Some skinny guys want to build muscle at home, but a full-blown barbell setup may not be suitable. Does this sound like you? If so, then you’re in the right place! Because today I will be giving you 10 ideas for a home gym WITHOUT a barbell.
Building a home gym without a barbell is possible through alternatives such as dumbbells, kettlebells, pulley systems, resistance bands, suspension towers, and/or a power tower. These types of equipment will allow you to exercise all the muscles at the intensities required for muscle growth.
In my 10 years of weight lifting, I have learnt this:
Barbell training is important. But you can also make do without!
In fact, there are plenty of ideas to build your own home gym, without having to invest the space and money required for a barbell/rack/bench setup.
And that’s what I will be sharing with you today!
So let’s dive right in!
- 6 Example Setups For A Home Gym Without A Barbell
- 10 Barbell Alternatives For A Home Gym
- 1. Selectorized Adjustable Dumbbells.
- 2. Adjustable Plate Dumbbells.
- 3. Fixed-Weight Dumbbells.
- 4. Fixed-Weight Kettlebells.
- 5. Weight Plate Pulley Systems.
- 6. Resistance Bands.
- 7. Suspension Trainers.
- 8. Power Tower.
- 9. Adjustable Weight Bench.
- 10. Rubber Floot Mats.
6 Example Setups For A Home Gym Without A Barbell
First, I will give you an idea of how you can setup a home gym without a barbell.
Here are 6 example home gym setups (no barbell required) which allow you to build muscle in the entire body.
|Equipment||Approximate Cost||Approximate Floor Space|
|Adjustable Selectorized Dumbbells, Bench, And Mats||$596.00||8 Square Foot|
|Adjustable Selectorized Dumbbells, Bench, Power Tower, And Mats||$746.00||14 Square Foot|
|Resistance Bands, Bench, And Mats||$226.00||8 Square Foot|
|Weight Pulley System, Olympic Dumbbell Bar, 200lb Weight Plates, Bench, And Mats||$686.00||20 Square Foot|
|Kettlebells, Resistance Bands, Bench, And Mat||$696.00||18 Square Foot|
|Suspension Trainer, Adjustable Selectorized Dumbbells, Bench, And Mats||$726.00||8 Square Foot|
Next, I will break down the costs, space requirements, pro’s and con’s, and example exercises you can perform with each type of equipment.
10 Barbell Alternatives For A Home Gym
Here are the 10 types of barbell alternatives you can consider buying to create your own home gym.
Check out my other article to find out if a home gym is a good investment!
|Home Gym Equipment||Approximate Cost||Approximate Footprint||Weight Permitted|
|1. Selectorized Adjustable Dumbbells||~$400.00 for a pair of 25kg (55lb)||4 square foot.||Up to 45kg (99lb) per dumbbell.|
|2. Adjustable Plate Dumbbells||~$140.00 for a pair of 25kg (55lb).||4 square foot.||Up to 75kg (165lb) per dumbbell.|
|3. Fixed-Weight Dumbbells||~$674.00 for a set ranging from 2.5-25kg (5-55lb).||12 square foot (with storage rack) or 20 square foot (without storage rack).||Up to 45kg (99lb) per dumbbell.|
|4. Fixed-Weight Kettlebells||~$470.00 for a set ranging from 8-24kg (17-52lb).||10 square foot (with a storage rack) or 22 square foot (without a storage rack).||Up to 48kg (105lb) per kettlebell.|
|5. Weight Plate Pulley Systems.||$410.00 for the pulley system + 90kg (200lb) of weight plates||4 square foot for the pulley system + 2 square foot a stack of weight plates||Up to 90kg (200lb) of weight plates.|
|6. Resistance Bands||$30.00 for set with 70kg (150lb) total resistance.||Minimal.||Infinite (combine bands).|
|7. Suspension Trainers||$130.00 for a set.||Minimal.||Bodyweight.|
|8. Power Tower||$150.00 for a tower.||8 square foot||N/A|
|9. Adjustable Weight Bench||$150.00 for a bench||8 square foot||N/A|
|10. Rubber Matting||$46.00 for 46 square foot.||4 square foot per mat tile.||N/A|
1. Selectorized Adjustable Dumbbells.
Each dumbbell comes as a single unit. And from this unit, you adjust the weight using a selector mechanism (usually a pin or dial). The selected weight detaches from the unit, allowing you to perform your desired exercise!
|Cost||~$400.00 for a pair of 25kg (55lb)|
|Storage Footprint||4 square foot.|
|Weight Permitted||Up to 45kg (99lb) per dumbbell.|
Adjustable selectorized dumbbells can be expensive, costing around $400.00 for a pair of 25kg dumbbells. But in my opinion, the money is worth it compared to the other types of dumbbells (see below).
There are many different brands and models. But dumbbells which permit a heavier weight load will generally be more expensive than lighter dumbbells.
These are also the most space-saving dumbbells on the market, since the entire weight range is packaged into a single 1 foot by 1 foot unit. Therefore, a pair of these dumbbells will take up around 4 square foot.
Pro’s of getting selectorized adjustable dumbbells for your home gym:
- Low footprint- each dumbbell takes up approximately 2 square foot of floor space. They are also stackable.
- Quick workouts- the convenient selector mechanism allows you to quickly change weight between exercises.
- Good progression- each dumbbell can weigh up to 45kg+ which is more than adequate for long-term muscle gains at home. Weight increments can also be as low as 2.5lb per hand, which is ideal for progressive overload.
Con’s of getting selectorized adjustable dumbbells for your home gym:
- Costly- these are some of the most expensive dumbbells on the market.
- Construction- moving parts in selector mechanism make these the least durable dumbbells on the market.
- Awkward feel- if you are use to the feel of traditional dumbbells, these will take time getting use to.
Read my other article to find out if dumbbells are a good investment!
Example Adjustable Selectorized Dumbbell Exercises.
Dumbbells are extremely versatile pieces of equipment.
You will be able to replicate the movements of all the popular barbell exercises, including:
- Push and pull exercises
- Compound and isolation exercises.
- Full-body workouts.
Here is an example of the barbell exercises you can perform using a pair of dumbbells:
|Barbell Exercise||Dumbbell Variation||Muscle Groups Worked|
|Bench Press||Dumbbell Bench Press||Chest, Arms, And Shoulders|
|Incline Bench Press||Dumbbell Incline Press||Upper Chest, Arms, And Shoulders|
|Overhead Press||Dumbbell Shoulder Press||Shoulders And Arms|
|Bent-Over Row||One-Arm Dumbbell Row||Back, Arms, And Shoulders|
|Upright Row||Dumbbell Upright Row||Back, Arms, And Shoulders|
|Squat||Dumbbell Squat||Upper And Lower Leg|
|Dead Lift||Dumbbell Dead Lift||Upper And Lower Leg|
|Lunge||Dumbbell Lunge||Upper And Lower Leg|
|Pistol Squat||Dumbbell Pistol Squat||Upper And Lower Leg|
|Bulgairan Split Squat||Dumbbell Split Squat||Upper And Lower Leg|
Check out my other article find out the best way to build muscle!
2. Adjustable Plate Dumbbells.
Adjustable plate dumbbells are a cheaper alternative to selectorized dumbbells.
Each dumbbell consists of a bar (standard or olympic-sized). And from here, you adjust the weight by adding weight plates.
Standard bars hold dumbbell plates which have a 1″ hole diameter, and the weight capacity is usually around 25kg per dumbbell.
In comparison, olympic dumbbell bars hold barbell weight plates which have a 2″ hole diameter, and have a much greater capacity of around 75kg per dumbbell.
|Cost||~$140.00 for a pair of 25kg (55lb).|
|Storage Footprint||4 square foot.|
|Weight Permitted||Up to 75kg (165lb) per dumbbell.|
Standard adjustable plate dumbbells are the cheapest dumbbells on the market, costing around $140 for 25kg pair.
Olympic dumbbells are more expensive, costing around $80 for the bar itself. You will also have to purchase the bumper plates separately, which will cost around $1.80 per pound of weight. But Olympic dumbbells have a greater weight capacity of around 165lb per bar.
Both types are relatively space-efficient, occupying a total of 4 square foot. But for olympic dumbbells, you will also need to account for the footprint of barbell weight plates, which occupy around 2 square foot of space (stacked).
Pro’s of using adjustable plate dumbbells for your home gym:
- Cheap- standard bar dumbbells are the cheapest dumbbells. Olympic bar dumbbells are more expensive.
- Durable- solid steel/iron construction make these dumbbells extremely durable.
- Flexible progression- plates can be as light as 2lb per plate, making them great for slow but steady progressive overload.
Con’s of using adjustable plate dumbbells for your home gym:
- Slow workouts- switching the plates after every exercise is a time-consuming process.
Checkout my other article for more dumbbell training pro’s and con’s!
Example Adjustable Plate Dumbbell Exercises.
All dumbbells can be used to perform variations of the popular barbell exercises (see above). They also allow you to perform isolation-type exercises such as:
|Dumbbell Isolation-Type Exercise||Muscle Groups Targeted|
|Lateral Raise||Side Shoulder|
|Dumbbell Front Raise||Front Shoulder|
|Dumbbell Leg Raise||Lower Abs|
|Dumbbell Calf Raise||Calves|
|Nordic Ham Curl||Hamstrings|
3. Fixed-Weight Dumbbells.
Fixed weight dumbbells are relatively expensive and take up a lot of space.
Each dumbbell is a set weight. And you will need to buy an entire set in order to make up a range of weights.
|Cost||~$674.00 for a set ranging from 2.5-25kg (5-55lb).|
|Storage Footprint||12 square foot (with a storage rack) or 20 square foot (without a storage rack).|
|Weight Permitted||Up to 45kg (99lb) per dumbbell.|
A set of fixed-weight dumbbells ranging from 5 to 55lb will cost around $670 dollars. This will give you a pair of dumbbells for each specified weight.
But they require a lot of space. And if you do not have a rack, you will need around 20 square foot of floor space to store your dumbbells.
If you buy a rack (around $300), the floor space can be reduced to around 12 square foot.
Pro’s of using fixed-weight dumbbells for your home gym:
- Versatile- dumbbells can be used to work the entire body with a variety of exercises
- Solid construction- a solid metal mould makes these dumbbells the most durable of dumbbells.
- Flexible progression- they can be as light as 5lb and as heavy as 100lb+ per dumbbell.
Con’s of using fixed-weight dumbbells for your home gym:
- Large footprint- a lot of dumbbells take up a lot of space!
- Expensive-these are expensive compared to the other dumbbell-types. A rack will cost another ~$300.
Read my other article to find out your ideal lifting weight load to build muscle as a skinny newbie!
Example Fixed-Weight Dumbbell Exercises.
Fixed-weight dumbbells can be used to perform the same exercises as you could with the other dumbbells (see above).
4. Fixed-Weight Kettlebells.
Fixed-weight kettlebells are ball-shaped weights with a handle.
Each kettlebell has a designated weight, and you will need an entire set to complete a range of weights.
I have decided to exclude adjustable-weight kettlebells from this list because they do not currently offer a heavy enough weight load for long-term muscle building.
|Cost||~$470.00 for a set ranging from 8-24kg (17-52lb).|
|Storage Footprint||10 square foot (with a storage rack) or 22 square foot (without a storage rack).|
|Weight Permitted||Up to 48kg (105lb) per kettlebell.|
A full set of kettlebells will cost you around $470 for a weight range of 8kg to 24kg. And this makes them relatively expensive for what you get. But they are still cheaper than a barbell/rack setup.
Kettlebell sets will also take up a lot of room. Without a rack, you will need around 22 square foot of floor space. And a rack will reduce this to around 10 square foot.
Despite their costs and space requirements, kettlebells are extremely versatile and durable free-weights. They can be used to train all your muscle groups.
Pro’s of using kettlebells for your home gym:
- Versatile- a set of kettlebells can be used to train all the muscles in your body.
- Functional training- the shape of kettlebells replicate the shapes of everyday objects. This will improve your functional strength.
- Core strength- most kettlebell exercises require you to engage the core muscles to stabilise the movement.
Con’s of using kettlebells for your home gym:
- Difficult to lift heavy- kettlebell handles are not great for heavy lifting. And this can limit your potential to maximise muscle growth.
- Slow Progression- a set of kettlebells usually only has a few weights, with a large increments between each weight. This makes them unsuitable for progressive overload.
- Expensive way to build muscle- dumbbells are the cheaper type of free-weight.
Example Kettlebell Exercises.
Kettlebells allow you to perform a variety of full-body compound exercises, including:
|Kettlebell Exercise||Muscle Groups Targeted|
|Kettlebell Dead Lift||Full Body|
|Kettlebell Swing||Full Body|
|Kettlebell Clean And Press||Full Body|
|Kettlebell Push And Press||Side Shoulder|
|Kettlebell Overhead Press||Shoulders And Arms|
|Kettlebell Row||Back And Arms|
|Kettlebell Bench Press||Chest, Arms, And Shoulders|
|Kettlebell Goblet Squat||Upper And Lower Legs|
|Kettlebell Ham Curl||Hamstrings|
5. Weight Plate Pulley Systems.
Weight plate pulley systems are made up of a weight plate pin that allows you to stack barbell weight plates.
From here, a system of cables, mounts, and pulleys can be integrated around a ceiling or beam. And this allows you to do a variety of pulling and pushing exercises.
|Cost||$410.00 for the pulley system + 90kg (200lb) of weight plates|
|Storage Footprint||4 square foot for the pulley system + 2 square foot a stack of weight plates|
|Weight Permitted||Up to 90kg (200lb) of weight plates.|
The actual pulley system itself is affordable, at around $60 a set. And this will allow a maximum weight capacity of around 200lbs.
However, you will also need to buy a selection of barbell weight plates, which will cost around $1.80 per pound of weight.
Weight plate pulleys are very space efficient since they hang from a ceiling or beam. They will occupy around 4 square foot of floor space. But the weight plates will occupy an additional 2 square foot of floor space (stacked).
Pro’s of weight plate pulley systems:
- Space-efficient- the system hangs in the air so will occupy very little floor space.
- Weight plates can be used with olympic dumbbells- the weight plates can also be used with olympic dumbbell bars.
- Good way to train the arms, shoulder, and back- popular arm/shoulder/back exercises can be performed at heavy weights.
Con’s of weight plate pulley systems:
- Limited range of exercises- restricted to arms, shoulder, and back exercises only.
- Requires secure mounting- you will need to find a solid ceiling or a strong beam to hang the pulley system from.
- Requires installation- you will have to install the system yourself!
Example Weight Pulley Exercises.
Here are some of the upper body exercises you can do with a home weight plate pulley system:
|Barbell Exercise||Muscle Groups Worked|
|Lat Pull Down||Backs And Arms|
|Narrow Underhand Grip Pull Down||Backs And Arms|
|Straight Arm Pull Down||Backs And Arms|
|Rows||Backs And Arms|
|Cable Oblique Twist||Abs|
|Cable Lateral Raise||Shoulders|
6. Resistance Bands.
Resistance bands are elastic bands which add resistance to push and pull movements.
They usually come as a set. And each band has a designated resistance, usually measured in pounds.
|Cost||$30.00 for set with 70kg (150lb) total resistance.|
|Weight Permitted||Infinite (combine bands).|
Resistance bands are by far the cheapest alternative to a barbell for a home gym.
A full set will cost around $30, and this will provide a total resistance of 150lb. From my personal experience, this is more than enough resistance to build muscle at home (remember, the resistance increases as the band stretches!).
If you do require more resistance, you can always combine multiple bands or fold a band in half (which doubles the resistance).
Space-wise, resitance bands will take up minimal space. And they can be stored anywhere you like!
Pro’s of using resistance bands for your home gym:
- Cheap and convenient- a set of resistance bands are affordable. They can also be used and stored anywhere.
- Versatile- most of the barbell exercise movements can be replicated using resistance bands.
- Unique resistance curve- bands increase resistance as they stretch. This provides a unique stimulus to challenge your muscles for growth.
Con’s of resistance bands for your home gym:
- Can’t quantify weight- each band offers an approximate level of resistance, unlike free-weights which offer a set level of resistance.
- Can be boring to use- exercising with bands just doesn’t feel the same as using free-weights! You will require motivation to use these long-term.
- Wear and tear- be ready to say goodbye to your bands when a tear forms!
Example Resistance Band Exercises.
You can use bands to replicate all the movements of barbell exercises, including:
|Barbell Exercise||Resistance Band Variation||Muscle Groups Worked|
|Bench Press||Band Chest Press||Chest, Arms, And Shoulders|
|Incline Bench Press||Band Incline Press||Upper Chest, Arms, And Shoulders|
|Overhead Press||Band Shoulder Press||Shoulders And Arms|
|Bent-Over Row||Band Row||Back, Arms, And Shoulders|
|Upright Row||Band Upright Row||Back, Arms, And Shoulders|
|Squat||Banded Squat||Upper And Lower Leg|
|Dead Lift||Dumbbell Dead Lift||Upper And Lower Leg|
|Lunge||Banded Lunge||Upper And Lower Leg|
|Pistol Squat||Banded Pistol Squat||Upper And Lower Leg|
|Split Squat||Banded Split Squat||Upper And Lower Leg|
7. Suspension Trainers.
Suspension trainers are a Y-shaped belt that provide a platform to perform bodyweight exercises.
The fork of the Y have attached handles which you can o grip or insert your feet. And the trunk of the Y secures to a mounting point.
|Cost||$130.00 for a set.|
Suspension trainers will cost $130 for a set (including a bolted ceiling mount). From here you can perform a range of bodyweight workouts which replicate the movements of popular barbell exercises.
Bodyweight exercises can be highly effective for gaining muscle. So if you want a cost/space-friendly alternative to a barbell, you may want to consider getting a suspension trainer!
Also, suspension trainers require very little storage space.
Pro’s of using suspension trainers for a home gym:
- Cheap and convenient- suspension trainers are cost-effective, light-weight, and can be used anywhere which has a secure mounting spot.
- Maximises angles for bodyweight exercises- suspension trainers open the angles required to perform a complete range of bodyweight exercises to target all your muscles.
- Trains the core- all suspension trainer movements require core stabilisation. This will help help you get ripped abs!
Con’s of using suspension trainers for a home gym:
- Restricted to bodyweight – you will be restricted to lifting your own bodyweight. And this may limit long-term progression.
- Learning curve- suspension trainer movements are unstable, and require a strong core to perform the exercises.
- Long workouts- each exercise requires adjusting a new belt position to achieve the desired angle.
Example Suspension Trainer Exercises.
Suspension trainers allow you to perform compound and isolation-type exercises that target all your muscles. These include:
|Suspension Trainer Exercise||Muscle Groups Targeted|
|Push Ups||Chest, Shoulders, And Arms|
|Incline Push ups||Upper Chest, Shoulders, And Arms|
|Pull Ups||Back And Arms|
|Chin Ups||Back And Arms|
|Leg Raises||Lower Abs|
|Bulgarian Split Squat||Legs|
8. Power Tower.
A power tower is an all in one pull up and dip station.
They are the perfect piece of equipment to complement free-weights and resistance bands.
|Cost||$150.00 for a tower.|
|Storage Footprint||6 square foot|
A power can be found for around $150 and this will allow you to perform the pull up, dip, and leg raise. These are bodyweight exercises which are hard to perform without a bar.
Most power towers have a low footprint, occupying around 6 square foot of floor space.
Pro’s of power tower for a home gym:
- Cheap- a power tower is a cheap way to give you access to pull ups, dips, and leg raises (exercises which usually require a hanging bar to perform).
- Upper body training – power tower exercises are excellent ways to build upper body muscle using your own bodyweight.
- Space-effective- the power tower is compact and taller than it is wide.
Con’s of power towers for a home gym:
- Lack of lower body option- power towers are more suited to upper body exercises than lower body.
Example Power Tower Exercises.
A power tower will allow you to perform exercises that target all the muscles in the upper body, including:
|Power Tower Exercise||Muscle Groups Targeted|
|Pull Up||Chest, Shoulders, And Arms|
|Chin Up||Upper Chest, Shoulders, And Arms|
|Vertical Dip||Arms And Chest|
|Hanging Leg Raise||Abs|
|Pull Ups||Back And Arms|
9. Adjustable Weight Bench.
An adjustable weight bench is a useful accessory item to maximise the exercise options for dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, and suspension trainers.
The bench provides a solid platform to lay on. And this will be useful for performing chest and back exercises (which usually require your body to be supported in a flat position)
|Cost||$150.00 for a bench|
|Storage Footprint||8 square foot|
An adjustable bench is affordable, costing around $150 for a bench.
They are are also fairly space-efficient. During use, it will occupy around 8 square foot of floor space. And during storage, it will occupy around 4 square foot of floorspace (flipped onto it’s vertical edge).
Example Exercises That Require A Weight Bench.
Having an adjustable weight bench will enable you to perform exercises which would otherwise be hard to perform. These include:
|Exercises Requiring An Adjustable Weight Bench||Muscle Groups Targeted|
|Flat Bench Press||Chest, Arms, And Shoulder|
|Incline Bench Press||Chest, Arms, And Shoulder|
|Decline Bench Press||Chest, Arms, And Shoulder|
|One-Arm Row||Back And Arms|
|Decline Sit Up||Abs|
10. Rubber Floot Mats.
Rubber floor mats are another accessory item for a home gym.
They provide slip-resistant floor protection for your free-weights and weight bench.
|Cost||$46.00 for 46 square foot.|
|Storage Footprint||4 square foot per mat tile.|
Rubber matting is an inexpensive way to complete your home gym.
Without adequate floor protection, you risk damaging/scratching your free weights and bench.
A rubber floor will also allow you to safely do ground exercises on a concrete floor (for example in a garage gym).
Today, I have given you 10 ideas to build a home gym without a barbell.
A full setup can will cost between $600-800 dollars (brand new). And this will provide you with all the equipment required to build muscle at home.
My personal recommendation would be to focus on a set of dumbbells which are, in my opinion, the most versatile free weights you can get.
They are space-efficient, allow for long-term progression (if you buy a heavy enough weight), and you can perform 90% of exercises using them.
From here, you can then include accessory items such as a weight bench, mats, and power tower!
What are you planning to include in your home gym?
Let me know in the comments below! There are many barbell-free options to build a home gym, so let’s share ideas!
Alternatively, download the FREE Kalibre Muscle Blueprint below!
Thanks for reading guys!
(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)