Ultimate Home Gym Beginners Guide

ULTIMATE HOME GYM BEGINNERS GUIDE Thumbnail
10 Apr

Looking to build your own home gym?

You’re at the right place. Our ultimate home gym beginners guide can help you narrow down the right equipment for your money. You will find that we have created a table of content to help you easily navigate through our ultimate home gym beginners guide.

Table of Contents

Planning

The Basics

The Rack

The Plates

The Barbell

The Bench

The Flooring

The DIY Equipment

The Programming

Planning

home gym planning

You don’t want to be one of those people that buys equipment, gets really excited for a month, then loses interest, then gives up, then sells the equipment on Craigslist for 50%. So, start off with some planning first.

What do you want to be able to do in your gym?

If you simply want a space to be able to do yoga, don’t buy a rack, bar, and plates. Identify the main exercises, types of workouts, etc. you want to be able to do first. If you want to be a Powerlifter, Bodybuilder, CrossFit athlete, do P90X, or whatever, look around at what some of the others on the internet (or in this sub) have that you feel you need.

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How much space do you have?

The limiting factor for most home gyms is space. Unless you are building an add-on to your house for a gym, figure out what dimensions you have to work with. If you want 20 machines, but have a 10 x 10 room to work with, you are going to have to make some edits. Keep in mind the rooms length, width and height. You wouldn’t want to buy a power rack and then find out it doesn’t fit in your garage, or you can’t do your Olympic lifts in there.

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What is your budget?

Figure out what your budget is as a starting place, and then what you are comfortable spending after that. You may decide that you have 2000 dollars to start, and you’ll spend the savings of a gym membership each year on upgrades and additions. Whatever it is, figure it out so you can plan your purchases, feel good about what you bought, and hopefully not put yourself into debt trying to get this accomplished.

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From there, the majority of your planning is going to depend on your local used market (try Search Tempest, Craigslist, eBay, plat-it-again sports, and Kijiji) as well as local garage sales and classifieds, ask friends, look for gyms closing down, etc. Then working in what you’ll buy new and going from there. Then get to work.

A tool that can be really handy for planning, Icovia Space Planner. The site is set up for PowerTec equipment, but switching the tab to symbols gives you a large list of generic sized equipment. Set your room dimensions, start adding your equipment (adjust the dimensions as you figure out what equipment), and make sure you have the right space set up.
Now get planning!

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The Basics

home gym basics

What are the essential workout equipment I should have for weightlifting powerlifting/bodybuilding?

For a basic gym setup, most people here have a power rack, a bench (flat or flat/incline; less often flat/incline/decline), a 7′ Olympic barbell, and 300lbs (or more) of Olympic sized iron weight. This setup allows you to do the four big lifts safely – the big lifts being squats, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press (OHP). Not just that, but this setup allows you a ton of flexibility for many different barbell exercises. Most importantly, it gives you room to grow and get bigger for a long time. If you buy good quality equipment, it is feasible that you’ll never really need to upgrade (although you will feel compelled to).

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Where is the best place to buy my equipment?

Generally, the best bang for your buck is to buy used. There is a ton of perfectly good equipment being resold for 1/2 of their retail value daily (or less). If you can, be patient and check craigslist, kijiji, Gumtree, play it again sports, or eBay. There are apps and programs that you can use to alert you when new postings are made based on keywords that you entered. In terms of pricing, good deals will depend on where you live. Keep checking craigslist for a few months and you’ll get an idea of what constitutes a fair value in your area (you can also post here and have people help you out).

In general, in America, for Olympic iron plates, aim for somewhere around $0.50/lb. You may see some “higher end” companies like Ivanko, York, Eleiko, etc. go for closer to $1/lb, but for the vast majority of people, Iron is Iron. Anything less than a $0.50/lb is a steal, unless the weights are rusted to the point of damage, chipped, etc. DO NOT BE AFRAID OF RUSTED OR DIRTY PLATES. There numerous guides on the internet on how to restore plates. Clean them, scrape them a little, paint them, and lift. It is a labor of love, but you’ll save a ton of cash and might find some diamonds in the rough. And there is something about bringing an abused plate back to life and putting it through the ringer that just feels good. In Canada, $1/lb is more common, $0.75/lb is a decent deal. More than that can still be very reasonable, depending on the quality of equipment.

Other equipment just depends. Craigslist is also a great way to buy and flip equipment that you don’t need to help finance your home gym. Every now and then a great deal pops up: be ready to jump on it! Of course, not everyone has the luxury of living in a rich used market area. If you have to buy new (or if you just like new things), a few of the places that people buy from are: Rogue Fitness, MDUSA, Sorinex, Texas Strength Systems, EliteFTS, NewYorkBarbells, Titan Fitness, GetRx’d, Fringesports, Spud Inc, etc. Then of course there’s always Amazon, where people get popular items such as the Adidas flat bench, Atlas power rack, Powerline PPR200x, CAP OB-86B barbell, etc.
Work with your budget in mind, and work towards the goal of purchasing what you know you need.

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The Rack

home gym rack

What’s the difference between a power rack and a half rack?

Generally, most people feel that power racks are safer than half racks. This is because you lift within the cage, which has safeties/spotters to help catch the weight when you fail, preventing it from falling on you (especially important for bench press). Half racks do come with safeties as well, however you have to be careful to get safeties that are long enough so that you can comfortably step back from the rack to do your squats. Also, they have to be beefy enough to support heavy weights being dropped from shoulder height (or higher) onto them. Note: one difference between half racks and power racks is that if you fall backwards using a half rack, you will not have the safety of a cage to catch you. Not only does this put you at risk of injury, but also having iron weights fall from shoulder or overhead height is no good for your floor, your barbell, or your weights.

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What should I look for when getting a rack?

When choosing a squat rack, there are a couple things to look for. First, know the weight capacity of the squat rack. Second, make sure it’s a quality gauge steel. Most people will recommend 11 ga or heavier and at the very least, 14 ga. Rule of thumb is that if they don’t say the gauge, it’s probably going to be a very thin steel (what you’d find at Dick’s, Academy, etc.). Third, you’ll also want to know the hole spacing. The spacing between holes will determine where you place your spotter/safety bars. In general, 2″ center-to-center is about as wide a hole spacing as you would want. Some racks will have the Westside hole spacing, which is 2″ center-to-center with 1″ center-to-center spacing in the area for bench press. This allows you to have finer control of the safeties when setting them for bench press, allowing greater range of motion of the exercise. Fourth, you might also be interested in the type of barbell holders that come with the rack. The trend now is for J-hooks/J-cups with UHMW inserts to protect the knurling on your barbell. Some racks will have a bolt type barbell holder. And finally some racks have a gunrack style barbell holder. Fifth, you’ll want to know about possible accessories that will fit your rack when the time comes for upgrades. Most racks will come with a pull-up bar. Some have dip attachments. Some racks can use the attachments built for other racks (example: Titan HD racks are made of 2×3 steel tubing, and therefore can use Rogue Infinity accessories). Finally, but perhaps most importantly, you’ll want to know about how stable the rack is. You can tell this by the weight of the rack and the footprint of the rack. Some racks require being bolted down. You can either do this directly into your flooring, or by building a lifting platform and securing your rack onto that. This last piece is important, and factors into the space the rack will take up in your room. If you can’t (or don’t want to) bolt the rack directly into the floor, you are going to need to build at minimum a 4ft by 8ft platform to bolt the rack to. Do not think that most racks are meant to be moved daily. Some half racks, sure. Squat stands, definitely. But a full rack is almost always intended to be bolted to something,e specially if they have band pegs.

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The Plates

home gym plates

What are standard plates and what are Olympic plates?

Here is a comparison picture of standard plates vs Olympic plates. Standard weight plates have 1″ holes and fit into barbells/dumbbells that have 1″ diameter ends. These standard barbells utilize a spin-lock mechanism to keep the plates on the bar and thus, the ends of the barbells have threads on them. Standard barbells look something like this. Olympic weight plates have 2″ holes and fit into Olympic barbells/dumbbells. Instead of a spin lock mechanism, Olympic barbells utilize clips or collars to keep the weight locked on the bar. Olympic barbells look like this. Another difference between the two systems is the length of the bars that hold the plates. Olympic bars are uniformly 7′ long, whereas standard bars are typically 5-6′ long. Olympic bars also have sleeves, which are the 2″ diameter revolving ends that you load the plates onto. These sleeves rotate freely, which important to remove additional torque on the bar during movement. This is very important during Olympic lifts, but can even have an effect during more common exercises like curls, bench press, etc.

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Should I invest in Olympic plates and barbells or standard plates and barbells? What’s the difference?

Buying standard size equipment is tempting because it is typically cheaper than olympic equipment. However, most people here will advocate olympic plates for the big lifts (bench, OHP, squat, deadlifts). This is because olympic barbells are stronger than standard barbells, having a much higher weight capacity. Standard barbells will start bending around 200 lbs or so, whereas even cheap olympic barbells are rated for much more than that. This means you will be able to keep using the same olympic plates and barbells as you get stronger over time. If you had started with standard barbells, you would have to repurchase all new olympic size bars and plates once you started squatting or deadlifting over 200 lbs! Another reason for olympic over standard is that olympic size equipment is more likely to be compatible with a power rack or squat rack. This is because olympic barbells are longer (7′ vs shorter 5-6′ standard barbells). Often, the uprights on standard power racks/squat racks are too far apart to accommodate most standard size barbells. There are bench/squat rack combos made for standard barbells, but these are usually of poorer quality, and not meant to support a large amount of weight. Finally, if you intend on doing any type of olympic lifts (snatch, cleans, jerks), you will need olympic plates. This is because you will need the sleeves to rotate during olympic movements (see above), AND you will need bumper plates. Bumper plates do not come in standard sizes typically.

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So is there any reason to own standard plates?

Yes! Standard plates paired with adjustable dumbbells work great for many people. It’s often the cheapest way to add dumbbell exercises to your workout. The benefit here is that using standard plates to make your own adjustable dumbbells cost less and take up less space than buying an entire rack of hex dumbbells. The downside is that changing out the weights using standard plates take more time than just grabbing another pair of hex dumbbells from the rack. If your workout requires a lot of quick dumbbell weight changes, investing in quick change adjustable dumbbells like the power blocks would be the way to go. power blocks are great, but be warned, they’re expensive!

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Should I get bumper plates or iron plates?

There is a huge difference between the cost of iron plates and bumper plates. Used, iron plates go for $0.50-0.70/lb. Bumper plates will typically go for around $1.60/lb. So, you should only use bumper plates if you need it. Bumper plates are made of high density rubber and are meant to withstand being dropped from overhead. If you plan on doing Olympic lifts (snatch, clean, jerk, etc.), then you will need bumper plate…and probably a platform to protect your flooring. If you are doing extremely heavy deadlifts and are worried about noise, then you can consider bumper plates. Otherwise, it is much cheaper to just use iron plates.

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What do I need to do the Olympic Lifts? Can I drop my weights?

All you need for the Olympic lifts are a barbell and plates. What you’ll probably want for these lifts includes a lifting platform (see DIY section below), bumper plates, and a barbell with good spin (google it). Don’t drop steel. Don’t drop bumpers less than 25 lbs. You can add steel plates to bumpers, but use common sense when dropping them to prevent damage (see bumper question below).

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Can I use bumper plates along with iron plates for deadlifts?

This seems to be up for debate. Bumper plates are generally engineered to support their own weight ONLY. Having bumpers hold up the weight of addition iron plates will probably cause them to wear out and crack earlier in the long run. However, people say that they have had success using the following setup on their barbell: 45 lb bumper, 45 lb iron plate, 25 lb bumper, any additional smaller iron plates. YMMV.

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The Barbell

home gym barbel

Which barbell should I get?

In general, you want to get a good quality barbell if you can. People often say it’s the centerpiece of their gym. In general, when starting out, the best bang for your buck beginner barbell has been the CAP OB-86B, which can be had for $120-150 at Walmart or Amazon. Stepping up in quality from that, people also like barbells from rogue (Ohio power bar, rogue bar 2.0, B&R bar, Chan bar), Fringe sport Bomba bar, Texas power bar, etc. Of course, there are many other barbells out there that I’m missing. If you’re just starting out, using the barbell that comes with your 300 lb weight set from Dicks/Academy is just fine too. Just know that bars from those 300 lb weight sets typically weigh less than 45 lbs. To find out for sure, just hold one and get on the scale then subtract out your weight. In any case, weight is weight, so just use what you have until you can upgrade.

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The Bench

home gym bench

Which bench should I get?

Benches can be pricey, so when first starting out, unless you can get a deal on craigslist, most people end up getting a cheap sturdy flat bench. While it’s nice to have a fully adjustable bench, getting a good quality (read: sturdy and safe) adjustable bench can be very expensive. Since for most beginner lifting programs you will only need a flat bench, starting there is usually the way to go. When looking at a bench’s weight capacity, remember to add your own weight to the equation. If you weight 200 lbs and your bench only supports 300 lbs, that means you can only bench press a max of 100 lbs safely. For an economical choice, people often look to the Adidas flat bench (capacity: 600 lbs). For around $200, you can pick up the Rogue Flat Utility bench. A bit more expensive choice, but one that people really like is the adjustable Ironmaster Super bench. There are a ton more quality benches, but that should give you a start. Keep in mind, with a flat bench, you can always drop a few mats on the front or back to give a slight incline or decline.

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The Flooring

home gym flooring

I want to protect my floor, what type of flooring should I use?

If you’re in America, the cheapest and best bang for your buck choice is Tractor Supply Co.’s horse stall mats. These are 3/4″ 4’x6′ rubber mats that go for $40. They will sporadically be on sale for $35, although the sales seem somewhat random (Black Friday, etc.). They are extremely heavy duty, weighing around 100 lbs each, and do not compress much if at all (good enough to do squats on). They are perfect for protecting your floors for most gym-related activities. When buying these, it’ll be helpful to have a truck as they are hard to roll. However, there are many stories online of people getting multiple into small cars (civics, Camrys, etc.). YMMV. Also, these things tend to smell pretty bad for the first ~6 months or so, so it might be wise to store them outside before bringing them down to your airtight basement. Wash them off, let them bake in the sun for awhile, flip them over and repeat. These things are versatile. They are easily cut to fit the size of your gym using a box cutter (look up tips for cutting online, they’re easy to find). You can have them line your space wall-to-wall or you can use them in conjunction with plywood to make a lifting platform for Olympic lifts and deadlifts (google it or look at the link in the DIY question further down). If you are not near a Tractor Supply, check your local farm supply stores. If that’s not an option, Walmart as relatively cheap interlocking rubber mats (although I believe it will still be more expensive than the horse stall mats). Seriously, buying mats for a “gym” should be the last case scenario if you have no other options. Horse stall mats are thicker, longer, more durable, and cost less than anything with the name “gym” next to it for flooring.

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The DIY Equipment

home gym diy equipment

What about DIY weightlifting equipment?

If you have the knowledge and the tools, making your own equipment can save on a lot of money. This is by no means an exhaustive list of DIY manuals, but here are some links to get you started:

Check out Ross Training for a LARGE list of DIY projects, Dave Draper’s website has a lot as well.

If you’re more of a visual learner, the YouTube channel “Buff Dudes” has a series where they build tons of different home workout equipment. They have other things like battle ropes, punching bag, dumbbells, etc.

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The Programming

home gym lifting

What kind of lifting programs should I start with?

This is an answer best found by reading through the sidebar of /r/fitness. There is a ton of useful information, specifically the Getting Started Section. They will teach you about all the different lifting programs and there’s even a program that will help you pick which program works best for you! Other useful subreddits for beginners would be /r/bodyweightfitness and /r/weightroom. You can also check out the Workout Program and Exercises forums on bodybuilding.com. Educate yourself and get lifting! It’s the best way to figure out what types of equipment you need for your home gym (which takes us back to planning).

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More Home gym Guides and Resources

We hope this article helped you learn how to properly setup your ultimate home gym.
And you can also see more home gym guides to take your home gym even farther.

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