Best Home Gym Equipment Reviews For Men Looking To Build Muscle

Want the gains of lifting weights in the comfort of your own home?

Obviously you need a home gym.

But that’s about the only thing that’s obvious when it comes to this topic.

There’s a lot to consider, and many people have differing views.

So, to find the best option for you (it is probably NOT what you originally envisioned), keep on reading, and check out our reviews below.

Rating The Top Home Gym Equipment

The Controversy

When you typed in “home gym”, was something like the Bowflex the first thing that came to mind?

It certainly is for most people.

But the other thing that comes to mind is a power (or squat) rack, and some free weights.

And so the question becomes, well, which one of those options should you consider getting?

Of course if you came into this with a preconceived notion of a Bowflex style machine, that’s perfectly fine, but since we’re all about getting the most bang for our buck, and maximizing our time in the gym, we’re going to have a little talk.

Now, please hear me out, don’t leave discouraged. We’ll cover everything you want to know here to make it easy, feasible, and effective.

TL;DR (too long, didn’t read): We recommend outfitting your home gym with a power rack, barbell, bench, and weights, NOT a resistance machine. This study shows that free weights are up to TWICE as effective in gaining strength and balance.

Read on to find out exactly what you should get to maximize your gains and and make the most progress with the least effort.

What Are The Benefits Of A Home Gym System?

home gym dumbbellObviously the biggest benefit is that you can work out at home whenever you want.

If you work out in the early morning or late night when your local gym is closed, this is a perfect substitute.

If you absolutely HATE the thought of going to the gym (it’s really not that bad, but we totally get it), this is a great option.

If you have literally no time to commute to the gym and need to bang out a quick workout, this is for you.

You can of course make your home gym as intricate or as basic as your heart desires.

If you’re just doing it because it might be a bit more convenient than going to the gym, but you’re worried about costs, I’d suggest you do the math and figure out the difference in cost between building your own home gym vs. buying a gym membership, and then decide if the added up front cost is worth not having to actually go to the gym.

For example, if you spend, let’s say, $1000 building a nice home gym, but your local gym charges $50/month, you’re basically spending almost 2 years worth of membership fees up front.

You should be really sure that you’ll be using this for 2 years or more, that you’ll have all the pieces you would if you went to the gym, and if the up front expense is worth it just so you don’t have to commute to the local gym.

In many cases, you’ll find that just buying a gym membership is a cheaper and more convenient option.

But if you love the privacy of your own home to absolutely give it your all (grunt, sweat, lie down after a muscle crushing workout), or you’re embarrassed because you’re first starting out or aren’t happy with your body (honestly, this shouldn’t stop you from going to the gym, because you’re doing something to better yourself, but we get that many people feel this way), then building a home gym can be a life saver.

It’s also great not to have to wait in line or miss a part of your workout completely because you just don’t have time to wait for the 3 dudes chatting around the squat rack to finish their damn sets. Having a home gym can allow you to get a workout done in like 30 or 45 minutes, including ZERO commute time, so saving time and staying at a certain high tempo is a huge advantage.

Of course if you’re really serious about this, and we hope you are, after a couple of years, you’ll be saving money on gym memberships and you won’t have to buy or upgrade your equipment as often as gyms do, since your stuff won’t see the same wear and tear, because it’s usually just you using it.

If you’re salivating at the idea of not commuting, working out quickly, and not being around other people, you’ll want to read below to find out our top recommendation for building your own gym.

Free Weights Vs. Machines

Ah, we finally reach the big debate.

You may have come into this thinking that the best option was to get the 748-exercise-in-one Bowflex or similar machine.

The commercials always showed people who are totally jacked and they hardly look like they’ve broken a sweat!

Unfortunately, this is just part of the bigger reason why the fitness industry is considered so shady, because it’s almost all dominated by marketing, rather than real science, which you’d assume would play SOME role.

Most people want to lose weight, gain muscle, get in shape, and not have to do a whole lot in order to achieve their goals.

That’s a totally reasonable mindset, but it’s not realistic when it’s not based on doing things that actually work.

We’re big proponents of the 80/20 rule, whereby you earn 80% of your results from only 20% of the things you do (getting the most results out of the least effort). That leads us to focus on those 20% of the things and not waste our time on the other 80% that only gets us limited returns.

So, we’re all about keeping things simple, not over-complicating things, not taking millions of different supplements, and not believing in every new workout fad.

The hard part is, they make the machines look so cool, and like you’ll get the dream body you’ve always wanted without doing much actual work. It’s tough, when there are so many differing opinions in the fitness industry, to know who to trust and who is selling you a pipe dream.

Almost every single person who spends at least some time working out and watching what they eat will tell you that free weights are by far the preferred option to achieving your goals.

And if you want the max results with the least effort, we’re big proponents of sticking with a few whole-body compound exercises like the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

If you eat well and focus on strength, you will get so much closer to your goals than if you count your food in daily “points” and do silly exercises on the latest exercise machine.

Studies showing that free weights are better than machine, or fixed weights, over and over again.

In this study, free weights increased strength 115% and balance 245%. Fixed weight workouts only increased strength 57% and balance 49%. That’s literally double the strength and 5x the balance.

Those are pretty significant findings.

These studies show that you’ll see greater anterior and medial deltoid activation using free weights for a bench press (rather than fixed weights/machines), meaning your overall upper body development is much greater if you’re using free weights.

Think about it, your body has to stabilize the weight on the barbell. So, even if you’re using your chest muscles to push the weight up, the rest of your body, your shoulders in the case of this study, are doing some work to keep you from dropping the weight.

Because of this, muscles are being utilized with free weights that are not being utilized with machines, which will lead to great strength and stability.

This study shows a 43% higher activity in all muscles in the free squat vs smith machine squat, and free squats are better for strengthening “plantar flexors, knee flexors, and knee extensors”.

More on the squat front, this study tells us that squats are better than leg presses for delivering greater total work, increasing testosterone, increasing growth hormone, and therefore “free weight exercises seem to induce greater hormonal responses to resistance exercise than machine weight exercises using similar lower-body multijoint movements and primary movers.”

Oh yeah, more squat studies. Squatting is more beneficial to increasing not only the amount of work you can do, but your squat jump and countermovement jump. Squatting is straight up more effective than leg press for increasing jump performance.

There are a few more studies that show that specific muscle activation differences were not statistically significant when comparing free weights to machine exercises, but you will not find a plethora of studies showing that machines are better than free weights.

The research shows that free weights are better in a variety of ways, and that at best, a few machine exercises may be fairly similar to free weights.

bowflex laundryDon’t be one of the many who buys a “home gym” machine, only to use it as a place to dump your laundry, and end up selling it for half of what you paid for it after a year.

While machines have worked for some people (we find that for about every 15 people saying they have made good progress with free weights, 1 would chime in to say they enjoyed using a machine), it seems very clear that you will make greater progress in the same amount of time using free weights.

We highly recommend changing your mindset a bit, and going with a basic home gym that is suitable for using free weights.

We also highly recommend finding a basic exercise program that utilizes compound movements and free weights. We like Stronglifts 5×5 because it’s simple, delivers real strength gains, has a ton of information and help available, has a very useful app, and basically takes out any thinking that might trip you up when it comes to actually completing your workout.

Obviously you’re free to use whatever program you want, but my motivation right now is helping anyone who came into this looking for a Bowflex style machine, by showing them that there are simple, impactful programs that they can follow, which will make their workouts even easier than if they tried to make one up using a machine.

Reviewing The Best Equipment For Your Home Gym

Alright, so rather than tell you what version of the Bowflex is best, we’ll walk you through what pieces to buy, and give you our recommendations.

The Best Squat / Power Rack

The foundational piece of your gym should be a good squat rack or cage, sometimes referred to as a power rack.

A good cage is multifunctional, allowing you to safely perform multiple exercises and store your barbell/weights.

You’ll be able to set stops at certain heights to make sure that as long as you’re doing your exercise within the confines of the cage, you will not be stuck or injured in case you go to failure and can’t get back up.

For example, if you’re squatting, you can set the bars to a position just below your full descent position. If you can’t finish your rep, the bar and weight will simply fall onto the bars, instead of rolling off your back and pulling you back with them or smashing into the floor.

Similarly, they’re very helpful for bench press without a spotter.

Obviously it’d be ideal if you had a spotter, but this is a home gym we’re talking about, you’re probably doing this by yourself, right?

Set the bars at about the bottom of your lift (when the bar is touching your chest), and in case you can’t finish a rep, the barbell will be caught by the bars on the cage, instead of crushing your chest or neck with it’s full weight.

Even if you’re slightly pinned, it’s much safer than having the full force against you and being unable to get up or call for help.

Because it plays such a vital part in keeping you safe (and because you’ll be racking the weights on the cage), it’s important that you get a sturdy one made of solid material that will not warp or wobble on you when you’re using it.

We strongly discourage buying the cheapest option here, as your safety could depend on its structural integrity.

The 810XLT by Fitness Reality is our favorite because it’s very strong and sturdy, it’s well priced, and it’s got a couple nice extras, which we’ll get to in a second.

It’s rated to 800 pounds, the frame is 2×2 inch steel, and it not only includes safety bars but also two stabilizer bars, which will keep it rigid and structurally sound.

We like that it includes a pull up bar. I go back and forth between whether I actually like the “multi-grip” bars, or whether it’s better to just have a straight bar, but the multi-grip bar here gives you a bunch of different ways to pull yourself up.

Again, the frame strength is a big plus on this because if you’re going to be doing pull ups, you do not want it swaying or tipping. So far we haven’t encountered any problems, even when form isn’t perfect (i.e., when we’re swinging like crazy trying to get that one last rep).

Also cool is the fact that you can get it with or without a bench. I think it’s super convenient to just get this bench, as it’s adjustable and also rated to 800 pounds.

Great for bench press, obviously, but also good for overhead press, since you may workout in a space that doesn’t have a ceiling high enough to accommodate a full press while standing.

One problem we have with it is that the rods where you rack the weight are just that, rods. We’d prefer if they were J hooks.

The rods have a stopper on the end of them, so it’s not like it’s unsafe, it’s just that the added peace of mind the J hooks provide is worth it, and typically what you’ll find in a gym anyway, which gives a bit more comfort.

Dimensions: 50.5 L x 46.5 W x 83.5 H inches (7 feet tall)

Weight: 133.5 pounds

We think this is the best overall rack, and the best value for your money, too. Get it with the bench and you’ll be good to go.

If you’re working out in your basement and have a very short ceiling, you can always opt for the short TDS squat cage, which is 72.5 inches tall. It can work for most of your exercise needs, even if you’re 6’3 or 6’4. Doesn’t seem to be as high quality as the one we recommend above, but you don’t have a lot of options for a short rack.

>> Click Here To Learn More And See Prices <<

The Best Floor Protector/Padding For Your Home Gym

You should get something to protect the floor wherever you’re going to be doing your lifting.

Interlocking foam tiles are the most popular option, as they allow you to create just the right sized space.

ProSource has the most popular ones out there, and they’ll give you up to 24 square feet of coverage. You get 6x 2×2 foot squares, it’s half-inch thick foam, and it’s water resistant.

They’re pretty cheap, include “border” pieces to make it look good, and are textured and non-skid.

Obviously you could get a few packs of these and cover a pretty big space.

The goal here is to provide some comfortable, anti-slip surface and protect the floor underneath of the power rack and the weights.

You may want to get some extras to put under the weights if you’re doing deadlifts, in case you’re dropping/bouncing the weights on the floor at the bottom of your rep.

Don’t overthink this one, just get something to protect your floors!

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The Best Barbell

Alright so if you’re following a basic compound movement plan like Stronglifts, most if not all of your exercises will require a barbell.

Therefore, you should make sure it’s a good one!

Make sure you’re getting a 45 pound, 7-foot bar that won’t bend and break with some weight on it.

There are cheap bars out there, but like we said with the squat rack, absolutely do not take the risk.

You don’t have to buy the most expensive thing out there, but just don’t try to cheap out when an equipment failure could lead to an injury or at the very least, damaged property.

We’ve heard of guys using crappy bars that break mid-rep and it’s only because of luck that they weren’t injured.

The best bang for your buck, at least that we’ve found, is the Body Solid 7 foot barbell. It’s got a 600 pound capacity, which should be PLENTY for most guys at home, and is actually constructed well.

The chrome finish makes the most sense and is really well priced, but of course you could choose the more expensive black version because it looks so damn cool…

The grip is 30mm in diameter, and it includes knurling on the grips and in the middle of the bar. The bar is “olympic” sized, which means weights with a 2-inch diameter hole in the center will fit perfectly – in other words, it’s got a 2-inch sleeve.

The sleeves are smooth, and the bar doesn’t come with collars to keep the weights in place, though if you’re alone you may actually be safer not using them, in case you need to tilt the bar to get it off of you, which would slide one side of the weights off, allowing you to get up. Shouldn’t a be concern if you’ve got a properly set up squat cage, but better to be safe than sorry.

There are way more expensive bars out there, and a few for less money, but this one at least is a solid bar, it won’t bend on you, and it’s basically the standard that you’d find in most gyms.

>> Click Here To Learn More And See Prices <<

The Best Free Weights

You’ll want to make sure you pick some weights that are actually as heavy as they say they are, and that are manufactured with some skill.

There are WAY too many companies out there that sell complete rubbish. Plates with holes that are full of burrs and not round so they don’t fit on the barbell, 10% variances against the stated weight, potentially toxic smells in the rubber coating…it seems that high-quality is the exception, not the rule, when it comes to plates.

However, we have found some decent ones that won’t break the bank, that are actually well made and pretty good for a home gym.

It’s probably easiest to order a full set, rather than picking and choosing and hoping that you get everything you wanted.

Sticking with Body Solid, the same guys we recommend for the barbell, we’re going to recommend their set of black rubber grip weight plates.

You can choose from 255 lbs, 355 lbs, or 455 lbs, each one of which has a slightly different configuration. If you never lift more than 300 pounds (remember your bar will weigh 45 pounds), get the 255 pound set.

It’s super convenient to get a set that are all the same, the rubber is nice for grip so you don’t drop them (and it’s slightly easier when they hit the floor), and they’re actually really high quality. Plus, the price is right when it comes to getting a full set with grip.

One thing we noticed about pretty much any weight set that had rubber grip around them was that they smell, sometimes pretty bad.

These weren’t as bad as some of the cheaper brands, which can literally smell toxic, but the manufacturer even recommends you wash them in lemon Pine-Sol to get rid of the smell.

Some guys are even talking about having had these for 2 or 3 years, with no problems, which is really nice to hear, since you might worry about the rubber wearing off or tearing. No such thing, it seems!

Overall, highly recommended to just get a set, and the Body Solid brand is a high quality, reasonably priced one.

>> Click Here To Learn More And See Prices <<

The Best Free Weight Storage Rack

So technically you could stack these on the floor or keep them on your barbell, but if you like to keep things neat and tidy, it’s a good idea to add a plate rack.

They’re not very expensive, and keep things organized, and help you move quicker, because you can change weights on the barbell more quickly taking them from the rack, rather than picking them up off the floor and finding the right ones.

Keeping in line with our other recommendations, we’re going to go with the Body Solid plate storage rack, mostly because it’s good quality, decently priced, and will absolutely fit the Body Solid weights we recommend.

We didn’t expect to sound like a Body Solid advertisement when we started doing this research, but turns out it’s high quality stuff and is the best bang for your buck, which is what we’re all about.

This is good because unlike some other, cheaper stands, it’s got 6 pegs to stick weights on, and each has enough room to hold larger weights. It’s also got a couple of holes in the bottom that will allow you to stack olympic barbells when not in use.

They’re basically tubes that stick straight up from the bottom of the stand, and you just insert your barbells into the tube, which holds them upright.

Mostly good for gyms if they’ve got multiple barbells, but may be useful for home use if you’ve got an EZ Bar or something.

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Other Stuff (Best Pull Up Bar And Dip Station)

So that’s about all you REALLY need, but there’s a couple other things to consider, depending on your program and your needs.

First up, which should be taken care of already, is a pull up bar. Hopefully your power rack has a pull up bar attached.

If not, you can always get a doorframe pull up bar, which is pretty cool and super convenient to have around the house.

Second, body weight (or weighted, eventually) dips are an amazing exercise for the upper body. There are some really cool dip stations you can get for your house these days that don’t actually take up a lot of room. I’d highly suggest you get one, otherwise you’ll be risking using the backs of two chairs (not that safe), or finding a piece of playground equipment to do dips (not that convenient).

This dip station looks small and flimsy but is actually really cool and will hold you with no problems. Even better, it can be disassembled pretty easily (couple of minutes) and folded away to give you more space.

>> Click Here To Learn More And See Prices <<

Again, mostly a luxury, but if you want to add a few extra exercises to your routine, a set of adjustable dumbbells can be a huge space saver if you’ve got a home gym. They basically act as a whole range of dumbbells in one set, and they’re pretty easy to adjust.

They can even be used in place of things like the bench press or shoulder press, if you prefer the greater range of motion offered by dumbbells.

Check out our recommendations on our review guide here.

So, though you may have come looking for the latest “get-ripped-quick” scheme, we hope you’ve now decided to use free weights and build a proper gym that will get you the most bang for your buck, and get you the best results possible.

The setup we’ve laid out above will serve you well from beginner all the way to advanced lifter (just add weight!), so it’s a case of making the up front investment once and then reaping the benefits for years to come.

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