use various types of resistance
The amount and type of resistance your home gym offers will ultimately
define your user experience. This report includes models with each common type
of resistance for home gyms:
stacks are rectangular weight plates that are pulled vertically along a bar by
a cable, just like equipment at most gyms. Users slide a sturdy metal pin into
the stack to select how much weight to lift. This makes changing resistance
quick and easy, but you're limited by the stack's maximum weight.
loading requires users to heft the weight plates onto the machine's lever bars.
All the plate-loading machines in this report use Olympic weights, which have a
2-inch diameter hole in the middle of each plate. Plate-loading machines
usually have the greatest versatility, and are also capable of handling the
most weight -- perfect for a heavy lifter, but equally accessible for
resistance is Bowflex's proprietary
technology. It uses flexible rods that start out straight. As you move the home
gym's handles through the range of motion, you bend the rods. The more they
bend, the more resistance they offer. This is sometimes known as non-linear or
progressive resistance because the rods offer a progression of increased
resistance throughout the range of motion.
resistance uses your own body weight. Home gyms with this
resistance tend to be smaller, lighter and less expensive. To use these, you
sit or lie on a padded board that glides on parallel rails. Pulleys are mounted
at the top of the rails, and you pull on the cable handles to move the board.
The steeper you set the incline, the more your body weight works as resistance.
Ultimately, the only way to be sure a home gym is right for you is to
test it. Don't be shy about going to a local fitness equipment or sporting
goods store and trying out some of the floor models before you buy online. While
there, actually do the exercises, or at least make sure the machine is comfortable
to adjust and use. (Some home gym manufacturers offer a short trial return
window, but that's not exactly convenient. You have to put the gym together to
try it, which can take anywhere from two to 10 hours, depending on the model.
Then if you don't like it you have to disassemble it, repack everything in the
original packaging, and return it to the manufacturer at your expense -- all
within the limited trial period.)
Some home gyms arrive in multiple boxes but, even then, they're so large
and heavy that retailers may use specialty shippers. You might have to make an
appointment with the shipper to receive your package. Make sure you're there at
the appointed time, or you may be assessed delivery fees. Read the fine print
on the delivery agreement carefully to make sure you understand your
obligations. Often, you'll have to pay extra if you want the shipper to bring
the boxes inside. This "inside delivery" may be worth paying for;
otherwise, you might end up with a home gym in your driveway.
do you need to round out your home gym?
With a few exceptions, the purpose of a home gym is strength training.
For cardio, you'll need a different type of equipment, such as a treadmill, elliptical, stair climber or exercise bike. You might also
want to invest in a fitness tracker or heart rate monitor to keep
track of your progress, too. We cover all of these fitness products in separate
If you want a solid home gym that will go the distance,
you won't find another one as highly rated as the (Est. $720).
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 or
410 pounds. Upgrades cost roughly $80 to $90 per 100 pounds.
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
changes is not difficult to do. The Bowflex Blaze can also convert to a rowing
machine -- a very popular option with owners, 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, Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods.
The (Est. $770)
is a similarly priced home gym that also receives solid reviews. This home gym
uses weight stack resistance that goes up to 160 pounds. It doesn't offer a
squat or leg-press station, but the latter, the (Est. $160), is available separately and can be added on.
Reviewers say parts operate smoothly and assembly
(though time-consuming) is fairly easy, and the maker has a well-deserved
reputation for good customer service. A few reviewers say they feel the cables
aren't as strong as they should be, but by and large, owner feedback is
positive on this model.
Both the Bowflex Blaze and the Body-Solid Powerline BSG10X provide a lot
of bang for your buck, but if you're looking for serious lifting equipment and
can spend a little more, the (Est. $1,250) can handle up to
300 or 500 pounds of cable or press-arm resistance, respectively. The downside
is that users have to provide the weight plates themselves. Expect to spend up
to around $1 per pound on the plates, although this can vary widely.
Despite not including the weights, the Lever Gym Work Bench remains a
great value compared to similar equipment geared to serious lifters. 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.
mid-priced home gyms
With a very attractive price, the recently updated (Est. $500) is an extremely popular home gym. The upper resistance of the
Bowflex PR1000 is just 210 pounds (and there's no option to add weight to that
as there is with the Bowflex Blaze), but unless you're a serious fitness buff,
you're not going to need more than that.
The PR1000 is versatile enough to accommodate more than 30 exercises,
enough to work your whole body. There's also the option to use it as a rowing
machine for a cardiovascular workout as well. 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 (Est. $410). A few reviewers say it's not big
enough for taller users, but if you're under 6 feet, this machine is very
smooth and has a good range of exercises along with a durable build. Its upper
lifting 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.
The best compact home gyms
One thing that most home gyms have in common is that
they are big. Even home gyms described as "compact" might be more
than 3 feet wide and 5 feet long. That won't work if you live in a small
apartment, or have limited space in your home or designated gym area. Enter the
glideboard. A glideboard, or bodyweight gym, helps you use the weight of your
own body to provide resistance for strength training.
There are quite a few glideboards on the market, but
there are two in particular that are very well-known: the (Est. $160) and the (Est. $850). We review
the Total Gym in more depth in our (Est. $850) section, but reviewers
say if you want a glideboard, buy the Weider -- it's almost identical to the
Total Gym and you'll save hundreds of dollars.
With both of these home gyms you sit or lie atop a
board, or bench, that slides on inclined rails. Then you pull or push on pulley
cables to move the glideboard up the rails; your body weight acts as the
resistance. This type of exercise is easy, accessible and a satisfying
challenge for beginners. However, the pulleys' mechanical advantage means
you'll only ever lift a fraction of your body weight, so it's not for serious
body builders. However, for those who are just interested in establishing or
maintaining a baseline fitness level, the Weider gets some of the highest
ratings from reviewers of any type of home gym.
The Weider Ultimate Body Works has a set of resistance
bungees you can engage for up to 50 pounds of additional resistance, a feature
the Total Gym XLS lacks. It's no wonder so many users rave about the Ultimate
Body Works' value. Best of all, its small footprint means it'll fit just about
anywhere. It's also very quiet, without the clanking of weights that are a
feature of more traditional home gyms, so it won't disturb neighbors or other
family members. It folds down and, supposedly, can be pushed under a bed for
storage. However, most say the Ultimate Body Works is hard to move since it
doesn't have wheels, and you may have to partially disassemble it to fit it
under many beds.
We saw few complaints about durability with either the
Ultimate Body Works or the Total Gym. The Body Works has a super short, 90-day
warranty. The Total Gym goes one better with a lifetime frame warranty and six
months of coverage for parts. Both machines are easy to set up and use.
Expert & User Review Sources
Credible expert reviews of home gyms are hard to come by. However, the
editors of ConsumerSearch are dedicated, knowledgeable fitness buffs, and we
gathered the opinions of other exercise equipment owners to find the best home
gyms. The most valuable sources for those user reviews were Amazon, Walmart, Dick's Sporting Goods and Sears.