Home Gym Essentials

Unless you’re going to just do non-step cardio, working out at home means acquiring some fitness equipment. If you’re just starting out, though, you don’t want to go overboard, so what do you really need? There’s so much to choose from – yoga mats, balance balls, kettlebells, wrist and ankle weights, and so on. What are the home gym essentials you need that will help you be prepared for a variety of workouts and workout types? Fortunately, there are really only a few pieces of fitness equipment that I feel every home gym needs.


A good, well-rounded fitness regimen will include some sort of resistance training, and for that, you can’t go wrong with dumbbells. You can find them pretty much anywhere, including sporting goods stores, big box stores, and online retailers like Amazon. How much you’ll spend for them depends on the poundage you need (which in turn will depend on how heavy you want to lift) and how fancy they are. You might be able to get some good deals on used dumbbells from places like Play It Again Sports or Craigslist, too.

You’ll also have to figure out what type of dumbbells to get, and there are plenty of styles to choose from – solid hex with or without rubber-coated ends, solid vinyl-coated, solid neoprene-coated, adjustable, etc. Even if you don’t end up buying them at a brick-and-mortar store, you can test them out there to see if the style you’re interested in feels comfortable and easy to handle. As mentioned above, the poundage you need will depend on how heavy you want to lift, so you might want to go for more moderately-priced brands in case you’re stronger (or weaker) than you think and you end up having to buy more.

If you want to get fancy, you can also buy a rack for storing them, though I haven’t needed one yet. If you end up buying ones with a vinyl or neoprene coating and you set them down on a painted surface (as is the case with my workout space), you may end up with pieces of paint stuck to your dumbbells. In that case, you might want to set them down on a small towel or rug to prevent that from happening.

Step bench

Though the popularity of step workouts seemed to peak sometime in the 90s, there are still many step aficionados around; I’m one of them, in fact. It’s a great way to get in a good heart-pumping cardio workout in, thanks to the fact that you’re exerting extra effort by working against gravity. To do step workouts, though, you need to get a step bench, and most likely one or more pairs of risers, depending on how tall you are and how advanced you are with step.

You say you don’t do step? Consider getting a step bench and riser anyway to use during your weight training. Doing exercises like bench presses and flyes will be much more effective on a raised step bench compared to just lying on the floor, since you’ll have greater range of motion. If you want to do any inclined or declined moves, there are slanted risers available, as well.

There are different styles of step benches, or steppers, available, but my pick is the Original Health Club Step by The Step, along with risers from the same company. It’s stable, long enough that you can lie down on it and do strength training, and has a rubber grid on top that will keep you from skidding across it in the middle of a step cardio workout. It may not be as cheap as other fitness equipment you may buy, but for me it’s been a great investment.

Yoga mat

Unless you’re working out on a carpeted floor, you’ll also want to equip your home gym with a yoga mat. Length, thickness, “stickiness,” and durability are the important factors here. Most yoga mats are 72 inches long, though you can find longer ones if you look, and for comfort’s sake a thickness of one-quarter inch is probably the minimum you’ll want. As for “stickiness” (i.e. you won’t slip on it) and durability, it’s hard to tell just by looking, so read reviews on Amazon and elsewhere to get information on those two factors.

Like dumbbells, it’s easy to find yoga mats in a variety of places both online and offline, and unless you spring for the expensive brands, you can usually get a decent one for $25 or less. No matter what type you buy, you’ll be getting sweat and dirt on it, so be sure to clean it regularly (here are four ways to keep your yoga mat clean and fresh). You’ll also need to choose between an open-cell or closed-cell mat; there are pros and cons to each (to learn more, check out this great article from Jen Reviews on open-cell vs. closed-cell yoga mats). And unlike dumbbells or a step bench, it should go without saying that this is one piece of fitness equipment you shouldn’t buy used.

That’s it – just three pieces of fitness gear that I feel are essential for every home gym. These items are enough to get you started, and as you progress and add more variety to your workouts, you can add additional equipment as needed.

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