Note: If you can find used stuff on Craigslist or Ebay, typically should be 50% cost of retail.
Power Rack and Barbell and Weights
For weight lifting, a Power Rack, a set of Olympic Weights, and an adjustable Flat Incline Decline bench is all you need, as almost all the lifting exercises can be safely performed using that equipment. The most important exercise being squats for both strength and conditioning.
Rationale: These are better than saving a little money and spending $600 on a Body Solid or Powertec. Bowflex is not good, and the commercial types are too expensive ie Power-Lift Power Rack ($3k+) The better quality brands/models offer heightened stability, better finish, and more functionality (better quality attachments). Don’t bother with a half rack, as it does not save much space (still requires the same size ground support for its legs) but you may get a sumo rack if you don’t have the required ceiling height for a power rack.
Best Budget Barbell and Plates: CAP OB-86B [Amazon]. Better quality barbells are able to hold more weight without bending. Look on craigslist or find a used fitness store in order to find weight plates. While the lower end CAP equipment is hated, this higher end barbell is great value.
While barbells are better for bigger exercises (holding more weight and for leg exercises), dumbbells (below) may be a good safer starting point and are versatile (lunges/flies/turbulence training), or better if you don’t have enough room for a rack. A con is that barbells or even dumbbell bars (ie an Olympic curl bar) are cheaper!
Best Adjustable Dumbbells: For the best feel/comfort/sturdiness, get the Ironmaster Quick-Lock Adjustable Dumbbell System with Stand [Amazon], with options of $378 for Up to 45 lbs, $618 for Up to 75 lbs, and optional $294 45 lb Add on Kit (raises 75 lb kit to 120 lb). These feel more like real dumbbells than the PowerBlock and can withstand drops, however, switching weights takes longer (ie half a minute vs the instant PowerBlock). The 120 lb expansion is for the truly hardcore.
Substitute: For those who do not have space for pro dumbbells, get the PowerBlock Adjustable Dumbbell Set [Amazon], with options of $160 for Up to 24 lbs, $300 for Up to 45 lbs, $360 for Up to 50 lbs, $646 for Up to 90 lbs, which are great adjustable dumbbells and the greater compactness makes pressing exercises easier. However, the PowerBlocks look a bit silly or cheap, and the lower series Powerblocks have some plate wiggle, as already noted. The more expensive Elite series (90 lb) is for the hardcore, as only the Elites can be upgraded to 90 or 130 lbs (the lower level set is only upgrade-able to 70 lbs, but the Elites have no rattle, made from urethane).
Do NOT get the Bowflex (ie SelectTech 552 – crappy, rattles around, delicate locking mechanism, can break easily if dropped, very long length even if low weight, less range/motion), Weider SpeedWeight (Ironmaster is better)
Don’t get kettlebells, as people are able to lift more weight with dumbbells. There’s also little reason to get weights for cardio use! If you must go for them, get the Dragondoor brand over the CAP if you are using 40+ pounders, because even though they’re twice as expensive, they’re easier to handle and cause less blisters (without using chalk). Also, don’t get pushup bars, as dumbbells can be used instead.
Best Adjustable Flat Incline Decline Bench
A quality adjustable bench is necessary for either a rack or dumbbells. The adjustability helps do similar exercises at different angles, to hit different muscles and build a fuller look. Ironmaster Super Bench Adjustable weight-lifting Bench $328 [Amazon] can go in decline and is the best value. For the truly hardcore, the Rae Crowther Pro Adjustable Bench $900 [RaeCrowther] is a more durable and sturdy version of the Ironmaster Super Bench but much more expensive and may be unnecessary for most home gyms.
Don’t get: Powertec Utility Bench (wobbly, takes too long to adjust), Promaxima and Sorinex No Problem (NP) have tiny seats and Sorinex expensive, Legend 4 way is better than (EliteFTS, Nautilus F2 Commercial 0-90, Precor/Icarian or Cybex), TSS (Texas Strength Systems), Rogue (bad welding)
Best Pull-Up bar / Chin-Up Bar
Pull-Up bars help the most in climbing and are a cheap way to add back sculpting to any home gym! These bars range from a price of $15-75, and don’t require (and don’t recommend) drilling in the wall. If you have a park nearby to your residence that you frequent, you could skip the pullup bar entirely.
Perfect Fitness Multi-Gym (accommodates wider doorways) $30 [Amazon] (Many models damage the doorframe/molding it rests on, superior to the weaker Black Mountain, Iron Gym Extreme, Deluxe CXP Chin Up Bar, ProSource Heavy-Duty, P90X Pro-Grade might be a good substitute but is expensive at $75. The Perfect Fitness Pro is probably not necessary for its additional grips)
Gymnastic Rings: These are the best for gymnast wannabes! While difficult to create a spot to install these in your home (need a stud pull up bar installed on your ceiling), these can be hung from a jungle gym if you have a park nearby. The best ones available seem to be the ProSource Exercise Fitness Gymnastic Rings $50 [Amazon]
Suspension Band Training Kit: These may be helpful for people who travel a lot, but is definitely not a substitute for lifting. They can be attached to the top of a closed door. Great for your core! The recommended one is the WOSS 3000 Equalizer Trainer $38 [Amazon], as the more expensive ~$200 TRX Suspension Trainer Basic Kit or Astone Fitness Human Trainer are not higher in quality.
Wrist / Forearm Strengthener Gym Accessories ie Wrist Rollers
A big bottleneck to upper body exercises is wrist strength, or for just plain ole bigger forearms, strengthen them forearms! All three of these are great in conjunction! The gyroscopic spinners are not worth it! (1) Fat Gripz – adds a thicker grip to a dumbbells or a barbell, which heightens forearm training during upper body exercises. (2) SideWinder Pro XTREME, Forearm and Grip Strengthener #3 $150 for bigger forearms. (they all have same resistance but more thickness makes it more difficult, and this is the thickest/most difficult so you won’t need to upgrade later) (3) CFF Pit Bull Super Vise Gripper – 3 Springs – These are great for incrementally training your crush grip without having to buy 5 or 10 different Captains of Crush grippers with varied resistances
Gripping Accessories: Gloves / Chalk / Straps
If you can’t get good grip for deadlifts – use chalk but if you can’t use regular chalk, get Liquid Chalk. If that’s still not enough look into getting some straps. These solutions are better than weight lifting gloves (ie the popular Schiek 540’s being the best ones, or Harbinger Grips) – which even though may help the pain, they make the bar slightly more difficult to hold.
Back Health Equipment
Foam Roller – optional for muscle massage and back health, ie the PB Elite Molded Foam Roller 3′ Long, 6″ Round (Most Popular Size) [Amazon]
Inversion Tables might also be helpful for back relief! The jury isn’t out on whether it provides long-term relief after stopping usage, but many people have been helped and have even skipped surgery/pain drugs due to inversion table usage.
Not Recommended Accessories and Equipment
Would not recommend a weighted vest (but if you must, get V-Max or V Force), as it’s best for conditioning rather than a strengthening or burning calories (cardio). A belt is much more economical for solely bodyweighting (which is what a weighted vest is comfortable for ie pushups, pullups, dips than for lengthier conditioning runs).
Also don’t get hardcore Home Rock or Wall climbing equipment (fingerboards whether they be a temporary doorway training board or permanent, campus board, climbing wall, Bachar Ladder) – will hurt your fingers and body in the long-term. Get a door pull-up bar and spend your money on gear instead. For the fanatics, save up to buy more holds and build a home boulder wall! For home grip exercises, use the above wrist equipment or just use 10-15lb dumbbell and do reverse curls, wrist curls and finger rollers. Also with a 10lb plate weight do pinch curls vertically and laterally.
Cardio Equipment: Treadmill, Stationary Bike, Rower, etc.
General List of Cardio Options: Running outside (free), Jump Rope ($40), Swimming (membership), Turbulence training with dumbbells ($400), Stationary Bike ($500), Rowing Machine ($1000), Treadmill or Elliptical ($7000+)
Regularly switch your exercises up, because challenging your body with different cardio exercises or different intervals will make sure you burn the most calories.
Intensity vs Resistance: Fast movement can get your heart racing and body sweating (ie no resistance on the stationary bike), which is good for the heart but the real calorie burning is when there is challenging resistance (more work done). Target heart rate is also important.
Stable Intensity vs High & Low: Try to intersperse very hard periods with very easy periods (HIIT training, aka High-Intensity Interval Training). This is more important on the easier machines (ie recumbent bike, rowing machine), as the treadmill is already at least medium difficulty to begin with.
Recommended – Swimming is amazing at any age, because of the least amount of impact on bones. And one can do different types of strokes. This requires an indoor pool for most people. Your local government may host cheaper pool memberships than private gyms.
Outdoor Running is also great, as you can do it anytime with the least preparation (commuting). Running on the ground is recommended because the treadmill passes under your feet as you run over it and the elliptical allows for momentum to keep it going, such as you’re moving along WITH the machine rather than making the machine move (unless you raise resistance high). The sun also has health benefits of sunlight (vitamin D and unknown other benefits) as long as you wear sunscreen.
Home TV Options –
For people willing to force themselves to do cardio everytime they watch TV (put it in front of the TV, move the couches, only have TV in your family room and NOT your bedroom, etc), the options are:
Jump Rope – Bruce Lee preferred jump rope, next to running. And bar-none the best one out of 5-6 different ones is Buddy Lee’s Aero Speed Hyperformance Jump Rope $40 [Amazon] (slightly better than his Rope Master), as it spins faster and smoother than the others (leather, plastic, etc). $40 might seem a pricey compared to a $5 Walmart one, but it’s worth it!
Stationary Bike – Least stress to your legs compared to Elliptical, Stair Stepper, Treadmill. An Upright Bike takes up the least space, ie the great Schwinn Airdynes are even used by the greatest MMA fighters around the world to condition! The Airdynes are the best as an interval bike, because resistance increases the harder you pedal. This is also why they are recommended over a Spin Bike, because even though a spin bike is more closer to a real bike (you’re more bent over in a more aggressive position and no electronics/console), you have to manually change the resistance and at low resistances, it’s easier to pedal fast and keep the momentum going. Used Schwinn Airdynes are the best, as they used to make them metal instead of plastic. Current models are the AD2 $400 [Amazon] and AD6 $650. A Recumbent Bike is recommended for those with back or joint problems, and is most comfortable (ie easier to watch TV on or read a book). A best Recumbent (inclined) Bike is the Schwinn 520 Recumbent $550 (better than the non-Airdyne Schwinn 250 Recumbent Exercise Bike $380). Set the resistance level high enough to where you cannot perform the exercise comfortably without using your arms.
If instead you tend to like spinning or want a cheaper alternative (while you own a bike) get a Bike Turbo Trainer (Indoor Tracks for your existing bike). Similar to spinning except less noisy, smaller footprint (not much extra equipment and stores easily). Types: Magnetic resistance is cheap (good if you don’t use often), fluid is more “realistic”, and Rollers are another option (but you have to pay attention more to not slip off).
Rowing Machine – Rowing is a great strengthener and conditioner also! The best one is the Concept 2 Rower $1,000 (popular amongst Crossfitters).
Other Floor Strength/Flexibility Exercises (ie Yoga or Pilates) – Only con is that most people need to be watching the yoga video and can’t watch entertainment TV while doing so unless they’re veterans. Best Yoga mat: Manduka Black Pro Mat (expensive but the best, will last forever, lifetime warranty) $90 [Amazon], Don’t get: Prana Nomad (too thin for hard floor), Jade (won’t last), Manduka Eko (won’t last). For hot yoga, get a Yogitoes Skidless Towel $50 and place on top of your mat.
Gym Membership Options
Treadmill/Elliptical – Because the great treadmills/ellipticals are sold at a premium (ie WoodWay at $7k), would only do them at the gym. The better quality ones aren’t as hard on your joints, have wide belts and sternum strap for heart rate. Treadmill burns the most calories (as compared to Stair Stepper, Elliptical, Stationary Bike) but also puts the most stress on the body. A mini stepper or side stepper are not durable and not great workouts.
Recommended Workout: HIIT (aka High Intensity Interval Training – 5 minutes going max speed, 15 minutes fast walking, then repeat) is most effective, but if you’d like to go slower and safer, LISS still works! (aka Low Intensity Steady State – 3 – 3.5 mph for 45mins first thing in the morning before food)