Home gyms are an excellent choice for keeping in shape in the convenience and privacy of your own home, because they offer a full-body strength training workout that can be done in a fairly short period of time. However, even inexpensive home gyms are quite large, so if you're short on space, we discuss Compact Home Gyms elsewhere in this report.
If you want a solid home gym that will go the distance, you won't find another one as highly rated as the Bowflex Blaze Home Gym (Est. $750). The Blaze uses Bowflex's patented Power Rod resistance, which increases resistance as you progress through the range of motion. The Power Rods take getting used to, users say, but the technology's fans applaud their smooth, quiet operation. The Blaze comes with 210 pounds of Power Rod resistance -- plenty for beginners -- and can be upgraded to 310 and 410 pounds. Each 100 pound upgrade costs about $100.
There are more than 60 configurations for exercise options on the Bowflex Blaze, although you have to do some fiddling with the cables to change things up. Some dislike the interruption, although making the change over is not difficult to do. The Bowflex Blaze can also convert to a rowing machine -- a very popular option with users, who say that it gives them an excellent cardio workout in addition to the full-body strength training. Users also like that the bench will lay fully flat so it can be used for other exercises as well.
The Bowflex Blaze receives very fewer user complaints regarding durability. This home gym is not available on the Bowflex website; it is manufactured by Bowflex for the retail market and is available elsewhere, including Amazon.com and Walmart.com.
The Body-Solid EXM-1500S (Est. $850) is a similarly priced home gym that also receives solid reviews. This home gym uses weight stack resistance. It doesn't offer a squat or leg press station, but the single, 160-pound weight stack goes a lot farther than you might think. The EXM-1500S offers an excellent combination of high-quality parts that fit together easily, along with clear assembly instructions, and the maker has a well-deserved reputation for fantastic customer service.
The Body-Solid EXM-1500S isn't quite perfect. A few taller users report that they felt a little cramped when doing lat pull downs. 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.
Both the Bowflex Blaze and 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. $1,200) 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 compared to similar equipment geared to serious lifters, and earns several personal trainer recommendations. The U-shaped press arm, which does not cross the plane of your body, means you can lift heavy weights without fear of serious injury in case of an accident, and a removable pin lets you move the two press arms separately (isolateral movement) as well as together.
With a very attractive price, the Bowflex PR1000 Home Gym (Est. $590) is an extremely popular home gym -- but you need to buy it now if you want it -- Bowflex has discontinued this model. Unlike the Blaze, additional resistance can't be added to the PR1000, and it offers only around 30 exercises as compared to the 60+ of the Blaze, but those who are more interested in general fitness and firming could not be happier with the PR1000. It's also easier to assemble than the more complex Blaze and has a slightly smaller footprint. Both the Blaze and the PR1000 fold up when not in use, although they're still not small machines.
Another popular, mid-priced home gym is the Marcy 150 Pound Weight Stack Home Gym (Est. $400). Reviewers almost unanimously say it's not for taller users, but if you're under 6-feet, this is a choice that is very smooth and has a good range of exercises along with a durable build. Its upper lifting weight limit is 150 pounds, so is more suitable for those who merely want a home gym as an overall addition to their exercise routine, as opposed to serious fitness or body-building buffs.
For those on the tightest of budgets, we strongly recommend that you take a close look at the Gold's Gym XRS20 (Est. $175). Yes, it's inexpensive, but not cheap, say reviewers. It's not for serious body builders, but if you want to build strength or firm up, it's a great choice. It features a 6-roll leg developer, a preacher curl attachment for working your arms, and a 600 pound weight capacity -- very high for a gym of its size. The XRS20 includes 9.5-inch spotters to provide support when doing bench presses or squats. The preacher curl attachment gets near-universal praise, but we saw complaints about the awkward design of the leg curl attachment.
This gym may be too small for taller users, but many parents say they bought the Gold's Gym XRS20 for their young athletes to use -- and it's popular with women and those of smaller stature. It can be used with a standard or Olympic-sized barbell and the detachable bench has a multi position incline and decline.
Elsewhere in this report: