The Best Calisthenics Equipment: [9 Home Gym Essentials]

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This is a complete list of the best calisthenics equipment in 2020.

I have personally spent over $3000 in gym equipment over the last 10+ years- so I can tell you what is and isn’t worth it.

In sum, you’ll need 9 things to maximize your home gym for calisthenics workouts.

Let’s get started.

woman-gymnastics-rings-equipment

The 9 Essential Items For A Calisthenics Home Gym

Below are what I believe to be the best pieces of equipment you can get for a great at-home workout.

I have listed them in order of importance…

… and the first 5 items are must-haves.

Each piece of equipment will provide variety to allow you to train every muscle group in your body.

I’ll also go over the best-weighted calisthenics equipment.

Let’s get started.

#1 Pull-Up Bar

The number one item you need to get is a pull-up bar. There are so many different options you can choose from, and some options are extremely affordable.

The easiest thing you can get is a doorway pull-up bar. It’s the cheapest version, and the easiest to install.

This doorway pull-up bar is the most basic and has great reviews on Amazon.

Another option is a pull-up tower, which is what I have.

While it takes up more space, the fact that you are not limited to using it inside your door frame is a big plus for me.

Why You Need A Pull-Up Bar

Pull-up bars are essential to training your upper body. In fact, most people agree that the pull-up is the best upper body exercise of all time.

With this piece of equipment, you will be able to perform all of the vertical pulling exercises possible.

Here’s a list of some of the exercises you can do:

Pros of a Pull-up Bar:

  • Allows you to strengthen all of the vertical pulling exercises
  • Allows you to train hanging ab exercises
  • Allows you to attach other pieces of calisthenics equipment such as gymnastic rings, resistance bands, and suspension trainers.

Cons:

  • With the doorway pull-up bar and the pull-up tower, you won’t be able to extend your legs completely as both options aren’t tall enough.
  • As far as the pull-up tower:
    • it feels un-sturdy, however, rest assured that you can do just about any of the above exercises safely
    • it takes up a decent amount of space, but it fits in my tiny NYC apartment

If you’re serious about home workouts, I recommend the pull-up tower.


#2 Resistance Bands

The second piece of equipment you should get is a set of resistance bands.

I have written extensively on why everyone should own a set of bands in their workout tool kit. They are by far the easiest and most versatile way to do dozens upon dozens of different exercises.

It is important that you get a closed-loop resistance band.

I.e, you want them to look like this:

You can get these from a variety of places.

Here’s a list of some of the exercises you can do with bands:

  • Band Squats
  • Floor Press
  • Goodmornings
  • Overhead Press
  • Band Deadlifts
  • Bent Over Rows
  • Face Pulls
  • Tricep Extension

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a quick video of some of the best upper body exercises you can do with bands.

We have an entire post on the 24 Best Resistance Band exercises you can do.

Pros of Resistance Bands:

  • They are extremely versatile, allowing you to do dozens of exercises
  • Bands provide an easy way to add resistance to lower body exercises
  • Bands can provide resistance without loading your spine
  • They are lightweight and portable

Cons:

  • The smallest band may be too easy for some exercises, while the stronger band may be too difficult.
  • Hard to quantify “how much weight” you are actually lifting.

These are the bands I recommend from Amazon.



#3 Gymnastic Rings

If you really want to take your home gym to the next level, you need to invest in a pair of gymnastic rings.

Rings will allow you to perform a whole bunch of exercises while improving your stability and muscle coordination.

You have never truly seen how difficult an exercise can be until you have done them with rings.

The level of proprioception needed just to do even the most basic exercises is really high.

Here are some of the exercises you can do with rings to make them more challenging:

  • You can do pull-ups while rotating your hands into supination
  • You can perform ring dips, which is probably the best dip variation possible
  • You can perform ring push-ups, which adds a layer of stability
  • You can do ab exercises such as L-sits and hanging leg raises
  • You can do back levers and front levers
  • The list goes on.

The best part? You can hang rings on your pull-up bar or pull-up tower like in the video below.

Pros of a Gymnastic Rings:

  • Allows for a variety of exercises that couldn’t be done otherwise
  • Improves stability and coordination for all exercises
  • Increases proprioception
  • Instantly makes any exercise more challenging

Cons:

  • They can be annoying to set-up and takedown, but if you leave them in one place like I do- this isn’t an issue.

These are the Rings I have from Amazon.



#4 Adjustable Dumbbells

This is where your calisthenics equipment can get a little pricey.

But, I must say- this investment has been well worth it. Having a solid pair of adjustable dumbbells makes training at home really worthwhile.

In actuality, dumbbells aren’t necessarily for calisthenics per se. But that’s the beauty of them.

With these, you will no longer be limited to strict calisthenic movements.

With adjustable dumbbells you can do:

  • Dumbbell Floor Press
  • Dumbbell Squats
  • Dumbbell Overhead Press
  • Dumbbell Deadlifts
  • Bent-Over Dumbbell Rows
  • Dumbbell Lunges
  • and Isolation Exercises (Bicep Curls, Tricep Extension, Lateral Raises, etc)

The best part is, you only need 2 dumbells, not 20 pairs.

With adjustable dumbbells, one pair can go from 5 lbs each, all the way to 50-100lbs each depending on the one you buy.

There are two types of dumbbells you can buy.

  • Ones where you load the plates and secure them with a connector.

I DO NOT recommend these for one reason. It is extremely inconvenient and time consuming to change the weights.

  • On the other hand, you can get dumbbells that have built-in adjustable mechanisms.

I have owned both, and the latter is so much better.

I personally went with the Bowflex 552.

I love these things.

They have provided so much variety to my training that would have otherwise been impossible to do.

They are also super slick.

Pros of Adjustable Dumbbells:

  • Allows you to overload almost every single calisthenic exercise in a progressive manner
  • Opens up the door to hundreds of exercises that can only be done with dumbbells.
  • They save space – 1 pair can take the place of 15+ dumbbells.

Cons:

  • They are expensive
  • If you don’t get the Bowflex (or other higher-tech versions) changing the weights can be annoying.

These are the dumbbells I have and recommend


#5 Weight Vest:

To round out the top 5 pieces of calisthenic equipment you need to maximize your workout, you should get a weight vest.

A weight vest is different from dumbbells for one major reason.

  • The dumbbells allow you to move external weight that is separate from your body.

The weight vest, on the other hand, becomes part of your body.

This allows you to perform weighted calisthenics. Making key exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, dips, and squats more challenging.

  • You can add 5, 10, 15, 20, or more lbs to each exercise, providing just the right amount of challenge necessary to your skill level.

I have even used the weight vest to do 20 minute walks on the treadmill.

Here is Brittany wearing the vest we have.

home-gym-equipment

I can’t find the exact same weight vest on Amazon anymore, but any high-quality vest will do.

Pros of a Weight Vest:

  • Weight vests provide an extremely easy way to progressively overload calisthenics exercises.
  • Come in 5 lb – 60 lb increments, making it the best weighted calisthenic equipment you can buy.

Cons:

  • If you have a smaller frame, it may be a little long for your torso.
  • If you sweat on it, it could get annoying to wash.
  • If you do any dynamic exercise (such as burpees or box jumps) it can flop around a bit.

This weight vest is a Best-Seller on Amazon with several 5 star reviews.


Other Great Pieces of Equipment For Your Home Gym

Okay, so that’s part one of the essential calisthenic equipment.

I think that these 5 items are necessary if you plan on taking your calisthenics training seriously.

The next items on the list aren’t as important as the first 5 but are still helpful to have nonetheless.

Here they are.


#6 a Flat Bench

Once you have a pair of dumbbells, it only makes sense to get a bench.

While you can get away with using chairs, a bench is just so much more comfortable to use.

Plus, who doesn’t want to do dumbbell bench press at home?

Just kidding.

We have a flat bench and we use it every single day.

It’s great for the following exercises:

Here’s Brittany on the DB Bench press at home.

I don’t think you need an adjustable bench where you can change the incline.

It just takes up more space and is more expensive.

Just get a small flat bench. We got one really cheap on Walmart and I have no complaints.

Pros of a Flat Bench:

  • Makes a lot of exercises more comfortable.
  • It opens the possibility to do a lot of supine dumbbell exercises.

Cons:

  • None

This is the bench we have from Walmart


#7 Parallette Bars:

The next item on the list are parallettes. These are a set of portable bars that simulate the gymnastic parallel bars.

This is what they look like.

best-home-gym-equipment

These bars are great to practice a lot of gymnastic movements such as

  • Handstands
  • L-Sits
  • Deep Push-Ups
  • Planche

They also allow you to keep your wrists in a neutral position when doing floor-based exercises. This is great for those who have poor wrist mobility, or issues with push-ups or handstands.

There are so many versions of them.

I also have shorter wooden parallettes as well – which are small and very portable.

This is what they look like.

Pros of Parallettes:

  • Allows you to practice cool advanced gymnastic exercises
  • Allow you to keep your wrist neutral for several exercises.
  • They are lightweight and portable

Cons:

  • None – Of the two I like the taller ones better.

These are the parallettes I have and recommend from Amazon.


#8 Suspension Trainer:

I’m sure you have seen suspension trainers before.

The most popular one is the TRX. They have yellow straps and are frequently seen in commercial gyms.

This is the TRX:

Suspension trainers are another good addition to your home gym equipment because they definitely provide you with the ability to do a lot of unique exercises.

To be honest, the gymnastic rings will serve a lot of the same purposes as the suspension trainer – which is why this is lower on the list.

But this will allow you to train your core in ways that rings cant.

Suspension trainers are a good addition to your home gym because of their versatility.

To be honest, the gymnastic rings will serve a lot of the same purposes as the suspension trainer – which is why this is lower on the list.

But suspension trainers allow you to train your core and legs in ways that gymnastic rings cant.

But this will allow you to train your core in ways that rings cant.

Here are a few examples.

If you choose to get the TRX, you are paying for the brand.

I find the generic suspension trainers to be just as good.

Here’s Brittany using the one we have in our tiny apartment.

Pros of a Suspension Trainers:

  • Opens up the possibility of doing a lot of stability exercises
  • Increases the variety of abdominal and calisthenic leg exercises you can do
  • Can be attached to a door frame or a horizontal bar, making them more versatile than rings
  • They are lightweight and portable

Cons:

  • They are expensive.

I cant find the exact same one we have on Amazon anymore, but this one looks similar and has good reviews on Amazon.


#9 Rumble Roller:

The last item you need in your home gym is a foam roller.

A foam roller is a device often used in a physical therapy setting to help improve tissue function.

In other words, you can use one to perform a deep massage of tight muscle tissue.

This becomes very important as the more you exercise – the more likely you will develop muscle knots.

There are so many different foam rollers on the market with varying degrees of firmness.

In all honesty, the soft foam rollers are a waste. I had to go through three rollers until I found one that really hit the spot (pun intended).

The one that I found to be the best is the rumble roller.

This is what it looks like.

rumble-foam-roller-home-gym-equipment

It’s more expensive than the regular softer rollers, but it is well worth the price.

There are two sizes. I find that the smaller one is well worth the price.

Just place the roller on the floor, and lie on top of it on the area you want to work on.

Common areas that need work include

  • Upper back
  • Lats
  • Quadriceps
  • IT Band
  • Calves

Roll around until you find a hot spot and maintain pressure in that area. With practice, you will be able to tell which areas need the most work.

Pros of The Rumble Roller:

  • Very good quality- I’ve had mine for over 5 years and it’s in great shape.
  • The design allows you to identify painful points easily

Cons:

  • The rumble roller is pricier than the traditional

This is the roller I have and recommend.


Benefits of Calisthenics Equipment

So as you can see, calisthenics equipment is extremely beneficial for designing home gyms.

The items are simple, light-weight, and open up the possibility of hundreds of different exercises from the comfort of your own home.

The best part is, a lot of these items are affordable and don’t take up a lot of space. I have all of this in my NYC apartment.

So with these items you get:

  • Superior back training (pull-up bar)
  • A wide array of resistance exercises (bands)
  • Strength training with stability (rings), and
  • Extra weight (dumbbells and vest) to perform weighted calisthenics

What’s Better? Calisthenics Vs Weights

It depends on what your goals are. If you want to train at home with minimal equipment, then calisthenics is better.

If you have access to a fully stocked gym, prefer to use external weights, and desire to build a lot of muscle mass, weights are better.

In general, I don’t think you have to choose either or. Both have their pros and cons.

Why not take advantage of both? I show you how in my article:

Calisthenics Home Gym Setup

So how should you set your gym up?

To be honest, it doesn’t really matter too much. All you have to do is find a set-up that’s convenient for you.

The way I have it is:

  • my pull-up tower is set-up by a corner,
  • with the rings attached to the pull-up bar,
  • the bench is between the tower, and
  • my dumbbells and everything else is to the side.

Don’t mind the mess in the corner hahaha.

home-gym-setup

Final Thoughts On Calisthenics Equipment

If you invest a couple of hundred bucks on essential calisthenic equipment, you can get an amazing workout every day.

If you can only get 1 or 2 things, get yourself a pull-up bar and some bands.

What do you think?

Any items you want to add to the list?

Which one are you gonna invest in?

Comment below and let us know!

Related Calisthenics Posts

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Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM CPTs, health & fitness experts, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a site dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals. Their advice has been featured on KevinMD, The Doctor Weighs In, My Fitness Pal, Reader's Digest, Livestrong, and The Active Times. Learn more about them here.

Learn More About Them Here

2 thoughts on “The Best Calisthenics Equipment: [9 Home Gym Essentials]”

  1. How about a plyo box? Doesn’t have to be a 3′ monster, but a good rectangle box that can give you a 16″, 20″, and 24″? Best part is that with a sheet of 1″ or 5/4″ plywood, a saw, $2 worth of screws, and a screwdriver, you can make your own. Dips, incline/decline push-ups, one-leg squats, step-ups, and jump ups. And then you can get creative….

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