“Seriously, regardless of age or fitness status, these are the basics EVERYONE could benefit from.”
Boy do I wish I had this list when I first dove into exercise. Growing up a runner, I never needed any equipment. All I needed was the road. But in college, I started getting interested in alternative forms of cardio and weight training. While we had a gym on campus, summer break at home left me with no equipment. I went shopping for home exercise basics – and was absolutely clueless.
I remember standing in Dick’s Sporting Goods staring at some weights and wondering, “Should I get dumbbells or a kettlebell? 5 lbs or 10 lbs?”
If only I could go back and tell my younger self what essentials to get. Sigh.
But that’s why I’m here today, telling you about the best home exercise equipment so you can avoid my mistakes! These things will come in super handy even if you do have a campus gym or a gym membership. Having home exercise equipment means you’re always able to workout, even on the days you can’t make the trip to the gym. Don’t have a gym membership at all? Even more reason to invest in these things!
This list includes all the smaller items that won’t break the bank. No treadmills, stair-steppers, or assault bikes here.
I’m going to lay out all the equipment that can help you achieve efficient and effective workouts right in the comfort of your own home. You certainly don’t need ALL of them – unless you’re really building a complete home gym, in which case go for it! But picking a few items will be extremely beneficial for starting out.
Please note: Below I’ve provided links to Amazon for all of the products. I am an Amazon affiliate and only promote products that I truly believe in. I may receive compensation if you purchase an item through one of my links , but this in no way affects the cost to you. Thank you for your support! It’s what keeps this blog running!
Essential Home Exercise Equipment
Cue me banging my head on the keyboard, wishing I could tell my younger self to put the kettlebell down and back the heck away. Yes, that fateful day I opted for a 10 lb kettlebell and have always wished I had gotten dumbbells instead.
The shape of the dumbbell makes it the perfect piece of home exercise equipment – literally, the top of my list. You can do SO MUCH with dumbbells. The exercises are endless. And they come in pairs, which is the other reason they beat out the single kettlebell I bought that day. From bicep curls to weighted lunges, dumbbells are essential to have on hand.
If you can swing it, I’d recommend getting two sets of dumbbells in different weights. It depends a lot on where you are in your fitness journey, but if you’re a complete newbie I’d recommend 5 lbs-8 lbs and 10-12 lbs. While 5 lbs can feel light in the beginning of your sets, they can really get you burning by the end and are great for endurance strength training (meaning you do more repetitions, which generally promotes muscle toning rather than bulking).
Remember, I have a cardiac rehab nurse background and am using experiences with new exercisers. But in classes like Orange Theory Fitness, they’ll start you on at least 8 lbs for most exercises. So go with what you think you can do!
One last note: I like to have at least one heavier dumbbell – I’m talking 20-25 lbs – for exercises like goblet squats (where you hold one dumbbell in front of your chest and do a wide-stance squat). It’s also worth the investment, as your 10 lb dumbbell won’t give you the same satisfying burn.
Another worthy piece of home exercise equipment is a bench, specifically one with some incline features. Benches allow for a much bigger exercise repertoire. From step-ups to bench presses to incline pushups, you’ve just bought yourself a ton more options.
Barbell with plates
I used to think barbells were just for serious lifters. That is, until I did an amazing barbell class at Lifetime Fitness. It was a killer workout, and the class was full of other people who raised their hands and said they’d never used a barbell before just like me!
If you’re new to it, get some lighter plates. 5-10 lbs will be all you need. You can do a wide variety of exercises, including weighted squats, Romanian deadlifts, and skull crushers (not as awful as they sound). If you’ve been lifting for awhile, opt heavier. Barbells are great pieces of equipment you shouldn’t be intimidated by.
I love medicine balls. If you don’t know what these are, they’re weighted rubber balls designed to make even simple movements more challenging. I currently own 6 lb and 10 lb ones. There are many exercises you can do with them, but my favorite is a weighted jumping jack which involves holding the medicine ball at chest height and raising it over your head when jumping your feet apart. Crazy efficient way to do cardio while strengthening both your upper and lower body. Medicine balls can also provide resistance for ab workouts.
Speaking of cardio, one of the best and cheapest cardio tools are jump ropes. Tons of professional trainers use them, and you can find loads of articles where Victoria’s Secret models vouch for their effectiveness and convenience while traveling. Whether it’s just for your warm-up or for your sustained cardio, I recommend adding a jump rope to your home exercise equipment collection.
Yoga mats are staples. You can of course use them for yoga, but they’re also good for stretching and any exercises completed on the floor, such as ab workouts.
This is probably my least favorite item on this list, but that’s only because it’s also probably the most effective item on this list. This little contraption is pure evil. To perform the classic ab roll-out, you start on your hands and knees, holding the ab wheel handles in each hand, and roll forward with your arms over your head (or as far down as you can go). Then you come back up, using your abs rather than your back, hips, and arms. It’s a tough one but is so beneficial for the abs.
Here’s a really excellent video on proper ab wheel form:
How would your home exercise equipment be set without loud, encouraging music? Having a good speaker or headphones can make all the difference. I discovered one particular headphone design that solved a major problem I had. Have you ever done cardio on a hot day or in a warm gym and started sweating so much that your little earbuds fell out of your ears? …nope? Just me?
Chances are this has happened to you at least once while getting your sweat on at the gym. Anyhow, my brother (an ultramarathoner) got me these AMAZING headphones one year that completely solved the issue! The part that goes in your ear is shaped in a way that prevents it from falling out. They’re perfectly comfortable too, making them the best exercise headphones I’ve ever owned.
So those are my top suggestions for home exercise equipment. If you invest in a few of these things then your home workouts will be seamless. Seriously, regardless of age or fitness status, these are the basics EVERYONE could benefit from. They make great gifts for anyone getting started on their exercise journey too!
Once you have some of these items, check out my weight training for beginners post on staple exercises with proper form!
And if you’re someone who’s looking to lose weight, I also urge you to look at my post on HealthyWage, a company that pays you to lose weight, for extra goal motivation!
Disclaimer: Before starting any exercise regimen you should consult your physician. I am not a medical doctor, and my scope of practice does not permit me to diagnose or provide treatment plans. While I am a registered nurse and certified personal trainer, I am not YOUR nurse or personal trainer. While this information is from scientific sources, this post is meant to be informative and does not replace the professional advice from a physician.