Home gyms represent a considerable investment for most people, and you can expect to spend several thousand dollars for a high-quality gym machine. But is all this money really worth it? Reviews indicate that a home gym, even an expensive machine, can be a worthwhile investment if you know you'll use it. If you're serious about strength training and regularly use machines at the gym, a quality home gym can save you time and give you a great workout. On the other hand, if you don't have much to spend, experts advise investing in individual pieces of equipment, including several pairs of dumbbells, an exercise mat, stability ball, resistance bands and pull-up bar. This approach will save you a lot of money, and it's probably a safer bet than buying a cheap infomercial gym.
If you do decide to buy a home gym, you have two choices -- gyms with weight plates or those that use an alternative mechanism like rods or resistance bands. For serious weightlifters, experts recommend home gyms with weight plates, since they offer more resistance and provide a workout similar to what you would get at a commercial gym. These home gyms generally come with one or two weight stacks attached to a variety of workout stations, including a leg station for curls and extensions, a chest station for presses, and an abdominal station. Weights are attached to a cable-and-pulley system. The high-pulley station is designed for triceps pull-downs and shoulder exercises, while the low-pulley system can be used for biceps curls and leg exercises. Some gyms also have a mid-pulley station for upright rows. Home gyms with weight stacks can cost well over $3,000, but there are some good alternatives for around $1,000.
As an alternative to weight stacks, many home gyms use something other than weight plates to provide resistance. Bowflex home gyms, for instance, use rods that provide resistance when tension is applied, and some low-cost gyms use resistance bands and gravity to work your muscles. While these gyms are usually less expensive (often costing less than $1,000), many reviewers say they're less effective and smooth than gyms with weight plates. We also saw a few complaints that rods and resistance bands don't provide a consistent intensity throughout the exercise, as if the resistance doesn't "kick in" until the movement is almost completed. On a positive note, these gyms usually take up less space than those with weight plates.
There are very few professional reviews of home gyms. ConsumerReports.org hasn't tested home gyms in years, and even fitness publications don't devote a lot of attention to these products. As a result, user feedback is the best source of information on home gyms. Amazon.com, Buzzillions.com, Sears.com and Walmart.com have a good number of reviews, but some comments on these sites seem a little too enthusiastic. Fake user reviews are a problem for all types of products, but they're especially worrisome when it comes to home gyms due to the dearth of quality professional reviews to back up user opinions. When evaluating home gyms, ConsumerSearch focuses on the most credible user reviews; balanced analysis that discusses both pros and cons gets more weight than a gushing 5-star review. We also look for users who have written more than one review on a specific site or have a verified purchase on Amazon.com.