Many fitness experts have opinions on the best gym equipment for losing body fat or growing muscle. Trends and fads regularly shift, and there’s always a new piece of gear in the spotlight.
But the truth is, the exercise methods you enjoy the most are your best bet for sticking to a regular fitness routine.
Don’t know what you enjoy yet? Here’s our guide to the best gym equipment and machines for losing weight and keeping it off based on different exercise methods.
What is the best exercise method for weight loss?
According to a medically reviewed article by the Mayo Clinic, diet seems more effective than physical activity for weight loss, as it’s easier to create an energy deficit by cutting down on calories.
However, they also state the importance of exercise in keeping the weight off once you’ve lost it.
Many experts agree that combining strength training and cardio is the most effective way to lose weight and improve your fitness in the long run. But finding an activity you enjoy and are therefore likely to sustain is the best strategy.
Say hiking is your favourite form of exercise, but you feel like you need to take up an intense form of cardio like HIIT training to lose weight.
In reality, there’s no reason you can’t reach and maintain your weight loss goals by simply eating within a calorie deficit and hiking outside of the gym.
We’ve listed the best gym equipment for cardio and strength training so you can get a taste of what’s out there before putting your exercise program together.
The best gym equipment for building strength
1. Free weights
Targeting your stabilising muscles is great for developing strength and good posture, alongside working the larger muscle groups.
Free weights do this automatically, as they challenge these additional muscle groups to keep your body balanced and your joints in place as you control the weights throughout each movement.
While a biceps curl machine is still beneficial for building strength, performing the same exercise with dumbbells would have a greater impact.
So, if you like a challenge, free weights could be the best gym equipment for building your strength!
Barbells consist of a bar around 5-6ft long weighing 6-10kg, that is then loaded with interchangeable weight plates depending on the lifter’s requirements.
They are typically used for compound exercises such as:
They look intimidating at first glance, but they’re not too different to dumbbells if you start with lighter plates and work your way up.
They’re incredibly versatile and allow you to lift heavier over time than other free weights. You may struggle to find a single dumbbell above 50kg in the gym, whereas you could easily load a barbell above this amount using plates.
You can still perform the above exercises using alternatives if you prefer, but barbell training could be a winner if you want to develop strength over time.
You can get a full-body strength workout using this gym equipment alone.
Dumbbells look like mini barbells, but they usually have a set weight ranging from 2-50kg.
Since they challenge both sides of the body when used in unison, they are one of the best gym equipment choices for fixing muscle imbalances, making them a good addition to your strength training routine.
They can be used for compound exercises but are especially effective for the accessory exercises that complement them by isolating and strengthening smaller muscle groups. These include:
You can use dumbbells for a full-body workout by performing variations of the compound exercises above alongside some accessory exercises to build strength in overlooked areas.
They’re accessible and versatile and can build strength alongside cardiovascular endurance training.
Related: 7 universal fitness myths (debunked)
Kettlebells are one of the best gym equipment choices if you want to train both strength and cardio simultaneously.
They differ from dumbbells as their weight is loaded beneath the handle rather than on either side.
Not only are you building strength, but you’re also activating your cardiovascular system.
Check out this guide to functional strength training with kettlebells to understand whether they’re the best gym equipment solution for your routine.
2. Push and pull-up bars
You may have heard of the push-pull workout split before—it’s an effective way of building muscle power without becoming too fatigued in your strength training sessions.
Pull and push-ups promote strength in the core, arms, shoulders, back, and stabilising muscles and are effective for developing functional strength.
3. Cable machine
Cable machines are often neglected by beginners, as using them isn’t as straightforward as picking up a dumbbell and getting straight into bicep curls. But they’re not complicated to use once you know how they work.
Unlike free weights, they provide consistent tension throughout each exercise and allow you to change the direction of resistance. They’re one of the best gym equipment choices to train your muscles from every angle.
Here’s a useful article to get you started with cable machines.
4. Leg press
We mentioned the push-pull workout method earlier. The leg press machine is one of the best pieces of gym equipment for your push days, alongside performing barbell squats, as it isolates the muscles in your legs without relying on balance.
You can progress to lifting a significant amount of weight with the leg press. It also helps you improve your deadlift sticking points by providing another opportunity for the lower body to push against heavy loads.
If you’re looking for the best gym equipment for weight loss, the leg press is good to consider since it’s great for building strength in the lower body.
Plus, the pin-loaded machines make it easy to track your progress, which could help you sustain your motivation in the long run.
5. Battle ropes
Battle ropes are a set of thick, heavy ropes ideal for getting a full-body workout—they target strength, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular endurance.
John Brookfield, the individual who created the training system for battle ropes, says that they’re the answer to a missing link in training for athletes.
They train speed and strength simultaneously at a constant pace, which is ideal for improving muscular endurance and strength, which isn’t easily achieved.
So, if you’re looking to partake in competitive sports or an activity like rowing or paddleboarding that requires muscular endurance, this could be one of the best gym equipment choices for your training.
The best gym equipment for cardiovascular endurance
Treadmills are undoubtedly one of the best gym equipment choices for cardio exercise.
Old school but effective if you enjoy using them, they provide a low-impact method of running that makes it easy to throw on your headphones and get going without worrying about traffic or other obstacles.
Consider setting a running goal for the year, such as completing 10K on the treadmill and mixing up your runs to help you reach that goal. You can try different types of runs, such as:
If you haven’t tried running, the NHS Couch to 5K plan is a good place to start.
Does the treadmill not cut it as your best gym equipment solution? We get it—they can feel a little monotonous if they’re the only form of cardio you get.
Elliptical machines are great if you want everything the treadmill can offer but in a way that mixes up your training.
They’re incredibly versatile, as you can grab the handles and work against the machine’s resistance with your arms to get an upper-body workout alongside running. Or you can switch direction and work backwards to challenge your muscles.
They’re also even easier on your joints than treadmills, as they have foot pedals rather than a flat running belt, so there’s less impact on your bones and joints.
You can read more about the benefits of elliptical machines here.
3. Stationary bike
This could be the best gym equipment for cardio sessions if you prefer cycling to running.
Stationary bikes can help you burn over 300 calories in a 30-minute session, ideal for weight loss when paired with a healthy calorie deficit.
But most importantly, they also provide a fun form of cardio thanks to their versatility—they can be used for interval training or long-distance rides, and you can even attend indoor cycling fitness sessions for extra motivation.
They’re also extremely convenient since you can use them in all seasons and weather conditions which you can’t always do when cycling outdoors, which may be helpful if you’re using them for weight loss.
4. Rowing machine
You don’t have to take up rowing to use this machine, but you’ll certainly feel like a rower once you’ve spent a few weeks tackling the total body workout it provides.
Alongside the cardiovascular benefits that rowing has, it also strengthens a variety of muscles, including:
Since the rowing motion relies on your legs propelling your body backwards and your arms simultaneously pulling against the resistance created by the machine, it builds muscular power and endurance over time.
Plus, the rowing motion can also be quite meditative and therapeutic when paired with good music or a podcast, which can benefit your well-being and motivation for sticking with your exercise program.
5. Hill climber
Hiking isn’t always referred to as a weight loss activity, but when paired with a healthy calorie deficit, it can hugely benefit your physical and mental health.
It increases your stability, aerobic fitness, and muscular endurance in the lower body and core and is also great for your well-being.
If you decide to take up hiking, the stair climber is the best gym equipment for preparing your body for walking uphill for a long duration.
It strengthens your hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, and glutes, alongside training your cardiovascular endurance, balance, and coordination.
Once you fall in love with walking in the countryside for sustainable weight loss, the desire to tackle longer routes and steeper hills will keep you focused and motivated when you’re in the gym, which is a win-win in the long run.
Specialist gym member insurance through Insure4Sport
If you’re starting a gym training plan this year, you may want to consider protecting yourself with specialist gym member insurance.
Unfortunately, as with most sports, gym workouts carry the risk of suffering an injury, which could not only stop you from exercising but also affect your ability to work for a period.
You can opt for Personal Accident and Loss of Earnings cover to help with unexpected costs so you can focus on getting back on track.