If you're just starting resistance training, we simply can't think of a better home gym than the Body-Solid EXM-1500S (Est. $900) . This home gym doesn't offer a squat or leg press station, but the single, 160-pound weight stack goes a lot farther than you might think. Bodybuilders or serious lifters, however, will not feel challenged. The EXM-1500S offers an excellent combination of high-quality parts that fit together easily, along with clear assembly instructions, and a well-deserved reputation for fantastic customer service.
The Body-Solid EXM-1500S isn't quite perfect. A few taller users felt a little cramped when doing lat pulldowns. Although reviewers say the EXM-1500S' assembly instructions are great, you should still plan on at least four to six hours to put it together.
With a street price of about $900, the Body-Solid EXM-1500S provides a lot of bang for your buck, but if you're looking for serious lifting equipment and can spend a little more, the Powertec Workbench LeverGym (Est. $1,000) offers between 200 and 500 pounds of plate-loading resistance, depending on the exercise. The downside is that users have to provide the Olympic weight plates themselves. (Expect to spend around $1 per pound on the plates, although this can vary widely.)
Despite not including the weights, the LeverGym remains a great value and earns several personal trainer recommendations for serious lifters. The U-shaped press arm, which does not cross the plane of your body, means you can lift heavy weights to failure without fear of being squashed, and a removable pin lets you move the two press arms separately (isolateral movement) as well as together.
That said, the LeverGym's warranty is slightly inferior to the Body-Solid EXM-1500S', and we didn't find many reviews of Powertec's customer service. The EXM-1500S has a lifetime warranty. The Powertec LeverGym also has a lifetime warranty on its frame, but the bearings and springs are only covered for two years; pads, grips and other unspecified parts receive one year of coverage. However, its lack of pulleys means the LeverGym needs very little maintenance over time.
Finally, the single-station BodyCraft Xpress Pro (Est. $2,600) falls in the middle. The 200-pound weight stack offers more resistance than the Body-Solid EXM-1500S, and special cabling allows you to double the resistance for the press arm and an optional leg press attachment (about $700 extra). BodyCraft's reputation for sterling custom service rivals that of Body-Solid, and users say the BodyCraft Xpress Pro is sturdy and well built.
The BodyCraft Xpress Pro is an excellent choice if you love the Body-Solid EXM-1500S but want more resistance and are willing to spend almost three times the cost of the EXM-1500S. If you're intent on simplicity and want the greatest potential challenge, however, aim for the Powertec Workbench LeverGym.