Let’s face it, finding the right weight training equipment for your needs can be a confusing task. There are just too many different machines, gizmos and gadgets that can literally make your head spin.
With that in mind, I decided to try and break down the confusion by providing you with a little review of the different types of weight training equipment on the market today.
One advantage to using weight training is that you can tailor your program to meet your needs. You have many choices about what weight lifting equipment and what kind of workout environment is best for you.
A variety of weight lifting equipment is available to you to reach your goals and objectives. It’s important to note that some equipment is more expensive than others, some are more complex, some require more skill, and some are more time effiecient.
However, almost all of the equipment can enable you to meet your your training needs and goals. Like alot of people, you might not have access to all of the popular or more commonly used types of weight lifting equipment.
There is alot of uncertainty when it comes to choosing fitness equipment let alone weight lifting equipment.
If you are interested in purchasing aerobics equipment such as an elliptical trainer, exercise bikes, or treadmills, you may want to check out building muscle 101’s exercise equipment reviews here.
You will find everything you need to look for in finding the right exercise equipment for you at this page.
The basic guideline to follow when selecting your weight training equipment is to choose what will best meet your interests and needs. At the very least, you should select equipment that is compatible with your workout schedule in terms of convenience and is consistent with your personal preferences.
If you have a choice of equipment, one approach is to list the pros and cons of each type and then make your decision. For our purposes, we’ll cover free weights, multistation machines, variable resistance machines, and low cost equipment.
Free weights are made up of barbells, dumbbells, and weight plates. The reason they are called free weights is that there are no pins, cables, pulleys, or weight stacks. Free weights include barbells, dumbbells, and weight plates.
Barbells are a type of weight lifting equipment that come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Barbells are usually 4′ to 7′ long and can weight anywhere from 20 pounds to 45 pounds.
Weights are attached to the ends of the bar to provide resistance which both arms are used to lift the weight.
The weight is secured to the bar with collars or sleeves. Some collars are fixed and cannot be removed. The main advantage is safety since the weights can never slip off.
Fixed collars also offer time efficiency, and neatness. The main disadvantage of this particular weight lifting equipment is that you cannot vary the weight on the bar. However, with adjustable collars, you can adjust the amount of weight on the bar to your personal needs.
At the top end, there are the commercial grade barbells called olympic bars. These bars are usually 7′ long and weight 45 pounds. Olympic bars are heavy duty and can support anywhere from 500 pounds to 1500 pounds.
Olympic bars have thick ends to accommodate the plates and have knurls located at the centre of the bar.
These bars are made for heavy lifting and are the ones you will most likely encounter in the gyms. The shorter versions of the standard olympic bars are usually 5′ long and can weight 30 pounds.
Since Olypmic bars are more or less at the top end, they tend to be a little more expensive than alot of other barbells. It depends on the amount of weight the barbell can support.
For example, the following prices have been taken from BigFitness.com.
– 7′ Olympic bar capable of supporting 1,500 pounds goes for $215.95
– 7′ Olympic bar capable of supporting 1,000 pounds goes for $159.95
– 7′ Olympic bar capable of supporting 700 pounds goes for $109.95
As you can see these types of barbells cost a little more but they are much more durable and can support alot more than most other barbells.
Again, it all depends on your preferences. The 5′ Olympic bars are an alternative to the 7′ barblells. These bars are a little more balanced and don’t weight as much as the 7′ bars.
The 5′ Olympic bars weight around 30 pounds. Of course they can’t hold as much weight but they will serve most people’s needs. The cost for a 5′ barbells is about $99.95.
There are other varieties of Olympic barbells such as curl bars and triceps bars. These types of Olympic bars are specialty bars and are used for specific movements.
Again, it comes down to preference. If you feel you need specialty bars for your biceps and triceps, try these bars. On the other hand, if you have no clue what they are than you won’t need them.
There are a variety and shapes for Olympic collars. Some are big and bulky while others are small and “convenient”.
The big and bulky collars are used to keep those plates rigth where they’re suppossed to be, on the bar. The small collars on the other hand are meant to add convenience to your training. Simply press two coils together and you can add or take plates off quite easily.
Weight plates for Olympic barbells
Olympic barbells require Olympic plates for added resistance. Olympic plates have large holes in the middle to accommodate the large end of the Olympic barbell.
The weight increments for Olympic plates are as follows:
– 2 1/2 pounds
– 5 pounds
– 10 pounds
– 25 pounds
– 35 pounds
– 45 pounds
There are a whole whack of options you may choose when it comes to Olympic weight plates. You can get the standard plate which starts at about 45 cents per pound or you can get the fancier ones which start at about 69 cents per pound.
You can even get rubber encased weights! see below.
If you plan on using an Olympic bar for home training than your will need to get Olympic plates.
Olympic weight sets
If you plan on using Olympic weights for your home training weight lifting equipment, you will most likely buy a weight set as opposed to an individual bar and plates, unless your looking to fully customize your Olympic set.
I suggest you buy a “package” or a weight set. You can usually get a better deal with weight sets and they are a “one stop shop”.
Olympic weight sets come in a variety of weight “packages”. Usually, Olympic sets start at 300 pounds. Here’s a look at BigFitness.com Olympic barbell package.
Unless your very serious about weight lifting and your weight lifting equipment, you probably won’t be using Olympic sets for your home gym. However, if you are dead serious on getting an Olympic barbell, try going to Big Fitness.com.
They have a pretty good selection of Olympic barbells on the interet.
Standard barbells are about 1 inch thick and 4′ to 7′ long and can weight anywhere between 15 and 25 pounds. These are the types of barbells you will see in most department and sporting goods stores.
These kinds of barbells are ideal for home training since they are not as large as the Olympic barbells.
Standard barbells can’t hold as much weight as the Olympic barbells but it is of little consequence if you plan on using weight less than 300 pounds.
The difference between Olympic barbells and standard barbells is the size and weight capacity. Generally, Olympic bars are wider in circumference and heavier than standard barbells. They can also support alot more weight.
The one thing you will notice with standard barbells is that they don’t have the large stubby ends. Olympic bars have about 4″ thickness at the ends of the bar (about 2′). This is to accommodate the holes in the Olympic plates.
The standard barbell is pretty much the same thickness all the way through. The holes in the plates for standard barbells are alot smaller than that of the Olympic plates.
The prices range from $29.95 for a 5′ standard barbell to $49.95 for a 7′ barbell. I would recommend that you use this type of barbell for your home training weight lifting equipment unless you plan on lifting some serious weight.
The standard barbell is not as heavy and bulky as the Olympic bars and is more balanced. If you are just starting out, you may want to try the smaller barbells.
Collars are alot smaller for the standard barbell. The collars are smaller since they don’t have to fit around the large ends of the Olympic bars as the Olympic collars do.
Generally, you can use some quick release collars that are much more convenient.
The prices are fairly cheap for these types of collars usually starting at $12.00.
Weight plates for standard barbells
The weight plates for standard barbells come in different shapes and makes. Some can come in plastic casings while others are cast iron.
The holes in these plates are a lot smaller than the Olympic plates since they have to fit a smaller barbell.
The weight increments for standard barbells are as follows:
– 2 1/2 pounds
– 5 pounds
– 10 pounds
– 25 pounds
– 50 pounds
I suggest you stick with cast iron plates since the weight will always stay constant over a time.
Iron plates are not as bulky as plastic encased weights and have a better feel. You can also get individual plates or plate sets. The sets usually come in various poundages such as 100 pounds sets to 1000 pound sets.
The prices for cast iron plates are not as expensive as the Olympic plates. I just checked the prices at big fitness and the prices start at $2.95 for a pair of 2 1/2 pair of cast iron plates.
So a pair of 5 pounders will cost you $5.90, 10 pounders will cost you $11.90 and so on.
Standard weight sets
If you are planning to train at home with free weight lifting equipment, I suggest you pick up a weight set or “package”.
These sets are not as expensive as the Olympic packages and come is lighter weight sets. You can pick up a great starter package at big fitness for $99.00.
This includes 110 pounds of cast iron plates ranging from 2 1/2 pound plates to 10 pound plates. You also get a pair of dumbbells.
A pretty good deal since your get a standard barbell, weight plates, collars, and dumbbells. Standard barbell sets usually come with dumbbells. This is a good thing since you don’t have incur the added expense of purchasing additional dumbbells.
Here is the set:
A dumbbell is basically a short barbell ( 8″ to 14″ long). Similar to a barbell, weights are attached to the ends of the dumbbell to provide resistance.
The weights may be either fixed like the kinds you see in gyms or adjustable. Dumbbells can be used for a variety exercises and you can perform most exercises that can be done with a barbell.
Dumbbells offer several advantages: they enable you to strengthen both sides of your body equally; they enable you to do some exercises (like front raises) that can’t be done with a barbell; they add variety to your workout; and they let you exercise one side of your body even if the other side is injured and cannot be trained.
Dumbbells come in a variety of shapes and sized. Dumbbells can start at 2 1/2 pounds and can go up to 200 pounds. Prices can vary depending on the weight and make of the dumbbell.
Fixed dumbbells come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some dumbbells have weight plates attached to the sides as the image below shows
and others don’t as in the case with hex dumbbells.
Some have rubber coating, some have chrome, and some are covered in neoprene. However, both all offer the same advantages with regards to training with dumbbells.
The advantages of training with fixed weight dumbbells is convenience and safety. Fixed dumbbells are much more convenient than adjustable dumbbells because you don’t have to fiddle around with plates in order to do your exercise.
Also, you don’t have to worry about the plates coming off with fixed dumbbells. This reduces the chance of injury. The disadvantages of training with this type of dumbbell is that they cannot be adjusted. Let’s say you have two pairs of dumbbells, 15 and 20 pounds.
What if the dumbbells are too light? What if there too heavy? You can’t adjust the weight to your personal preferences. If you are thinking of using fixed dumbbells, I suggest you think about the minimum and maximum amount of weight you plan on using.
No sense in getting fixed dumbbells that are too light or too heavy. You can either buy individual dumbbells or you can buy dumbbell packages.
Personally, I use hexagon dumbbells and they range from 2 to 95 pound dumbbells. I usually pay about .70 cents per pound. I prefer these kinds of dumbbells because the weight is dead solid and the weight doesn’t wobble. Check out the image below:
Adjustable dumbbells are dumbbells that allow the user to adjust the amount of weight on a dumbbell. Let’s say you are doing dumbbell curls with 15 pounds and need to add 5 more pounds for another exercise such as dumbbell bench presses.
Simply slip of the safety clip and add 5 additional pounds. The advantages of using adjustable dumbbells is the convenience of adding or removing the weight for your personal preferences.
The main disadvantage is the amount of time it takes to change the weight. For example, the Bowflex Select Tech Dumbbell is both, adjustable and fixed.
I came across an interesting fitness tool called the body bar when I was browsing the BigFitness website. The body bar is basically a bar with no weight attachments. The design is compact and the product comes in 5 different weight increments ranging from 9, 12, 15, 18, and 24 Lb Bars.
You can use the bodybar to strengthen, tone and condition. Bodybars are weighted bars with an easy grip and has a multiple of uses. It’s durable and has padded cushions for the hands. It’s compact make is great for easy storage.
An interesting fitness tool for beginners or for those of you who don’t want to mess around with weight plates.
Free weight packages
If you want to train at home using free weight lifting equipment, your best bet is to purchase “weight sets”.
Weight sets are barbells and dumbbells with weight plates and collars. You can buy either Olympic weight sets or standard weight sets.
I would suggest you stick with standard weight sets unless you are really looking to lift some serious weight. Of course, you may want to choose to work excusively with dumbbells. It’s a matter of preference but I would recommend that you work with both, dumbbells and barbells.
There is a great package over at bigfitness for $99.00. The package is a 110 pound standard weight set and includes the following:
– 1 5′ 1″ bar
– 2 SpinLock dumbbell handles
– 4 10 Lb plates
– 6 5 Lb plates
– 6 2.5 Lb plates
– 7 6 spring clips
This is a pretty good starter package and once you start getting a little more stronger, you can always purchase more weight plates.
Depending on your interests and personal goals, free weights offer several advantages over other equipment. When compared with machines, their primary advantage is that people of all shapes and sizes can use them.
Free weights offer a greater variety of exercises than other equipment, and they easily enable you to identify a weakness or muscle imbalance. For example, if one side of you body is weaker than the other, you won’t be able to lift the weights evenly.
Free weights allow you to train funtionally. They enhance joint stability and allow for your muscles to work evenly and fully. Free weights are also less costly than other machines and require very little maintenance.
In addition to barbells and dumbbells, your free weight equipment can include curl bars (as described above), benches, ab boards, curl attachments, leg extension attachments, and squat racks.
Benches enable you to vary the position of your body while you exercise so that the muscles can be either isolated or trained a different angeles.
Benches come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes. However, there are basically 3 kinds of weight benches.
There are flat benches, incline benches and decline benches. The basic bench is a flat bench that can be used for a variety of exercises.
It’s basically a weight lifters utility bench.
This type of bench is great for a variety of exercise and a good bench to start with.
Some benches are adjustable so that you can train at different angles. These types of benches can be adjusted to an incline position, decline position and every in between.
These types of benches are great because they are cost effective and you can train your muscles at different angels. These types of benches have no rack so they are more effective for dumbbell exercises.
Some benches have racks at one end to hold the weight. These types of benches are convenient for barbell exercises. This way you don’t have to worry about getting the weight in position before you perform the exercise.
There are various kinds of benches designed for specific uses. The first kind of bench is the power bench or the Olympic style bench press. This bench is used primarily to perform the bench press exercise.
This bench is very heavy duty and is made for heavy bench pressing.
These types of benches are the kind you’ll see in commercial gyms. Unless you are very keen on using some heavy weight for your bench press and have the necessary room in your house, this might be an option for you to purchase.
If you plan on using an exercise bench for your home, your best bet is to go with a bench that multi purpose.
This way you’re not limited to just a flat bench. These types of benches are more or less workout stations that can be adjusted to allow you to perform a number of exercises.
There are varying degrees of complexity when it comes to a bench and it’s attachements. I suggest you go with an adjustable bench, squat attachement and maybe a leg extension.
However, there is a pretty good deal on a starter bench station over at Bigfitness. The station comes with an adjustable bench, leg curl/leg extension, arm curl station and lat pull down.
The package goes for about $199.00 and is an ideal bench for beginners and intermediates.
Once you come to the home page, simply click on the “weight bench” link on the left hand side navigational bar and you’ll see the bench near the bottom entitled ” Xodus Deluxe Starter Bench w/ Attachments”
A multi station machine has several exercise stations that collectively can serve many people at the same time. The multi purpose machine is often called the Universal Gym – Named after the manufacturer who pioneered the multi station machine.
There are many different manufacturers of the multi station but they all serve one purpose and that is too provide versatility to the user.
Today, multi station machines are often called home gyms. Nevertheless, they are all multi purpose and can serve more than one person at a time.
Multi station machines are so versatile that you can use them for most of the exercises you do with barbells.
They also enable you to do some exercises that you can’t do with barbells, such as leg curls, lat pull downs, leg extensions, and cable movements.
The advantages of using a multi station machine includes a high level of safety, the ability to simultaneously accommodate multi users, time effieciency (simply adjust the pin on weight stacks), and easy to learn.
Multi station machines are a little more expensive than other exercise equipment. Mid range multi station machines can go anywhere from $600 to $2,200. If you are thinking of purchasing a multi station machine for your home, make sure that you take into consideration the following points:
Multi station machines are pretty large and bulky. The Bodycraft Family XPress Home Gym for example is 8 3/4 ‘x 7’x 7’. Consider the dimension of your workout space and storage space to that of the multi station machine.
Take into consideration who else in your family might be using the multi station machine. Does the machine fit with your personal preferences? Does the machine fit with other family members purposes?
Multi station machines tend to be a little more expensive than other exercise equipment. Prices can range anywhere from $600 to $2,500.
Make sure there is some kind of warranty on your multi station machine. A lifetime warranty on parts and frame for residential is preferable or at least 2 years on parts and frame.
Make sure it’s what you want
Multi stations gyms are pretty expensive so make sure it’s the kind of equipment you need for you fitness goals.
I suggest you sit down for 10 minutes and make a list of objectives you want to accomplish with your fitness schedule.
Remember, a home hym is a great investment for resistance training. If you’re not interested in resistance training, a multi station gym may not be what your looking for.
Make sure that the multi station is safe for you and your family.
There are numerous multi station machines on the market today. Some multi stations use weight stacks, free weights while others use hydraulics and rubber bands.
Personally. if I was to buy a multi station, I would prefer to use weight stacks.
Today’s weight stack multi stations are much safer and are much more comfortable and durable. I guess I’m a little biased to weight stacks because they feel more balanced and much smoother than free weight stacks.
If you’re in the market for a multi station home gym, check out your local fitness equipment shops. They usually have a knowledgable staff who can give you some advice as to what kind of gym you need for your needs.
The one thing that I don’t suggest you do is go to a retail outlet store like a Walmart to do your multi station shopping. The equipment you find at these types of stores will usually be flimsy and not worth the money you pay for them.
However, if you’ve never really worked out before and would like to purchase a reliable multi station home gym for you and your family online, you might want to check out BigFitness’ BodyCraft Home Gym Galena Strength Training System.
I reviewed the BodyCraft Home Gym Galena Strength Training System and it looks pretty reliable. It’s a compact, heavy duty system that uses a two hundred pound weight stack (10 pound increments).
It inlcudes a chest press, innovative dual-function pec dec, leg curl, leg extension, lat pull, low pulley station, abdominal crunch and seated row station to work every muscle group.
The size is about 44″ Deep x 42″ Wide x 82″ High. It’s a pretty good size if space is limited in your home. The system also has a lifetime warranty that covers all the parts for as long as you own the gym.
BigFitness is also offering free shipping for this particular piece of equipment.
It’s a pretty good deal and the equipment will last you a very long time.
Variable Resistance Machines are interesting pieces of weight lifting equipment. Without getting into the biomechanics of the variable resistance system, the term variable resistance is used to describe the actual motion at certain points Vs the weight being used.
That is, for every movement that we do, there are points within that motion where we are the strongest and where we are the weakest.
The main argument that variable resistance proponents make against free weight proponents is that free weights don’t effectively “distribute” the weight evenly throughout the entire range of motion.
There are some points in the movement where you’re stronger than others simply based on the mechanics of our bodies.
I’m sure you’ve experienced this phenomenon when you are working out. You will notice that, let’s say on the bench press that there are certain parts of the movement where you are the strongest, usually near full contraction and weakest near the bottom portion of the movement.
However, the variable resistance system compensates for this gap in movement by evenly distributing the weight throughout the entire range of motion.
The result? A stronger system of muscles. A very innovative way to look at resistance training.
There some advantages to using variable resistance training as opposed to traditional free weights. The first benefit is the constant resistance to the muscle group throughout the entire range of motion.
This has a huge advantage over traditional weight training.
By forcing your muscles to work harder throught the entire range of motion, your body will respond by making your muscles stronger. What exactly does this mean? Simply put, you’re going to get stronger, faster!
This particular piece of weight lifting equipment enables you to develop each muscle to its fullest potential throughout the range of motion.
It also encourages you to work through a greater range of motion, which provides a very safe way to train, and enables you to exercise at or near your fatigue threshold.
Other benefits include:
– You can integrate variable resistance training with other traditional free weight training
– Training time is reduced by applying the correct amount of resistance to the muscle as opposed to using other exercises to compensate for other training angles. Ie: The bench press is not an all encomposing exercise that effectively provides constant resistance to the target muscle.
Compensating exercises such as dumbell flyes and incline presses are needed to “fill in the gap” that the bench press didn’t hit.
Alright, what are some examples of a variable resistance machine? Variable resistance machines come in a few forms and shapes. Some contain tubes and elasitcs and other chains and weights.
Take Nautilus for example, this is a perfect example of a variable resistance machine that uses chains and weights to apply constant resistance to the muslce throughout the entire range of motion.
There are others such as the bowflex machine that uses a system of rods and pulleys to create constant tension on the muscle throughout the entire range of motion.
The main disadvantage to using these types of weight lifting equipment is the price.
Which is better? Free weights or variable resistance machines?
I can’t say which one is strictly better because each of us have different objectives and goals. Personally, I’m into building muscle and strength. I prefer to use a pure compound movement like the bench press and follow it up with secondary compound movement like the incline press and than incorporate a variable resistance movement to ensure that my muscle has been totally exhausted.
For those of you who are pressed for time, have the necessary space, and have the money to spend, a variable resistance machine may be what your looking for.
Examples include the BowFlex and Weider’s take on the Bowflex called Cross Bow Gyms. They all have the same thing in common, variable weight resistance.
Other’s include Nautilus, Eagle, and Keiser machines.
All factors considered, free weights don’t involve much expense in comparison to multi station and variable resistance machines.
That is, you don’t need to spend a fortune on weight lifting equipment because your muscle doesn’t know the difference between a machine that costs $3,000 and one that costs $300.
Remember, that to develop muscular fitness, you have to take one basic step – place enough resistance or demand on the muscle or muscle group you want to improve.
How you accomplish that that is based on many factors.
There are a host of low cost weight lifting equipment for you to use to reach your fitness goals. Some are good while others are a complete waste of time and money.
However, you can use low cost weight lifting equipment to achieve your desired goals.
Here are just some of the advantages to using low cost weight lifting equipment:
– These types of exercise allow many people to train simultaneously;
– If performed properly, these exercises can be performed at high intensity levels;
– These techniques allow you to do many different exercises for developing strength;
– These types of exercises don’t necessarily concentrate on the amount of weight you are using but rather on the quality of the repetition; And
– There low cost!
However, there are some disadvantages such as:
– Can be a little difficult to get used to – Especially for beginners since a machine is designed to control the movement pattern;
– For some people, these exercise may be difficult because they require more co-ordination than what is needed with traditional weight lifting equipment;
– Can be a little difficult to guage progress. Some people prefer to know that they’ve actually lifted a certain weight with more repetitions or they’ve lifted more weight. Ie: Knowing that they’ve lifted “X” number of pounds, “X” number of times.
Here are some examples of low cost weight lifting equipment:
Sticks and body bars
Stick Exercises: These exercises can use a wooden dowel or a body bar. The wooden dowl (can be a broomstick) provides an added degree of comfort and control. Stick exercises usually involve combining two movements into one exercise.
Body bars are an interesting innovation that come in a variety of weight increments.
Resistance cord exercises involve doing exercises against the force required to stretch a cord or to return it to its natural state. Cords must be made of elastic materials like rubber. A resistance cord can be either a commercial product or a homemade device, such as a length of surgical tubing.
Resistance cord exercises can be done for both the lower body and the upper body. For example, you can begin either by attaching one end of the cord to a fixedobject or by holding one end with each hand.
Then stretch the cord by moving your arm or leg in a pattern appropriate to the muscle or muscle group you want to develop.
There are a host of other low cost weight lifting equipment but they will generally fall into some sort of resistance band category.
Weight lifting equipment varies widely in cost. If you plan to exercise away from home, your primary financial considerations will be the cost to join or use the facility and miscellaneous related expenses.
If you decide to weight train at home, you probably will need to buy at least a few pieces of equipment, depending on your personalized program.
But before you outfit a home gym with weight lifting equipment, decide exactly wha tyou want to accomplish in training and what equipment you need to achieve your goals.
Once you make those decisions, start looking for equipment.
Try and get professional advice, comparison shop, and get information on guarantees and warranties. If you’re not buying locally, be sure to find out costs for shipping, installation, and delivery. Ask about durability and how servicing and part replacement will be handled. It’s your money so spend it wisely.
All the best,
Blake has been weight lifting for about 28 years now. He's 45 years of age and started seriously training when he was 18 years old.
Blake is the founder of Building-Muscle101.com, a successful fitness website that has been around for more than 15 years.