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Equipment costs are a business expense that can certainly add up for a new or growing gym. It’s easy to get sidetracked by all the bells and whistles that the fitness industry has to offer. Therefore, it’s important to set a strategic plan in place when outfitting your gym. It’s also important to keep in mind that you don’t need every single piece of equipment in order to open your gym doors. Moreover, while some pieces of equipment are trendy or “nice to have” (i.e., sandbags, sleds, climbing ropes, etc.) they are absolutely not required to run an effective gym. Hence, we strongly suggest buying the essential pieces of equipment to start and acquiring additional pieces over time as your gym grows.


To help you narrow down the choices and formulate a plan,  we’ve listed below the fundamental equipment every strength and conditioning gym should have to open their gym or improve their space. The list is segmented in 3 stages to fit every new, growing or established gym’s needs. Once you’ve decided on the equipment, you’ll also want to determine exactly how many of each piece you’ll need. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll only need enough of each item to run a full class to start. That might be 5, 10 or 15 pieces depending on your anticipated number of members per class. Keep in mind it’s better for your wallet to start off with not enough rather than too much. To run large classes with less equipment you can program partner or team workouts, circuit or Tabata stations. Plus encouraging communication and sharing amongst your members will foster your gym community.


Essential Equipment For New Gyms

1. Abmats

The AbMat is a fundamental core training accessory for more effective sit-ups. This piece of equipment might not be considered essential to some gyms, however, it is strongly encouraged for CrossFit gyms as it promotes safe positioning during the sit-up as well as provides the full range of motion necessary to train the entire abdominal muscle groups.


2. Barbells and Plates

A barbell is an essential piece of equipment for any strength and conditioning facility. You’ll want to stock up on several 45 lb barbells for men and 35 lb barbells for women. You will also need a few training barbells at 15 lb for On-Ramp or Elements classes or members who aren’t ready, wanting or able to lift a heavier barbell.


Cost can certainly be a determining factor in the decision on which brand of barbells to purchase. The old adage “what is cheap becomes expensive” holds true in regard to barbell investment. One consideration to take into account is the amount of wear and tear that barbells suffer during high-intensity workouts. Further, look for those with decent knurling (the cross hatch texture that makes the bar easy to grip), you don’t want your bars slipping out of any hands. Moreover, durable barbells, especially those with high weight limits, tend to last longer and are less likely to bow or warp with time.


Additionally, you’ll need some weight plates for all your fancy new barbells. First, you need to make sure the plates you select are actually compatible with your barbell. “Bumper Plates” are popular in strength and conditioning facilities because they are safe to drop or bounce during high-intensity workouts or barbell cycling. Bumper plates have a uniform diameter, but the weight and width of the plates vary. It’s best to get sets with a range of weights, and definitely, don’t forget smaller change plates in 5 lb and 2.5 lb increments.


Lastly, make sure you invest in some collars to secure the plates on your barbells. Quick release collars are great for CrossFit WODs, but there is no need to get fancy with these. The cheapest collars work just as well as the high-end, tricked out ones do. This is certainly an area where you can save some pennies.


3. Flooring

Gym flooring is vital to open your gym doors. You’ll need it to protect your members as well as your equipment, plus it has an aesthetic appeal that says “this is a gym”. This is another area where you can save some dollars–we recommend buying stall mats from a tractor or horse supply store rather than investing in gym mats which tend to be more expensive.


4. Jump Ropes

It’s nice to be able to provide some jump ropes for your members, especially if you plan to program them into your class workouts. You should also offer them in varying heights to accommodate all of your members. Some members will eventually want to acquire their own customized rope, so this is another area where you can get away with saving some money by buying the basic, more cost-efficient jump ropes.


5. Kettlebells

Kettlebells are a very versatile piece of equipment for any type of gym to have. They will come in handy for various movements including kettlebell swings, deadlifts, Turkish getups, farmer carries, goblet squats, and much more. You’ll want to get a range of weights and if you’re a CrossFit gym be sure to stock up on extras of the popular weights like 53 lb for men, 35 lb for women.


6. Medicine Balls

You’ll also want to acquire medicine balls in varying weights to suit all of your members. CrossFit gyms will want several 20 lb for men and 14 lb for women. Med balls are a versatile piece of equipment in the sense that you can perform wall ball shots, jump squats, and more. However, it is not advised to use these in place of slam balls as they are not designed to be slammed. Slam balls are another piece of equipment and a separate expense but are less versatile and therefore should be considered a stage 3 piece of equipment.


7. Plyo Boxes

Plyo boxes can be used for multiple movements including jump ups, step ups, box squats and even for your shorter members to reach high up pieces of equipment on your rig. They are offered in a range of different materials such as metal, wood, resin, and foam. Most gyms will find it beneficial to purchase the 3-in-1 boxes that can be rotated to 20”, 24”, and 30-inch heights for versatility and because they have a smaller storage footprint. If your budget can allow for it, it would also be ideal to own a couple of the foam boxes for members who are injured, afraid or physically unable to jump onto the solid boxes.


8. Rig

No strength and conditioning facility is complete without a quality rig. For starters, you’ll need a rig to rack the barbells, allowing your members to perform certain lifts safely and store barbells off the ground when applicable. The rig is also a multi-purpose equipment piece as it is also utilized to perform all sorts of gymnastic movements such as chin-ups, pull-ups and even more once you attach accessories to it. The dimensions of a rig can be customized to the size of your floor plan, so this is a key design point where the rest of your gym will flow from. There are many types of rigs out there such as wall mounted, free-standing and even collapsible to fit any gym space.


9. Rowing Machines

You may have noticed that this is the first piece of machine equipment in this list. Treadmills, cable machines, Smith machines, and the like are standard in most large gyms, but they’re not necessary for all gyms. For example, you won’t find many machines inside a CrossFit gym, however, there is an exception to every rule and the ergometer, erg, or rower, is one exception to this rule. The rowing machine is widely used in CrossFit for cardio in met-cons, or metabolic conditioning workouts.

Overall the rower is a great combination piece of equipment for any gym type to invest in as it develops strength in all of your major muscle groups – especially the core, back, and arms – while you’re elevating your heart rate. Furthermore, rowers make a great cardio option for when running is out of the equation due to weather conditions or location limitations. Plus, they store nice and compact when not in use. If you are running classes you can get away with purchasing 1 rower for every 2 people per class to start as they can share and rotate during workouts.


10. Storage

Don’t forget to budget in storage costs when purchasing all this equipment. You’ll want to optimize your floor plan and create the professional look you are seeking. If you, your coaches, or your members are handy, you may be able to save some money here by building your own custom storage shelves, etc. Consider where you will store all the above pieces of equipment as well as any tools listed below.


Essential Tools For New Gyms

Don’t overlook the items you will need to warm up your classes, demo and train movements and keep your members comfortable and safe. Make sure to leave some room in your initial equipment budget for these tools as well:

  1. Lacrosse balls
  2. Mobility/Resistance Bands – Utilized for both scaling movements like pull-ups and dips, as well as mobility
  3. Foam rollers
  4. Chalk and chalk buckets (Plastic construction buckets work great)
  5. PVC piping cut to 4 feet in length – Utilized for mobility as well as demoing and warming up barbell movements


Equipment For Growing Gyms

The following list contains pieces of equipment that would be highly recommended for adding to a high-end, larger or more developed strength facility. These items can also be considered for the second phase of purchasing equipment for a growing gym. These equipment pieces may not be necessary to open your doors, but definitely make sense to acquire when you’re ready to invest in them:

  • Benches
  • Stationary or erg bikes
  • Climbing ropes
  • Cones
  • Dumbbells
  • Glute Ham Developer (GHD)
  • Gymnastics Rings
  • Slam balls


Equipment For Established Gyms

The pieces of equipment in this category are not essentials for most strength and conditioning gyms and are not used in the majority of CrossFit workouts. Some of the items on this list will be fun to have, allow for variety in your programming or may only be used by advanced or competitive members. Also included in this list are suggestions for storage and “extras” for your gym.

While this equipment is not essential it is very effective and the return on investment for your members is very high once you are established enough that you can reasonably afford it.


Further Equipment Considerations

In addition to traditional equipment, there are a few tools you may want to provide for your members in terms of safety and comfort, so you’ll want to be sure to factor them into your budget when outfitting your gym. Additionally, if you are already an established gym keep in mind that you may need to consider replacing or repairing some older pieces of equipment and should factor these costs into any budget for new equipment. Lastly, if your timeline allows or you’re just a savvy shopper be sure to check out our Gym Equipment Deal Guide for Black Friday and Cyber Monday updated yearly.


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About the author:

Luke Handley