

What Is The First Thing To Buy For A Home Gym?

The first things you should buy for a home gym are yoga mats and exercise bands. With these alone, you’ll be able to do a wide range of body weight and resistance training for weight loss and muscle building.

How Do You Maximize Your Home Gym Space?

You maximize your home gym space by buying equipment that is foldable and easy to store. You don’t need large and bulky equipment to do the majority of exercises, and modern gym machines can be compact enough while still providing great functionality.


References:

  1. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/should-you-try-resistance-bands-for-strength-training
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6977096/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5744434/
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About The Author

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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