I wish I could tell you the essential equipment for a complete home gym includes a memory foam recliner, cooler coffee table, and 65" 4K TV, but...well actually, you could argue the TV is essential for streaming your favorite Beachbody workouts and live indoor cycling classes. But the rest of the equipment you'll need to assemble a home gym primed to curl, lunge, hop, and HIIT you fit is more along the lines of the iron, steel, nylon, and foam selections below.
Here are my picks for the essential equipment you'll need to put together a complete home gym, plus a few slick bonus pieces that might make friends and family inquire about monthly rates for a membership to your basement.
Note: Fitness equipment prices are listed as they were at printing. Prices are subject to change.
PowerBlock Classic Adjustable Dumbbell Set $322. For what you're getting here, the price cannot be beat. These are solid, easily adjustable, and just as easy to use. Ranging from 5 to 45 pounds, if you can only buy one piece of equipment for a home gym, look no further.
BOSU Balance Trainer $100. I called out the PowerBlock Classic Adjustable Dumbbell Set as the singular piece of home gym equipment to buy if you can only buy a single piece of home gym equipment. The BOSU Sport Balance Trainer would be my second choice (also much cheaper if you're on a budget). An acronym for "Both Sides Up" this bouncy, blue-domed half ball has near limitless versatility in training core strength, cardio, balance, and agility.
TRX Suspension Training Home Kit $130. The hardness of the muscles you'll build from using the Navy SEAL-developed TRX suspension training system is directly proportional to the hardness of actually using the TRX suspension training system. Though there are technically modifications available to beginners, they're kind of like Arnold in his prime telling you to make your pushups easier by using two hands instead of one. But if you're game for the grueling grunt work, The TRX Home Kit will teach you how to buff up using no more than your body weight and gravity, and without the hassle and potential humiliation of learning its ropes publicly at the gym. TRX Home includes all equipment and how-tos needed to set up the suspension system either at home or on the go.
Stamina Adjustable Height PlyoBox $200. Whether you want to increase your explosive power or just make a couple of giant blue goose eggs appear on your shins, box jumps are for you. And Stamina's PlyoBox, a steel X-shaped bench with 4 adjustable heights, can help anyone accomplish both in no time. The easy up-down PlyoBox grows from 12" to 16" to 20" to a peak 24". It has a non-slip surface pad to ensure a safe grip when landing. Box measurements are 39" long x 21" wide, and no assembly is required.
Manduka Yoga Mat $100. A denser, thicker mat to provide more spinal support during ab work, stretching, and (I hope!) the occasional post-workout "workout." True to the yogi way, Manduka makes their mats sustainably, with zero-waste properties. Width is 26", and you have your choice of 71" and 85" lengths, plus a dozen or so colors.
Gymboss Interval Timer $20 to $28. The difference between the Gymboss and any other fitness timer or stopwatch is that it combines the lightness and portability of the former with the interval tracking capabilities and sound effects of boxing gym round trackers. The Gymboss can store and count 1 or 2 intervals of between 2 seconds and 99 minutes, and repeat them up to 99 times.
For example, if you're doing a cardio session that consists of 30 seconds of sprinting and 1 minute of walking, you can set the Gymboss for :30 / 1:00, and it will beep or vibrate (or both, your choice) first after 30 seconds and then again after 60 seconds for however many rounds you tell it to repeat the combo. It's even handier for tabata intervals, keeping you honest on your :20 on / :10 off for the full 8 rounds.
TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller $65. Who wants to apply some myofascial compression techniques to their tight, overwrought muscles? Second only to the hands of a 6' Swedish co-ed who's been milking cows since birth, the TriggerPoint GRID foam roller penetrates and plows over knots and kinks to provide muscular relief and improve mobility.
Draper's Strength Pullup & Lifting Bands $14. I can do 87 pullups. No joke. All I need is a bar and a strategically placed 100-pound Draper's Strength Pullup Band. And a camera that hides my body from the waist down from all witnesses. Seriously though, if you're struggling with body-weight-based strength exercises, or in fact, if you want to struggle more with them, these heavy duty elastic bands will serve as either the friend or foe you need to get the results you seek.
Smart Rope - LED-Embedded Jump Rope $80. Not since Kris Kross has something made me wanna jump!jump! so bad. The Smart Rope is a jump rope embedded with a strip of LEDs that doesn't just turn your cardio session into a disco, but actually displays your jump count in mid-air as you double under and side swing.
The Smart Rope's magnetic handle sensors track each full rope revolution as 1 jump, and its 23 LEDs project that information right in front of you, in real time. Synced with the Smart Rope's Smart Gym mobile fitness platform, you'll be able to store each session's jump count, along with other analytics, such as calories burned and workout times. Smart Gym is available for iOS, Android, Apple Watch, and Pebble Watch.
Aqua Training Bags - Water-Filled Boxing Bags $50 to $180. Aqua Training Bags bring punching and kicking to the masses. The pros too. Whether you're in MMA training or just looking to add boxing to your gym or home fitness routine, this water-filled bag is kind of a genius piece of equipment to buddy up with during your workout. I've actually used an Aqua Training Bag myself, and can attest to maker New York Fitness and Boxing's promises that it's easy to install, easy on the joints, and easily feels like punching a real human body.
BOSU Ballast Exercise Ball $51. A stability ball with 2-1/2 pounds of sand inside. The weight both keeps the ball from rolling away, and adds intensity during use. You'll be surprised how heavy a mere 2-1/2 extra pounds feel during supine passes from hands to feet and Russian twists.
Reebok Professional Deck Workout Bench $170. The Professional Deck adds another layer to the traditional step / bench with a hinged surface. In addition to movable legs that lift the bench from 8" to 14" (or slope it for use at an incline or decline) it has a "lid" on top that lifts and locks into 3 different positions for seated exercises with dumbbells and resistance tubes. It also has 4 pairs of attachment points to keep the latter stable and even during use.
Lifting the Deck's lid reveals a small storage compartment for additional fitness equipment, and maybe a few pick-me-up snacks in between sets.
WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine $1,160. The rowing machine. The erg. It's a fate worse than death. You should try it. WaterRower's Natural Rowing Machine will even look classy and simulate a true strokin'-on-the-lake feel as it slow cooks your muscles from the inside out. Mmm, 10,000 meters and you'll be perfectly medium rare for pairing with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
Keiser M3i Indoor Cycle $2,000. I've tried at least 10 different styles and brands of indoor cycling bikes, and Keiser's are hands down my favorite. One word: magnets. The M3i uses a magnetic resistance system that, at least in my 5+ years of of use, never degrades or malfunctions. I also like the company's use of a lever instead of a knob to control the resistance because it's easier to adjust and, after a few uses, you'll be able to eyeball exactly where to set it for your preferred hills and flats.
The M3i Keiser also has a full computer readout of gear / resistance, RPMs / speed, wattage output, total pedal time, total distance, and heart rate if you're wearing a compatible chest monitor.
Concept2 SkiErg $815. I have yet to try this simulated cross between Nordic skiing and raising the blinds in the living room, but I heard if you commit to using the SkiErg regularly it will whip your doughy parts into the chiseled, rock hard biscuits my grandma used to make. You can buy a separate stand to use the machine freestanding, or mount it to your wall, so it won't consume a lot of your home gym's floor space.