Best full body workout equipment [5 essentials items for the home gym]

Want to get started with full body training but prefer working out in the privacy of your own home? It can be difficult when first starting out to know what exercise equipment is truly essential. In the following article we’re going to take a look at what I consider the best full body workout equipment for a home gym.

So if you’re ready to start building your own home gym that allows you to undertake full body training, without spending more than you need the following article is for you.


Compound Exercises = Free Weights

As discussed previously, full body training places a heavy focus on compound exercises which incorporate multiple muscle groups simultaneously as opposed to isolating individual muscle groups using machines e.g. tricep pushdown machine. You can see the main 5 compound movements we recommend here.

The good news?

Rather than spending thousands of dollars on workout machines, the majority of compound movements can be performed using barbells and a power rack or squat rack.

From a practical standpoint this means when building a home gym you can get started with just the following full body workout equipment:

  • Barbell and collars
  • Free Weight Plates
  • Bench
  • Squat rack or power rack
  • Pull up bars/dip stations (if not investing in a power rack)

That’s right. With just the 5 items listed above (or less) you can perform home workouts consisting of the major 5 exercises associated with full body training (and a whole lot more) and start making gains from the privacy of your own home.


The Tools of the Trade

Barbells

Barbell

A fundamental component of resistance training, barbells are used extensively for performing compound movements with the exception of the pull up.

Standard and Olympic barbells

Barbells (and weight plates) are available in both standard and olympic sizes. I’ve listed the differences between both below.

 

Standard BarbellsOlympic Barbells
Standard BarbellOlympic Barbell
  • 25cm diameter
  • Variable length (dependant on brand but typically between 5 and 6 ft)
  • Rated for between 100 – 200 Lbs (most commonly)
  • Variable weight (as above)
  • Non-rotating sleeves (1 inch)
  • Heavier Knurling
  • 50cm diameter
  • Length: 7.2ft (mens), 6.6ft (womens)
  • Weight: 44lbs/20kg (men), 33Lbs/15kg (womens)
  • Typically rated for weights over 1000Lbs
  • Rotating sleeves (2 inches)
  • Lighter Knurling (specialised power lifting bars may have more pronounced knurling to assist with grip)
  • More whip (The amount of bend in the bar)

One of the major differences between standard and olympic barbells is the lack of uniformity of standard bars compared to olympic bars e.g. standard bars are not required to adhere to specific length and weight ratings as they are not used competitively. Olympic bars however as they are used competitively must adhere to strict length, weight and diameter specifications as set out by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF).

What are sleeves?
Sleeves are the ends of the barbell that the weight plates sit on. Olympic bars feature sleeves that rotate. Rotation helps reduce sheer (direction forces) that place stress on your wrists and elbows when performing a movement.

What is Knurling?
Cross diagonal patterns (cross hatched) etched into the barbell to assist with grip. Knurling is generally less pronounced on Olympic bars as these tend to be used to hold more weight. More pronounced knurling can be uncomfortable at higher weight ranges.

What is Bar Whip?
Bar whip refers to the amount of bend in the bar e.g. the momentum of the bar after deliberate movement stops). Experienced lifters utilise bar whip to increase the momentum of some lifts, especially olympic lifts such as the clean and jerk.

Barbell Weight

The weight of the bar is important, especially with regard to olympic bars which are equal to the weight of a 44lb weight plate. For instance if lifting 225LBS on the bench press (a common strength standard) the loading of the bar would consist of the bar + 2 large plates each side. So, when you hear a gym bro referring to lifting 2 plates, they are talking about a 225Lb lift consisting of two 44lb plates and an olympic bar.

What’s best for your Home Gym?

In most cases, standard barbells are more often used for home gyms while Olympic bars are used in commercial gyms and for competitive lifting e.g. powerlifting meets as they tend to handle heavier weights better (higher tensile strength), and are more expensive.

While there are definite advantages to Olympic bars for more experienced lifters, e.g. higher weight rating, more balanced for loading. if first starting out and not lifting excessively heavy weight I’d recommend a standard bar. For one, they are far less expensive, along with the weight plates. But also, If you have weight plates lying around, they are most likely going to be standard size plates in which case you can utilise these using a standard bar. If you plan on lifting heavy and perhaps want to compete in powerlifting for example in the future you may be better suited starting with an olympic barbell.

Keep in mind

If you have an olympic bar you will also need an olympic weight plates. Standard weight plates will not fit on an olympic bar as they are too thick in diameter. Alternatively, olympic weight plates will fit a standard barbell but ideally the bar will be fitted out with an olympic sleeve adapter which will convert the barbell posts to 50cm providing a better fit for your olympic weight plates.

Standard barbells have the potential to bend over time if using weights in excess of 220LBS depending on their rating so choose carefully as compound movements tend to incorporate heavier weight than isolation movements such as bicep curls.

Barbells typically come equipped with collars which prevent the weight plates from slipping of an end of the barbell. There are a variety of types of collars including clamp style collars, spring collars and lock jaw collars.


Weight Plates

Weight Plates

Just as there are two sizes when it comes to barbells, weight plates also come in either standard (1 inch center hole) or olympic size (2 inch center hole). This is important as you will need to match the weight plates you purchase to your chosen barbell unless using a standard barbell with an olympic sleeve adapter and olympic weight plates. Bear in mind however, if using an adapter the standard plate will no longer fit the bar until removed, meaning you cannot mix both standard and olympic weight plates on the one barbel at any time.

Within these two distinct sizes, there are also a number of options including:

Standard Plate

Standard Plates

Made of steel or cast iron. While there are exceptions they are mostly available in a tri grip (3 holes) or no grip holes (most commonly is smaller sizes that are lighter to lift onto the bar). Alternatively, hexagon shaped plates featuring two grip holes are also used, while not seen as often nowadays.

Rubber Coated Plates

Rubber Coated Plates

Rubber coated plates are much the same as standard plates however as the name implies they feature a rubber coating which protects the floor of your home gym (and the plates themselves) if dropped. The rubber also allows for better grip.

Bumper plates

Bumper Plates

Used exclusively with olympic bars. Bumper plates are manufactured from solid rubber (as above, better suited to being dropped) and feature a steel collar. Much like rubber coated plates, they are far less noisy when dropped. Bumper plates come in either training or competitive models. The main difference being the higher calibration of competitive models providing more exact specifications for competition.

Powerlifting plates

Powerlifting Plates

Powerlifting plates are generally made from steel or cast iron. Because of this they are heavier in relation to width compared to bumper plates, allowing for more weight to be loaded onto the bar.

Micro plates

Micro Plates (Fractional plates)

Micro plates or fractional plates are smaller weight plates that are typically loaded onto the end of a loaded barbell to increase the weight being lifted fractionally. Generally these come in .25Lb increments and are useful for PR’s and breaking through a training plateau.

Weight Increments

Standard weight plates are typically available in 2.5lbs, 5lbs, 10lbs, 25lbs and 45lbs. Depending on your region they are also available in standardised KG weight options including 1.25kg, 2.5kg, 5kg, 10kg, 15kg, and 20kg. Other sizes while less common are also seen e.g. 7.5kg

Bumper plates are color coded by weight and are available in the following:

Red55Lbs (24.9kg)
Blue45 lbs (20.4 kg)
Yellow35 lbs (15.88 kg)
Green25 lbs (11.34 kg)
White10 lbs (4.54 kg)
Blue5 lbs (2.27 kg)
Green2.5 lbs (1.13 kg)
White1.25 lb (.57 kg)

Keep in mind

Your choice of weight plate will largely be dictated by your choice of barbell (standard or olympic)and vice versa. As mentioned above if you are starting out and don’t anticipate moving particularly heavy weight e.g. over 200Lbs in the short term than a standard barbell and weights are going to be more affordable.

Keep in mind, rubber coated standard size plates have some advantages of standard plates with regard to grip, noise and potential damage if dropped. They are also far less likely to corrode over time.


Bench

The bench is a foundational piece of workout equipment. A bench usually consists of a flat surface (made up of one or two sections) for lying or sitting and two upright posts or racks that allow for the barbel to sit across. Benches also commonly include attachments to allow for leg curl or leg extension exercises.

Types of Benches

While there are a number of different benches available for different training purposes, the 5 most common are:

  • Flat Bench
  • Olympic Bench
  • Adjustable Bench
  • Folding bench
  • Abdominal bench

When it comes to full body training we are mostly going to be considering either the flat bench, olympic bench or adjustable bench.

Flat Bench

Flat Bench

The flat bench is not adjustable, so as a result it does not facilitate seated (with back support), incline or decline pressing movements and is unable to have its height adjusted. While this may sound limiting, the advantages of a flat bench include less moving parts and increased stability.

Adjustable Bench

Adjustable Bench

Adjustable benches are commonly seen in commercial gyms as they offer more available exercise options due to their ability to be adjusted for different angles. The flat section of the bench is usually made up of two sections, one smaller section that is stable and a larger section that can be adjusted for varying degrees of incline, flat and decline positions, ranging up to a vertical back support for seated movements such as seated overhead dumbbell press. Adjustments are made using either a step system or pin system.

Olympic Bench

Olympic Bench

Olympic benches are generally made for heavier weights and as a result use higher grade steel. They are also longer (for increased stability) and wider to accommodate an olympic barbell (7ft2 inch).

Due to the increased footprint compared to a standard bench they are often fitted out with racks, providing an option for squatting and other pressing movement such as overhead press and may even provide the option for storing plates.

Keep in mind

Again your choices will mostly be dictated by your choice of barbell and weight plates e.g. you have a standard barbell I’d recommend an adjustable bench as this will allow you to perform incline bench press a highly effective movement for upper chest development and decline bench which places more of a focus on the lower chest.

Otherwise, olympic benches do often come with a built in rack allowing you to perform the squat without the requirement of a dedicated squat rack.

Always check the weight rating before investing in a bench press. Many less expensive benches are rated only for surprisingly low weight ranges. Also, keep in mind if you plan on purchasing a power rack you wont require a bench with built in rack for your barbell.


Squat Rack or Power Rack

Power Rack

If performing full body training you will require a rack of some type. For example a squat rack or a power rack to allow for lifting a loaded barbell onto your back for squatting or shoulders for overhead press. They are essential for full body training.

Squat rack

Squat Rack

Squat racks consist of two upright posts joined horizontally near the bottom or separate (squat stands) that allow for a barbell to be loaded in place for squat and overhead pressing movements. They can also be used for press movements.

Squat racks take up less room than a power rack and in the case of squat stands are adjustable allowing you to facilitate both the standard and olympic barbell. They are also less expensive. However they do offer far less functionality than a power rack and do not allow for movements such as dips, pullups and rack pulling movements.

Power Rack

Power Rack

Power racks or power cages (as they are often referred to) consist of 4 upright posts with horizontal bracing and fittings to allow for placement of J Hooks.

What’s a J Hook?
J hook s go hand in hand with power racks. They feature pin rods which fit into designated holes in the frame of the Power rack and externally present a J shaped hook for barbell placement.

Power racks are more stable than a typical squat rack and can be fitted out with cables to allow for pulling movements you would normally perform on a rowing machine. Their greatest advantage over squat racks however is the additional safety that can be incorporated into each movement. For example, due to the ability to add safety bars it is acceptable to perform movements such as the squat without a spotter as the safety bars make a reliable back up if you need to bail out on the movement.

Keep in Mind

Power racks offer a number of clear advantages over the typical squat rack from both a safety and functionality perspective. They are also often far more durable. In the majority of cases power racks also offer pins for plate storage. However, in many cases space constraints are more of a factor as squat racks have a smaller footprint.

Remember to check the recommended loading for either and check if the width is adjustable or allows for your barbell of choice. Also check the height of your room before purchasing a power rack, as some exercises e.g. chin ups require clear space above the rack to complete the movement.


Pull Up Bars/Dip Stations

Pull Up Bar

Pull ups are an essential upper body exercise that feature heavily in full body training. You may or may not require pull up bars. If you are considering a power rack, the ability to perform pull ups is factored into the design. A number of squat racks also include pull up bars, so keep this in mind when assembling your home gym.

There are also a number of ways to perform pull ups without requiring a dedicated piece of equipment. You can utilise common objects such as swing sets and over head pipes (provided they are rated for your weight). For convenience, it’s always best to have dedicated pull up equipment located within your home gym.

Pull Up Bars

Pull Up Bars

Pull up bars come in three main types. Mounted, doorway or adjustable.

Mounted pull up bars are fixed either to a vertical wall or ceiling depending on their design. As a result this means they are a permanent addition to your home gym. Wall mounted pull up bars are better than doorway pull up bars in my opinion. This is because they are more stable and don’t need to be fitted to a specific doorway.

If permanent space is an issue, or you travel frequently a doorway pull up bar may be a better option.

Adjustable pull up bars are typically free standing, requiring more space. However, they provide more variation. This is due to the adjustable height allowing for a wide range of pull up exercises.

Dip Station

Dip Stations

Dip stations are designed to allow for dip movements. However, most dip stations also provide a dedicated pull up bar. An advantage of using a dip station is you can perform a number of additional movements. This includes dips of course along with core exercises such as hanging leg lifts.

There are many different options available ranging in quality, durability and functionality.

Keep in mind

When purchasing either a pull up bar or dip station you should consider available hand position options. For example pronated (pull ups) or supinated grip (chin ups). You may also prefer the option of a semi-pronated grip. This requires two bars running perpendicular to the main bar.


Summary – Choosing the best full body workout equipment

The information above should help you choose suitable full body workout equipment to begin assembling your own home gym. Remember when selecting equipment keep in mind your training goals. For example are you planning on becoming a competitive lifter? Or are you just starting out and unsure where you want to take your training?

Also keep in mind your available space. Just because you can fit a power rack doesn’t mean it will allow for a comfortable workout environment. You also don’t want to have to assemble and disassemble equipment every time you workout. While this may not seem to be a problem initially, this can affect your motivation.

All things being equal, if you have the space and plan to get serious about working out I’d recommend olympic barbells and weight plates. An olympic bench (preferably adjustable) and a power rack are also recommended. Utilising just this small number of full body workout equipment components will allow you to undertake full body training. And as full body training relies on compound movement, your home gym will not restrict your progress.

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