Gym Equipment Basics

Walk into the gym you’ll see a plethora of equipment. The the beginner, it can be mind-boggling, with machines for different body parts, weight plates, cables, all kinds of cardio equipment and different types of barbells. What do they all do? What are they for?!

The good news it that the vast majority of gym kit, you’ll probably never need to use.

Most gyms buy huge amounts of kit so it looks impressive to members, but in reality you only need a handful of pieces of equipment. For decades Olympic gold medals have been won with only barbells and dumbbells for training with.

Bodybuilders in stage shape get there with barbells and dumbbells. The success of your workout depends on the quality of your training programme and its execution – not on the amount of kit you use!

You don’t need to know how to use every piece of gym equipment. Focus on what you need, discard what you don’t.

At the time of writing, I’ve worked as a personal trainer for 14 years. I’ve written a fitness website for 6. I’ve helped hundreds (thousands if you include my readers) of people get into great shape using a handful of bits of kit.

Here’s the gym equipment most of you will need to focus on…


  • A standard Olympic barbell is 7 feet long and weighs 20kg.
  • It’ll usually have rough ends and a rough middle. This is called ‘knurling’ and it helps with grip.
  • Towards each end of the barbell there’ll usually be a smooth line (or two, if it’s a competition barbell). These are to help make sure your hands are equally spaced when you lift, keeping you balanced.
  • The ends of the barbell will be thicker in diameter, this is where the plates go. These should be able to spin – typically a higher quality barbell will spin for longer.

gym equipment


  • Dumbbells should come in pairs and are usually in increments of 1, 2, or 2.5kg.
  • They’ll usually have some knurling on the handle to help with grip.
  • Typically the heavier the weight, the thicker the dumbbell handle will be.
  • Dumbbells are usually rubberised or cast metal. Plastic dumbbells are cheaper and usually more likely to break.

gym equipment

Weight Plates

 Weight plates come in all shapes, sizes and materials. Generally, they can be separated into three groups…

  • ‘Bumper’, these are the thick, rubberised plates you see in weight lifting and CrossFit gym. They are designed to be dropped from height without breaking. They’re always round.
  • ‘Cast’ – these are the plates you see in most gyms. Made from a cast metal, they are often then rubberised. They’re usually round but occasionally you’ll see them with flat edges.
  • ‘Powerlifting’ – these are quite niche as they are only used in Powerlifting competition. They are very thin, usually steel and are always round. They’re not designed for dropping like bumper plates. Unless you train in a powerlifting gym you’re unlikely to come across them.
  • ‘Fractionals’ – these are the small plates used to increase weight by small increments. They’re usually found in 0.5, 1, 1.25, 1.5, 2 and 2.5kg increments. Most commercial gyms will usually only stock 1.25 and 2.5kg fractionals.

gym equipment

Cardio Equipment

Cardio kit is widely varied but I usually stick to 3 for my clients…

  • Treadmills – indoor running machines that allow the runner/walker to vary their workout. They can do this by increasing speed and/or incline. Treadmills will often have pre-set workouts built in as an option.
  • Crosstrainers – these are designed to mimic a cross-country skiing action. They’re usually used if a person struggles with pain through impact and have to avoid the treadmill. Your workout intensity can be varied by increasing the speed you work at or the resistance of the machine.
  • Rowers – as you’d expect, these are designed to mimic rowing a boat! There’s more in the way of technique, but they are an effective workout and a great warm up.
  • Steppers, Bikes, VersaClimbers and Ski-Ergs are also popular, but not as widespread as the three listed above.

gym equipment

Gym Equipment Basics

Hopefully thanks to this article you’ll have learned a lot more about gym equipment and the fundamental aspects to each piece. You’ll know the difference between types of plates, dumbbells, barbells etc.

Once you understand the different types of gym equipment and their uses, you’ll never be fazed in the gym again. Much of the gym kit you see in commercial facilities is unnecessary and all of the kit you need for an amazing workout is listed above.

The fundamentals of fitness are quality movements, executed well and executed frequently. You don’t need a lot of gym equipment for that, just the right kind!

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