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7 Gym Essentials to Build an At-Home Gym

at home workout outside

a man doing barbell exercises

The Squat Rack

A squat rack is one piece of equipment that cannot be avoided no matter how much you hate leg day! With a few different types of squat racks in the world, having a reliable squat cage system is key. A squat rack cage will often provide safety catches that can be adjustable to give more confidence when lifting heavy. Although the squat rack cage is ideal, it does take up some space and can come with a higher cost than other squat racks. But why would you need one anyways right?

Here are a few reasons why you should squat:

  • Powerful muscle size and strength builder both in the legs, back and core
  • Functional exercise as a primal movement pattern for humans to improve a variety of small muscle groups
  • Boosts vertical jump and increases the ability to absorb harsh landings while playing sports or training
  • Increases mobility and flexibility when a full range of motion in the ankles, knees, hips, and lower back when done correctly
  • Builds mental toughness as arguable the single most demanding exercise by having weight on the body at all times

The squat rack often comes with other accessories such as a pull up bar within a cage provide more than just one exercise! But the rack by itself is still missing one thing, the barbell.

workout with a barbell

The Barbell

Everyone knows you cannot complete the “Big 4” without the barbell! Although one of the simplest looking pieces of equipment in the gym, it is often the most complex to learn its full potential. Today the modern barbell is (on average) 45-pounds and has been used for weightlifting since the early 1900s. With that being said, some fitness enthusiasts spend their lives without ever touching one in a gym! A barbell is a metal bar that is able to load weights on both ends and is used for a multitude of exercises. The “Big 4” exercises is the most well known with barbells. These are the bench press, the squat, the deadlift, and the overhead press. All compound movements for strength. But the barbell can be used for so much more.

Barbell exercises you should consider when training:

  • Forward Lunge Walks
  • Lateral Walks
  • Calf Raises
  • Clean and Press
  • Reverse Bicep Curl
  • Front Squats
  • Javelin Press
  • Step Up
  • Bent Over Row

Barbells can be fairly cheap. Instead of having an all-in-one cable machine, look into an Olympic 45-pound barbell plus weights that can range from $100-$400 depending on the quality and type of weights that you buy!

barbell bench press

The Bench

Keeping all of this equipment together is best paired with the ever-so-simple workout bench! Used for anyone from a beginner to a pro, certain exercised movements can only be completed with a bench on hand. We all know on National Chest Day at the gym (Monday’s) benches are hard to come by. They are used for almost all chest exercises and pushing movements. You can also complete different exercises we mentioned before like step ups and lunge variations.

A bench is always durable! It is ideal for beginners to understand form and functionality if they have less mobility. And for the heavy lifters, needed as a staple to improve lifts such as strict bench press. Pairing the bench with the squat rack and barbell hits one of the “Big 4” and provides enough room to complete a bench successfully! Moving on to some WEIGHTS! A solid bench as seen HERE on Amazon!!!

Weighted Plates

It may seem pretty obvious that you will need weighted plates at this point I know… but let’s touch on why they are important! Weighted plates come income in different sizes of weight, but almost always have the same size to adjust to a bar they are paired with. The standard Olympic bar fits Olympic discs and is a standard size across the fitness industry. They are always 2 inches in the diameter center hole and fit all commercial bars and most plates loaded gym equipment. The “Standard” discs generally considered for most home gyms only have a diameter of 1-inch center hole and will not fit most gym equipment you see.

Olympic plates are more ideal for a few reasons. They become much more stable on a bar and are more versatile with the number of exercises you can conduct. Olympic weight lifting bars are built ot hold a greater total weight on a 7ft bar rather than a 5-6ft bar. Along with that there are differences in plate styles ranging from Fractional Plates, Competition Bumper Plates, Rubber Weight Plates, and Power Lifting Plates. Make sure you look into the differences between making a purchase. But plates are not all you will need…

girl lifting dumbbell weights

Dumbbell Weights

The holy grail of getting gains at the gym can be used with the most versatile weights, the dumbbells! Dumbbell weights are amazing tools for strength training compared to barbells. Although some people may disagree that they are superior, everyone in the fitness world knows you cannot spend time getting fit without some type of dumbbell movements. Here are 4 advantages to using dumbbells for exercises and why you need them in your home gym:


They are more joint-friendly on average, especially when it comes to bench and shoulder mobility. Being able to move more freely when benching is important because not everyone benches the same. There is no strict movement by nature that does not consist of slight variations from person to person. This goes the same for the barbell row vs the dumbbell row. Dumbbells offer a mix of positions and movements that you otherwise couldn’t complete without these weights.

Limited Space

It goes without saying that if you have a few good sets of dumbbell weights, you could get away with a LOT of workouts. Limited space is no issue as long as you have a place to store dumbbells when you are done. The space is what you make it. If you can do lunge walks holding dumbbells, great. If you are limited, you can still lung in place without needing other equipment to assist. This makes them easy to transport between areas of training as well!

Safety on Dumbbells

Unilateral Training 

If you have a strength imbalance dumbbells can often help minimize those issues. When using machines or barbells you may notice that your limbs are not all equal in length, strength proportion, and agility as each other. For this reason, you can accomplish unilateral training exercises easier with dumbbells while being less pron to injury or muscle imbalance.

Safer Exercises

Not all exercises are safer, but remember you can toss the dumbbells if needed! An example in that would be working on bench without a spot. What do you do if you get stuck on a barbell? FITFO (Figure It the F*** Out) and hope you are okay! But with dumbbells, you can drop the weights to avoid injury if you are pushing yourself to the limit during a workout. Better safe than sorry!

kettlebell workouts

Kettlebell Weights

A weight that is very well known in Crossfit, Special Operations workouts, and Russian Olympic Training… kettlebells are amazing! The history of the kettlebell is unclear, however, it appears that the Russian kettlebell as we knot today originated around 350 years ago. They appeared in the Russian dictionary in 1704, and originally used as handled counterweights to weight out dry goods on market scales. People started throwing them around for entertainment and later put to use for weight lifting.

Kettlebells are made from two different materials, cast iron, and steel. Steel is used in the manufacturing of  “competition” kettlebells and is not exactly the same. These pro kettlebells are always the exact same in size regardless of the weight. The only thing that changes is the weight within the kettlebell. This ensures the technique stays consistent regardless of the weight you are using. Traditional cast iron kettlebells get larger as they get heavier, and each size results in a slight difference place on the forearm. Keeping the diameter and handle location exactly the same makes the competition kettlebells exactly what they need to be used for!

Kettlebells are used for training that can combine cardio and strength training into one. Performing ballistic exercises that combine the two is not only tough but creates an improvement on functional strength all around. They are compact and portable, but learning the basics is advised before trying kettlebell workouts for the first time! Speaking of functional exercises…

medicine ball workout

Medicine Ball

Last but not least, the almighty medicine ball! Out of all of the weights, this one is the most simple to conduct. Tossing, throwing, slamming and moving a medicine ball is as functional as it gets! Without the other weights, the medicine ball could step in and be your number one fan. However, combining the equipment together and adding the medicine ball creates the perfect setup for a well-rounded fitness routine.

Medicine balls often require space but can be adjusted for the individual person. The oldest form of working out and testing strength was picking up an item and seeing what you can do with it. That is exactly what the medicine ball does. At its simplest form, it is a rock that is now shaped into a comfortable filled round bag and ready for action. They are cheaper than the other weights and typically have a few sizes themselves. You can utilize and combine work equipment with the ball such as the bench and the squat rack to finish off a HIIT workout or try something new and challenging. Functional fitness is key, and finishing off this home gym equipment break down would not be complete without the medicine ball!




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