January 16, 2022
Calisthenics may be the great equalizer of all workouts. Unlike traditional bodybuilding, calisthenics rely on one’s bodyweight with essentially no equipment, making them the ideal at-home workout. That said, there are some pieces of equipment that can truly improve the benefits of calisthenics, as well as increase the variety of exercises you can do at home, or on the go.
In this post we’ll briefly discuss calisthenics, then we’ll highlight 8 essential pieces of calisthenics equipment for your home gym, and the best exercises for each.
Calisthenics are exercises and movements that combine resistance training with aerobics, using (usually) only one’s own bodyweight. Some examples of calisthenics would be pull-ups, headstands, and levers.
Most exercise programs tend to focus on traditional resistance training with weights and machines. Calisthenics can be seen as superior to traditional body-building in spite of the lack of weights or equipment. In fact, some calisthenics exploit body movements to maximize eccentric and concentric contractions and ranges of motions that machines would typically prohibit.
No matter your fitness goals or level, you are sure to benefit from calisthenics, whether alone or as part of a more complex routine.
If you truly want to get the most out of your new-found love of calisthenics, we suggest you pick up a few pieces of equipment. The right equipment will help you perform MORE calisthenics with BETTER form and range of motion. This will yield more consistent results and keep you in top shape with seemingly little effort, and, best of all, from the comfort of your own home.
Here we’ll share the 8 best pieces of calisthenics equipment for use in your home gym. We’ll describe what the equipment is, and why you need it.
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The most essential and versatile piece of calisthenics equipment are gymnastic ring(s). Rings support nearly every exercise and integrate well with other tools.
Rings are made of wood or plastic (get wood) and have long straps attached. You tie or wrap the strap around bars, beams, even tree branches. You can adjust the straps to change the distance of the rings from the ground, which is a necessity for a few ring-based movements.
Why You Need Them: Rings will help you unlock calisthenics movements, and understand how to truly use the body. Rings can accelerate gains in strength and size, and improve balance and coordination. While rings may seem like a commitment, they truly are worth it; they’re the most versatile and effective piece of equipment you can own. If you’ve been exercising regularly, you’ll welcome the change and the challenge. If you’re new to calisthenics, or even working out, you’ll be happy about this decision.
Here are some of the most common, and challenging, ring movements:
These gymnastic rings have an adjustable cam buckle and are rated for up to 1500lb. The rings are non-slip with straps that are 14.76 ft long. Perfect for working out at home or at the gym!
Probably the most standard piece of exercise equipment, and one of the most effective, the pull-up bar needs little introduction. There are a few things worth considering when picking out a pull-up bar, so let’s dive in.
Pull-up bars are pretty simple – a reinforced bar with padded or gnarled grips. The most common kind have a variety of handles and can be mounted from a door frame without any tools. These are ideal as you can perform pull-ups with a variety of positions for maximum benefit. Simpler bars lack extra handles and fasten into doorframes with adjustable screws on either end. Finally, there are stall bars. These are a bit more heavy duty – they resemble a short, wide ladder with multiple pull-up bars. You can usually find these at the gym as part of a larger system or machine. We recommend the standard bar, like the Perfect Pull-Up. It will suit all your needs from the comfort of your own doorway.
Why you need one: As mentioned, the pull-up bar is a must have for any home gym. With a pull up bar, you can master the basics of both traditional exercises and calisthenics. Pull-up bars are literally the backbone of back exercises, and work the arms and shoulders in in parallel. Some pull up bars also function as dip bars, and you can attach resistance bands or suspension trainers to add get the most out of your it.
In either case, not many pieces of equipment share the utility of the pull-up bar: from pull-ups to rows, to chin-ups and leg lifts, even muscle-ups – this lightweight bar can transform your home into something that rivals Gold’s Gym.
Related: Chin-Ups vs Pull-Ups Muscles Worked
Yet another standard, parallettes are basically scaled down parallel bars. They support a host of fundamental calisthenics movements, particularly sits and pressing movements.
Parallettes may come in pairs or as a single piece of equipment. They are usually highly portable and can be easily packed away. But, not all parallettes are alike: their height and construction materials may differ and might even impact your workout. Wood tends to be the material of choice, as it provides the best grip and quality. Metal and plastic aren’t far behind in terms of durability and quality, with plastic being a bit more portable. With parallettes, height matters too. Taller paralletttes support a variety of movements, but aren’t as portable, or stable. Short parallettes – anything lower than 10” tall – are very stable, but their height may inhibit your range of motion for certain movements.
The last thing to consider is the parallette’s base - the base will determine stability, and impacts portability. A broader, solid base is idea, but means you may have to sacrifice portability.
Why you need them: Parallettes support a variety of pushing movements such as push-ups, dips, L-sits, handstands, and planches, and with a greater range of motion and more support than without. If you combine parallettes with a pull-up bar, you’ll have a near complete home gym that will really maximize your progress!
Tip: invest in good quality, sturdy parallettes that can support your body. Anything wooden, or metal with 1” bars and a solid base will be a good start.
Resistance bands are an essential, versatile piece of equipment for calisthenics, but are also useful for traditional lifting.
Resistance bands are thick, heavy duty bands with varying levels of resistance. The best bands are long, closed loops as they’re designed to support body weight and dynamic exercises. These bands are a good choice for almost all fitness levels.
Why you need them: As mentioned above, resistance bands are great for supporting body weight exercises, and act as an alternative to normal weights. Bands are great for supporting stretching, as well as moderate warm ups and cool downs. Obviously bands can be the perfect companion for calisthenics as they can attach to equipment to increase resistance, or add support. In addition to calisthenics, resistance bands are great for adding resistance to more common exercises like push-ups and pull-ups.
Read this page for more on the benefits of resistance bands and how you can use them.
An ab roller doesn’t really seem to fit the bill of calisthenics equipment, but trust us, once you add this to your routine, you’ll be glad you did.
The ab wheel is exactly what it sounds like – a little wheel with handles. The wheel usually supports linear movements. This is different from sit-ups or crunches as the abdominals stay contracted throughout the movement. The ab wheel really only varies in the size of the wheel: bigger wheels offer more stability, but are also harder to stow for travel.
Why you need one: This device is deceptively challenging, and will humble even the strongest man or woman. Ab wheels allow you to engage your core differently than traditional sit-ups and crunches; the wheel allows you to perform rotational movements that traverse multiple planes of the body, thereby engaging the abs and the many other muscles of the core through static and dynamic movements. No matter the size, the wheel allows you to maximize eccentric and concentric contractions with movements like planches, tucks and pikes, and kneeling rollouts. You can twist from side to side to add an extra challenge, or kick the leg out and try these bird-dog style.
Related: Best Bodyweight-Only Core Exercises
A weight vest is great way to add varying levels of resistance to any exercise quickly. Weighted vests can help you improve muscular and cardiovascular endurance without adding an additional exercise.
Weighted vests resemble body armor worn by soldiers (I remember my LBV on deployment!), and come in two flavors – internal and external weights. Internally weighted vests use thin, weighted plates that you insert into the front and back of the vest. These are nice to manage, but the weights are not adjustable, and these tend to be harder to find. Externally weighted vests come with a series of pockets or flaps that hold individual weights. These are ideal: you can adjust the weight with ease and they’re more comfortably to wear.
Why you need one: As mentioned, you can add a weight vest to nearly any exercise for added benefit. Weight vests can improve cardiovascular capacity, increase bone density and muscular development, and improve balance. You can look into alternatives such as ruck sacks and portable sand bags, but vests are really the best.
In terms of exercises, you can really do any body weight exercise with a vest, like jumping jacks, jumping rope, squats, push-ups, dups, pull-ups. We’d recommend avoiding complex movements with a vest as it can be limit range of motion. Weight vests are an alternative, and supplement, to resistance bands, as they allow you to add resistance without changing the angle or leverage needed in a given movement.
Related: 9 Weighted Vest Benefits
Speed ropes are jump ropes with a slightly shorter, heavier rope, and thick, comfortable handles. Technically any jump rope will do, but speed ropes add an extra challenge.
Why you need one: Speed ropes are an essential piece of equipment for calisthenics as they can improve speed and agility, and add variety to your workouts. They can also improve balance and agility, two factors that are essential to performing calisthenics. Plus, speed ropes let you add some good old cardio to your workout without running. For added complexity, include some double-unders or cross-overs.
A power tower is the all-in-one calisthenics home gym. These towers are designed to support and consolidate a variety of exercises and pieces of equipment.
Power towers come in a few shapes and sizes, but typically resemble a Roman Chair or Smith machine, but slighter. In either case, they feature vertical bars supporting a top mounted pull up bar. The racks are tall enough to hang gymnastic rings from, and advanced models include or can integrate dip bars and additional weights.
The main drawback of power towers is their size: you usually need a large space and solid floor to keep a power tower. There are smaller versions that work just as well. But if you have the space, then a power tower will be the last piece of equipment you need to keep you making excellent progress from the comfort of your own home.
Why you need one: Exercises on a tower are nearly endless. Next to rings, the power tower is the last frontier for calisthenics. While the tower may seem redundant when you have pull-up bars, parallettes, and rings, a tower will pull all these together. The tower serves as an anchor for other equipment, but also allows you to perform key movements like pull-ups, dips, and core work.
Related: Best Power Tower Exercises
This marks the end of our list. These pieces were chosen because they are the most widely used, effective, and available pieces of equipment for calisthenics. They are meant to be used with or without weights, and can be taken with you for your exercises on the move.
Aside from those pieces above, here are a few honorable mentions that you might want to consider to complete your home gym and bring your calisthenics to the next level:
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