Study after study has shown that regular exercise leads to a plethora of health benefits. Increased mental performance, reduced stress and anxiety, stronger bones and muscles, the list goes on. Both short bursts and sustained periods of exercise have been shown to have positive effects on health.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Americans should complete a minimum of 2.5 to 5 hours a week of “moderate” physical activity and 1.25 to 2.5 hours of “vigorous” physical activity a week. Other studies, like a 2022 report by researchers at Harvard and other universities, recommend more.
We know we should exercise, but finding the space and time to exercise regularly can be a challenge, especially for folks without access to a gym nearby. Thankfully, with a little space and upfront investment, a home gym system can help you accomplish a full body workout and get those recommended 3-5 hours of fitness a week, right from the comfort of your own home. We spoke with fitness experts to hone in on what makes an effective home gym, and shared some of their recommendations below.
What is a home gym system?
The experts we spoke with explained that a home gym system is essentially a collection of fitness equipment that allows you to exercise every part of your body. This can take the form of a few different pieces of equipment or one larger, multifunctional piece.
“One of the main features of most home gyms is that the equipment is designed to allow you to perform multiple different types of exercises at one station or in a smaller space than a traditional corporate or local gym,” said Kyle Kercher, the assistant professor of sport management in the School of Public Health at Indiana University.
How to shop for a home gym system
Home gym systems provide a wide range of benefits, including convenience, privacy and flexibility. While building your own home gym is a larger cost up front, you can save money in the long-term compared to a monthly gym membership fee.
All of our experts shared the same piece of advice when it came to shopping for a home gym system: start small. “I think people get a little too deep into it to start,” said Craig Levergood, a Denver-based personal trainer and certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS). “Figure out a budget that works for you, then find the most basic pieces of equipment in your price range. You can always add more equipment later.”
Similarly, our experts advised against buying large, all-in-one machines to start. In many cases, basic equipment, such as an adjustable set of dumbbells and a weight bench, can be more versatile than expensive alternatives. Simple equipment will cost less, take up less space and may be less intimidating than larger machines.
Best home gym systems
To help you find the best home gym equipment for your goals, we consulted experts on a wide variety of different kinds of gear. Our experts agreed that the best home gyms were those that enabled a wide variety of workouts. We included expert and personal recommendations for equipment that enables tons of different kinds of workouts.
Best fixed dumbbells: REP Fitness
Our experts recommended dumbbells as a versatile home gym staple. While there are many options to choose from, Jordan Rowe, a certified personal trainer and founder of NOEX Fitness, previously recommended these rubber hex dumbbells as one of the best dumbbells for home workouts. They come in dozens of different weights, from 2.5 pounds all the way to 125 pounds. The dumbbells' rubber-encased ends can help minimize noise and prevent wear and tear, according to the brand. The handle is covered in small ridges (“knurled”) to give better grip during workouts, according to the brand.
Best adjustable dumbbells: Bowflex
Our experts recommended adjustable dumbbells as a great, space-saving choice for anyone seeking versatile strength training and conditioning.
There are plenty of adjustable dumbbells to choose from, but we recommend this pair from Bowflex. While more of an up-front investment than fixed dumbbells, the Bowflex SelectTech 552 is adjustable from five to 52.5 pounds, acting as 15 sets of dumbbells in one. Former Select editor Morgan Greenwald said she’s used these weights in the past and loves how much they resemble normal dumbbells.
While this pair is adjustable from five to 52.5 pounds, Bowflex also makes a pair that goes up to 90 pounds.
Best weight bench: Flybird
Pairing any type of dumbbell with a weight bench unlocks a slew of different exercises, from a simple bench press to single-arm rows and more. Former Select reporter Justin Redman loved this weight bench from Flybird because it’s foldable and adjustable, making it compact and versatile. It’s also one of our expert-recommended weight benches because of its great value. It’s made of steel and upholstery, and can support up to 600 pounds, according to the brand.
Best home squat rack: Rogue
Dumbbells, a weight bench and a squat rack were the three most mentioned pieces of equipment during our conversations with experts. A squat rack is larger and heavier than other home gym pieces, but it is very useful for serious weightlifting. This squat rack from Rogue Fitness has two bars, one for stacking weighted plates and one for pullup-type exercises. It’s height-adjustable using the holes located throughout the rack, according to the brand. Note that it does not come with weight plates, and accessories like safety spotter arms come sold separately.
Best smart home gym: Tempo
There are tons of smart gyms to choose from, but we recommend the Tempo Studio for its ease of use and inclusive package. The Tempo Studio’s centerpiece is a large 42-inch touchscreen display that offers guided video workouts. The screen sits on top of a small cabinet that includes built-in speakers and storage space for the included mat and dumbbell weight plates. Like most smart gyms, the Tempo requires a subscription to use ($39 a month) that gives you access to a wide variety of recorded exercise videos and live classes. The Tempo Studio tracks all sorts of exercise data, including your weight amount and rep count. With a built-in 3D camera, it can also provide feedback and correct your form as you exercise, according to the brand.
Our experts did note that you can build a fully stocked traditional home gym for much less money than a single smart gym. But for gym-skeptics and tech-lovers who need a little extra motivation, a smart gym may be a great option.
Best cable machine: REP Fitness
If you’ve ever been to a gym, you’ve probably seen a machine similar to this one. A cable machine, or “functional trainer,” is a great, albeit large, piece of equipment that will stay relevant throughout your entire fitness journey. For a great cable machine that will last, Levergood recommends the FT-5000 Functional Trainer from REP Fitness. It’s a dual-weight stack system, with each side able to pull weight at 19 different settings, up to 104 pounds. The beauty of a cable machine is its versatility — you can do dozens of different weight training exercises. You can also buy additional accessories and attachments to help target different muscle groups.
All functional trainers are large and heavy — the FT-5000 weighs 1000 pounds fully assembled —- so consider space and deliver logistics before ordering.
Tips for getting the most out of a home gym system
You can have thousands of dollars worth of home gym equipment and still struggle to feel like you are exercising effectively. That’s why our experts recommended starting with small, versatile gear like dumbbells. They also shared a few suggestions for making the most out of your home gym setup:
Buy equipment suited to your goals
Different pieces of gym equipment help fulfill different fitness goals. Think about what your fitness goals are before buying tons of home gym equipment. “If you like cardio workouts, maybe your home gym is multiple pieces of conditioning equipment, but light on weights,” said Levergood. “On the opposite end, maybe you want a squat rack and a barbell because you’re specifically focused on strength and building muscle. It's very personal, and getting the right home gym system depends on your wants, needs, goals and budget.”
Buy equipment you will enjoy using
It sounds obvious, but owning gym equipment you like using will make you more likely to exercise consistently. If you want to improve your cardiovascular fitness but hate running, don’t buy a treadmill. Consider cardio alternatives you might enjoy, such as an exercise bike, vertical climber, rowing machine, or something else. Similarly, if you don’t like traditional strength equipment like dumbbells and barbells, consider alternatives like kettlebells or suspension trainers. “The best type of exercise is that one that you can stick with over the long-term,” said Kercher.
Make it social
Home gyms have many advantages over traditional gyms, but community isn’t one of them. If you find yourself isolated in your fitness journey, consider an online exercise platform. Brands like Peloton have subscription services that offer online classes, and don’t require you to own smart gym equipment. You can also train with friends or a personal trainer over Zoom or another video platform.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Kyle Kercher is the Assistant Professor of Sport Management in the School of Public Health at Indiana University.
- Craig Levergood is a personal trainer and certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS).
- Jordan Rowe is a certified personal trainer and founder of NOEX Fitness in Richmond, Virginia.