Top 10 Home Gym Essentials for Garage Gyms
Looking for a list of home gym essentials to setup your own garage gym?
Home gyms and the garage gym market has exploded since 2020 when the Coronavirus pandemic forced everyone to stay at home and start thinking about alternative ways to exercise outside of a commercial gym.
There are a dizzying array of options available for people who are starting their first home gym, garage gym, or outdoor gym. Every day, new companies come out with more and more fitness equipment.
However, there are really only a few essentials that are absolutely needed, especially if you are doing resistance training at home.
This list is designed for those who are interested in resistance training, which has been proven to increase positive health outcomes, and have enormous benefits for longevity, quality of life, and avoiding various diseases.
Having a home gym and doing resistance training weekly is especially important for older adults who want to decrease their risk of health complications.
Top 10 Home Gym Essentials
- Heater/Fan Combo
- Adjustable Dumbbells
- Adjustable Kettlebell
- Adjustable Bench
- Olympic Barbell
- Olympic Weight Plates
- Barbell Lock Collars
- Horse Stall Mats
- Squat Rack
- Assault Bike
1. Heater/Fan Combo
Why is this the first recommendation on a list of home gym essentials?
Because it’s a psychological thing.
If you want to avoid freezing to death in the winter, or burning up and passing out during the summer, particularly in a garage, sunroom, or unheated area, get a heater/fan combo unit.
Not only will a heater/fan combo unit save you from getting too hot or cold, it will psychologically improve the chances that you will use your home gym in the first place.
If it’s a cold morning, and you know the home gym will also be cold, chances are you will be less likely to venture out for a workout than if you have a heated space that is comfortable and inviting.
A heater/fan combo allows you to have 1 compact climate control unit, rather than a separate and dedicated AC unit AND heater unit in your home gym, decreasing the amount of space you have during a workout.
Want a recommendation on what kind of heater/fan combo to buy?
Try any of the highly rated heater/fan combo units on Amazon, such as this Lasko fan:
(Photo Courtesy of Amazon)
If you live in a particularly hot climate year-round, just go for a cooling AC unit. For climates that are cold year-round, go for a dedicated heater unit and skip the fan.
2. Adjustable Dumbbells
If you’re just starting out with resistance training, adjustable dumbbells are a fantastic way to increase full-body strength, tone, build muscle, and lose weight.
Most adjustable dumbbells adjust in 5 pound increments from 5 pounds all the way to 50 pounds, which is more than enough for most people.
As you get stronger you can increase the weight on these dumbbells. Most sets of adjustable dumbbells also allow you to expand the weight stack over time. So even if the dumbbells only have a maximum of 50 pounds on them, some allow you to to continue to add weight, sometimes to as much as 150 pounds!
Dumbbells workout all muscle groups, from biceps and triceps, back and shoulders, to core, hamstrings, and quads.
If you want a place to start with, try our full-body workout plan, and check out this free dumbbell workout program here. It even includes videos on how to use dumbbells properly, and doesn’t force you to use any other equipment!
Here are some great adjustable dumbbells by Yes4All to add to your home gym collection:
(Photo Courtesy of Amazon)
These type of adjustable dumbbells allow you to take “standard” plates, which are iron plates with a 1″ hole in the center, and add them to the dumbbell handles in 5 pound increments.
Standard plates are generally less expensive than Olympic weight plates, which have 2″ holes in the middle.
Bowflex, Ironmaster, and Nuobell, as well as other companies make great adjustable “quick lock” dumbbell sets that are easier to use than the standard plate dumbbells listed above, however, they are more expensive, and offer essentially the same functionality, with a faster option to change weight in between workouts.
If you are just starting out, a set of standard adjustable dumbbells should work well for you!
3. Adjustable Kettlebell
Kettlebells are all the rage, and with Crossfit having gained such popularity over the years, kettlebells are here to stay.
There are tons of full-body kettlebell workouts that will condition, tone, and strengthen your core. And with so many workouts available, it’s hard to exclude kettlebells from a Top 10 list of home gym essentials.
If you want increased versatility, try an adjustable kettlebell, rather than fixed kettlebells. Instead of having to purchase multiple kettlebells with different weight sizes, adjustable kettlebells give you the flexibility to purchase 1 kettlebell which can adjust to different weights.
Just like the adjustable dumbbells, you can add additional weight plates to the kettlebell as you continue to get stronger. Most adjustable kettlebells go up to 50lbs, but if you get a kettlebell loading pin, you can increase that weight even further.
Adjustable kettlebells with standard plates take time to change out the weight. However, if you have an adjustable kettlebell with an adjustable weight dial, then you can quickly and easily change out the weight stack by selecting the proper weight amount on the dial.
Here’s a great adjustable kettlebell by Titan Fitness, which allows you to easily change out the weight during a workout:
The weight selector allows you to slide plates in and out of the kettlebell easily, without interrupting your workout.
Alternatively, you can try adjustable kettlebells with standard plates, such as this one, but you will need to buy standard plates with 1″ holes in the middle to use with the kettlebell.
4. Adjustable Bench
Sometimes free weights simply don’t cut it, and you need something for your home gym that allows you to target different muscles groups.
The angles of an adjustable bench can help you to isolate specific muscles, whether that be back, triceps, biceps, chest, legs, etc.
There are hundreds of ways to use an adjustable bench, but if you already have dumbbells and kettlebells, an adjustable bench allows you further versatility in your workout, expanding your range of motion, stabilizing your body on a flat or inclined/declined surface, and targeting exact areas you want to strengthen.
Adjustable benches should ideally allow you to adjust the back of the bench up to a straight 90 degree angle, as well as have a slight decline when fully extended. Some benches even have preacher curl or leg curl/extension attachment, which allows you to do upper and lower body workouts on the same bench.
Here’s a great adjustable bench by Progear that includes roller wheels for easy storage and movement:
This bench adjusts completely upright, flat, and at a slight decline. It has a great weight capacity, and is built solidly. It’s a great starter bench.
There are plenty of other brands like RepFitness, Rogue, Titan, and Prime Fitnes that sell sturdy adjustable benches if you want to upgrade later, but a great starter adjustable bench like the Progear bench is more than enough for someone who is just getting into resistance training.
5. Olympic Barbell
At some point when building your home gym and doing resistance training, you will want to upgrade your equipment to include a full size Olympic barbell.
Barbells are straight rods with “sleeves” that rotate, and allow you to load weight on them to do different kinds of exercises like squatting, benchpress, and deadlift.
There are hundreds of barbells on the market, but any basic barbell will do. Just be sure you don’t choose a cheap barbell from Fitness Gear, CAP, or Marcy as they have a tendency to break, warp, or bend over time since the steel used to manufacture them is generally inferior and made overseas.
Make sure that when choosing a barbell, you don’t buy anything that is “bare steel”, as these barbells will rust and corrode quickly. Black oxide, zinc, chrome, or high-end stainless steel coatings are preferred.
Also, unless you are doing Olympic lifting, such as clean and jerks, snatches, or front squats, a barbell with bushings is preferable. Bushings are ball bearings in the sleeve/collar of the barbell that allow the ends of the barbell to spin freely when lifting.
Hammer Clad is a USA-made, stainless steel bushing barbell that will last a lifetime with proper maintenance. This barbell is a great bar for beginners and can take a beating, with an over 1000lb weight capacity!
Here is the Hammer Clad barbell in all it’s glory:
Barbells from Rep Fitness, Kabuki, American Barbell, and others all have different coatings, thicknesses, markings, and knurl patterns, but not all are made in the USA, and not all offer the same types of benefits.
If you are just starting out, the Hammer Clad barbell is a great choice for beginners.
Otherwise, choose a bar that feels comfortable to you, or purchase a used barbell and experiment with that until you feel like you understand how to resistance train with a bar in your hands.
6. Olympic Weight Plates
There are almost as many barbells as there are Olympic weight plates on the market today. There are cast iron, machined, urethane coated, and “bumper” plate (or rubber coated) Olympic weights, all of which provide different benefits.
Most Olympic weight plates are going to be made from cast iron, and will either be solid faced, or have grip holes so that you can load them onto your barbell more easily.
Also, unless you are performing Olympic lifts, such as the clean and jerk, snatch, or front squat, and dropping the barbell onto the floor, you will not need “bumper”, or rubber coated plates.
Just be sure that you have adequate protection for your flooring (covered later in the this article), so that the metal plates do not damage either your foundation, or the floor where you are lifting.
To start out, you can purchase used iron Olympic plates on most online marketplaces such as Facebook, OfferUp, and Craigslist, just to get a feel for what type of Olympic weights you would prefer in your home gym. It’s not necessary to purchase new weight plates.
Any weight plate will do, as this is just a starting point. You can always upgrade your plates later!
If you are absolutely set on getting new weight plates, try out these RepFitness cast iron plates. They are high quality plates with 3% weight tolerance, and should last a long time with proper care.
7. Barbell Lock Collars
Barbell lock collars are an often overlooked piece of building your home gym that most beginners might forget about when buying a barbell and Olympic plates.
Barbell clamps, or “collars”, prevent your Olympic weights from sliding off the end of your barbell. They clamp down on the sleeve of a barbell and act as a safety mechanism so you avoid injury during lifting.
Barbell lock collars come in a few different varieties, but the most common are metal spring collars, and the traditional plastic lock collar.
Both have their own benefits, with the plastic lock collar generally providing a tighter seal on the sleeve of the barbell.
Most of the differences come down to personal preference. Metal spring collars are generally harder to slide on and off of the barbell, while lock collars are more easily applied.
With metal spring collars, you have to squeeze the handles to slide the spring collars onto your barbell. With plastic lock collars, you simply have to unlock the collar using a lever mechanism, and slide it into the barbell, no squeezing required.
It’s up to you on which lock collar you prefer. Most are very inexpensive, come in different colors, and you can find hundreds of lock collars on Amazon or any online marketplace. Pick one type of collar, use it, and if you want to upgrade to nicer collars in the future, you can.
There are other versions of lock collars – only two types are covered here – and collars by Eleiko, Lockjaw, and Rogue can be very pricey, so experiment with different cheap lock collars first before buying a more expensive version.
8. Horse Stall Mats
Another often overlooked piece of home gym equipment is gym flooring. In order to properly protect your floor from damage and cracking during resistance training, you need to have a solid layer of rubber or protective material on top.
This is where horse stall mats prove particularly effective.
While many fitness companies charge hundreds of dollars for a few square feet of mat, horse stall mats are approximately half that cost for the same square footage.
Horse stall mats generally come in 4 foot by 6 foot sections, and are 3/4 inch thick. Anything thinner is not recommended for your home gym or garage gym, as the risk of damaging your floor by dropping something on top of a thinner mat is much higher.
Horse stall mats can be found at any Tractor Supply, Fleet and Farm supply, or farm store in your area. Just be sure to call ahead prior to purchase to ensure they are in stock, as stock varies depending on region.
For most home gyms, stall mats are the ideal solution to protect your floor during weightlifting.
Don’t get fooled by other fitness stores selling rubber gym “fitness” flooring for hundreds more, and marketing it as the ideal solution for your home gym or garage gym. That flooring is generally overpriced, “premium,” and overkill for your home gym.
The majority of home gym owners will use stall mats, as it’s an economical solution to flooring needs.
As an aside, be aware of “off-gassing” (or smell) which will come from these stall mats for the first few months. Due to the material, this smell will last for a little while, and then disappear after sitting for some time.
You can wipe down the mats with a cleaner regularly to speed up this process, or just let them air out by opening a garage door, window, etc.
The smell is not toxic or harmful, it’s just a little strong at first, but will go away over time. Most of the time, if the mats are in a garage or basement, you will probably not even notice if the door is closed, since the smell should not travel through your home.
9. Squat Rack
In most “Top 10” lists, a squat rack is at, or near, the top of the list. The reason the squat rack is so near the bottom of this particular Top 10 list is because it’s really not absolutely essential for a great workout regimen.
You can workout with an adjustable bench and dumbbells. The barbell, plates, and squat rack are just bonuses.
However, a squat rack is extremely versatile, and a great piece of fitness equipment to have in your home gym. Not only will a squat rack allow you to benchpress and squat, with multiple attachments, you can overhead press, deadlift, store weights, attach cable systems, and do multiple accessory exercises in the same rack.
You can research the different types of squat rack attachments and cross-compatibility among models here, it really just depends on the rack, and what is available for that model.