- 1 Power Racks
- 2 Weights
- 3 Dumbbells
- 4 Micro-Weights
- 5 Barbells
- 6 Weight Benches
- 7 Cable/Pulley System
- 8 Gloves, Belts and Straps
- 9 Mats and Weight Trees
- 10 Cardio Equipment
- 11 Still More Bodybuilding Equipment
- 12 Now That You Have The Bodybuilding Equipment, What Do You Do With It?
Bodybuilding equipment comes in many shapes and sizes. Some look odd and work well, some look cool and are pieces of junk. Some have little value, others will be difference-makers.
When looking into purchasing home gym equipment, don’t let yourself be led astray by gadgetry. You are looking for quality equipment with the capabilities you need.
If you are looking to build muscle mass, you want a gym based on free weights. Leave the machines and gizmos to those with other goals (like the goal to spend a lot of money with little results). Free weights can’t be beat for muscle building.
Systems like the Bowflex Ultimate can be tempting but they won’t be able to replicate the results of good old-fashioned gravity-dependent free weights – More on the BowFlex and Free Weights Vs. Machines.
First and foremost, to gain the mass you’re after, you need the home gym equipment which allows you the capabilities to do the eight best mass building exercises. Not just to do those compound exercises, but to do them intense and heavy. From there, you can start to shop your way to some bodybuilding equipment that will allow you to perform more and more of the important isolation exercises.
On this page we’ll take a look at some of the types of bodybuilding equipment you’ll want to inhabit your home gym.
A power rack or some sort of self-spotting system is the ultimate start to a mass-building home gym.
I cover it first not because it is the most vital piece of bodybuilding equipment for the home gym, but because it has the potential to be the gym’s most dramatic difference maker. The power rack allows you to safely work solo with heavy weights and heavy lifts are critical to the mass building process.
If you are building your gym as you grow, consider the future impact a power rack can have on your home gym. The space needed will be about 25 square feet in area plus some peripheral space. You will need a ceiling height of at least 7 feet. This is a lot of space but it will be space well used.
Most power racks come standard with pull-up and dip bars or offer them as options. A high/low pulley is another option on most power racks. This attachment will let you do your triceps pushdowns, lat-bar pulldowns, rows and other exercises. In other words, a fully equipped power rack can be the hub of a great mass building home gym. You can get the base only and add attachments as your finances allow.
If the power rack is at all an option for your situation, I highly recommend you consider it. It is simply an excellent piece of home gym equipment for the person wishing to gain muscle mass.
Yes, your bodybuilding equipment won’t allow you to accomplish much without weights. Three basic types of weights are the:
- Rubber coated weights are the most expensive and offer the advantage of being a bit kinder to your floors. If this is the option you choose, be careful not to get the cheapest on the market as these have a tendency to crack.
- Plastic filled weights can also be kind to your floors and will cost the least amount of money. However, these weights are also the most breakable and you could find yourself reinvesting in weights in a couple of years.
Cast iron weights are the best option for those who aren’t overly concerned with their floors (buy some mats). These weights are more costly than the cement filled weights but less expensive than the rubber coated and have the advantage of being virtually indestructible. In the long run, they will represent the best bodybuilding equipment value.
Even though these are just slabs of metal, be careful not to just buy the cheapest you can find. On the very cheap end are weights with poorly baked on paint that will chip, sharp edges, and misrepresented actual weights.
Olympic or Standard Weights? Standard weights have a 1″ hole and go best with barbells of the five and six foot variety. They are meant for small and mid-size benches and are not the best option for heavy lifts. Olympic weights have 2″ holes and go best with the seven foot bars and larger benches that have wider crutch spacing (44-48 inches). This makes them better suited for heavy lifting.
While standard weights can get you a good start (and if you have a chance to get a set cheaply then they can make a for a solid beginning), for mass building, Olympic weights are the obvious choice. Standard weights and the accessories that go with them will save you a few bucks over Olympic weights, but the difference in cost isn’t so great that it outweighs the advantages of the Olympic weights.
Bottom line: Olympic weights won’t ever leave you wanting.
If starting from scratch, look to buy your first weights in a set. A decent 300 lb. cast iron Olympic weight set will cost around $150 including a barbell and perhaps even some dumbbell handles (the weights of the barbell and handles will be included in the poundage).
At the minimum, you want…
- 2(45 lb. Plates)
With this start, you will need only to add more 45 lb. plates to your home gym in order to be able to lift every possible weight increment available to you. Of course, if you are using dumbbell handles, you may need to double up on some of the smaller weight plates but this will still be cheaper than the alternative of buying individual dumbbells.
One thing you probably don’t want to do is buy weights online. The shipping charges will likely outweigh (pun somewhat intended) any deals you may be able to find. You are better off looking to the local sporting good’s suppliers for your best deals on weights. And don’t forget Craigslist.
A tremendous luxury for any home gym is having a large collection of individual dumbbells sitting in the corner all organized on a nice rack and just waiting for you to decide which ones to pick up and lift. Unfortunately, this is a bodybuilding equipment luxury that many of us (like me) can only dream about. Dumbbell sets that have enough punch to be useful for mass building goals can be extremely expensive bodybuilding equipment.
An even more intriguing option is the adjustable sets as they save space and offer quick changes. (Bowflex SelectTech pictured at the left are excellent.)
If you aren’t just looking for a way to rid yourself of some money, dumbbell handles are the answer to your dumbbell needs. Handles work as mini-barbells and while they may be more of a hassle than the individual dumbbell set dream, they do the job just as well and will keep significant weight in your wallet.
Here’s the problem: You are doing dumbbell bicep curls with dumbbell handles at 25 lbs. each arm. Your goal, of course, is to keep increasing the poundage and therefore force your muscles to grow to meet the increasing demands placed on them (progressive overload).
But if using standard weight increments, the smallest of which is 2.5 lbs., you must increase your lift by 5 lbs. (2.5 lb. plate on each side). This means your next step up is to 30 lbs. which represents a lofty 20 percent increase. That is quite a jump and difficult to attain.
Micro-weights (fractional plates) give you the ability to instead increase your lifts by increments between 1 and 5 lbs. This can be a huge help in your pursuit of building muscle where your success will depend on your ability to continually be increasing the weights you handle.
It not only provides help in situations like the one above, but can be a great plateau buster for all your lifts. Sometimes you just can’t get your bench press from 200 to 205 lbs. or your squat from 280 to 285.
Make Your Own Micro-Weights?
Unfortunately, these plates, while definitely useful and a very nice addition to any gym, can be very expensive bodybuilding equipment. As such, to many they are considered a luxury item.
A lot of not-so-wealthy lifters (like myself) get a little creative to solve the problem. You can start by adding extra collars to the dumbbells. From there you can use magnets or any number of things to create small and manageable increases.
Probably the most flexible method is using chain links. You can get chain links cheaply from your local hardware store, weigh them and then create your own micro-weights (different lengths equaling different weights).
Micro-weights can help you gradually work up to those weights and allow you to continue growing. I highly recommend some form of microloading be in your weight training arsenal.
If you’re starting out with a weight set, as previously mentioned, you’ll likely get a bar in the package. This probably won’t be a real high quality bar. However, depending on your impending capabilities, this may be all you will ever need. If you get into some heavier lifts, however, it may be wise to invest some of your bodybuilding equipment budget in a good bar.
You may, at some point, want to invest in a curl bar. These bars, as the name implies, are for curls. They allow you to grip at an angle that lessens the stress on the wrist. This stress reduction becomes more and more important as you lift greater amounts. In addition to the stress factor, a curl bar allows for greater contraction of the muscles.
Another bar that is nice to have but not as important as the regular and the curl bar, is a thick-grip bar. The thicker grip helps strengthen your grip as well as working the arm muscles in a different way.
There are many other types of bars beyond these types and most would be nice to have but few will have the dramatic effect necessary to justify a great bodybuilding equipment expense.
What bench you get will depend on how you envision your finished home gym. If you plan on adding a power rack, you won’t be looking for a bench with crutches. If you have decided not to go with a power rack, you will definitely need crutches.
With crutches, you want to pay attention to the distance between them. The greater the distance, the more weight the crutches will be able to handle. Benches built for Olympic weights typically have a 44-48″ space which is ideal. Mid-size benches have around a 36″ space and will be adequate for most people.
In the “no power rack” scenario, you will also want to get a bench/rack system that allows for squatting. There are many designs available that incorporate a squat rack at the rear of the bench. Additionally, without a power rack, you want to look for some sort of self-spotting attachment. Unless you have a training partner, you will need some way to lift heavy safely.
Incline/decline capabilities are something you definitely want in a bench. This allows you to vary the ways you hit your muscles and is important to the continuation of muscle gains. Leg attachments that allow you to perform leg curls and extensions are a must capability for the bench. If this is an add-on, you can certainly wait and add it later as the bodybuilding equipment funds become available. However, many benches come with this standard.
Pay particular attention to quality when picking out a bench. Look for rugged pads and good workmanship (on this and all bodybuilding equipment). Cheap pads will rip and become smelly. At a minimum, your bench should be constructed out of 2 inch heavy duty steel tubing. This will be the centerpiece of your home gym. Don’t skimp on it.
A cable/pulley system with both high and low capabilities will give your home gym some great capabilities. Great isolated exercises like lat-bar pulldowns, seated rows and triceps pushdowns can be performed with a good cable/pulley system.
These are very beneficial exercises but this piece of bodybuilding equipment is not a necessity to your goal to build muscle fast. It is nice to have but can be costly.
If you are building your home gym as you grow, a cable/pulley system can be down on your home gym equipment list but should be considered a definite want at some point.
Look for nylon-coated cables with test strengths of at least 1,500 lbs. A good warranty for a cable/pulley system is 3 years.
Gloves, Belts and Straps
Weight lifting gloves are essential bodybuilding equipment if you plan on doing some intense workouts (and that is what you are planning). Unless you’re a carpenter or other similarly employed individual with twenty years on the job and calluses to prove it, your hands aren’t ready for the workouts that are on the way. Fortunately, a good pair of weight lifting gloves won’t break the bank.
NewGrip Weight Lifting Gloves (Grips): My Secret Plateau Buster
Traditional weight lifting gloves have some serious drawbacks. As you sweat, they trap the moisture and give you hot, uncomfortable and smelly hands. They also tend to buckle up on you more and more as they age.
Newgrips solve the weaknesses of traditional gloves. They provide better hand protection, they keep the hands cool and they don’t retain odor like the leather gloves.
All that is great, it makes for a great improvement by itself… but the really exciting part comes when you find out that using these gloves actually increase your power.
You can actually lift more weight for more reps.
How? What causes you to fail in your attempts at a weight or in doing an additional rep often isn’t the failure of the target muscle – instead it is hand pain or weakness.
You may not realize that this is the case… But try a pair of these and you’ll be amazed at the results. They can bust you out of plateaus, help take you right past those “sticking” weights.
The more weight you are successfully able to handle, the more muscle you will build. These grips can actually be true difference-makers in your attempts to build muscle mass. Easily one of the most unknown and underutilized yet incredibly effective bodybuilding techniques out there.
A weight belt will be even more important to your weight lifting safety. It isn’t necessary to start out doing your squats and deadlifts with a weight belt. The weight belt will actually limit the employment of some abdominal and back stabilizer muscles and impede your progress. However, when you get into more challenging weights, a good 4″ belt is a bodybuilding equipment necessity when doing these exercises.
But don’t forget to take your weight belt off when doing exercises that don’t put your lower back at risk. Don’t use them for your squat warm-up sets or for squats or deadlifts at lower weights.
Rule of thumb: If you’re lifting less than your bodyweight and, as you gain experience, less than 1.5 times bodyweight, don’t use a belt.
Gyms are full of guys too embarrassed by their mid sections walking around doing every exercise with their belts on. Using a belt as a girdle is foolish and counterproductive. An over-reliance on a weight belt will limit the development of accessory and stabilizer muscles and can actually put you at greater risk for back injury.
Dip belts offer you the ability to add weight to your pull-ups and dips. They are a good thing when your own bodyweight stops being a challenge. If you are just beginning, though, this time is probably a ways off.
Weight lifting straps wrap around the barbell and attach to your wrist. They allow you to perform some exercises (like shrugs and deadlifts) at heavier weights than your grip-strength would normally allow.
Mats and Weight Trees
The comfort level of your home gym isn’t something you want to entirely ignore. A basement messy with weights everywhere and a hard dirty floor isn’t going to be very appealing on those workout days when you’re having trouble finding motivation. Weight trees can help you organize your weights and create a “happy” place.
On a bodybuilding equipment budget, a weight tree should be far down on your home gym equipment wish list. It won’t build any muscle. A crate can keep your weights. If you have some imagination, I’m sure can figure something out that won’t set you back $80.
Bodybuilding equipment mats fall into the same category in terms of being down on your wish list because they won’t build any muscle. However, if you have floors to protect or downstairs neighbors, they may skyrocket the top. And if you are investing is some good bodybuilding equipment, they become a very smart buy and can be had at a relatively reasonable cost.
I do recommend a good exercise mat for your ab work. Few people enjoy ab work but I’m sure those with a comfortable set-up tolerate it a little better. Anything that makes you more likely to do your exercises and do them well becomes a very good buy.
For your goal to gain muscle mass, cardio work is not that important. For overall health, cardio work is important and eventually you will want to have this capability in your home gym.
When trying to build muscle mass, the purpose of cardio home gym equipment is to warm up the body. You never want to go into a tough workout without the blood flowing – the performance and effectiveness of your workout will suffer and you will be more susceptible to injury. A jump rope can warm up your body. Also, check the classifieds for a decent used exercise bike.
As your goals change from just gaining mass to dropping some body-fat, a fancier exercise bike with some of the bells and whistles (display, heart rate monitor, varied workouts) may be a very wise investment.
When that time comes, for my money, the stationary bike is the best piece of cardio equipment. Go with an upright bike (the recumbent bikes are more comfortable but significantly less intense) and pedal your way to a quick and effective fat-burning exercise.
Still More Bodybuilding Equipment
There really is an endless supply of bodybuilding equipment gadgetry. Just when you think you’ve seen it all… bam, the new great ab gizmo comes out and wow, just look at the results of their spokesmodel.
Generally, beware of bodybuilding equipment gadgetry especially when it comes to ab stuff.
Still, there exists a great deal of valuable bodybuilding equipment beyond what’s been covered thus far on this page. Below is some stuff that may find its way into your home gym because you need it to do the basic muscle building exercises (your gym’s been built a unique way), because you come across a great deal or because you’re rich and planning to be the next Mr. Olympia.
- Seated Calf Machine – The only way to hit your soleus muscle is with the seated calf raise. You can do this exercise with just free weights but it is not the most comfortable way to go.
- Roman Chair – This is a short incline bench used primarily for leg raises and can be a very valuable addition to help bring out that six-pack.
- Preacher Curl Bench – This is available as an add-on to many bench designs but can be free-standing. It helps isolate the biceps on curls (Preacher Curls).
- Doorway Pull-up Bar – This can be a great option if you don’t have the capabilities to do this exercise from your other bodybuilding equipment. You need to do pull-ups and wide-grip pull-ups. Also available to mount to beams which is a better option if available for your situation.
- Dip Station – Like pull-ups, you really want to be able to do dips. As a free-standing unit, it won’t be the most space practical piece of home gym equipment you have in your home gym. They do make many varieties of dip/pull-up combos which are worth looking into if you have these needs.
- Ellipticals – If you’re after cardio work that incorporates the entire body, an elliptical is the way to go. But because you’re not in need of the “toning” effects, I’d stick to the stationary bikes. A good elliptical can do the job though and so if this is what you have, mark the bike off your wish list.
- Smith Machines – Smith machines should only be you’re option if you have a condition that prevents the use of free weights. They simply won’t offer you the muscle building benefits of free weights.
- Hyper Extension Bench – Hyper extensions can be done without a hyper extension bench (lying on a bench with someone or someone holding your legs) but this isn’t always easy. Hyperextensions are effective at building muscles of the lower back but not really a piece of bodybuilding equipment someone who has the goal to gain weight fast will have at the top of their lists.
- Rowers – Rowers, the seated kind with the bells and whistles, can be very expensive and generally not as effective for the muscle building goals as a decent pulley system.
Now That You Have The Bodybuilding Equipment, What Do You Do With It?
It is nice to have the bodybuilding equipment but, unless you use it wisely, it won’t help you gain muscle mass. Training to build muscle is about compound exercises and lifting heavy with maximum intensity.
To learn more about how to train for muscle gain, check out the Weight Training Program Section.
Couple more articles you may like…
Building the Home Gym That WILL Build Muscle Mass
Find out what the muscle building home gym needs and how to build it regardless of your budget.
The Bodybuilding Specialty Programs
The top specialty programs, from supplement guides to biceps builders — Discover the good ones that can help you shore up your weak spots.