Whilst the popularity of gym memberships is growing and new gyms are opening up worldwide at an ever-growing rate, people still choose to workout from home for a number of reasons (they don’t live near a gym, are subconscious and want to start exercising in the privacy of their own home, find it easier and time-saving, etc..). Whatever the reason home workouts are still popular and viable options for daily exercise and getting in shape.
Bodyweight exercises are a key to home workouts, they require minimal equipment, use natural movement patterns and have variations of each exercise depending on individual capacity. If however, you want to take it to the next level then you need to consider getting some versatile pieces of equipment that can be utilised for a variety of different exercises.
The following are what I consider to be absolute staples when working out from home and even when starting to build your own home gym.
Barbell and weight plates
The most essential and versatile piece of equipment needed for effective home workouts is a barbell and weight plates. These offer the greatest variety of exercises ranging from compound movements (squat, deadlift, bench press, barbell row, and overhead press) to accessory movements (barbell curl, stiff leg deadlift, good mornings and close grip bench press).
As well as variety they also offer the fastest route to progression as you can hit all the major body parts with the most tried and tested exercises mentioned above.
Most of the highest-rated and recommended programmes have at least a few exercises focused on barbell movements so I’d prioritise this as a first purchase if you are interested in any form of weightlifting or bodybuilding style training.
Closely following a barbell in essential home gym equipment is a dumbbell set. Dumbbells in a standard gym have ranges from 1kg - 50kg sets (with some going as high as 100kg) however it will be difficult and costly to get a range similar to this in a home gym, it’s also not needed if you are a beginner.
Therefore it’s best to select a beginner set that is adjustable (you can pick up a cheap set of clay-filled weights or a more durable set made of cast iron) so that you can vary the range of weights on the bar. You are still a bit restricted to the top end weight that you can use however you can vary it from 1kg - 15kg on average which is more than enough to incorporate exercises into your home routine.
A weight bench is another versatile piece of equipment that should be considered for getting the most out of home workouts. There are multiple models that start from a basic adjustable bench which will allow you to perform a range of dumbbell and bodyweight exercises right through to benches with built-in attachments and stands which will allow for more complex exercises like bench press and lateral
Depending on what level you are currently at in your training and what equipment you currently own will influence what bench is best to get. If you have limited equipment then it would be a good start to get a basic adjustable bench, with this you can perform ab exercises like sit-ups and Russian twists or weight lifting movements like seated shoulder presses and tricep dips. If however you already have the previously mentioned equipment like a barbell and some weights and you’re a bit more advanced in your training then a good option will be to get a bench with multiple attachments and stands so that you can then focus your training around this equipment.
The previous items focus mainly on strength training and weightlifting which are the typical progression tools for people working out at home, a foam roller is an essential and affordable piece of equipment that should not be missed off when working out at home.
Stretching and soft tissue massage should be a staple in your routine regardless of where you choose to work out, recovery and injury prevention are equally (if not more) important than the actual workouts themselves and a foam roller is an incredibly cheap and useful piece of equipment to facilitate this.
Foam rollers as with most equipment can have different skill levels ranging from beginner to advanced, to start with go for a softer option that doesn’t have any ridges built-in and once you get to a more advanced level you can then move on to a more solid foam roller with a knobbled exterior for trigger point release.
The above are items that I’d consider close to essential when it comes to getting the most out of home workouts over time. I’m a big believer in progressive overload which is continuously progressing either in terms of adding weight, adding sets/reps or reducing rest. This is more difficult to achieve with bodyweight only exercises when you can’t consistently add weight so you need to rely on other methods to progress. As a result, there comes a time when you need to add equipment like the above into the mix.
The following are items that are more accessory than essential but will appeal to different people based on training styles and goals.
Ab Roller - this is one of the more advanced ab exercises that you can attempt whilst being both simple in design and compact enough to fit in a bag or drawer.
Due to the stability required when using this piece of equipment you will not only target the abs but also the obliques and it can therefore cover many aspects of a core workout in this one exercise.
Yoga Mat - As mentioned earlier stretching and soft tissue massage are essential for anyone that exercises (especially those engaging in weightlifting), a yoga mat simply offers a comfortable area for you to do your stretching and soft tissue routines.
This is more relevant for those working out at home as gyms have dedicated padded areas for this whereas at home you might be working out on solid concrete or tiled floor which wouldn’t be the most comfortable for these routines which is why you’d want to invest in a yoga mat.
It can then also be used for its main purpose which is for any yoga routines that you might do.
Kettlebell - As a piece of functional equipment kettlebells rank as one of the most efficient and effective available, the only reason it doesn’t rank as essential for a home gym is that you will be restricted to the weight purchased. If you purchase a kettlebell that’s too light then you won’t get the most out of it and if you purchase one too heavy then you are really restricted to the movements you can use.
If you’ve got experience with kettlebells then you’ll be able to roughly estimate a weight that will be challenging for the majority of movements. If however, you’ve never used them before then select a weight between 6kg - 10kg to learn the basic movements and once comfortable you can upgrade to a heavier one.
About the Author
Simon Byrne is a Health and Fitness writer producing content for the supplement industry for the last 5 years with a focus on improving body composition. He is a certified Nutritionist through Precision Nutrition (PNL1) and a Level 3 Fitness Instructor.