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I’ve been living the home gym lifestyle for a few years now, enjoying the flexible hours, dog-friendly policies, whatever equipment I need for my goals, and no lines waiting to use it. Here is my list of required and preferred equipment as well as some tips and tricks for building your home gym for rowing and strength training for rowing.
#1: Barbell and Weights
There is no substitute for a barbell and a couple hundred pounds of weights and it should be the very first thing you buy for your home gym. While dumbbells, kettlebells, and other forms of weight are great for assistance exercises and other forms of training, a barbell is absolutely necessary to achieve significant loading and apply enough of a stimulus for growth and strength gains.
There are many, many barbells on the market these days ranging from the very cheap to the very expensive. I love my Texas Power Bar and have also enjoyed using Rogue Fitness’ Ohio Bar and Rogue Bar in the past. Any of these bars should be lifetime bars, which is the main advantage they offer over cheap barbells that can be found at sporting goods stores. If you’re going to be using the bar a lot, it might as well be one of decent quality.
Metal plates are cheaper than bumper plates, and because I don’t use Olympic lifting in my programs, they are perfectly fine for my needs. Metal plates can often be found for good deals used through used sporting goods stores or Craigslist-type websites.
#2: Horse Stall Mats
Stall mats are a cheaper substitute for gym flooring. At 3/4″ thickness of solid rubber, if they’re strong enough for horses to stand on, they’re strong enough to pad the floor for lifting. If you went with bumper plates over metal plates for your weights, you might not need these. Mats can usually be found at any tractor supply or farm supply company, around $40-50 per 4×6′ mat. I recommend leaving these outside to off-gas for a few days before moving them inside your new home gym.
#3: Power Rack or Squat Stands
Without a power rack or squat stands, your options for barbell lifts are limited to deadlifts, rows, overhead presses, bodyweight lifts, and front squats if you can clean the weight into position and perform it safely. This is still far better than nothing, which is why a bar, weights, and stall mats take a higher priority than a rack or stands.
The advantage of a power rack, either a half rack or a full rack, is safety bars that allow you to safely miss a lift. While I don’t use 1RM weights in my rowing programs, mistakes happen and it is possible miss submaximal lifts. If you’re like me and train alone in your home gym, I’d say that safety bars are an absolute necessity to be able to train safely.
The advantage of the squat stands is the minimal amount of space they take up compared to a power rack. They also usually carry a lower cost. The Ironmind Squat Stands are basically the gold standard (and are not lower cost), but other brands will work fine so long as they are rated to enough weight for your needs.
The major disadvantage of the power rack is its footprint and cost. However, if you have the space and budget then I think it’s 100% the way to go.
If you’re short on space or money, then the squat stands can work so long as you have a spotter and can ensure a safe way to fail lifts like the squat and front squat.
The half rack you see in my videos is the Vo3 Half Rack. I don’t absolutely love it, but it was on sale, doesn’t take up a lot of space, is highly portable, and very much gets the job done.
#4: Resistance Bands
If you’ve been a reader of my site for long, you know I love to use exercise bands in my rowers’ training. These versatile tools can be used for a variety of exercises and substitutes for a lot of lifts that would ordinarily be done on machines or dumbbells at a commercial gym. Having used bands for years in my own training as well, I actually prefer them in many cases to machine lifts for the main reason that I can do the lifts on my own two feet, rather than sitting on a padded bench or supportive chair. Last I checked, there weren’t many sports that compete on padded benches.
EliteFTS sells the best bands on the market, with Rogue Fitness second. I’ve found that the Rogue bands fray sooner than the EliteFTS bands, plus EliteFTS has been quick to replace the few bands that I have had fray. The bands have different tensions based on their size and thickness, so here are the ones I use in order of highest tension to lowest:
- Pro Light Resistance Band
- Pro Monster Mini Resistance Band
- Pro Mini Resistance Band
- Pro Micro Resistance Band
#5: Kettlebells and Dumbbells
Having KB’s and DB’s opens the door to a lot of beneficial assistance lifts, but they drop down my rankings because they take up more space and are more expensive than bands. If you have the money and space, invest in these for great lifts like kettlebell swings, bottoms-up kettlebell press, dumbbell rows and batwing rows, YWT raises, seated or standing presses, and more. Adjustable dumbbells like Powerblocks can also be great for the home gym that is tight on space. I found a good deal on my dumbbells through Craigslist and also have a pair of plate-loadable dumbbells like this for going heavier.
#6: TRX Suspension Trainer/Gymnastics Rings
These are fairly low cost and low space requirement, so long as you have something tall enough that you can hang them off of to use. Check out my video below for all the things I use my gymnastics rings for!
#7: Glute-Ham Raise (GHR)
This is a fantastic piece of equipment but really only serves a few purposes, is fairly high cost, and takes up a fair amount of space. It does an excellent job with its few purposes though and is one of the best developers of the posterior chain muscles, and that’s why it makes my list. Here are some of the lifts you can do with a GHR.
#8: Adjustable Bench
Bench presses and their variations take a very low priority in my rowing programs. Without a bench, you can still do great horizontal pressing variations such as the pushup and floor press, both of which can be perfectly adequate for rowing training in a budget home gym. The adjustable bench does afford some nice varieties of exercises including elevated batwing rows, dumbbell and barbell bench presses and incline presses, and putting your foot on the bench to do rear foot elevated split squats. This is not a piece of equipment you want to scrimp on, because it will be responsible for supporting your bodyweight plus the weight of whatever you’re lifting. Adjustable benches rated to a adequate weight can be costly, so given the cost relative to the amount of worth these exercises deliver, this is at the bottom of my list compared to the other seven items.
Remember, you can use my free exercise guide on Youtube for a glossary of all the exercises I use in my rowing programs. Make sure to check out the Q&A’s and coaching demonstration videos too while you’re there.