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A Comprehensive Gym Exercise Equipment Guide


calendar-iconOctober 20, 2020


Walking into a gym for the first time and seeing all the equipment it holds can be a daunting experience. You might ask yourself, Where should I start? Which equipment will best help me reach my goals?

This guide is here to try to answer those questions. Knowing exactly what you want to achieve with your workouts is a necessary first step before even starting any exercise. Once you are sure of what your goals are, then you can formulate a plan for yourself and decide which pieces of equipment will benefit you the most.

Cardio machines, resistance machines, and free weights training are typically the three main methods of working out you have to pick from at the gym (or perhaps even at home). Our guide will go over all three types and describe the various equipment that fall under each category, as well as the pros and cons of each one.

But first, it would be helpful to discuss some of the most important factors that go into choosing the right exercises for your workouts.

Table of Contents

How to Choose Your Exercises:

Before constructing your workout plan and deciding what pieces of equipment you want to use, it is important to know what your personal fitness goals are.

The kinds of exercises you choose to do during your workout can have a significant impact on how quickly you build muscle or lose fat. 

How to pick the right exercise

There are three factors to keep in mind when picking the right exercise, according to our article on exercise choice:

  1. Compound vs isolation exercise
  2. Unilateral or bilateral movement
  3. Free weight or a machine exercise

The first factor to consider is whether it is a compound exercise or an isolation exercise. 

A compound exercise is one that works multiple muscle groups at once, like the bench press, for example. An isolation exercise, on the other hand, is one that only works a single muscle group at a time, such as the bicep curl. 

Our article says, “When choosing between compound and isolation exercises, it's best to utilize compound exercises to hit more muscles at once, and use isolation exercises to address more specific muscle growth needs”. Therefore, if you are only looking to work out your arms, then you may want to primarily stick to isolation exercises. If you are looking for greater gains in your arms, shoulders, chest, and core, though, then compound exercises may be more useful in your routine.

The second factor is whether the exercise is a unilateral or bilateral movement. A bilateral exercise is where you use both sides simultaneously, like the overhead press. They are more time-efficient than unilateral exercises and allow you to lift more weight, since both halves of your body are working in unison. Try doing bilateral exercises if you are short on time and need to get in a good workout quickly.

A unilateral exercise is where you only utilize one side of your body, like with a single arm overhead press. Unilateral exercises are effective options for you if you have an injury and can only perform an exercise with one side of your body. In addition, they activate your muscles in different ways, which can help if you are looking to do progressive overload (which is the gradual increase of stress placed on your muscles while you train).

The third factor to consider when picking the right exercise for your plan is whether it is a free weight exercise, or one you do with a resistance machine. 

Free weight exercises are when your resistance comes from a free-moving object, one that is on a free path – it could be a barbell, dumbbell, or any other object. These types of exercises place more strain on muscle fibers than machine exercises, which can be very beneficial for muscle growth. 

Machine exercises, on the other hand, provide resistance through a set path and range of motion. Although machines like the lat pulldown machine do not build muscle as fast as free weights, they can provide a safer workout experience, encourage better form, and be easier to use for beginners.

Our article recommends, “When choosing between free weight or machine exercises, it's best to utilize free weight exercises to stress your muscles more dynamically, and use machine exercises while learning a new motion or to add more weight to specific motions that are difficult to perform with free weights”.

Consider what type of workout you want to have when you pick your exercises, and what your overall goals are. If you do not have much experience with any sort of equipment, then take it slow at first, so that you become accustomed to the wide variety of machines and objects available to you. Start with a lower number of reps and work your way up. You will get strong quicker if you practice good technique on every exercise you do, and know when you are at your limits. Overdoing it early on will lead to fatigue and perhaps even injury, so always listen to your body, and give yourself plenty of time to rest in between sets.

Cardio Machines

One type of exercise equipment you can use in the gym (or at home if you can afford it) is cardio machines. 

Cardio machines include the treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike, or rowing machines. 

Including these types of machines into your workouts can help speed up your fitness progress, especially if you are looking to lose weight or burn fat. 

Not only that, but doing some cardio in between sets of weightlifting is a great way to keep your heart rate up. Active rest makes sure that you stay focused and energized for when you move on to your next exercise, and becomes even more effective when you combine it with high intensity interval training

You should always try to get in a little bit of cardio during your warm up, even if it is just 5-10 minutes of easy walking on the treadmill. 

Getting your muscles loose and energized before the main portion of workout will immensely improve your performance. You will be able to focus more on your technique during your other exercises, which is great news for beginners who may be unfamiliar with certain exercises. 

Not everyone recommends using cardio machines for losing weight, however. 

Jeff from Athlean X says that treadmills and other cardio machines have the potential to “alter the ground reaction forces normally felt through the foot, passively change muscle activation, and ruin posture”. 

He says that overusing treadmills can result in your posture being incorrect for when you walk or run outdoors, since you tend to look down and round your shoulders. 

Furthermore, less strain is placed on your leg muscles because of the motion of the treadmill, unlike the forces you feel when your foot hits the grounds while you run outdoors. 

Less muscle activation can result in less calories being burned and less muscle mass being gained. That is why Jeff believes that cardio machines are not always the most effective way of losing weight.

However, that does not mean that you should avoid doing cardio exercise completely. 

Cardio machines can be good for your heart health, as well as your overall body conditioning, and also provide some muscle toning and weight loss, says WebMD

Some gyms also have indoor pools that provide an opportunity for open-lap swimming. If your gym has a pool, then you should definitely try adding a swimming workout to your routine. There are many benefits of swimming that a lot of people are not aware of, so give it a try if you feel comfortable.

With that out of the way, here are some of the most common pieces of cardio equipment that you can expect to find in most gyms:

Bicycle Trainer

A Bicycle Trainer can serve as a safe and useful alternative to biking outdoors, if you are uncomfortable doing that, or if the weather is poor.

Using a Bicycle Trainer indoors will help you become more experienced with riding a bike and getting a good workout in. You have much more control over your exercise, since you are not being limited by the outdoor environment. Furthermore, some people claim they provide a more realistic ride compared to stationary bikes.

There are a few components that a Bicycle Trainer consists of, including a bike, a clamp for keeping it secure, a roller which presses up against the rear wheel, and a mechanism that creates resistance when the pedals are turned. There are also different types of Bicycle Trainers that use different mechanisms for adding resistance, such as wind, magnets, or fluids. Some Trainers even act as complete replacements for the rear wheels, though these are very expensive and require electricity to use.

If you aren’t very experienced with outdoor biking or are unable to do so consistently because of bad weather, then you may want to invest in getting a Bike Trainer. Keep in mind that although they are very useful, they can also cost a lot of money depending on which mechanism is being used.

Elliptical (Elliptical trainer/Elliptical Machine)

Source Wikipedia

Another good option for cardio exercise is the elliptical machine. WebMD says, “Because you use them in a standing position, you're using lots of muscle mass, so the calorie burn rate is still pretty high”. 

Furthermore, ellipticals can also be easier on your knees than treadmills, so give them a try if you are new to working out and are unsure about hopping on the treadmill right away.

Ellipticals with arm components have the potential to increase the number of calories you burn, since you are now using both your arms and legs. However, you should start with ellipticals that do not have the arm components first, so that you can become comfortable with the basic motion of the machine.

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Rowing Machine (Erg/Ergometers/Indoor rower)

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If you are at the gym, a popular brand of rowing machines is the Concept2.

The rowing machine is a more advanced cardio machine that is not usually recommended for beginners. It requires you to use a lot of different muscle groups and can burn a lot of calories quickly, but may be too intense for inexperienced individuals. 

As WebMD puts it:

“Because you must push with the legs while you pull with the arms, rowers require coordination. They also require you to engage your core abdominal muscles to support and protect your back”.

In addition to this, using extra weight on the rower can lead to unwanted back pain, so some individuals, including some personal trainers, may want to stay away from the rowing machine until you are more fit.

On the other hand, there are plenty of benefits to gain from using the Rowing Machine. It is a great piece of equipment to use for a full-body workout, as it extensively engages your back, arms, core, and legs.

Besides that, it also has a low amount of impact on your joints. This means that the Rowing Machine won’t hurt your knees as much as running on the treadmill might, since you don’t have the forces of your feet hitting the ground pulsing through your knees. Moreover, you use your own energy and momentum on the Rowing Machine, whereas a treadmill uses the machine to propel you forward. Since you control how fast you go on the rowing machine, you are able to pace yourself more comfortably, and go at a speed that will help you get the most out of the exercise.

The Rowing Machine, like any cardio machine, should be used with caution, especially if it is your first time using it. It is a great way to change up the way you train for cardio, though, so you should definitely try using it once you are experienced and comfortable enough.

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Stationary Bike (Stationary Bicycle/Fitness Bicycle)

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The stationary bike is a great option for those with weak knees, or for those who find the pressure placed on the knees from the treadmill, elliptical or rowing machine to be too much. 

No body weight is putting pressure on the knees, so it is an easier cardio exercise to try. 

However, it is crucial that your seat is neither too low nor too high. It is very common for newcomers to keep their seat too low as they ride the bike, which can lead to soreness, and also prevents your knees from going through the full range of motion. 

Remember that getting the full range of motion during your exercises is how you get the most out of your workout. 

Make sure you take your time and position the bike seat correctly, so that your knees are comfortable and you can get the most out of your time on the stationary bike.

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Using the treadmill during either your warmup or the main part of your workout can serve you well. 

According to WebMD, “You can expect to burn about 100 calories per mile, walking briskly”. Getting your metabolism up on the treadmill will make you feel more energized during your workout, but you should be careful with this machine if you are new to exercising.


Walking, and especially running, on the treadmill can put a lot of pressure on your legs and knees. If you are out of shape or have weaker joints, then using the treadmill may not be the best option for you right away. 

Do not feel compelled to hop on the treadmill and run at full speed to start your first workout. Start at a slower speed and incline level to see how your body can handle it, and gradually work your way up as you get more accustomed to using the treadmill.

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Resistance Machines

Another kind of equipment you can find at the gym is resistance machines. They work practically every part of the body, and are valuable for beginners who want to build strength and gain muscle mass, while also working on form. Resistance machines guide your muscles along a fixed path, helping you improve your technique and get a decent range of motion in each rep.

Some believe, however, that you should not use machines too often. They claim that since machines aid you during the exercise, your muscles are not doing all of the work. This may result in smaller gains in strength and muscle mass, compared to doing the same exercise with free weights. 

It mainly comes down to what level of stability works best for you as you do your reps. While some people train better with more stability, others may do better with less. A lot of this depends on which one you feel the most comfortable with, which requires you to try out doing exercises using both resistance machines and free weight equipment. The more you train using a particular amount of stability, the more power you gain under those specific conditions in subsequent workouts. Chris Beardsley explains it well:

“If we train with a great deal of stability (the Smith machine bench press), we tend to improve strength under very stable conditions. If we train with little stability (the dumbbell bench press), we tend to increase strength under less stable conditions most”.

Although you may not be sure whether resistance machines are the best method of training for your workout plan, you should start by using resistance machines if you are new to weightlifting or recovering from an injury. Then try adding more free weights into your routines, and see which one provides you greater benefits.

Here are some of the most popular resistance machines:

Ab Coaster Machine

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The Ab Coaster Machine is an extremely effective and versatile piece of equipment, which engages your core and back muscles. 

You kneel on the platform and slowly bring your knees up to your chest, and then bring them back down. Your knees slide up to your chest and back on a curved track, which also allows you to turn your legs at several different angles and work out your oblique muscles.

While a traditional crunch starts by engaging your upper core muscles and slowly works downward, the Ab Coaster Machine works in the opposite way. 

You start by working your lower abs, and as your knees slide up to your chest, your upper abs become engaged. Working your muscles in new ways will promote greater muscle growth over time, so definitely give the Ab Coaster Machine a try if traditional crunches aren’t working well for you.

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Abdominal Crunch Machine

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“An ab crunch machine is a fantastic way to isolate the abdominal muscles and develop them without integrating any other body parts”, says Fit & Me. It can improve your posture.

The ab crunch machine can help beginners by helping your body to do the full ab crunch motion (and add additional weight). This is a benefit for beginners who sometimes do not do the full ab crunch motion when doing a traditional ab crunch from the ground. 

With that in mind, you may want to try out this machine if you find yourself cheating on normal crunches, and really want to make good progress towards getting toned abs.

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Assisted Pull-up/Dip Station

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This piece of exercise equipment is a stack-loaded machine that involves doing either pull ups or dips, on a platform that provides help based on how much weight you select. 

This machine may prove useful to you if you are new to training and do not have much experience with traditional pull ups or dips yet. 

As you get stronger and feel more comfortable doing the exercises, you can eventually transition to doing them without any assistance.

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Butt Blaster Machine (Glute Blaster Machine)

Source Muscled Fitness

If you are looking to tone your glutes, then the butt blaster machine is a great choice for you. 

It targets your glute muscles individually as you extend your leg out and up behind you, which improves their strength and appearance over time.


Using a cable on a cable machine gives you access to a wide range of effective movements and exercises. You can target virtually any area of the body with cable exercises, and even if you may not feel as much of a pump as you would with dumbbells, there are still plenty of benefits you can get from cables.

There are some exercises, in fact, that are more effective when done with a cable instead of with dumbbells. For example, Jeff Nippard claims that doing a set of standing external rotations is not very effective at all. There is a very small range of motion with this exercise, which in turn does not stimulate your arms or core muscles too much.

Instead, he recommends doing external rotations with a cable instead. You will have a larger range of motion, plus you will actually feel tension as you rotate your body. When you use dumbbells, he says, you only get tension added against your biceps. There is no tension against that external rotation; therefore, you do not get much of a benefit from doing the exercise that way. 

If you are looking for new ways to change up your workout and engage your muscles differently, try using cables instead of dumbbells. You may find that they provide you with a unique kind of burn you can’t get any other way.

Cable Attachments

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There are a wide array of different attachments that can be connected to a Cable Machine. These can come in many shapes and sizes, and be made up of various materials, like aluminum or rubber.

Changing up the kinds of attachments you use switches up the grip you must use during your movements. This, in turn, changes the feel of the exercise and keeps your muscles guessing, which is a great way to build muscle faster.

Many of these attachments help you maintain stronger and more comfortable grip control, which is good for those who are new to lifting weights and do not have a super firm grip yet.

Here is an overview of the various attachments that can be added to a cable machine and be used during exercises to really strengthen your biceps and triceps:

Cambered Cable Bar

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Cambered bars have some small curves that allow you to hold the bar at different angles to help adjust your grip and positioning for different exercises such as cable curls and tricep cable push downs.

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Lat Cable Bar

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Lat bars have a slight curve to them and require you to use a wider grip than most cable attachments, which makes them a valuable option for those with weaker shoulders or poor flexibility. 

They are good for performing lat pulldowns on a cable machine.

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Nylon Cable Handle

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Nylon Handles, which are typically adjustable and made out of rubber or aluminum, are a very popular cable attachment. 

After being attached to any cable machine, they can be used for a wide range of lifting and pulling movements. 

Nylon Handles are great for those with a weaker grip, so if you’re having trouble maintaining your grip on your cable machine exercises, then try using Nylon Handles.

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Rope Cable Attachment

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The Rope Cable Attachment comes in a single and double format. The rope cable attachment is great for triceps and biceps exercises.

Some rope cable attachment tricep exercises with the rope cable attachment include triceps overhead extension with rope and rope tricep extensions.

Alternatively, some bicep rope cable attachment exercises include rope cable curl and rope cable preacher curl.

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Stirrup “D” Cable Handle

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Usually made out of aluminum or rubber, the Stirrup “D” Handle is great for both your biceps and triceps. 

Having a firmer grip will prevent your fingers from slipping or getting tired quickly, and will help you get the most out of exercises like elevated cable rows.

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Straight Cable Bar

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A Straight Bar is a solid choice for a cable attachment when you are working your biceps and triceps. 

They are great for providing you a stronger and more comfortable grip during tough exercises, and usually come in either all-aluminum or Pro-Grip. 

Straight Bars are excellent for straight bar cable curls, tricep cable press downs, upright cable rows, cable arm pullovers, among other exercises. 

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Triangle Cable Attachment (Row Cable Attachment, Double D Cable Attachment)

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The Double D Cable Attachment is used for doing cable rows which helps to activate your middle back and sometimes your lats. 

This can be used on a standard cable machine both seated and standing. Seated cable row is a popular exercise with this attachment.

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V Bar Attachment

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You should try using V-Bars on the cable machine if you want to have a firmer grip, as well as get a full range of motion on all of your biceps and triceps exercises. 

They also provide you a decent amount of continuous tension as you go through your exercises, making V-Bars a great choice for beginners looking to build strength quickly.

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Chest Press (Bench Press) Machine

Source Gym Experts

The chest press machine targets the chest muscles, biceps, and triceps in a manner similar to a push-up, according to Greatist. 

Building up these muscles with this machine is an excellent way to prepare yourself for more intense exercises later down the road.

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Hack Squat Machine

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The hack squat enables you to do a squat that has an extra emphasis on your quad muscles. 

It can serve as an effective way to build up to adding traditional squats into your workout routines if you are new to weight training. 

You can also target different parts of your leg by mixing up your foot position on the platform.

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Hanging Leg Raise Machine

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The Hanging Leg Raise Machine is an easy and powerful way of working your core and hip flexors, says Greatist. 

You simply prop yourself up on your forearms, and slowly lift your legs up until they are directly in front of you. Make sure your legs are completely straight and that your core muscles stay engaged the entire time. 

This is a great machine for beginners who lack stability and want to build stronger cores.

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Horizontal Seated Leg Press Machine

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The horizontal leg press machine is a valuable way to strengthen the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. 

Greatist claims that newcomers should practice doing the leg press with this machine, so that they can have correct technique for when they are eventually able to do squats.

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Lat Pulldown Machine

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This machine is a good way to prepare yourself for eventually doing bodyweight pull-ups. 

It helps strengthen your lats (back muscles) and shoulder girdles, which will allow you to have proper form when you are able to do pull-ups.

Beginners may want to start by having an underhand grip, with your palms facing towards you, as this is slightly easier and engages your biceps more. When you are ready to make the exercise more challenging, try either bringing your hands closer together, or spreading them farther apart.

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Leg Abduction Machine

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The leg abduction machine engages the outer thighs in a safe way. 

When used in conjunction with the leg adduction machine, it can greatly improve your overall leg strength and stability. 

This can serve you well if you have relatively weak legs or poor balance.

Leg Adduction Machine

Source YouTube

The leg adduction machine, on the other hand, targets the inner thigh muscles in isolation to the rest of your body. 

Use this machine along with the leg abduction machine to develop your leg muscles and prepare yourself for more challenging exercises.

Leg Curl Machine

Source Fitness Superstore

The leg curl machine serves as a direct opposite to the leg extension machine, and helps you build strength and definition in your hamstring muscles, according to Fit & Me. 

It also integrates the use of your calf muscles to stabilize the motion.

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Leg Extension Machine

Source Fitness Superstore

This machine is a useful tool for developing the quads. If you are looking to build leg strength before moving on to using heavy free weights for other exercises, then using the leg extension machine may be a good idea.

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Pec Deck Machine

Source Amazon

The pec deck machine is a safe and effective machine for beginners to develop their pectoral (chest) muscles. 

Your position on the seat decides which part of the pec feels the most strain, so try changing up your seat position every so often in order to target and strengthen your pecs in different ways.

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Pilates Reformer Machine

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This machine allows you to do a wide variety of Pilates exercises, along with extra resistance and support from cables. 

This can be an immense help with your training regimen, as you can engage virtually any part of your body, depending on what exercise you choose to do. 

Whether you want to work on your core, improve your posture, or strengthen your upper or lower body, the Pilates Reformer Machine could be a great option for you.

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Seated Row Machine

Source eBay

The seated row machine provides an extensive workout for the back muscles, as well as your traps and biceps. 

Strengthening your upper body with the seated cable row machine is a smart way for newcomers to prepare themselves for more difficult exercises, including the traditional overhead press and the bench press.

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Seated Calf Raise Machine

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“Seated calf machines isolate the calves while strengthening the ankle joint”, says Fit & Me. 

The seated calf machine isolates the calf muscles to make them bigger and stronger. Not only that, it also helps you gain strength and flexibility in your ankle joints. 

This machine may be a solid recommendation for those with weak ankles, or those who are recovering from an ankle injury.

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Shoulder Press Machine

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This machine serves as an alternative to the traditional overhead press or the seated barbell shoulder press

It is a good option for beginners who want to strengthen and tone their shoulders before moving on to more advanced exercises.

It also works the traps and triceps. 

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Smith Machine

Source Amazon

According to Fit & Me, the Smith Machine is “a specially designed rack with an inbuilt barbell – you can use it to load weight plates onto and perform any barbell exercise without the risk of injury due to the bar being on guided rails”.

The Smith Machine is indeed an extremely safe and versatile piece of equipment that many people use to train. However, Nerd Fitness claims that you should not use it too often, since it forces your body into fixed, unnatural positions and it’s been proven that you get better gains out of using free weights”. 

Forcing your body into unnatural positions while doing exercises is almost never beneficial, and may make it harder for you to do the same exercise without the guarded rails. Therefore, it may be best to try the Smith machine if you cannot properly do the exercises you want without the extra stability of the rails. 

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Standing Calf Raise Machine

Source Fitness Superstore

This machine lengthens the calf muscles as you go up and down on your toes, which engages your calf muscles slightly differently than the seated calf machine. 

It’s good for those with weaker legs or ankles.

Free Weight Equipment

The third type of equipment you can use at the gym (or at home in the form of substitutes) is free weights. 

Free weight equipment includes barbells, dumbbells or any other free-moving piece of equipment. Some of the most important and popular lifts are a part of free weight training, including squats, overhead press, deadlifts, and bench press

Free weights are the best options for at-home equipment, since a lot of the various options for free weights are cheap and portable. Not only that, using them puts the greatest amount of strain on your muscles because you do not have any support or a set path (unlike resistance machines). 

This means that knowing the correct form and practicing it is crucial for when you use free weight equipment. Using it in the wrong way can result in either ineffective workouts or serious injury, both of which you want to avoid at all costs. There are many different pieces of equipment you can use in your workouts, so try starting with a few that you like and get experienced using them. Once you feel comfortable with them, then you can try making your workouts more intense, or adding different free weights and exercises to your routines.

Here is a list of some equipment that you can utilize for free-weight training:

Ab Wheel

Source Amazon

Fit & Me says, “An ab roller wheel is a special wheel with handles attached specifically designed for the performance of the abdominal rollout exercise”. 

This exercise targets every one of your ab muscles. 

Having a toned, powerful core will allow you to get the most out of all of your reps, in each and every workout. It can also help improve your overall balance.

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Agility Ladder

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If you want to improve your coordination and overall cardiovascular health, then you may want to try out the Agility Ladder. 

There are many footwork drills that you can do to work on those things, as well as strengthen and tone your calves. 

If your gym does not have an Agility Ladder, then you can get one at a fairly reasonable price online.

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Bands (Resistance Bands)

Resistance bands are incredibly versatile tools that many people incorporate into their workouts. Some use them for stretching before or after a workout, while others use them in order to speed up recovery from an injury. 

Resistance bands are also used to enhance many different exercises, and serve as an excellent means of making home workouts more challenging. 

No matter where you are training or what your fitness goals are, trying out resistance bands could help you see the results you desire. 

Bands mainly come in three types: Small Bands, Heavy Duty Bands, and Bands with Handles.

Small Resistance Bands

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Heavy Duty Resistance Bands

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Resistance Bands with Handles

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All three types are especially useful for improving overall mobility, and for providing assistance during certain pulling movements in exercises, such as pull-ups. 

Joe Delaney says that resistance bands of any kind should be a staple for your home gym, if you do not have access to a real gym. He goes over several creative ways you can use resistance bands at home, so that you can increase your strength gains and have a better range of motion during particular movements. 

If you are interested in buying your own resistance bands to be used either at home or at the gym, then be sure to check out these links. They have Small Bands, Heavy Duty Bands, and Bands with Handles available for purchase, all at a very fair price:

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Source Amazon

Having a barbell is a necessity if you are looking to get the most out of doing the four major lifts (squats, overhead press, deadlifts, and bench press) in your workouts. There are a few different kinds of barbells that gyms may have. 

The standard barbell and the Olympic barbell work almost exactly the same. However, the Olympic barbell, says Nerd Fitness, is the standard training barbell that most bodybuilders like to use. 

There are Olympic bars typically designated for men and women to use. The men’s one is 7.2 ft. long and weighs about 45 lbs., while the women’s barbell is 6.9 ft. long and weighs around 39 lbs. 

Smaller training bars can weigh anywhere between 10 and 30 lbs. Beginners may want to start with these lighter training barbells and gradually work their way up. 

Keep in mind that Olympic barbells are usually of higher quality than standard ones, which allows them to hold much more weight. So if you are planning to start lifting heavy weights at some point, then sticking to primarily using Olympic barbells may be a smart option.

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Barbell Rack

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As with the Dumbbell Rack, the Barbell Rack is only a place for you to return your barbells after your sets. 

Make sure to return the barbell to where you found it, and always remove any weight plates that you may have put on it during your exercises. 

Doing this is proper gym etiquette, and will save everyone around you a lot of time and stress.

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Belt With Chains

Using a Belt with Chains during dips or pull-ups is effective for enhancing your strength training. 

It will allow you to add multiple weight plates so that you can workout with a heavier weight load, which is great for building more upper body strength. In addition, most Belts with Chains allow for lots of easy adjustments and are quite sturdy and reliable under lots of tension, enabling you to focus solely on performing your reps correctly and getting the gains you desire.

Check out the Belts with Chains listed below if you’re interested in increasing your performance on weighted dips and weighted pull-ups.


Almost every gym will have a variety of benches to use. There are flat benches, adjustable benches, benches with uprights, and benches in a power rack. 

These different types of benches can be used to perform exercises with barbells, dumbbells, and other equipment. 

Benches with a rack are better for barbell exercises, benches without a rack are better for dumbbell exercises; however, they can be used interchangeably as long as you are following best safety practices.

If you are doing a barbell bench press and the bench does not have uprights, StrongLifts recommends placing the bench in the Power Rack so that you can rack the barbell after the lift.

If the bench is adjustable, you can either lower or raise the incline and have access to a lot of other exercises. 

Flat Bench

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Adjustable Bench

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Bench with Uprights (Bench with Rack)

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Bench in Power Rack

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The BOSU ball is beneficial for building stronger muscles, while at the same time improving your balance. 

Try doing crunches or hip raises on the BOSU ball to get more of a burn in those muscles, and see greater results.

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Using a box in your workouts can allow you to build lots of strength and endurance in your legs. 

These are also known as a plyometric box because so many plyometric exercises involve jumping motions and potentially a box.

Jumping on and off the box not only works your legs, but your entire body as well, and jumping quickly can even serve as a decent cardio exercise. 

Doing step-ups with a weighted belt is an effective way to develop muscles in your glutes, calves, thighs, and hamstrings, according to Nerd Fitness.

Boxes can come in many forms. Some are wooden, others are foam, and there are also steel boxes.

You can also use step-up bench or a normal bench in place of a box in certain situations.

Foam Box

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Steel Box

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Wooden Box

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Adding resistance to your exercises, especially certain lifts, through the use of chains could be an immense help in building more strength and muscle. 

Since your muscles have to work harder to keep your body stabilized as you go through your reps, they may provide you with better results over time. The bench press is a great exercise to try with chains, as they cause you to move faster through the middle part of the press. 

Once you are experienced and strong enough doing the bench press without any extra equipment, then adding chains to the barbell may very well give you a huge boost during your sets.

Chains are only suitable for advanced folks.

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Battle Rope

Battle Ropes are a tremendous way of building upper body strength, while also improving your cardiovascular health. 

These ropes are typically a single long piece of high-gauge rope that is folded in half, and then held at each end by the one who is working out. The person then thrusts the rope back and forth in a repetitive motion, while using a predetermined rope length and movement. 

Battle Ropes come in a variety of different materials, lengths, and widths. It’s important that you make sure you choose a rope that is an appropriate length for the amount of space you have in your workout area, and pick a rope width that isn’t too wide for you. This is because wider ropes are quite a bit heavier than narrower ones, and can be harder to grip for those with smaller hands, so be sure to do your research before buying a rope.

If you want to get a bigger and stronger upper body and get some high-intensity interval training in for cardio, then Battle Ropes are a great choice of equipment for you.

Climbing Rope

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Using a Climbing Rope is a fantastic way to target every part of your body. 

Your upper body and lower body are helping you climb up the rope safely, while your core is keeping you balanced so you don’t move around too much. 

Beginners will want to be very careful when using the Climbing Rope, especially if they do not have a lot of strength yet or if they are recovering from an injury. 

There should always be someone to spot you, as well as a soft cushion of some sort to catch you if you fall.

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The sole purpose of collars and clips is to keep weight plates on the barbell as you use it for lifts. 

You do not want your plates to fall off as you do a set of squats or bench presses, so always make sure you put collars or clips on the bar before you begin the exercise.

Clips can be metal or plastic, but they all work effectively the same way as long as they grip the bar tightly.

Metal Collar Clips

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Barbell Clamps

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Dip Bar

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The triceps dip exercise becomes much safer and more convenient with the Dip Bar.

Tricep dips engage your shoulders, chest, and triceps. 

The Dip Bar allows you to do virtually any variation of the dip exercise, and you can eventually use either a close or wide grip once you feel comfortable with a normal grip, according to Fit & Me.

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Dumbbells are one of the most essential pieces of free weight equipment that practically every gym will have. 

There are a few different types of dumbbells, but ultimately they all work the same. Dumbbells come in a wide variety of weights, and can be anywhere from just 1 lb to 200 lbs, according to Nerd Fitness. 

Lighter dumbbells are safe and effective for those new to weightlifting, as well as individuals who are recovering from injuries. 

Start with the smaller weights and do easier exercises, so that you can sufficiently build up your strength and endurance. 

This will also help you practice your technique and improve it, which will be helpful if you plan on doing squats or bench presses with heavier weights later on. 

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Dumbbell (Adjustable)

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If you are in need of a useful piece of equipment for an at-home workout, and you don’t have a whole lot of money or space for a full dumbbell set, then you may want to look into purchasing a pair of Adjustable Dumbbells.

These dumbbells allow you to adjust the amount of weight you use for your exercises without having to use multiple different dumbbells. With just one pair, you can increase or decrease the amount of weight in small increments, which will save you a lot of time and energy during your workouts. It will be easier to transition to heavier weights as you grow stronger, helping your workout routines go more smoothly and allowing you to focus more on your exercises.

There are plenty of great Adjustable Dumbbells available for sale. For a more time and cost effective workout experience, you should definitely consider investing in a pair.

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Dumbbell Rack

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The Dumbbell Rack is not an actual piece of equipment that you can use for your workouts, but it is still important to mention nonetheless. 

Always place your dumbbells back in the Dumbbell Rack in between sets, so that others at the gym can use them, and that no one risks tripping over them on the floor. 

Also, make sure to return the dumbbells in pairs; do not place dumbbells of one weight in two different sections of the rack.

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Exercise Ball (Swiss Ball, Stability Ball)

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The Exercise Ball is a good piece of equipment to use for developing balance in your core muscles, or adding some extra intensity to other exercises you do in your workouts. 

There are a bunch of different exercises that you can do on or with the ball itself, such as jackknifes or russian twists, or in combination with other barbell or dumbbell exercises, like seated rear flies or shoulder presses.

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EZ Bar (Cambered Bar)

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The EZ Bar is “a small, specially designed barbell that allows you to perform various arm exercises while safely accommodating the wrists”, says Fit & Me. 

It is most effective for the biceps and triceps. If you have weak wrists and want to improve your arm strength, then the EZ Bar may be a suitable choice of equipment for you. 

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Foam Roller

Using a foam roller before or after a workout “can help relieve muscle tightness, soreness, and inflammation, and increase your joint range of motion”, according to Healthline

Rolling out your muscles after some tough lifting may feel good and help you recover faster, but you do not want to be too intense with the foam roller early on. 

Make sure you start by only applying light pressure to any sore body parts, for a short amount of time, until you get used to the foam roller. 

You can use it for longer periods of time and apply more pressure once you are comfortable. 

Doing too much early on will only cause you more pain, rather than help you eliminate it.

Foam rollers come in different densities and lengths.  The length and circumference do not matter as much. The density will make a difference in how much pressure is applied to your muscles. 

Higher density will hit your muscles harder; however, it is recommended to start with a lower density and increase to a more dense foam roller after getting used to using the lower density one.

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Glute Hamstring Raise Machine/Glute Hamstring Developer Machine/Glute Hamstring Trainer

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The Glute Hamstring RaiseMachine/Glute Hamstring Developer Machine (a.k.a. GHR/GHD Machine or Glute Ham Raise/Glute Ham Developer) is an effective means of strengthening your glutes, hamstrings, and back muscles. 

Try doing Glute Ham Raises, Back Extensions, or sit ups on this piece of equipment to see those areas of your body get strong and toned quickly. 

If you are experienced enough, try wearing a belt with weight plates on it to make your workout even harder.

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Gymnastic Rings

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Fit & Me states, “Gymnastic rings are used to perform bodyweight exercises in a similar fashion to a suspension unit, though they are suspended from a much greater height thus opening up a wider array of exercise options and positions”. 

The Gymnastic Rings are also very helpful for those with weak wrists because of their curved structure.

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Jump Rope

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This form of training is not just for boxers – there are actually several benefits to gain from doing this cardio exercise.

For starters, jump ropes are very accessible; they are cheap and easy to find in most gyms or stores. They are also an excellent way to get your heart rate up and burn a high amount of calories in a very short amount of time. It also improves your blood circulation as your heart rate increases, which can lead to you having overall better heart health over time.

Keep in mind, though, that form is very important. Start off with a moderate pace and make sure that you land on your toes after a jump. 

Consistently landing on your heels may lead to increased pressure and strain on your knees, which could eventually lead to soreness and even injury. Therefore, make sure you practice landing on your toes and timing your jumps over the rope first, so that you perfect your technique before you try increasing your exercise intensity. 

With enough practice, you will eventually be extremely adept with the jump rope, especially if you mimic Floyd Mayweather’s form. Check out our article on how to jump rope like him, and you will see massive improvements very quickly.

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Nerd Fitness says that kettlebells resemble “cannonballs with a handle”, and that they are an excellent way to build strength quickly. 

You can target virtually any area of the body while using a kettlebell. 

Start with a pair of light kettlebells and see how they work for you.

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Kettlebell (Adjustable)

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Adjustable Kettlebells are a type of kettlebell that allows you to increase or decrease the amount of weight on it at will. You can adjust it to whichever weight feels comfortable for you, without having to rely on having multiple kettlebells that are all different weights.

This makes having an Adjustable Kettlebell an excellent option for those who can’t get to the gym often to use kettlebells, or for those who don’t have a lot of money or space in their home for multiple kettlebells. In addition, some Adjustable Kettlebells allow you to add or remove smaller increments of weight than normal kettlebells would. This is excellent for beginners who want to progress slowly with their kettlebell exercises and focus more on their form. 

Definitely consider investing in an Adjustable Kettlebell if you can’t consistently work out with normal ones.

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There are a variety of exercises to try with landmines. Doing Thrusters or Lateral Raises with landmines can really engage your shoulders, while doing Landmine Squats with this piece of equipment can hit your glutes in a new and beneficial way. If you find that doing exercises with your usual equipment isn’t doing much for you, then give the Landmine a try.

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Lifting Belt

Lifting Belts are helpful for having sufficient stability during heavy weightlifting, especially when you are doing squats.

They mainly serve to protect your torso and back from injury and provide extra support during exercises where you use a lot of weight. Lifting belts are made differently depending on the type of individual that is using them, so that he or she can have the most stability and versatility possible.

For example, a powerlifter or strongman athlete may prefer to use a cylinder styled belt, which wraps around the torso evenly and keeps the body stiffer during extremely heavy lifts. On the other hand, an Olympic weightlifter needs a Lifting Belt that gives them a fairly equal amount of core stability and versatility since the individual is often performing lots of power movements, which allows them to choose which belt stiffness and material works best for them. These types of belts are typically extra thick around the posterior but end up thinning out towards the abdomen.

Figuring out what your specific fitness goals are will allow you to determine if you will end up needing a Lifting Belt. Using one during your heavy lifts will give you plenty of support and may be the thing you need to take your weightlifting to the next level.

Medicine Ball

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If you want to change up your ab workouts and really start to tone your core, then perhaps a medicine ball will do the trick. 

Not only are there a lot of core exercises that you can do with the medicine ball, but there are also many ways to work your arms and legs with it as well. 

The medicine ball can be especially good for at-home workouts.

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Pilates Ring

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If Pilates is a major component of your workout routine, then the Pilates Ring is an absolute must-have. 

The Pilates Ring is an incredibly versatile and lightweight tool that adds resistance to your core and leg exercises. Make sure to invest in a Pilates Ring if you want to make every Pilates exercise you do much more intense.

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Power Rack

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If you are looking to start doing some of the four major lifts in your workout, like squats, overhead press, and deadlifts, then the Power Rack is a very useful piece of equipment for you.

It is typically made up of two or four vertical stands, with two or four J hooks to place the bar on. Most Power Racks also have two lateral, horizontal safety pins that catch the bar if you fail a rep, according to StrongLifts. 

If you are looking to try adding squats or overhead presses to your routine, then doing your sets in the Power Rack is the safest and most effective way to do it. Having the safety pins to help you if you cannot complete a rep is essential for beginners, who may not have the best form on their exercises right away. 

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Prowler Sled/Dragging Sled

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You should definitely use a Prowler (also known as a Dragging Sled) to build both strength and endurance very quickly. 

Add as much weight as you can safely handle to the Prowler, and then push or pull it along. 

The Prowler engages your entire body and helps you build lots of muscle, as well as get your heart rate up. Use this piece of equipment for a great full-body exercise.

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Pull-up Bar

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Doing chin-ups or wide-grip pull-ups becomes much easier with a Pull-up Bar. 

You can focus on having the correct form as you engage your biceps, forearms, and triceps during each rep. 

Nerd Fitness says that you can also use the top of the Cable Machine, Power Rack, or Smith Machine if a normal Pull-up Bar is unavailable.

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Punching Bag

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The Punching Bag is quite valuable for those who are (or eventually plan on becoming) boxers. That being said, the punching back is also very practical for individuals looking to work on their cardiovascular endurance.

Doing a lot of punches in quick succession on a punching bag can really get your heart pumping. It can also serve your upper body well, since punching the bag will help tone your shoulders, biceps, triceps, upper back, and chest muscles.

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Push-up Bars

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Those with weaker wrists will find Push-up Bars to be incredibly useful for doing push-ups. 

The Push-up Bar allows you to utilize a neutral grip as you do the exercise, which will enable you to focus more on your technique, and further engage your chest, shoulders, and triceps. 

You can also do some variations of the push-up if you have an adjustable Push-up Bar.

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An alternative to Power Racks that you may see in some commercial gyms are Rigs.

Rigs are incredibly versatile frames that can be reconfigured in many different ways, which provides you an opportunity to perform a wide array of various exercises on them. 

You can do any of the major lifts, pull-ups, suspension training (TRX), dips, and rope exercises. 

Furthermore, Rigs can be configured in a way to allow multiple people to work out simultaneously, which can save a lot of space and money. 

However, Rigs tend to keep weight lifters closer together than Power Racks typically do, which can disrupt privacy and throw off a person’s workout. This unwanted closeness may turn some individuals away from using them, especially if they are new to weightlifting and feel intimidated by others. 

The advantages of having a Rig in your gym can not be overstated, though, since you obtain access to so many different exercises with just one piece of equipment.

If your gym has a Rig, then remember how useful and adaptable it can be, and maybe consider incorporating it more into your workouts.

Sliding Disc

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Sliding discs are a good piece of free weight equipment, as there are some great exercises that effectively engage most of your lower body muscles, including your glutes and hamstrings. They also help develop your abs and chest muscles.

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Squat Rack

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According to StrongLifts, a Squat Rack is basically just an open Power Rack. 

Most squat racks have J-hooks so you can get the bar on your back, but not all of them have safety pins to catch the bar if you fail the rep. 

The safety pins on a Squat Rack are typically not adjustable, so if they are not in the right position for your body type, then you will struggle to maintain proper form as you do your squats. That is why StrongLifts recommends using a Power Rack if one is available, and if you must use a Squat Rack, then you should definitely have someone spot you.

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Steel Club

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You can enhance your core and upper body training routine with the steel club

Doing shoulder exercises with the steel club is especially beneficial, since you can do more rotational movements, unlike with traditional lifts like the shoulder press. 

Because you also need to brace your abdominal muscles as you move the club, it can also be a great way to develop your abs. Another advantage of using the steel club is that you improve your grip strength.

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Steel Mace

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The steel mace is a steel bar with a small steel ball at one end of it. 

There are a variety of exercises that can be done with this free weight, in order to strengthen your core muscles, as well as improve your shoulder stability. 

It can also help you develop your grip strength.

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Suspension Trainer (TRX)

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Fit & Me says, “A suspension trainer is a fantastic way of performing bodyweight exercises while also integrating the core muscles and other stabilization muscles that would normally not get covered while performing said exercise”. 

If you are looking for a way to make your bodyweight workouts more intense and effective, then try using a Suspension Trainer.

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Trap Bar (Hex Bar)

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The trap bar is a hexagonal bar that allows you to stand in the middle and utilize a neutral grip, according to Nerd Fitness. 

It is primarily used to improve strength on deadlifts and shrugs and are known as trap bar deadlift and trap bar shrugs. It allows for performing these exercises in a slightly different way to hit your muscles differently.

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Weight Plate

There are a few different types of weight plates that you can place on a barbell so you can lift heavier and get stronger.

The most common kinds of weight plates used in commercial gyms, as stated by Nerd Fitness, are standard metal or rubber encased plates. They come in either circle or 12-sided variations, and should definitely not be dropped on the floor after a hard set. The bigger the plate is, the heavier it usually is (with the 45 lb one being the largest.

Bumper plates, on the other hand, are usually made out of rubber. This makes them safe to be dropped directly on the floor once you complete a set. Bumper plates are all the same in diameter, so their weight can be determined by their width.

Round weight plate

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12-sided weight plate

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Bumper Plate

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Start off with light weight plates if you are a beginner to weightlifting. You do not want to overestimate yourself and end up getting injured early in your fitness journey. Work your way up to the heavier plates slowly; do not push yourself to lift more if your body can not handle it.

Home items as equipment substitutes

Sometimes it is tough to get all of the equipment necessary for a diverse workout. 

Gym equipment is expensive and tough to come by, especially during the global pandemic for COVID-19.

Below is a list of regular house items that can be used as substitutes for typical gym equipment.


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Backpacks can be used to take your bodyweight exercises to the next level. 

If you lack a belt that you can attach weight plates to, then filling a backpack with various items and wearing it as you work out can be effective as well. 

You should try doing push-ups or planks with a backpack on you, and you will instantly feel your muscles getting engaged much more than usual.

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Using a bottle as a substitute for a dumbbell, if you do not have access to one, is totally fine. 

You can do virtually any dumbbell exercise you wish with a bottle, such as bicep curls or overhead presses. 

Although you may not get as much strength gain as you would if you used a dumbbell, it is still better than nothing. 

Plus, using a light bottle can help you focus more on having proper form on your reps.

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Broomstick (Swiffer)

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A broomstick is a good alternative to a barbell, should you not be able to use one. 

You can perform virtually any barbell exercise with a broomstick, even though you won’t really be able to add much weight to it. 

It can also be helpful for some stretching movements, which can allow you to get your muscles loose and pumped before your workout.

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A bucket can be a useful option for your home workouts if you lack dumbbells or barbells. 

Filling the bucket with other objects to make it heavier will help you get even more out of each exercise. 

You can do lifts such as the overhead press or different variations of the deadlift with a bucket.

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Chair (Kitchen Chair/Wooden Chair)

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You can use a chair for certain leg exercises, such as lunges or squats. 

In addition to those, you can perform a few more difficult arm and shoulder exercises on a chair, including dips or even pushups.

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Jug (Water Jug/Milk Jug/Gallon Jug)

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If you do not have any dumbbells or kettlebells available, then using a water jug during your exercises will still help you get a good workout in. 

There are a number of different ways you can use a jug to tone and strengthen your shoulder and triceps, such as during sets of lateral raises or triceps kickbacks.

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A pillow may be sufficient if you are at home and have no other free weight equipment to work out with. 

You can do exercises that engage your entire body while holding a pillow in your hands, in between your legs, or balancing it on your back.

It may not provide much resistance like other pieces of equipment would, but it can mimic the feeling of having something else to work with.

Example exercises include russian twists and tricep overhead extensions. 

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Sofa (Couch)

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There are a handful of ways for you to work on developing your glutes and triceps on the couch. 

Exercises such as Couch Jumps and Feet Elevated Sofa Tricep Dips will provide you with a fun and safe way to work out at home.

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A table can work as a decent substitute for typical gym equipment in some instances. 

For example, you can do a Close-Grip Inverted Row with a table if you are stuck at home for some reason. It works your biceps and lats, as well as your shoulders, upper back, forearms, and rotator cuffs.

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Towel (Large)

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A large towel can be used for a variety of different exercises that can help build strength. 

Some of them include the Towel Bicep Isometric Hold, the Towel Vertical Pull, and the Towel Bicep Curl.

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Towel (Small)

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Having a small towel on hand as you go through your workouts is very helpful for keeping you cool and clean, since you can use it to wipe any sweat off of your head. 

You can also use it to wipe down machines and other equipment that others have used before you (or will use after you) if you are at the gym. This is crucial to preventing the spread of germs. 

In addition to that, small towels can actually be used in some exercises. They can serve as substitutes for resistance bands in some cases, and provide tension in any stretching movements you do as part of your warm up or cool-down.

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Yoga Block

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Yoga blocks are a helpful tool for those who are new to yoga, and want to improve their form on certain poses. 

The yoga block provides support by keeping your body aligned as you do a pose, which is useful for those who do not have a lot of stability or flexibility. 

You can also do some exercises with the yoga block. 

A good exercise for those who have a few years of weight training experience is the V-Sit Twist with Yoga Blocks.

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There is an incredibly large amount of equipment available for you to use at the gym, and knowing which machines and weights are the most effective can save you a lot of time and anxiety during your next workout. Having a plan in place for each time you do a workout, even if it is not always at the gym, will help you reach your personal fitness goals much faster. Here are a few key takeaways from this article:

  • Going into a workout without a game plan isn’t always the best idea. 
  • Be sure to consider which areas of the body you wish to workout on any given day, as well as what type of equipment will be available to you, and then use that information to choose your workout routine.
  • When choosing the right exercises for your specific workout plan, there are three main factors to keep in mind: whether it is a compound vs isolation exercise, a unilateral or bilateral movement, and a free weight or a machine exercise.
  • Incorporating cardio exercises into your workout is a great way to speed up fat loss and keep your heart rate up in between sets of weightlifting. 
  • There are a number of different cardio machines that are available either at the gym or for use at home, including treadmills, steppers, exercise bikes and ellipticals. In addition, some gyms also have indoor pools that can be used for swimming, which is a safe and effective form of cardio. 
  • However, using cardio machines in place of running/swimming/biking may come with some disadvantages according to Jeff from Athlean X, as he claims that overusing them can mess up your posture or deactivate some of your muscles over time.
  • Resistance machines are incredibly popular and are one of the main components of almost any gym. 
  • There are different machines that work almost every body part, and are effective for building strength and gaining muscle mass. 
  • There are some that argue, however, that you should not use machines too often. They believe that since machines aid you during the exercise, your muscles are not doing all of the work. This can lead to smaller gains in strength and muscle mass, compared to doing the same exercise with free weights. 
  • You should start by using resistance machines if you are new to weightlifting or recovering from an injury, and then try adding more free weights into your routines.
  • Free weight training involves using barbells, dumbbells, a bar with weight plates on it, or any other free-moving piece of equipment. Some of the most important and popular lifts are a part of free weight training, including squats, overhead press, deadlifts, and bench press
  • These types of exercises are the best options for workouts at home, and they put the greatest amount of strain on your muscles, since you do not have any support (unlike resistance machines). 
  • Having proper form with free weights is essential, since you run a higher risk of injuring yourself if you do not do the exercises properly. 
  • You should start slow if you are unfamiliar with free weights, and use a lighter amount of  weight before trying to increase the intensity.

Be sure to visit to learn more about other fitness topics.


Date Created: October 20, 2020

Last Updated: October 20, 2020

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