Home » Weightlifting Equipment Guides and Reviews

Weightlifting Equipment Guides and Reviews

  • Barbells
  • Dumbbells
  • Cable Machines
  • Dip Stations
  • Home Gyms
  • Inversion Tables
  • Leg Press
  • Smith Machines
  • Squat Racks
  • Weights Benches

Barbells

You’d be forgiven for thinking there wasn’t much involved in buying a new barbell. You’re just looking for a straight bar that takes some weight plates, right?

Truth is barbells have a similar number of basic differences to any piece of fitness equipment, and you’ll need to find the type that best suits your style of training.

For example, the barbell you use for deadlift work might not be the same as you use for bicep curls and shrugs.

Deadlifts require much more weight due to training a much larger muscle group, so you’ll want a bar that can take full sized Olympic weight plates, and be long enough for you to load the weight you need.

Shrugs on the other hand are mainly working your upper back and your traps, so you might want to focus on a specific movement; hands at your sides, bar in front of you, or bar behind you.

While a standard straight bar will be perfect for front and rear shrugs, you would be better off with a trap bar for lifting the weight with your hands by your sides, similar to the way you would lift with a pair of dumbbells.

Only once you’ve taken into account the diameter, knurling pattern, locking collar style, weight plate compatibility (standard / Olympic), length, shape (cambered / straight / trap bar / EZ-curl), and weight capacity can you be sure that you have the best barbell for your chosen exercise.

Dumbbells

Being such a versatile piece of fitness equipment, it’s not surprising dumbbells have proven to be such a popular addition to home gyms.

But this popularity has resulted in a large number of fitness companies putting their own unique spin on the design, making it difficult to know which set is right for you.

Firstly you have to consider the material. Do you workout in a basement or garage where it might not matter if you drop the weight, or do you workout in a spare room where you don’t want to damage the flooring?

This in itself gives you two options; buy interlocking floor tiles to protect the floor at an additional expense to yourself, or only buy neoprene coated dumbbells that provide a softer out shell than the cast iron versions.

Unfortunately neoprene dumbbells don’t tend to be available much beyond a few kilos, meaning if you’re looking for heavier weights, you’ll either need the rubber coated hex variety.

CAP Barbell are one of the most dominant names in strength training equipment, including barbells, dumbbells, and squat racks. This can be a good place to start looking, but have an idea of the sizes you need before starting your research.

CAP’s cast iron hex dumbbells for example cost between $5 and $250+, reflecting the weight variation of between 5 lbs and 120 lbs.

If you’re short on space it’s certainly worth having a read of our adjustable dumbbell buying guide, where we have in-depth reviews of all the latest sets.

Cable Machines

We’ve reviewed cable machines separately to more conventional home gyms for designs where you’re getting a single work station.

This also includes some functional trainers, such as the XMark XM-7626, which offers an impressive 200 lbs of weight plates in both of its stacks and a lifetime home warranty.

These are typically going to machines that you can invest in if you have a bit more space, as you won’t be able to perform the same range of exercises as most multi gyms. However, you can often perform these exercises with a higher weight using a cable machine.

If you want complete control over the equipment that goes into your gym, and you have the space and budget, cable machines are often the best option.

They’re also a popular choice for commercial gyms due to their high build quality and durability, which is echoed by the lengthy warranty coverage (lifetime for most of the XMark cable equipment).

Some of the machines we review will create resistance via a locking pin and weight stack system, whereas others will allow you to load weight plates onto plate pegs, such as with the XMark XM-7618.

If you’re not sure whether you have the space for multiple cable machine workout stations, many companies now have advanced room planner tools for checking your space online.

Room planners that we’re most familiar with and use ourselves are:

  • Precor – Icovia® Space Planner. They have a version for domestic gym installations and one for commercial gym installations
  • Body SolidRoom Planner
  • Dip Stations

    Calisthenics is a hugely popular style of fitness workout that requires only your bodyweight as resistance.

    First seen thousands of years ago, they’ve now gained mainstream attention with videos posted on sites like YouTube, showing entire workouts for your back, chest, arms, abs, and more.

    Dip stations provide you with a platform to use in your calisthenics workouts for dips, crunches, pull ups, leg raises, and a wide range of other exercises.

    Weight capacity will vary, but even some of the lower priced entry level designs can still support 300 lbs or more.

    True dip stations like the XMark XM-4437 tend to have a higher weight capacity than the taller power towers, which combine the dip bars with a pull up bar for added workout variation.

    This is likely due to the added height, which is certainly something to bear in mind when you’re choosing between a dip station and power tower for your own home gym.

    Some of the better known brands include XMark Fitness, Bowflex, Iron Gym, Weider, and Body Solid.

    Entry level basic designs are available for under $100, with most priced between $100 and $150. For the high-end premium designs like the Bowflex BodyTower you can expect to pay anything from $200 up to $400+.

    You’ll find dip station reviews for every fitness goal and budget in our comparison table, which is frequently being updated with the latest designs.

    Home Gyms

    Recent advances in resistance training technology have resulted in a whole new range of compact and affordable home gyms.

    As for the type of resistance, you can now choose between plate-loaded, selectorized weight stack, Power Rod, resistance band, and body weight trainers to name a few.

    But if you’re looking to buy a new gym system for your home, with so many models now available, where do you start?

    Here at USA Home Gym we put together a comprehensive guide to the best known brands, resistance types, design features, and gym systems to help you find the design that’s right for you.

    We also make sure this guide is frequently updated with the latest developments and information on the newest home gyms to hit the market.

    Brands that we review include Body Solid, Bowflex, Marcy Fitness, Powerline, Gold’s Gym, Weider, and Total Gym.

    Inversion Tables

    If you suffer from lower back pain (LBP), it’s reassuring to know that expensive surgery isn’t your only option.

    Depending on the scale of discomfort, you may be able to improve your overall back health through a wider healthy back program that includes physical therapy and/or inversion therapy sessions.

    Most inversion therapy routines tend to be made up of several short sessions (e.g. 1-2 sessions of 10 minutes each) on a daily basis. Having an inversion table available at home 24 hours a day means you can fit these sessions into your existing schedule at a time that’s convenient to you.

    They’re also surprisingly affordable, with a couple of designs starting at the $100 mark, moving up to around $400 for a top0of0the0line inversion table with some basic accessories.

    As far as design variety goes, you won’t have quite the same number of options as for an exercise bike or elliptical trainer, but there are still features you need to look out for.

    It’s also important to know the reputation a company has for customer service, both in terms of responsiveness to enquiries and upholding warranty coverage.

    Our recent inversion table guide covers everything you need to know about buying an inversion table, and includes a shortlist of the top 10 tables to buy right now.

    Alternatively, we’ve also put together a comparison table containing all of the inversion table reviews we’ve written on USA Home Gym.

    Both the guide and comparison table are updated on a regular basis.

    Leg Press

    Whether you’re looking to tone up, gain muscle, or increase strength, the leg press is one of the best exercises you can include in a lower body workout.

    The size of the foot plate allows you to make minor alterations to your foot placement for emphasising the stress placed on a specific part of the muscle, enabling you to fully develop your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

    Some selectorized home gyms that use weight stacks for resistance will include a leg press as one of their stations, but it tends to only be on the high-end commercial models.

    Stand-alone leg press machines tend to be a more popular option, particularly for commercial gyms, as they allow much heavier weights to be used.

    Even with the 2:1 ratio that some cable driven leg press stations offer, you’re looking at a total resistance of up to 420 lbs. This is in comparison to plate-loaded sled designs, such as the Bodycraft F660, which offer up to 1000 lbs+ of resistance.

    Plate-loaded leg press machines aren’t the most compact option, but you can be sure you won’t grow out of them in a few years once your strength increases. The F660 is also one of the designs that doubles as a hack squat machine, for a heavy-duty leg workout that’s completely safe, even without a spotter.

    There’s a relatively small number of companies producing this kind of heavy-duty strength training equipment, but you can find reviews for all of the latest designs in our leg press comparison table.

    If you want to check out some of the leg press machines that accompany home gym systems, it’s also worth taking a look at our comparison of home gyms.

    Smith Machines

    Despite having a larger footprint than most home gyms, smith machines will often support a similar number of exercises.

    The main benefit is that many designs now combine the safety of a smith machine with a variety of other workout stations, such as a pec fly, high and low cable pulleys, and even support for free weight barbell exercises.

    The Marcy MD-9010G is an excellent example, which provides you with all of the features we just mentioned, plus a high quality FID bench and weight plate storage for less than $1000.

    Prices do vary though, and it’s not uncommon to find smith machine / functional trainer combinations costing over $4000. This tends to be for the very high-end equipment, such as the Inspire Fitness Scs System.

    This provides you with everything the MD-9010G does, but with additional features that include internal safety rails, height adjustable cable pulleys, and a high cable lat pulldown station.

    If you have the budget, smith machines are able to provide a much wider variety of upper and lower body exercises than most squat racks and power cages. The only downside is you won’t find the same 1000 lb+ weight capacities, with most being capped at around 500 lbs on the bar.

    Leading brands include Marcy, Inspire Fitness, Valor Athletics, and Body Solid. You can find full reviews for their smith machine systems on our comparison page.

    Squat Racks

    Smith machines are excellent for exercise variety, strength, and safety, but not everyone will have the space or budget for such a piece of equipment.

    But that’s not to say squat racks and power cages are simply a low cost alternative to smith systems. In many cases they offer a higher weight capacity, have a smaller footprint, and are much easier to move around if needed.

    When you’re researching the benefits of various squat racks, you’ll generally find three main types of design:

  • Free-standing squat stands – These are a pair of upright posts that are height adjustable and sometimes offer safety bars. e.g. Valor Fitness BD-9
  • Safety squat rack – This style usually offers an open front for use with weights benches, and provide a much more stable base for heavier barbell exercises. e.g. Valor Athletics BD-6
  • Power rack – Slightly outside the scope of what a squat rack offers, this style is often the safest option for lifting without a spotter, with a higher weight capacity but larger footprint. e.g. Valor Athletics BD-7
  • Valor Athletics are one of the best known names in the squat rack and power cage industry, with an excellent customer service record and product catalog that includes all three rack styles.

    XMark Fitness also have a couple of impressive designs that offer a high weight capacity and lifetime warranty, such as the XM-7619.

    For anyone on a tight budget, Cap Barbell offer some of the most competitively priced and popular squat rack / power cage designs with their ‘FM’ collection. Their FM-CB8000F model is a bestseller, but it’s worth bearing in mind the 300 lb capacity on the bar catches.

    We have in-depth reviews for racks from each of the companies mentioned above, which can all be found via our squat rack comparison table.

    Weight Benches

    Together with dumbbells, a weights bench is one of the most popular pieces of fitness equipment used in home workouts.

    But with literally hundreds of different types available, how do you decide which design will be most beneficial to your own strength and fitness goals?

    There are essentially just two main types of weights bench; fixed and adjustable, where fixed is a simple flat bench that’s often very affordable but lacking in exercise variety.

    Then you have the adjustable weights benches, which we break into three categories of its own; FID, combination trainer, and standard adjustable, where you have access to incline and flat positions but not the decline.

    This has both good and bad points. On the plus side, there’s a weights bench for every budget, ranging from the Confidence Fitness Adjustable Bench (usually retails for under $80 and includes barbell supports and leg developer) through to commercial models from Powertec, Star Trac, and Body Solid that routinely cost over $800.

    Once you start getting towards the upper end of the weights bench market, the type of resistance changes from a standard / Olympic barbell to being plate loaded.

    These are still true weights benches, but they are often referred to as leverage bench press machines or a multi press workbench.

    Adjustable FID benches tend to be the most popular, with many of the XMark Fitness designs coming highly recommended from their customer reviews on Amazon and other ecommerce sites.

    They tend to specialize in benches between $200 and $400 though, so if this is outside of your budget you might also want to look at some of the designs from Marcy, CAP Barbell, and even some of the higher rated models by Pure Fitness.

    To save you time, we’ve reviewed dozens of these benches already from all price categories. You can find a link to each weights bench review in our comparison table, or discover some of our favourite designs in the weights bench buying guide.