There are two types of home gyms -- those that use weight plates and those that use an alternative system, like tension rods or resistance bands. Home gyms with weight plates are the best choice for serious exercisers, as they offer more resistance and more closely replicate the exercises you can do at a commercial gym. On the flip side, these gyms are more expensive and much heavier than other types of home gyms. Most have a single stack of weights with stations for performing different types of exercises. The weight stack is usually connected to a cable-and-pulley system that can be used for a variety of exercises. Some gyms include two weight stacks, which allows for multiple users.
Many home gyms don't use weight stacks for resistance, and they're usually less expensive and more portable. Some, like the Bowflex machines, use rods -- as you perform an exercise tension on the rod increases, which translates to increased resistance. You can add or subtract rods to increase or decrease the resistance levels. Other machines, especially models that cost only a few hundred dollars, use resistance bands that work with gravity and your body weight. These gyms usually have an incline bench so you can make the exercise easier or harder by adjusting the incline. While these units may be attractive because of their lower prices, serious exercisers should steer clear. Reviews indicate that these gyms can offer good toning benefits for beginners, but the weight is usually too light for more advanced lifters. We also saw numerous complaints that home gyms with rods or resistance bands don't have a consistent intensity through the range of motion, so you only feel the resistance at the very end of the exercise.
While many reviewers love their home gyms, you needn't buy a pricey machine to get an effective workout at home. Many experts recommend buying individual pieces of equipment instead, which will save you a lot of money over a complete home gym. Some of the essentials include several pairs of dumbbells, a pull-up bar, an exercise mat and a stability ball.
In addition, this shopping checklist will help you get the most from your home gym: