10 Essential Pieces of Equipment Needed to Start a Gym According to a Gym Owner
Investing in gym equipment for your new gym can lead you down a rabbit warren of never-ending expenses. Without a guide, you’re likely to end up with expensive, fancy-looking gear that never gets used.
We have spoken to Steve Theunissen who has a 40-year career as a gym owner and personal trainer. He’s developed a keen understanding of what gear works best and also got a handle on what equipment members will expect and demand.
That experience informs this list of the 10 pieces of essential equipment needed to start a gym.
Your New Gym Resistance Equipment Needs
About two-thirds of your workout floor space should be allocated to resistance training gear. This will include barbells, dumbbells, power racks, benches, and a functional training area.
1. Free Weights
Free weights should form the foundation of your equipment stock. There is plenty of research confirming that free weights produce better results than machines in terms of muscle isolation, range of motion, and biomechanics.
Your members will expect to see a decent range of fixed and Olympic barbells and dumbbells.
Dumbbells for Unilateral Upper Body Training
The range of resistances of your dumbbells will depend on the market you are targeting. If yours is a general fitness gym, you can get away with dumbbells that max out at 150 pounds. However, if you’re planning to attract hardcore bodybuilders and powerlifters, you will need to continue that range up to 200 pounds.
You should have two sets of dumbbells from 1.25 up to 100 pounds. After that, one set should be sufficient.
Dumbbells should go up in increments of one pound up to ten pounds and then in jumps of 2 pounds to 30 pounds. Between 30 and 100-pounds the weight increments should be 5 pounds. After that, you can get away with 10 or 20-pound jumps.
Barbells for Bilateral Upper Body Training
You should have at least one standing A-frame rack of fixed barbells. Members will mainly use these to do barbell curls. I recommend having the following fixed weight barbells on the rack:
- 10 pounds
- 15 pounds
- 17.5 pounds
- 20 pounds
- 22.5 pounds
- 25 pounds
- 27.5 pounds
- 30 pounds
- 32.5 pounds
- 35 pounds
- 37.5 pounds
- 40 pounds
You will also need a good supply of Olympic barbells and plates. A medium-sized gym (1000 members) should have at least ten Olympic Barbells. There should be enough Olympic plate resistance for each bar to be loaded to 300 pounds.
2. Weight Benches for Upper Body Pressing
The most popular exercise in most gyms is the barbell bench press. To cater to that need, you should have at least 3 flat bench press bench stations and two incline press stations.
In addition to the bench stations, there should be at least half a dozen flat/incline/decline (FID) adjustable benches for dumbbell work.
3. Power Racks for Heavy Compound Lifting
Your free weight space should include room for a minimum of three power rack stations. Members will mainly use the rack for squats, bench pressing, and deadlifts. Your racks should also come with multi-grip pull-up bars and safety spotter arms.
They are a crucial safety element for anyone lifting a bar and plates. Check out the best squat racks and power racks here.
4. Cable Machines for Angle Training
Cable machines will provide the second tier of your resistance training range of gear. Cables provide unique benefits that cannot be achieved with free weights. Your more experienced members will expect to have a good range of cable stations available.
Smaller gyms (those with less than 750 members) can get away with a single multi-station cable machine. Larger facilities will need two or even three of these machines.
Each multi-station cable machine should include the following:
- A seated rowing station
- A lat pulldown station
- A cable curl pulley
- A tricep pushdown station
- At least one adjustable pulley station
At least one cable machine should also allow your members to perform cable crossovers.
Be sure to check out the best cable gym machines here.
Your New Gym Functional Training Zone
Over the past few years, the demand for functional training has exploded.
Any new gym that doesn’t provide a functional training area is going to be at a disadvantage. A functional training area allows your members to do the sorts of exercises that you usually associate with professional athletes. These include pushing a weighted sled, using battle ropes, and jumping up and down on plyo boxes.
Your functional training area should have a turf floor. It should be carved out of a corner of your resistance training designation and be rectangular to allow members to run up and down a 10-15 yard distance with the weighted sled.
5. Weighted Sleds for Push/Pull Power
A weighted sled is a platform that sits on skis. It contains central weight posts that can be loaded with 45-pound weight plates. Users assume a low position, gripping the posts and sprinting forward as they push the sled.
Look for weight sleds that contain hooks that attach to straps. That allows your members to pull as well as push the sled.
Small to medium-sized gyms can get away with a single-weight sled. Those with more than 1,500 members should invest in two of these machines.
6. Battle Ropes for Functional Fitness
Battle ropes have become extremely popular recently in gyms all over the world. The reason for their popularity is that they offer a very low impact way to get in an effective overall body workout which is both aerobic and anaerobic. They also do a great job of strengthening your forearms.
Most battle ropes are 50 feet long. This provides you with a 25-foot length from each arm. Longer ropes are more difficult to handle. You can shorten the length of the rope simply by tying a knot in the middle of it. The standard thickness of ropes is 1.5 inches. To really test your grip strength, you can go up to 2 inches.
The three types of ropes that you can choose from are manila, poly, and nylon. Poly fiber is the best but most expensive.
A single battle rope will suffice for gyms with less than a thousand members. Beyond that, you should invest in two or three ropes.
Check our guide to starting your own climbing gym here.
Cardiovascular Equipment Needs
According to research conducted by the International Health, Racquets and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), commercial gyms should allocate one-third of their workout floor space to cardio training. This should include room for treadmills, ellipticals, rowing machines, and spin cycles.
7. Rowing Machines for Full Body Cardio
When it comes to cardiovascular efficiency and all-over body muscle training, the rowing machine cannot be beaten. It works 80 percent of your skeletal muscles while also producing great cardiovascular and muscular endurance.
Your members deserve to have an ample supply of rowing machines available. Smaller gyms should have three, while those with more than a thousand members will want to have at least five.
The most popular and, in my experience, best rowing machine for home gym use is the Concept 2 Row Erg.
8. Spin Bikes for High Intensity Cardio
Your members will expect some type of cycling experience in the cardio area of your gym.
Spin Bikes do the best job of relocating the on-the-road cycling experience. They allow you to burn more calories than an upright bike. In addition, they allow for an effective upper as well as lower body workout. That’s because you can rise out of the seat as you climb hills.
A handful of spin bikes will cater to the needs of general gym-goers. It will also allow hardcore cardio enthusiasts to get an intense workout.
Having a half dozen or so spin bikes will also allow you to run spin cycle classes. These are a very popular group fitness class option.
Are you considering opening a crossfit gym? Read this for a dose of reality.
9. Treadmills for Cardio Warm-Ups
I have never walked into a gym that hasn’t had a row of treadmills on the cardio floor. The effectiveness of walking on a treadmill in terms of fitness is debatable. But there is no doubt that your members will expect you to have a decent supply of them.
Many of your members will begin their workout with a few minutes of warming up on a treadmill. That means that you will need enough to prevent people from waiting around.
Small gyms should have around five treadmills, while those with 1000-1500 members should have at least ten of them. Large gyms may need 30 or more.
10. Ellipticals for Low Impact Cardio
Elliptical machines should complete your cardio area equipment range. Ellipticals are an excellent low-impact alternative to the treadmill. Exercising on an elliptical is a closed chain exercise so that there is virtually no stress impact on the ankle, knee, and hip joints.
Miscellaneous Equipment for Your Gym
Now that we’ve covered the large ticket items that need to fill your gym floor, here are seven smaller pieces of equipment that should fill out your space:
- Exercise Mats
- Medicine Balls
- TRX Suspension Trainers
- Resistance Bands
- Foam Rollers
- Plyometrics boxes
- An Agility Ladder
The trend has been for people to move away from gyms after 2020. However, people are getting back into exercising in local gyms. Providing a good range of equipment is a must to attract a range of people.
There are ten essential pieces of equipment needed to start a gym. Here’s a recap …
- Free Weights
- Weight Benches
- Power Racks
- Cable Machines
- Weighted Sleds
- Battle Ropes
- Rowing Machines
- Spin Bikes
This gear will allow you to meet the training needs of the vast majority of gym-goers.
Before you can open your doors to the public, though, you’ll need to meet certain legal obligations. Find out what licenses you’ll need to open your new gym here.