This page serves as your complete guide to weight lifting equipment.
I'll go over all the different resistance training equipment that you'll need from a minimum to a maximum.
Before we go any further, though, you'll find that my highest recommendation is free weight equipment like barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells.
Machines can work as well, but free weight equipment should be used for the majority of the weight lifting exercises that you do in your workouts.
I'll also questions like these:
- What is free weight equipment?
- What are weight machines called?
- Are machines or free weights better?
- What's the best weight lifting equipment for my home gym?
This will be the most complete guide to weight lifting equipment that you'll find anywhere.
You'll also be able to ask me any questions you might have in the comments section at the bottom of this page. I am happy to answer any questions you have.
Only the truth will be given here. If I think a piece of equipment is good, I'll tell you. If I think it's worthless, I'll tell you that too.
Start Building A Home Gym with The Best Weight Lifting Equipment
A home gym is the absolute best option when it comes to weight training.
Commercial gyms have an amazing amount of equipment, but they are also very inconvenient, cost you lots more money over time (memberships, gas, training, other sales, etc), and costs you tons of extra time that you shouldn't be wasting.
Working out at home is so much more convenient, will lead to overall more consistent results, allows you to workout more often, saves you tons and tons of time, and more.
There are no distractions at all in your home gym. Your gym is available for your weight lifting workouts at any time.
Free weight equipment for your home gym is expensive at first, but lasts a very long time. You can even bet on it lasting your lifetime. There's not much you can do to damage free weight equipment.
So please trust me on this: “A home gym is the best option for your weight lifting workouts.” And it's not even close.
Here Are Basic Pieces of Weight Lifting Equipment You Need
Free weights are the absolute best when it comes to strength training. There is nothing in existence that out performs free weights.
I highly recommend the following seven pieces of weight lifting equipment (as a minimum) so you're able to perform the weight lifting workouts here at WLC:
- Power Rack
- Weight Bench
- Pull Up Bar
- Dips Machine
Once you have all seven pieces of free weight equipment listed above, you will be ready for some serious weight lifting workouts.
Yes, you can even workout with just your body weight, but I highly recommend you begin to add weight to those body weight exercises. This is when the results really start to increase. Adding weight is the most important factor to building muscle and building strength.
Now, let's go into detail on each of the 7 pieces of weight lifting equipment given above.
A power rack is the center piece of your home gym.
This piece of equipment allows you to safely lift weights at home just as I have since the year 2000. I always workout alone, and a power rack with safety pins has always allowed me to do so.
Squats are one of the top 2 weight lifting exercises, and the power rack allows you to do heavy squats safely within the rack.
The bench press can also be safely done within the power rack without fear of the heavy weight crashing down on you.
You must learn how to use the safety pins correctly and set them at the correct height during those exercises that require the safety pins.
You'll need a weight bench for many different exercises.
The bench press is one, but many other exercises will also require a weight bench.
For instance, weighted push ups with your feet elevated and hands on a barbell inside the power rack will require a weight bench.
I recommend an adjustable weight bench that is not too heavy or too large and is easy to move around.
Dumbbells are one of the best pieces of weight lifting equipment you can own.
If you have room in your home gym for a couple of dumbbell racks, I highly recommend fixed dumbbells sets as they are very easy to use. You simply grab the dumbbell or dumbbells you need and start lifting.
Or, there are some very good adjustable dumbbell sets like the Ironmaster adjustable dumbbells.
One important feature of a dumbbell is the ability to use dumbbells in smaller increments than 5 pounds. For example, going from 20 to 25 pound dumbbells is a HUGE percentage increase in the amount of weight you are lifting.
It would be much better to have the ability to increase the dumbbell size to 21, 22, or even 22.5 pounds before making the large jump to 25 pounds.
You can now do this with fractional weight plates like plate mates or micro gainz. I currently use micro gainz plates that are easily added to the dumbbell handles, but magnetic plate mates also work well.
You should have at least a couple of different barbells for weight lifting in your gym.
This allows you much more flexibility in doing other exercises at the same time.
For example, if you're doing a set of squats and then a set of rows and then a set of squats (as I sometimes recommend) you won't have to keep switching the weights around and moving the barbell from the squat rack to the floor and back.
A single barbell set will work, but an extra one is even better as you will have more flexibility in exercise order for your workouts.
Olympic barbell sets are highly recommended as they can hold lots and lots of heavy weight. The Olympic barbell weighs 45 pounds and usually has a very high weight capacity. The average weight trainer and even a very advanced weight lifter will never reach that capacity (500 pounds to 700 pounds on average).
Standard barbell sets are shorter and will not hold as much weight (200 to 250 pounds on average). They are also much more fragile and won't work very well in a power rack (due to their shorter length and the width of the power rack pins).
A standard barbell can be useful, though, as I used one at home when I first started and wasn't as strong at that time.
You'll need lots of extra weights for your barbells and even dumbbells if you have an adjustable dumbbell set with dumbbell handles.
Weight plates of all weight sizes are highly recommended. Get yourself a good number of 45's, 35's, 25's, 10's, 5's, 2.5's, and fractional weight plates (less than 2.5 pounds).
A 300 pound Olympic Barbell weight set is a great set to start with.
These sets will include a 45 pound bar, two 45 pound plates, two 35 pound plates, two 25 pound plates, two 10 pound plates, four 5 pound plates, and two 2.5 pound plates. This makes a total of 300 pounds.
Start with one set, but be prepared to add at least another set as the extra weight plates and barbell will be needed.
Weights will last forever and are one of the best investments you can make in weight lifting equipment. You might say a barbell and weight plates are the most basic weight lifting equipment you can own.
Pull Up Bar
I have yet to see a good power rack that doesn't have a pull up bar included. These bars are used to stabilize the power rack so they are always included with power racks.
Chin ups and pull ups are one of the 7 core weight lifting exercises here at Weight Lifting Complete. This means you should be doing chin ups and/or pull ups in your workouts regularly.
In order to do this exercise, you need a pull up bar. If you don't have a power rack and no place to do chin ups, you have many different options:
- Wall Mount Pull Up Bar
- Doorway Pull Up Bar
- Pull Up Stands
- Power Tower
I personally use the chin up bar in my power rack, but I also have an extra pull up bar included with a power tower that I also use as a dips machine.
One thing to pay attention to with your pull up bar is the ability to use different grip positions. Sometimes a completely straight bar can be tough on your wrists. You can always add some suspension straps, though, which allows you to use a more neutral hand position (which I really like much more).
I consider dips to be the upper body squat and, because of this, they are included as one of the 7 core exercises here at Weight Lifting Complete.
A dips machine, dip stands, or dip bars are required to do this exercise safely with heavy weight.
You can use 2 barbells inside a power rack, but the barbells may move on your during a set of dips and this can be dangerous and cause injury. You could strap the barbells to the rack, though, to make the exercise safer.
Or, you could do as I recommend and purchase a power tower or dip stands.
Before you do that, though, make sure the power rack you choose doesn't have an option for dip handles. Some power racks allow you to attach dip bars to the power rack. This is a great option if available.
You might even search for a power rack that includes dip bars as this will also save space in your home gym.
Other Pieces of Recommended Weight Lifting Equipment
Once you have the minimum amount of weight lifting equipment shown above, it's time to start shaping that home gym into the perfect gym.
Since you'll be doing exercises like chin ups, pull ups, and dips with extra weight you'll need a way to hang extra weight from your body.
I'll discuss all of this extra weight lifting equipment here:
- Ironmind Hip Belt
- Trap Bar
- Fractional Weight Plates
- Resistance Bands
- Cable Machine
- Calf Block
All of the above pieces of weight lifting equipment are things that I use during each and every week of weight training.
Personally, I couldn't imagine going without the pieces of equipment listed above. I'll tell you more about each one of them.
Ironmind Hip Belt
Ironmind is an equipment manufacturer that is very good, but very expensive too. The Ironmind hip belt or “super squats” belt they make is absolutely amazing and a piece of equipment that I use every single workout.
I've had mine now for many years, and it looks brand new.
The hip belt is used for many different exercises. I use mine to add weight around my waist for pull ups, chin ups, dips, and even push ups.
It's also used to pull weighted sleds forward and backward.
Cable machine exercises like terminal knee extensions can use the hip belt to make the exercise more comfortable around the back of your knee when using heavy weights.
Calf exercises that use the cable machine can take advantage of the hip belt. I use the hip belt as shown below for standing calf raises:
I also use the hip belt for donkey calf raises (hook it to the back strap). All of the stress on your lower back is taken away when using the hip belt on calf raise exercises.
This is very important because just holding heavy weight on your upper back can stress your lower back greatly and affect more important exercises like squats and deadlifts.
The hip belt can also be used for hip belt squats (it's original design intention). Again, this is a highly recommended piece of weight lifting equipment.
The squat and deadlift are the top 2 weight lifting exercises in existence.
A trap bar is highly recommended because it allows you to do an amazing exercise that is more of a hybrid between a squat and a deadlift. This exercise is one of my overall favorites because I am able to lift the heaviest amount of weight that I have ever lifted on this exercise.
The trap bar deadlift is the exercise I am referring to here. I only use the trap bar for this exercise and power shrugs. That's it. So you might not believe it's worth it for just a couple of exercises, but I believe that it is worth the cost.
I see the trap bar deadlift as a top overall exercise and you'll need a trap bar to do this exercise.
Heavy weight does special things to your body. This means that a particular exercise is truly the most compound of all compound weight lifting exercises when it uses the heaviest amount of weight through a full range of motion. This is what the trap bar deadlift is for me, and it's most likely what it will be for you too.
In other words, get yourself a trap bar and add this amazing exercise to your workouts. You'll love the results you'll get from the trap bar deadlift.
Fractional Weight Plates
Fractional weight plates are a must in order to continue increasing weight on certain exercises and avoiding stalling on strength gains.
Adding weight to each exercise is the goal of weight lifting. When you focus on getting stronger, you will build muscle. Strength gains also indicate that you're doing things correctly.
What you don't want to do is increase the weight from workout to workout by too much at once. If you increase by too much at once, you'll have trouble increasing the weight as often and you will stall out.
For example, increasing the weight by 10% each workout is too much unless you're lifting far below your maximum capacity. If you're working with a weight close to your maximum, you won't want to attempt to increase the weight by 10% each workout.
Instead, you'll increase by 2.5% or sometimes even less based on your experience with a given exercise. As an example, 2.5% of 100 pounds is 2.5 pounds. If you are lifting 300 pounds, 2.5% is 7.5 pounds.
Let's say you're doing dumbbell curls with 25 pound dumbbells for 15 reps and you want to increase by 2.5% the next workout because you hit your target goal of 15 reps this past workout. 2.5% of 25 pounds is 0.625 pounds. You don't have a 25.625 pound dumbbell so what do you do?
The best option is to get some fractional weight plates. I would choose a 1 pound fractional plate and add it to the dumbbell. Yes, it's more than 2.5%, but you'll be fine with a 1 pound increase on dumbbell curls. Next workout you can add another 1 pound plate if you hit your target. And so on.
This is why I highly recommend fractional weight plates. They allow you to program your weight lifting workouts much more effectively.
Resistance bands will be used to assist with chin ups, pull ups, and dips for those who can't do full body weight reps of those exercises.
For instance, a workout program might call for you to do 20 body weight reps of pull ups. Most people can't do 20 body weight reps so what do you do?
The easiest and best way to assist you or to decrease your body weight is to wrap resistance bands around the pull up bar and place your foot (or knee) in the stretched out bands. The bands then assist in lifting your body weight to the top of the bar.
Resistance bands can also be used for exercises, but I recommend free weights versus bands. It's much more difficult to know the amount of weight or resistance you are using with bands. But, if needed, you can work that out.
For example, bands might be the only option you have to workout when traveling to different areas of the world.
Another great use of resistance bands is stretching exercises. Stretching is something you'll need to be doing often during your weight lifting workouts.
I highly recommend a cable machine if at all possible in your home gym. For my home gym, I was able to find a power rack with a cable system already included. You should do the same if possible.
Cable exercises are great and add a huge variety of weight lifting exercises.
The cable machine is great because you are able to move your body freely and the resistance stays constant throughout the range of motion of each exercise.
I use the cable machine for many different calf exercises, face pulls, cable kickbacks (great exercise), terminal knee extensions, single arm pulldowns, cable rows, tricep pushdowns, cable curls, chest stretches, and more.
You don't NEED a cable machine, but they provide a huge increase in the number of exercises you can do in your workout programs.
A calf block is required to get a great stretch on calf exercises. The lower portion of each calf exercise is very important. A calf block helps you get a greater range of motion with each calf exercise.
Some people won't need to focus on their calves as much as others. I have always placed a focus on my calves because they weren't matching with the rest of my body.
Since I have placed extra emphasis on my calves, they are now very respectable and don't look out of balance with the rest of my body.
If you don't need to work your calves as much, you can definitely skip the calf block equipment.
Other Weight Lifting Equipment that Might Be Helpful
Since some pieces of weight lifting equipment might not work for some people (due to space, cost, etc), I want to go over some alternative options.
For example, I'll talk about a squat rack versus a power rack because some squat racks or half racks are much smaller than power racks and might be the only option that fits the space some people have for their gym.
I also want to go over another specialty bar (the trap bar is a specialty bar) that I absolutely love and use often.
A squat rack is usually much smaller than a power rack.
If you don't have as much room or you never squat to failure and know your limits very well, a squat rack will work for you.
Just keep in mind that there most likely won't be any safety pins there to help you if you hit the bottom and can't lift the weight.
Squat racks are great pieces of weight lifting equipment, but I only recommend power racks for safety reasons.
Squat stands take up even less space and are usually just a set of stands that hold the heavy barbell and weight.
This allows you to have the weight in a high position for squats, overhead press, or any similar exercise that requires a higher starting position.
I really like squat stands and have even used them along with a power rack in my home gym to give me more versatility in my workouts.
If you use squat stands for heavy squats, keep in mind that you won't have any safety pins there to help you if you fail at the bottom of a repetition.
Safety Squat Bar
A safety squat bar is a specialty bar that I absolutely love. It's sometimes called a yoke bar too.
This bar can replace barbell squats for people who have shoulder and/or upper back mobility issues.
You can even take your hands off the bar with heavy weight and it will stay on your upper back on its own.
I own an EliteFTS Safety Squats Yoke Bar and yes, it was very expensive in my opinion but it will last me for a long time. After some research, it appeared that this was the best overall value for a safety squats bar.
Ever since I've had it, I have been using it for regular safety bar squats, one shoulder squats, front squats, Zercher squats, and even safety bar lunges. It's a very versatile bar that I have enjoyed for every moment to this point.
I love adding exercise variety as this keeps workouts fun, but getting very strong on different exercise variations builds functional strength and overall fitness.
Kettlebells are an amazing piece of weight lifting equipment and are great additions to any gym.
You can now get some pretty good sets of adjustable kettlebells and this helps alleviate the issue with the space that kettlebells require.
I could never fit a large set of kettlebells in my home gym and opted for dumbbells instead. I still choose dumbbells over kettlebells for weight training, but kettlebells are an amazing option too.
If you have the room in your home gym for a full set of kettlebells and love using them, please, go ahead and start using them more often.
Or, try an adjustable set of kettlebells. Ironmaster has a good option.