Home Gym Essentials – Part 1: The Absolute Essentials

Are you one of the many lifters who’s had to adapt to training at home in the last two years? Or maybe you’ve always wanted to have your own home setup? Either way, home gym equipment has come an amazingly long way in the last decade. It’s now possible to build a complete training environment in your own home with a minimal space requirement. In this two-part series, we’re going to give you a rundown on how to build a training space that rivals even the best commercial facilities in utility. But this isn’t just gonna be some wishlist of goodies to ogle…

We ran a performance-oriented barbell club for over a decade. We know all of the finer nuances you’ll want to consider when spending your hard-earned cash on your very own gym because we had the exact same concern: how do we maximize value for both money and space? 

This is going to be a two-part series of articles, detailing what both the Weightlifter and Powerlifter would want in order to build their ultimate training setup. In this first piece, we’ll be detailing the absolute essentials that lifters of either sport will need to keep the gains. The second half will be for the extras that, while not necessary, still have a ton of value for your overall development.

the list

Okay, before you read further, we get it. The essentials are pretty obvious. At the very least, you need a bar, weights, and some kind of rack. Once you get past that, however, is where things get confusing. Which bar? How much should I pay for it? Do I really need colored bumper plates? Can I get away with Squat Stands or do I need a full Power Rack? 

To discuss this, we’re going to create a list entry for each category based on what a Weightlifter or Powerlifter would want. Then we’ll tell you what we think are the most important features depending on your experience level and depth of desired skill. We’ll tell you the pros and cons of each recommendation, and when appropriate, consider some of the specific questions you’ll want to think about for each equipment purchase. And because everyone likes examples, we’ll be including an example of a high-end offering where price is no issue, and another that we feel to be the best value for money. 

1. Barbell

Surprise, right? While it’s clear that you need a bar to be a lifter, what’s not clear are all the little things you ought to consider. The last thing you want is to think you’re getting a deal and then have your bar literally snap in two (this has happened to us). Since this is such a crucial piece of equipment we decided to turn that discussion into its own article (coming soon). Give that a read if you don’t know anything about bars! Anyway…

What matters the most when deciding on a bar? Buying nice, not twice. Whether you’re considering a budget bar with bushings. or a fancy bearing bar, be leery of any deal that sounds too attractive. At a minimum, expect to spend around $300-400 on a quality bar. If you really want to get strong you’ll be using this tool a lot, so don’t buy something you think you’ll grow out of or regret later. Having said that, you also don’t need to go nuts either. 

While the only real downside to buying a more expensive bar is the price, we do want to note that many exceptional lifters have built themselves on very humble equipment budgets. In fact, fewer “pros” than you’d think train with the nicest stuff. So, don’t feel like you’re selling yourself short, no matter how good you are (or intend to be!), if you can’t justify forking out $1k or more for a bar. 

For Weightlifters, we like:

High-End: Eleiko IWF Weightlifting Training Bar – 20kg (15kg)
Cost-Effective: Rogue 28MM Training Bar (25MM Women’s Training Bar)

For Powerlifters, we like:

High-End: IPF Powerlifting Competition Bar – 20kg
Cost-Effective: Rogue 20kg Ohio Power Bar

2. plates (full set)

The next most important piece of equipment after a barbell. Again, for both Powerlifters and Weightlifters, the maxim here is going to be: buy nice, not twice. These are going to be repeatedly moved, dropped, loaded, etc., throughout their lifetime, so you want quality. Durability matters… a lot. In the early days of our club, we had bumper plates disintegrate with regular use. We also had plates that were up to 1.5kg (or lighter) than what was listed on the plate. Money spent here generally means longer-lasting and better-calibrated equipment.

Weightlifters – You’re gonna spend more on colored plates and competition calibration. Colors are useful for visualizing competition loads. They also look cool. Calibration is particularly important since this is a sport where the bar (and your progress) can move in 1kg increments. And for the few of you who might be wondering… No, you can’t substitute steel plates. Bumpers are mandatory.

We like:

High-End: Eleiko IWF Weightlifting Training Plates (change plates)
Cost-Effective: Rogue HG 2.0 KG Bumper Plates (change plates)

Powerlifters – The most relevant choices you have to make here are: pounds or kilos? Competition-calibrated or not? 

While we’re definitely biased towards the metric scale, if you’re a recreational lifter, pound plates can make a lot of sense given the typical price gap between them and kilo plates. This is partly because when you do find steel plates in kilos, they’re often manufactured to come close to or be within competition calibration tolerances anyway. 

Can you get away with bumpers? Yes. Mostly. At a certain point, the bar will behave differently. A 200kg Squat with bumpers, even on a stiff 29mm bar, whips a lot more than it would with calibrated steel plates. However, this only matters for a handful of people.

We like:

High-End: Eleiko IPF Powerlifting Competition Plates
Cost-Effective: Strongarm Plate Sets – ORIGINAL

3. rack or squat stand

If you need to Squat (and yes, you need to), then you need a place to put the bar. Whether you’re a Weightlifter or a Powerlifter, you want something sturdy enough to inspire unquestionable trust. In a home gym setting, the only other things you need to consider are what you expect to do out of a rack, and how much space you have to dedicate.

For the Powerlifter, a rack with a bench and safeties are part of the competitive setup. You could get an expensive competitive combo rack, but for the vast majority of trainees, most power racks will do just fine. The key here is buying something that has safeties and is able to have a bench positioned correctly for Bench Pressing. In our experience, most racks are capable of doing this job just fine. 

We like:

High-End: Rogue Combo Rack
Cost-Effective: RML-3 Rogue Monster Lite R-3

Weightlifters are fine with a simple Squat Stand setup. Just about everything a Weightlifter would want to be able to do can be done out of these. You can even get nifty ones with a built-in pull-up bar. These are convenient, too, in that they can easily be tucked away somewhere that isn’t likely to get in the way of an iffy Snatch or Jerk. For Weightlifters, the more money spent here usually means a sturdier (and heavier) stand setup. 

We like:

High-End: Rogue Echo Squat Stand 2.0
Cost-Effective: This Squat Stand on Amazon

4. platform

Whether you’re a Weightlifter or Powerlifter, you should be training on some kind of intermediate surface designated for training. For one, the feel of the floor underneath your feet makes a difference. However, it’s also about saving your bar/weights and your floor. Without something in-between, it’s likely you’ll damage both your equipment and your home.

A platform is essential for Weightlifting. Aside from most Weightlifters preferring the feel of lifting on wood, it’s also a big part of training for competition. If you’re a competitive lifter the platform needs to become your second home. We recommend an 8×8’ or 6×8’, homemade platform. Commercial solutions are typically 3-4 (but as high as 15x)  the price of what a trip to a big box home improvement store costs.

Powerlifters will also want their own platform setup. Why? Deadlifts with steel plates will chew up any surface that isn’t rubber/carpet over time. Additionally, if you decide to purchase a power rack you’ll have to anchor it to something. Drilling into wood is a lot less complicated than concrete. Lifting on bare concrete is surprisingly uncomfortable on the feet anyway.

There are lots of guides floating around on the internet that you can look at to help you get this done, and we’ll most likely touch on this in the future as well…

5. bench

This piece of equipment is absolutely essential if you’re a Powerlifter and still something you’re going to want if you’re a Weightlifter. 

Powerlifters will want a bench with dimensions that adhere closely to competitive specifications (i.e. length/width/height). One with minimal cushion and a tacky surface is ideal. The tackier the surface, the less likely it is for the lifter to slide through the rack when applying leg drive in the Bench Press (you can fix this by putting resistance bands or a yoga mat on a smooth bench). 

There’s nothing that special here to worry about, however. Benches can vary widely in price and adjustability, but your basic, flat bench can be found for a few hundred dollars. 

A bench isn’t essential for a Weightlifter, but it’s not a bad idea either. Exercises like Seated Good Mornings, Seated Presses, Chest-Supported Rows, etc., are common assistance movements that Weightlifters should be doing. Lastly, let’s face it; there’s a lot of sitting when you’re training as a Weightlifter. A solid bench is really convenient as both a training implement and a training chair.

We like:

High-End: Rogue Adjustable Bench
Cost-Effective: Rogue Flat Utility Bench 2.0

To wrap it all up…

We hope you’ve found this list helpful in clarifying some of the questions you may have had about kitting out a home gym. While it certainly doesn’t include every tool or toy we think a gym ought to have, it does contain everything you need to get strong. In fact, with the equipment on this list alone, you can do almost every exercise contained in our Weightlifting and Powerlifting programs.  


Making Sense of the Warm-Up: The Basics

Everyone knows they’re supposed to warm up before training. It’s one of the most pervasive ideas in the training world: if you’re gonna work out,

Regress to Progress

Regress to Progress?  A major misnomer in the training world is that progress in training is mostly linear; that the path to whatever the goal