The best home gym has:
- Versatility. Any home gym should have at least a full-body range of strength exercises to work the arms, legs, abdomen and chest. Others can convert to rowing machines to offer a cardio workout as well.
- Expansion capabilities. It's great to start with lighter weights, especially if you're a beginner, but a good home gym will grow with you, giving you the ability to add weight or resistance as you get stronger.
- Adjustability. If you have more than one family member using the home gym, especially if there's a large size difference between users, be sure you can adjust the machine to fit various body types and sizes.
- Easy exercise changes. On some models, you have to disconnect and reconnect cables to switch from one exercise to another, but it should be easy enough to do that it doesn't interrupt your workout for long.
- Good assembly instructions. With the exception of glideboards, which come partially assembled, putting together a home gym can be quite a project. However, clear assembly instructions will make the job easier.
- A sturdy build. Home gyms have to lift and hold heavy weights and lift and hold your body. They should remain extremely stable while doing so.
- Available add-ons. Many of the top home gym manufacturers have options for adding additional "stations" to some home gyms to add a greater variety of exercises. However, this adds to the overall price and, sometimes, to the home gym's footprint.
- A detachable bench. This allows you to use the bench independently, as a weight bench for free weights or other exercises.
- A good warranty. Home gyms are made up of many moving parts, and the fact that they are constantly under stress when they're being used means they're subject to wear and tear. However, they should be durable enough to hold up well under those demands and the manufacturer should be confident enough in their product to offer an appropriate warranty.
Know before you go
How much space do you have? Although some home gyms fold to reduce their footprint (and some glideboard models can fold to store under the bed, at least theoretically), they're usually going to stay put after assembly. We also recommend that you measure -- and not just estimate -- your workout space so that you know exactly how much space you have to work with. And remember, it's not enough to account for the home gym's footprint; you also need to allow extra room for any moving parts and your body. Don't forget to measure for height, too.
What types of exercises do you want to do? If you just want to do strength training, almost any home gym will do just fine. If you'd like the whole package -- cardio and strength -- look for a machine that converts to a rower.
How much resistance do you need? Keep in mind that as you continue lifting weights, you're going to get stronger and need even more resistance to challenge yourself. So use your current maximum as a starting point, not the end point. A weight stack of 150 pounds might be enough for a light exerciser, but dedicated users will want more.
Do you want to assemble it yourself? Most retailers offer packages that, for a few hundred dollars more, include delivery and set up. This may be worth the extra price, especially if you have problems carrying heavy items -- some gyms come in two or more large boxes -- or simply can't take a few hours out of your schedule for assembly.
Can you try it out first? Home gyms are big, and often expensive, and can become the world's largest towel hanger very quickly if they aren't a good fit. We strongly recommended trying one out at a fitness or sporting goods store before buying.