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Home Gym Buyers Guide

If youve been trying to find the right home gym and have been scratching your head trying to tell the difference between single stack gyms, leverage equipment, multi- user gyms and glide boards dont worry Im going to make your life a lot easier in just a few minutes.

Learn about gyms with my Home Gym Buyers Guide

The Exercise Equipment Experts guide to finding the best home gym was put together by a Nationally Certified Personal Trainer to help answer all your questions about home gyms banging around inside your head, and even some that you havent thought of yet.

Well start off covering the basics of home gym design, and then jump into some more advanced topics. Then when youre up to speed, Ill give you some shopping scenarios based on certain types of potential home gym buyers, and show you which gyms are the right fit for anyone from beginners to body builders.

Are you ready to get your home gym degree in 15 minutes flat? Good! Lets get started by covering the basics first

To help you understand what type of gym is right for your needs, you have to establish some basic parameters about what youre goals and needs are, or youll start to get overwhelmed looking through piles of specifications and features not knowing what they mean or if theyre relevant to you.

This first step is the most important. If you take only one lesson from my guide, let this be the one you remember. If you just skim over it quickly without putting some thought into it youll pay for it in the long run by wasting your money on the wrong equipment and end up discouraged.

*** Take out a piece of paper and clearly define the following items to Establish Your Needs and Goals

  • Goals: Are you trying to lose weight? Gain muscle? Tone Up? Enter a body building show? Look good at the beach or pool?
  • Number of Users: How many people will be using the machine? Do you want to workout with another family member or friend at the same time? How many people will use the gym on a daily basis?
  • Space Requirements: How much space do you have for a home gym? Can you make more space? Are you planning on the future if the gym grows in size or scope or you add an attachment like a leg press?
  • Special Needs: Do you have a physical limitation or injury? Are you training for a sport? Do you live in a home where noise is a concern?
  • Budget: What is your budget? Is your budget realistic and in line with your goals? How soon will the gym pay for itself as opposed to health club membership?

Types of Home Gyms

The blessing, and the curse of the home gym shopper is the overwhelming variety of home gym models on the market. If there were only two kinds of gyms your choice would be easy.

Unfortunately thats not the case, theres a constant supply of new equipment on the market every year that claims to be bigger, better and badder. So whats the average person to do?

The first step is to get yourself educated about what you’re investing in so you can focus on a gym that will deliver the results you want. And if havent done so already, go back and establish your needs and goals (above) before moving on.

Here are the basic types of home gyms you have to choose from, along with a picture and short description of each so you can put a name with a face (so to speak):

Single Stack Home Multi-gym

A single stack home gym like the Bodycraft Xpress Pro is a compact single station home gym. The stack part of the name comes from the built-in 200 lb. Weight stack thats adjustable in 10 lb. Increments.

Who Its Good For: One or two person household, beginners to advanced. Also found in many corporate gyms and hotels because of its versatility and small size.

Category: General strength training, sports training (depending on model).

Glide Board Gym

The glide board gym was made famous by Total Gym on their late night infomercials. The gym pictured here is the Total Trainer Power Pro with attachments.

Resistance is supplied from gravity and 5-70% of the users own body weight as the glide board is raised or lowered on the rear tower. Some models can use standard weight plates on a built-in weight bar for additional resistance of about 100 pounds.

Who Its Good For: Single user only, beginners to advanced. Also found in some clinical settings because of its rehabilitation applications.

Category: General conditioning, light to moderate strength training, stretching.

Leverage Gym

Leverage gyms like this Body Solid Leverage System are a newer form of strength and power training machine. All leverage machines are plate loaded and use Olympic style plates (2 hole diameter).

Leverage gyms have high weight ratings for power training and body building applications or any form of home muscle building application.

Who Its Good For: Single or multiple users for power training, body building or serious muscle building. Safe for single user home use because of the self spotting design.

Category: Muscle building, power training, body building. Resistance Bands

Resistance Bands

Resistance bands like the Bodylastics shown here are a compact portable home gym with adjustable resistance supplied by surgical grade tubing. Useful for full range of motion exercises by themselves or adjunct training along with a traditional home gym.

Who Its Good For: Single user only. Good for home use, travelers, road warriors and trainers with extremely limited space and budget. Additional uses include post injury training and rehabilitation due to the smooth resistance.

Category: Light strength training, sports training, stretching. Smith Machine

Smith Machine

Traditionally used for hardcore muscle building, the Smith Machine has found its way into thousands of homes for general strength training and muscle building. It can be outfitted with attachments like a lat tower, cable crossover and low pulleys for almost unlimited applications including core and sports training.

Who Its Good For: Single or multiple users from beginner to advanced for muscle building, body building, sports training and power development.

Category: Strength training, body building, power training.

Multi-Station Home Gym

Multi-Station Gym

When most people think of a home gym this is what they think of. Multiple, dedicated workout stations for circuit training, muscle building and general conditioning.

Multi-gyms offer almost unlimited exercise variety with club style features and great ergonomics for single or multiple users at the same time.

Who Its Good For: Single or multiple users from beginner to advanced for muscle building, body building, sports training and core training.

Category: Strength training, muscle building, general fitness, sports training. Individual Workout Station

When youre ready to step up to a full home gym experience, home gym stations are the way to go. Each separate station (like the lat machine pictured above) has a dedicated purpose and function for working one muscle group only.

Combine multiple stations like a leg press, bench press, lat machine, weight bench, seated row and a dumbbell set for a home gym that rivals any health club.

Who Its Good For: Single or multiple users from beginner to advanced. People looking for the health club experience at home.

Category: Strength training, muscle building, general fitness, sports training, power lifting, stretching (all categories).

Functional Trainer (Cable Cross Over)

With the advent of core and functional training, the compact cable crossover machine like the Bodycraft Functional Trainer pictured here have become much more prevalent in home gyms across the country.

Cable crossover machines come outfitted with a plate loaded or selectorized stack weight carriage and multi-position pulley points for tons of exercise variety with accessories like a stability ball or exercise ball.

Who Its Good For: Single or multiple users from beginner to advanced. Ideal for high and low pulley workouts, core training and functional training with an exercise or stability ball.

Category: Strength training, muscle building, general fitness, sports training, power lifting, stretching (all categories).

Squat Rack / Power Rack

As muscle building and home strength training have become more accepted in recent years, squat racks and power cages have emerged from the muscle head dungeons of years gone by, and into traditional family home gyms.

Built around a solid steel frame with adjustable racking points and safety catches, a squat rack like the Body Solid pictured above are a safe and effective home gym for strength trainers, body builders and power athletes alike.

You can turn a squat rack or power cage into a complete home gym by outfitting yours with a lat attachment, cable crossover, low pulley, arm slings and an adjustable weight bench.

Who Its Good For: Single or multiple users with some free weight training experience will get the most benefit.

Category: Strength training, muscle building, general fitness, sports training, power lifting, stretching (all categories).

Body Weight Training (against gravity)

Body weight training on a the TRX Professional pictured above has gained a whole new loyal following of fitness enthusiasts that are bored with cheap home gyms and prefer a functional training system they can use at home, on the road and even pack along for vacations.

One of the best overall tools for golf strength and conditioning Ive ever come across when used in conjunction with the Titleist DVD.

Who Its Good For: Single or multiple users. Good for home use, travelers, road warriors and trainers with extremely limited space and budget. Great for functional training and core strength development.

Category: Golf strength training, light muscle building, general fitness, sports training, stretching (all categories).

Adjustable Weight Bench

You wouldnt think of an adjustable weight bench as a home gym, but I would disagree. A good weight bench is a great way to start your home gym if youre on a budget or short on space.

Use an adjustable bench with flat/incline/decline capabilities and a pair of dumbbells to perform base strength training exercises like bench presses, shoulder presses, bicep curls, tricep extensions and preacher curls or leg extensions with optional attachments.

When youre ready to expand your home gym, you can still use your bench with a squat rack, smith machine or as an additional training option to a single station of multi-user gym.

Who Its Good For: Single or multiple users. Great for beginners for home strength training. Versatile for advanced trainers with more equipment.

Category: Strength training, muscle building, general fitness, sports training, power lifting, stretching (all categories).
To find out which type of gym is the right fit for you, keep reading and learn about the pros and cons of resistance types, ergonomics, number of exercises and of course the price.

Resistance Type and Operation

All home gyms operate with a specific form of resistance against your muscles. The (3) primary types of resistance are:

  • Weight Plates: including adjustable weight stacks, standard weight plates, Olympic weight plates
  • Resistance Bands
  • Body Weight Resistance

The type, and amount, of resistance you need will vary according to your goals and budget. Heres a breakdown of each type of resistance and where youll find them on different home gym types.

Weight Plate Gyms

Plate Loaded Gyms such as single or multi-station machines, smith machines and squat racks are often thought of for only serious power lifting and body building. The truth of the matter is, plate loaded machines are good for both men and women of all abilities whose primary goal is to add strength and muscle.

The advantage of plate loaded machines is you can add or subtract weight easily, and the resistance amount isnt fixed at 200 pounds.

Plate loaded gyms have a lower price than a similar fixed stack gym because you dont have to pay for the weight stack itself (you supply your own plates), or the additional shipping costs because of a higher shipping weight.

Fixed Stack Gyms (a.k.a. selectorized home gyms) are a good option for users who prefer a smaller gym thats similar in function to the health club machines. Most fixed stack machines come with a built-in metal weight stack between 150 and 200 pounds and are adjustable in 10 pound increments.

Although fixed stack gyms are more expensive than plate loaded gyms initially (youre paying for the weight stack and shipping costs) theyre easier to adjust and you dont have to buy additional weights or a weight tree to store your weights (plate storage takes up floor space).
Leverage Plate Loaded Gyms like the Body Solid Leverage Gym are a newer option and are similar to traditional plate loaded machines, but are much safer. The big appeal of these machines is for heavy weight training where a spotter is not needed because of the fixed plane of movement.

Resistance Bands

Resistance bands (tubing) like the Bodylastics gym are a good option for people with limited space, people who travel, or an add on to a traditional home gym. They have the advantage of a free range of motion, compact size and rehabilitation applications.
The amount of resistance is adjustable from just a few pounds to over a hundred pounds depending on how many bands you use for each exercise. And unlike free weights and some machines, resistance bands dont allow you cheat at the top of an exercise because gravity is no longer working against you.

Body Weight Resistance

Body weight resistance gyms are the least common variety of strength training machine. Gyms like the Total Trainer and TRX System are good for general strength and conditioning, but not a good option for building tons of muscle.

With body weight resistance you get the benefit of more control and a good stretch with each movement. The amount of resistance for each exercise is determined by adjusting the angle of resistance (larger angle on a glide board = more resistance).

The actual amount of resistance on a glide board gym is typically 4-70% of your body weight, plus on some gyms you can add standard weight plates for another 100 pounds of resistance bringing the total weight used for each exercise enough for all but the strongest users.

Home Gym Ergonomics

The ergonomics of a home gym are often overlooked, as most people focus in on cost, number of exercises and size without giving a second thought to whether theyll be comfortable using their gym on a daily basis.

Cheaper home gyms are typically lacking in adjustment points and padding, thats how they keep some of the costs down. It cost more to make a gym with a height and depth adjustable seat, multi height leg extension and thick padding with heavy duty vinyl.

Even if you find a cheaper non-adjustable gym that fits you perfect, if you have another user who plans to use it like a spouse, young adult, parent or a friend, the chances of them being able to use the gym are slim to none.

You may not think its a big deal if youre just a little bit out of alignment or uncomfortable when exercising, but youll sing a different tune if you wind up hurting yourself. All it takes is one repetition on a poorly designed machine to wash away all your hard work because youre out of commission for 6 months with a torn rotator cuff.

If youre thinking about buying a single station gym (a gym with one workout position) that claims you can do 100 exercises on it, youll be sorely disappointed in the performance and execution of about 75% of the exercises on it.

Theres an old saying, You cant be all things to all people. That statement couldnt be more true with regards to home gym ergonomics and design.

If a gym tries to be all things to all people, there will be sacrifices made on the execution for some (or all) exercises. Thats just the way it is.
Make sure the gym youre thinking about getting lets you perform the base lifts (chest press, lat pull, bicep curls, leg extensions or squats, leg curls and tricep extensions) with no compromise in form.

If it cant cut the mustard on the base lifts, cross the gym off your list and move on to something better.

Number of Exercises

Generally speaking, the more you spend on a home gym, the more quality exercise options youll have and machines are more limited in delivering exercise options than free weights are by nature of their design.

For example a smith machine with a gun rack and full weight stack has almost unlimited exercise variety, where a smaller fixed stack machine like the Bodycraft Xpress Pro or Bodysolid exm3000s will have about 20 exercises that can be performed effectively because theyre made well with multiple adjustment points.

No matter what some gyms claim as the number of exercises you can perform on them, nothing replaces free weights and dumbbells for the ultimate in variety and function.

Wed like to stress this point again, look for a gym where you can comfortably perform the base lifts (chest press, lat pull, bicep curls, leg extensions or squats, leg curls and tricep extensions) with no compromise in form.

Price

The number one mistake people make when shopping for a home gym is to shop purely by price, and neglect the items we covered in the Establishing You Goals and Needs section at the beginning of this guide (you did answer those questions already, right?)

Getting the right home gym for your needs isnt rocket science, and it doesnt have to cost a fortune, but you do need to take a number of factors into account before you even look at a price tag.

For example, if your budget is under $100 bucks and you buy the Bodylastics Resistance Bands (which is a great gym by the way), and your goal is to be a body builder youre wasting your money.

Youre also being totally unrealistic about what youre expecting from your equipment for the price. If $100 bucks is all you have for a home gym and you want to get a body building gym with Olympic free weights, a bench and a power rack or smith machine youre kidding yourself.
Instead of wasting your money on equipment that isnt in line with your needs, youre better off saving it until you can afford the proper equipment to reach your goal.

I know I’ve drawn a rather extreme example above, but I did it to make a point. DO NOT shop for a home gym based strictly on price alone or chances are youll make a costly mistake.

Its always less expensive to do things right the first time and not have any regrets later because you tried to save a few bucks without doing your homework first.