Everybody loves tightening up their physique, building a little more muscle in the right places and increasing their strength. But accomplishing these kinds of goals can be a real challenge when you don’t have access to a gym filled with strength equipment and free weights.
If you’ve ever struggled to achieve size and strength gains working out at home, then you’ve come to the right place. In this home gym startup guide, I’m going to go over the six main types of weight lifting equipment that can help you safely pack on muscle while adding strength, all in the comfort and privacy of your own home.
In my opinion, the power rack is the king of strength training equipment. If you are serious about putting on size and building athletic power, buying a power rack should be #1 on your priority list.
I recommend power racks for two main reasons:
When used properly, power racks allow you to get under a bar with hundreds of pounds and squat, bench and military press with or without a spotter without fear of being crushed on a failed rep. Those lower safety pins have saved my ass on many occasions, and there are thousands of bodybuilders, powerlifters and other athletes who could tell you the exact same thing.
A solid steel cage anchored to the floor and walls -- combined with Olympic weights and an adjustable bench -- can pack a lot of muscle onto your frame in the shortest time possible while taking your strength gains through the roof. They don’t call them “power” racks for nothing.
As good as power racks are, they do have their limitations. You can pack on a lot of muscle with them and make crazy strength gains, but you won’t have the versatility to fully isolate every muscle.
Also, if you’re a beginner to lifting weights, using free weights can be challenging to learn on your own. This is where a multi-station or all-in-one home gym setup comes in.
There are several different types of these machines that use weight plates, pneumatic pistons, cables and even your own bodyweight for resistance. You’ve probably seen Bowflex, Nautilus and Total Gym equipment on TV, in the gym or online.
Those are all good machines to have, but my favorite is the good, old-fashioned multi-station that uses cables and pulleys to lift stacks of metal weight plates. With a machine like this, you can perform flyes, laterals, curls, pressdowns, shrugs, pulldowns, rows, leg extensions, leg curls, calf raises and probably several others that I forgot to mention.
Some of them also have a built-in bench and leg-press, letting you hit every muscle group from head to toe with a pretty good amount of weight. Throw in a variety of handles and you have tons of options to choose from, using both hands at once or working each side in isolation.
If you want a good overall workout for health, mobility and general fitness, an all-in-one home gym is a really good choice.
I have to be honest with you here: I have mixed feelings about ab machines. I’ve seen a lot of gimmicky products hyped up online and in infomercials over the years, and I think most of them are a waste of money.
They’ve got ab rollers and ab chair things and rubber band crap. I mean, if you’ve tried these things and enjoy using them, then by all means -- go for it!
There are many different paths to a lean, muscular body. You don’t have to do it my way.
I’m just trying to keep you from wasting money. If the thing looks like it’s cheaply-constructed and made entirely of plastic, then I’d steer away from that.
You should also check online reviews on Amazon or wherever before ordering one of those gadgets. Look for products with lots of reviews overall and tons of 4-star and 5-star reviews.
But the main reason I’m not a huge fan of ab gadgets is that you can usually get the job done with other equipment that you already have.
If you have a multi-station, you can do cable crunches toward the floor with an overhead cable. With a pull-up bar, you can get an insane hanging ab workout that hits your entire core with or without extra weight added.
You see what I mean?
You might not even need to buy an ab machine, if you already have other equipment that will do the job. In a home gym, space is limited, so you want to be as efficient as possible with your equipment choices.
A pull-up bar can be a nice addition to your home gym. You’re a little bit limited with it, but you can still get a lot of bang for your buck. Many teenagers start their home workout routines with nothing but a pull-up bar wedged in the doorway of their bedrooms -- and that’s a perfectly good start.
For building lat width, nothing beats pull-ups and chin-ups.
Well, if you don’t yet have the strength to do them, then you might get better results initially with a lat pulldown machine. But for hitting your lats, nothing beats hoisting your whole body off the ground and getting your chin up and over that bar.
This is a great way to build lat width and thickness while hitting your biceps and forearms really hard at the same time. Be sure to mix up your grip to hit the different muscles at different angles for complete development.
You can also do hanging leg raises, knee raises, twisting leg raises, twisting knee raises and hanging side bends for a killer ab workout that hits your abs, obliques and intercostals.
And if that isn’t challenging enough, try hanging with your legs together right out in front of you parallel to the ground and then spell the alphabet. I learned that one from Athlean-X on YouTube, and it’s just about the hardest ab workout you’ve ever tried.
Some power racks also have a pull-up bar add-on, so look for those if you are planning on buying a power rack.
I love the freedom of using barbells and dumbbells in my workouts. To me, there’s nothing like the feel of cold steel in your hand or the visual stimulation you get watching your muscles flex and strain as you lift and lower the weights.
You’re also not locked into a single track of motion as you would be with most machines, so that allows your limbs to move in a more natural arc. Bodybuilding champions and strength athletes have always praised free weights, and I’m totally with them on that.
But when you have a home gym, your budget and floorspace often limit the amount and types of equipment that you can get. That might mean that you can’t use those big-ass Olympic barbells with tons of weight plates or dumbbell racks that take up the whole wall with hexagonal dumbbells of every single weight increment from five pounds to 100 pounds.
And that’s okay.
If you’re tight on space and money, then I’d recommend a set of adjustable dumbbells. These can get you up into the 60-80 pound range each and allow for quickly adjusting the weights when performing drop sets. And they hardly take up any space at all.
With a set of dumbbells, you can work just about every muscle in your upper body, along with some lower body exercises too -- such as lunges, stiff-legged deadlifts and calf raises.
If you can’t afford a power rack or multi-gym, don’t worry. You can still get in a solid strength workout with heavy, adjustable dumbbells that you can store in the corner or just slide under your bed.
The last piece of home gym equipment I want you to consider here is the weighted vest.
Now, I know that this isn’t what you typically think of for building muscle size and strength. But weighted vests are a great way to balance out your fitness program and build practical walking strength and endurance while increasing your calorie burn.
This would be especially useful for anyone who has a physical labor job that demands being on your feet and carrying loads around all day -- like a military or construction job. And it's a great, low-impact exercise for burning off bodyfat while maintaining muscle.
The best kind of weight vests are those made from durable materials, with double-reinforced stitching and adjustable weight loads.
Don’t get a cheap vest with sand or plastic sealed into it, though. Get one that has multiple metals strips or other weighted materials that can be removed one-at-a-time to adjust the load. This will allow you to start out light and progressively increase the resistance as the weeks go by.
How heavy should you go?
Well, according to a study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), subjects who used a vest weighing about 15 percent of their own body weight burned an additional 12 percent in calories per workout. So shoot for a vest that can get up into that weight range.
Street walking is okay for short walks, but try to get onto dirt and grass for longer walks. Go hiking in the hills or something like that. Or you might try walking along the beach.
Training at home is a great option for people who don’t like commercial gym environments or who simply want to save money and time by working out at home. Try out some of these options for your home gym and find the combination that works best for you in terms of space, budget and fitness goals.