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23 October 2020

Weights and weight bench buying guide

Our expert weight and weight bench buying guide reveals the health benefits of using weights, offers tips for beginners to weight training and gives our pick of popular weight sets and benches
Weight-bench-2
JH
Jade Harding

For many, weights are a home gym staple. They allow you to work a range of muscle groups, while a weight bench provides support and safety for your body. 

Weight training isn't just for bodybuilders. As well as building muscle strength, working with weights can improve your balance, posture and coordination.  

But you need to pick the right weights and bench for your training. Should you opt for a basic flat weight bench or go for an all-singing, all-dancing Olympic model for your home gym? This will all depend on your fitness ambitions, space and budget.  

Below, we explain the benefits of weight training and reveal essential features and popular weight sets and benches.

How to buy the best weights and weight bench for home use

When shopping for the best weights and weight bench for home use, consider the type of training you do, price and space.

You’ll need to think about your fitness goals. A weight bench is not essential for weight training, particularly if space is tight and you're using lighter weights more for tone, balance and posture than to build muscle. You can buy a set of fixed weight dumbbells for as little as £20 or £30 from the likes of Argos or Amazon. Individual pairs of dumbbells can be even cheaper. 

However, a weight bench can provide support and allow you to safely work a wider range of muscles. For beginners, a flat weight bench should be good enough. If you want to incorporate a variety of workouts, or you like to lift barbells, you’ll ideally need a more versatile utility or Olympic weight bench.

Budget is also crucial when picking a weight bench. A bigger budget typically means a sturdier bench with more features and add-ons. But if you want something a little cheaper, there are plenty of decent benches – you’ll just be more limited to what exercises you can do.

Weight bench sizes can vary drastically, so make sure you check the dimensions. Trying to squeeze a huge Olympic weight bench into a tiny space won’t leave you any room to actually train. Some are foldable, which is great if you need to keep equipment stowed away when it’s not in use.

Our expert advice focuses on weight benches suitable for home use, so not all our recommendations will have the same features you might find on benches at the gym. Don’t worry, though, we’ve still found plenty of impressive models that will get your muscles working.   

Benefits of weight training

Weightlifting, strength training, resistance workouts – call it what you will. But essentially it means using weights for exercise, and it's a fantastic way to improve your health that can complement cardiovascular workouts on an exercise bike or cross trainer.

In fact, the NHS recommends doing at least two muscle strengthening exercises a week.

Weightlifting benefits include:

  • Weight loss – it increases lean body mass and EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), which will burn more calories while you’re resting.
  • Improves balance, posture and coordination – stronger muscles can support your body more easily.
  • Boosts energy and improves your mood – physical activity that increases your heart rate and blood flow will release endorphins and raise energy levels.
  • Toned and defined muscles – you can focus on different muscles with different workouts.
  • Slows down the rate of bone and muscle loss associated with ageing – by building the muscle and stressing the bones, weight training will improve bone density.
  • Improves your athletic ability – strengthening muscles will improve your form while doing other exercises and increase endurance.
  • Increases the strength of connective tissue, muscles, and tendons – which in turn can help prevent injuries

Yoga is great for toning and improving balance, too. Here's our yoga mat and accessories buying guide

What you need to get started

All you really need to get started is a set of weights. There are plenty of exercises you can do while standing or sitting, so you hardly need any space at all. 

If you wish, you could also invest in a basic, flat weight bench. There are plenty of great workouts you can do using this starter equipment.

If you want to work a variety of different muscles and you’re a little more experienced with weight training, a utility or Olympic bench might be worth trying instead. They’re pricier, but you can buy one with different add-ons and adjustments, or get a modular bench that you can add to as and when.

Some popular weight bench features to look out for include:  

  • Adjustable seats and back rest – work out with a decline, incline or flat angle to target different muscles efficiently.
  • Storage rack – for your weights.
  • Barbell rack – this will need to be sturdy with a height adjuster.
  • Raised front stabiliser – to keep your feet from lifting.
  • Preacher attachment – for forearm and bicep curls. You’ll need weight plates to attach.
  • Leg developer attachment – for leg curls and leg extensions.
  • Leg press attachment – for leg presses and calf raises.
  • High pulley stations – for a variety of movements including pulldowns, tricep pushdowns and abdominal crunches.

Once you’ve picked your bench you’ll need to choose the right weights to use with it. For a basic flat bench or utility bench, a set of dumbbells will be enough to get you going.

However, if you get an Olympic bench or a rack attachment, you’ll also need to get a weight set with a barbell. Make sure the length of the barbell is wide enough to fit the rack of your bench.

Here's some more advice on how to set up a home gym.

What to look for when buying weights

Weight types and prices

There are three main types of weight.

1 Dumbbells

Dumbbells are handheld weights used for a variety of workouts and static muscle training. They often come in pairs, with each weight designed to be held in a single hand. There are two types:

  • Fixed weight dumbbells – handheld pre-set weights, starting at 1kg. A great option for beginners.
  • Adjustable dumbbells – allow you to change the weight of each set of dumbbells. They will come with a variety of weight plates that you can change manually.

Dumbbell weights start at 1kg. If you want to use them during a HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout, 5kg should be plenty. You’ll need more for bodybuilding. For home use you’ll probably look for weights up to 40kg.

If you’re new to weight training, try using things you can find at home as a substitute to dumbbells to get an idea of the weight sizes you’ll need. Bottles of water and cans work well.

Rubber weights can be a great choice for a home gym. Rubber will be less likely to get scratched and chipped and is designed to be quieter if dropped on the floor. Look for ones with a neoprene coating – this will be softer on your hands than other materials, such as chrome.

You can buy fixed rubber dumbbells for as little as £20 per set. But you’ll either be limited to a few pre-set weight sizes or you’ll have to buy lots of sets to get a variety of weights, which can cause problems with storage and increase the costs.

If you want a variety of weight sizes but don’t have the money or space for a full set of fixed weights, then adjustable dumbbells will be a cheaper option, albeit slightly less convenient.

You can buy these for around £30. But there are sets that offer wider bars, softer grips and more weight sizes for as much as £200.

2 Barbells

Barbells are essentially adjustable dumbbells but with a longer bar to sit the plates on. They’re much larger, as they're designed to be used with both arms at once, and you’ll need a rack to store them at home.

You’ll typically get 15kg or 20kg weights with different length bars. Check the width of your bar fits the bar rack on your bench before buying.

For home use a standard bar width (5ft) should be fine. If you’re more experienced you might prefer an Olympic bar (7ft). Normally found in gyms, these are longer and heavier and can hold much bigger weights.

Check the size of your weight plates beforehand, too. Standard weight plates will have a 1-inch centre hole and an Olympic plate will have a 2-inch centre hole. You can’t mix and match.

If you want a barbell, then you’re better off buying a set with weight plates than fixed weight versions.

You can buy a vinyl set for as little as £40. These should be fine for beginners. However, vinyl is less dense compared to cast iron so to get a heavier weight it will be far more bulky. And, if dropped, vinyl is more likely to crack.

If you want to train with heavier weights, cast iron sets will be pricier but more suited to your needs.

Olympic barbells are the most expensive but can be a great investment. This is because they are made of steel, are typically longer (around 7ft), much heavier and very durable. You can spend as much as £1,000 on these.

3 Kettlebells

Kettlebells are steel or cast iron weights that look like a flat-bottomed cannonball with a handle. These weights are normally used without a weight bench.

Kettlebells come in a variety of weights, ranging from around 2kg to 40kg. The weight you'll need will depend on your fitness and strength levels. Beginners should start with weights between 2kg and 16kg. 

While the shape of dumbbells means that they're held at their centre of gravity, the U-shaped handle of kettlebells means that the centre of gravity can change depending on how you hold them. 

And while dumbbells focus more on slow and controlled movements, kettlebells can be used in a number of ways, using multi-directional movements. Typically, dumbbells are focused more on building strength and muscle, while kettlebells also focus on power and endurance. 

You can hold a kettlebell with one hand or two hands and perform a variety of exercises, including the 'two arm swing' and single arm deadlifts. 

Always look for a comfortable handle when picking your kettlebell. Exercises are repetitive and a rough handle will start to hurt your hands. Weights with seams down the middle can really rub. Instead, try ones with a neoprene coating. 

Make sure the handle is big enough for your hands too. They can range in diameter from around 30mm to 38mm. 

The prices will depend on weight and material. You can buy a 8kg vinyl kettlebell for as little as £15, but vinyl and plastic weights can crack if dropped and will be slippery in your hands. Cast iron and rubber kettlebells will start at around £25. 

For sets, expect to pay between £30 and £600, depending on the quality of the materials. 

Weight storage

Adjustable weight plates or sets are ideal if you’re short on space and want to train with a variety of sizes.

The plates are easy to stack, and you can buy a weight rack to hang them on. Some weight benches will also come with a rack attached.

Many fixed dumbbell sets will come in a tower, which is great if you only plan to use three or four different sizes – any more and storage can become tricky.

Where to buy weights

Popular shops that sell weight sets include:

Three popular weights sets

We don't currently test weight sets but JLL, Opti and York are some of the most searched-for weight set brands at the time of writing. Below is a selection of different types and styles from those picks.

1. JLL Neoprene Covered Kettlebells

  • Price: From £20 for a 4kg weight to £88 for a 24kg weight
  • Available from: Amazon
  • Type: Kettlebells 
  • Weights: 2kg to 24kg

These cast iron kettlebells have a neoprene covered base, which should help to protect your floor and the weight if you drop it. Each weight size comes in a different bright colour.

Weight sizes start at 2kg, which is great if you're a beginner and you want to start off with something slightly lighter, and go up to 24kg.

This range is pricier than some budget weights, but the kettlebells are made of more durable materials than vinyl and plastic alternatives. 

2. Opti Vinyl Barbell and Dumbbell Set

  • Price: £34.99
  • Available from: Argos
  • Type: Adjustable dumbbell and barbell
  • Max weight: 30kg

 

This weight set is great for beginners. You get both dumbbells and barbells, with a maximum weight of 30kg.

Only suitable for a standard-width rack, you’d ideally need a utility bench with a rack attachment to use the barbell safely.

The vinyl material isn’t as durable as iron and can be more bulky but it’s a decent starter set.

3. York 20kg cast iron dumbbell spinlock set

  • Price: £59.99
  • Available from: Sweatband
  • Type: Adjustable dumbbells
  • Max weight: 20kg

 

Made in durable and dense cast iron, these adjustable dumbbells offer a good amount of weight for all levels of fitness – you can change the plates to increase and decrease intensity.

Be careful you don’t drop them as they can easily damage your floor.

What to look for when buying a weight bench

Weight bench types and prices

There are three main types of weight bench. Heavier weightlifters should check the maximum user and lifting weights supported. 

1 Flat weight benches

As the name suggests, these are flat benches that cannot be adjusted. You can use a flat weight bench with a freestanding rack for bench presses, if you wish. 

You can buy a flat bench for just £30, although spending a bit more will get you a sturdier model. £100 and upwards should mean you get a durable, robust bench with wheels and handles for easy portability, and better-quality cushioning.

Pros

  • Typically the cheapest type of weight bench
  • Suitable for beginners
  • Easier to transport – especially ones with wheels or handles

Cons

  • Less versatile as you cannot adjust for different workouts
  • You can't work lots of different muscles as efficiently as with other benches

2 Utility weight benches

Also known as ‘adjustable weight benches’, these can be adjusted to incline up or down or set in a seated position to allow for a wider range of exercises. You can also get benches with a variety of attachments depending on your fitness goals.

Some cheap utility benches cost as little as £50, but may be less sturdily built and only offer a small range of adjustments.

Benches costing between £100 and £400 will offer a greater variety of adjustments and add-ons, plus better build quality.

Pros

  • Can be used by beginners and advanced trainers
  • Extremely versatile – can be used for lots of workouts
  • Build as you go – many benches are modular so you can add attachments as your fitness journey progresses

Cons

  • Can be less stable than flat benches
  • Some utility weight benches may not be suitable to use with very heavy weights

3 Barbell weight benches

These are either flat or adjustable benches with a permanent barbell rack attached. Non-adjustable barbell weight benches will limit the range of exercises you can do. They can come in three different sizes: standard rack, mid-size rack and Olympic rack.

Standard racks hold bars around 5ft and are suitable for beginners. Mid-size racks are typically more robust and designed for bars around 6ft. Olympic benches will only fit 7ft bars and are what you would find in commercial gyms.

Standard-width benches will cost between £150 and £300, mid-size between £250-£450 and Olympic between £300 and £1,000.

Price will depend on a number of factors, including build quality, cushioning, additional features, storage options and add-ons.

Pros

  • Durable and robust, these solidly constructed benches can support the lifting of heavier weights
  • Olympic benches are ideal for advanced users
  • Add-ons and attachments are available for some benches

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Tend to be bulkier so will be less suitable for smaller spaces

Weight bench storage

If you’re short on space and you need to stow the bench away when you’re not using it, look for a foldable model. Some models will fold completely flat so you can put the bench in a cupboard or rest it safely against a wall.

If you want to keep the bench set up permanently, it’s worth looking for a model that has a storage compartment for weights. 

Where to buy weight benches

To make sure you're buying a weight bench that's well built and safe to use, only shop with trusted sellers online or in-store.

Check the retailer's returns policy and pay attention to customer feedback and reviews. 

For more details on shopping online safely and arranging refunds for faulty equipment, see our advice on shopping online.

Popular shops that sell weight benches include:

Discover the best online shops and websites to buy from, based on thousands of shoppers' experiences. 

Three popular weights benches

We don't currently test weight benches but Opti and Men's Health are some of the most searched-for weight bench brands at the time of writing. Below are some different types and styles from those picks.

1. Opti Weight Lifting Bench

  • Price: £39.99
  • Available from: Argos
  • Type: Utility weight bench
  • Foldable? Yes
  • Size: Height 114cm, Length 114cm, Width 42cm

 

This basic, adjustable weight bench from Argos can be adapted for inclined, declined and flat workouts.

It’s light and foldable, which makes it ideal for people planning to keep the bench stowed away when not in use.

It's a good option for those starting out with weight training, but it won’t be suitable for people wanting to lift really heavy weights. 

Opti offers other weight benches, including a slightly pricier utility bench with an integrated dumbbell storage rack.

2. Men's Health Ultimate Workout Bench

  • Price: £74.99
  • Available from: Argos
  • Type: Utility weight bench
  • Foldable? No
  • Size: Height 190cm, Length 1151cm, Width 62.5cm

This Men's Health utility bench has six different seat adjustments, allowing for upright, flat, inclined and declined positions. 

The bench incorporates a foot rest to hold your feet during sit ups, and a 'preacher pad', which can help with bicep curls.

It's not foldable, so bear this in mind if you have limited space. 

How much space do you need to weight train at home?

The amount of space you need to weight train at home will really depend on the exercises you’re doing and the bench you buy.

For basic weight training using a flat bench you’ll need at least 6ft by 6ft. If you opt for a utility bench with attachments or an Olympic bench, you’ll need around 10ft by 7ft, give or take.

Always check the dimensions of the bench and attachments before buying and add in around one or two square feet around it so you can move easily.

Tips for beginners weight training at home

Weight training is a great way of improving your fitness and overall health, but only when it’s done properly. Using heavy weights incorrectly or with poor form can lead to injuries.

Stay safe and improve the effectiveness of your workouts with these weight training tips.

Warm up before your weight session with a brisk indoor walk or a gentle jog - take a look at our treadmill buying guide

How we selected prices and retailers 

Retailers and gym equipment chosen based on popular UK search terms and availability. Prices correct as of 22 October 2020 and obtained from manufacturer's own website where possible; otherwise, obtained from third-party retailers listed on Google Shopping.