The best calisthenics equipment for your home gym
The best tool is the one that you have access to, they say. An amazing thing about calisthenics is that you can do the exercises anywhere with minimal equipment.
For horizontal pushing movements and leg exercises, all you need is the floor and something you can put your hands or feet on as you adjust the difficulty of the exercises.
Pulling motion is a bit more nuanced as you will need a horizontal bar or gymnastics rings for this. Luckily most people have access to either a horizontal tree branch, calisthenics park, back of a staircase or similar surface to do pull ups on.
If you are on a budget but still serious about getting fit, then the only calisthenics equipment you need is the gymnastics rings.
In case you have a bit more space and budget, below is a list of the best calisthenics equipment you can put in your home gym. Even if you decide to get all the items from the list, it will be cheaper than a few months of a gym membership. Well worth the investment as they can serve you for many years.
If you can only choose one piece of equipment, go with a set of gymnastics rings. You can do almost any upper body exercise on the rings, they don’t take up much space, it’s easy to travel with them and they are relatively cheap. What else do you wish for?
When it comes to the setup, you can install them onto your ceiling or hang them from a tree outside. Its height can be adjusted so you can transition from horizontal to vertical pulling and pushing exercises with the same setup. I recommend a set of wooden rings with a diameter of 1.25” (32mm). Once you have them, check out how to install the gymnastics rings properly.
Pull up bar
Just like the rings a horizontal pull up bar is an essential part of any serious home gym. While the cheapest option is a doorway bar I recommend getting either a wall mounted pull up bar or a power rack (squat rack) as they offer the best stability and versatility for exercises. In terms of thickness, I’d recommend the standard 1.25” (32mm) – the same as gymnastics rings. In calisthenics, the usage of gloves is not common (except for winter outdoor training) so the grip is also an important factor – here I’d recommend a smooth metal finish, which also works well with chalk. You can also check my guide on how to pick the right pull up bar for yourself.
While rings are more versatile, pull up bars are better than gymnastics rings in a few areas:
- Bars are more stable
- Bars are easier to use for beginners
- The installation of bars is easier, especially if you go with a freestanding or doorway pull up bar
- Bars can hold larger weight and thus better for weighted calisthenics
Parallel bars (alternative: Parelettes)
If somebody forced me to rank calisthenics equipment based on importance, I’d put the parallel bars as number three. They are an excellent tool to work on your pushing strength, chest and triceps muscles.
Sometimes they come together with the pull up bar as a two-in-one option. In other cases, you can install them separately or buy them as an add-on accessory to a power rack (squat rack).
For a home gym, I’d recommend a two-in-one option to save space. Make sure they are sturdy enough so they can handle weighted calisthenics. It’s important because as you get stronger you will want to increase the resistance by putting weights on you.
As an alternative get a set of paralettes. If you have no option to set up parallel bars then this is your second best option. You can always increase the elevation of the paralettes and imitate the function of the parallel bars. You have to be more careful though, as they won’t be as stable.
Resistance bands are a great companion for both beginners and advanced athletes. They come in different thicknesses and strengths indicated by different colors.
For beginners, resistance bands provide great assistance to make exercises easier. They can put one end of the band over the bar and step into the other end this way they are able to get their body used to the full range of motion of a pull up. Resistance bands can be used in a similar way to perform dips, muscle ups, or isometric exercises like the front lever. Just to name a few.
Resistance bands are also an amazing warm up tool. For instance “pull aparts” and “face pulls” are great exercises for preparing the lats and shoulders for an intense pull session.
They can also make exercises harder for example by “stepping into” them the bodyweight squats can be made more challenging or by leading them over your back and squeezing the two ends with your hands to the parallel bar the dips will get immediately harder.
Weight belt (alternative: Weight vest)
As you advance with your calisthenics training the bodyweight exercises will become too easy. Once you run out of ways to increase the difficulty of your exercises like adjusting your body position or using only a single arm and leg – the most productive way to progress further will be to add weights to your training.
In my opinion, the best way to do weighted calisthenics is to use a weight belt. They come with a chain and carabiner and you can hook weight plates or kettlebells on it. By hanging the belt around your hip you can make pull-ups, dips, push ups, and muscle ups infinitely more challenging.
As an alternative, you can use a weight vest. They are very easy to use, especially for squats and running. Vests are however less ideal than a weight belts for a few reasons:
- Vests will be too warm and you will sweat underneath too much, especially in the summer
- Vests usually come with a set weight – once you want to progress to a heavier weight you will need to buy a heavier vest.
- Vests can get in the way and limit the range of motion
This is by far not an exhaustive list and is only focused on the top 5 pieces of equipment that I think would make a fully functional home gym and enable anyone to become an advanced calisthenics athlete.
Chances are I will come back to this article regularly to expand it. If you have any recommendations on what could be added to the list please shoot them in the comments.