Effective strength training is extremely important; whether you’re trying to build muscle, lose weight, or just be stronger in your daily life, developing muscular strength and size has enormous benefit. The American College of Sports Medicine advocates building muscular strength through resistance exercise (e.g., lifting weights) as an essential component of the physical activity needed for your overall health and fitness. A good quality home gym (a.k.a. multi-gym) can be an excellent tool for this purpose.
Indeed, a good home gym will allow you to effectively and comfortably integrate strength training into your exercise routine without needing to endure the inconvenience of getting down to a commercial gym or fitness center.
A home gym is a solid options for building muscle and strength for a number of reasons:
- They’re versatile: A single machine can provide a full-body workout.
- They’re effective: Cable weight systems (or similar) are good at isolating and working various muscle groups, which can develop muscular size and strength quickly.
- They’re space efficient: Depending on which model you purchase, they take up relatively little room.
Plus, we’re spoilt for choice in the range and quality of home gyms currently available. No matter your strength level, training goals, or budget, there’s almost certainly a multi-gym on the market that will be suitable for you. But, the question is “which one?”
That’s where we come in. In this article we’ll take a look at the 6 best home gyms in production. We break them down into the best beginner home gym, best mid-range home gym, and best overall home gym, and recommend the top 2 in each category.
Best Home Gyms at a Glance
Best Beginner Home Gym
This home gym from Marcy is a great low-cost option that’s also compact. It’s ideal for those with limited space in their home for strength training.
Best Mid-Range Home Gym
The Bowflex PR3000 home gym is a great option for anyone willing to pay a little extra for an upgradeable home gym that can grow as they do.
Best Beginner Home Gyms
Home gyms are very practical for people starting out on their strength-training (or general health and fitness) journey. This author began his own journey with a basic home gym. He kept and used that machine for almost 15 years, and the value it added to his workouts, and ultimately his whole life, cannot be overstated.
Home gyms are quick and easy to use, and extremely effective at building and strengthening muscles. And, if you’re just starting out, then you really don’t need anything fancy, or expensive. Beginners need a good quality piece of equipment that provides a large but not excessive range of exercises. We think the recommendations below fit the bill nicely.
#1 Marcy 150 lb. Stack Home Gym
This compact home gym from Marcy is a really solid beginner machine. It offers all the standard exercises you’d expect to find on a mutli-gym, including the chest press and flyes, lat pull downs, leg extensions, and seated rows. It has a very small footprint for a home gym (68″ long x 36″ wide x 81.5″ high), which makes it perfect if you’re short on space (e.g., workout in an apartment, small bedroom, attic, etc.). On top of all that, it’s considerably cheaper than many other comparable home gyms.
As with most of Marcy’s home exercise equipment, the 150 lb Stack Home Gym (MWM 6150) is functional and well-made. Realistically, you’ll outgrow this machine before you need to replace it.
The frame is 14-gauge steel tubing, which is more than thick enough to hold up against long-term daily use. The cables have a tensile strength of 2000 lb, so there’s nothing to be concerned about there. The weight stack, however, is somewhat unique. The 150 lb. stack is encased in a metallic shroud that is intended to protect you and the weights from each other. Personally, we don’t think it adds a huge amount to this home gym, but it does actually make it look pretty badass.
Moreover, the weight plates themselves are covered in a vinyl coating, which reduces the noise of them slamming down on each other (and makes this home gym very suitable for those living in an apartment block). That said, only time will tell whether this vinyl coating can withstand the repeated slamming that home gym weight stacks are inevitably subjected to.
Finally, it comes with a two year limited manufacturer warranty, and a nifty stick-on placard that outlines a range of basic exercises that’ll provide a full body, strength building workout. The Marcy 150 lb. Stack Home Gym is a good-quality machine at a very reasonable price point, and a deserving #1 in our beginner home gym recommendations.
#2 Bowflex PR1000 Home Gym
We’ve previously done a detailed review of the Bowflex PR1000 Home Gym, so check that out if you want to go into an extra level of detail. In that review we called it ‘the beginner’s home gym’ and we stand by the moniker here. It has a much larger footprint, and is more complicated than the Marcy home gym above, but it’s still a very good piece of equipment for anyone starting out his or her strength-training journey.
Bowflex home gyms differ from traditional home gyms in that they use flexible polymer rods to create resistance instead of weight stacks. This makes them feel slightly unusual when initially using them, as there’s no inertia to the resistance they produce. That is, you can move quickly through your full range of movement, and greater resistance is produced at the end of each repetition of an exercise. Traditional weight stacks, in comparison, provide greater resistance at the beginning of each repetition, as you must put in the most work to overcome gravity’s inertia.
Neither system is necessarily better or worse than the other; they are simply different. That said, the rod system makes for a smoother, and considerably quieter workout, as there is no clanging of weight plates.
Compared to the Marcy machine above, the Bowflex PR1000 is a more versatile home gym. The range of exercises you can do on it is extensive. It has an adjustable and sliding bench, and handles in place of a press arm and lat bar that can be attached at both high and low points. This allows you to do more variations on exercises like the chest press, which produces more well-rounded muscle development.
On the other hand, what you get in versatility, you sacrifice in space and simplicity. The Bowflex PR1000 takes up a considerable amount of room (103″ long x 80″ wide x 82″ high, so if you’re setting up in a confined space, things are going to get crowded pretty quickly. Also, it can be a complicated machine. You have to switch the handles between high and low positions, adjust the bench position, remove the backing to use the sliding mechanism, and more to utilize it fully. Compared to the Marcy home gym, it can feel like a bit of hassle at times.
If you’re happy to manage the added complexity and greater space requirements, then there’s very little else to complain about with this Bowflex home gym. It has good quality and functional components, and a strong and sturdy steel frame. The sliding mechanism works well, and is simple to adjust and operate, and it allows you to do leg presses, which is uncommon on home gyms without having to purchase a separate attachment.
Plus, although it may look complex, it’s actually relatively straightforward to assemble.
It’s pricier than the Marcy, but you’re paying for more machine. All in all it’s a great home gym for beginners and anyone returning to exercise that are looking to build some starting strength.
Best Mid-Range Home Gyms
Are you looking for something a bit more advanced than an entry-level home gym? Perhaps you know you want a good quality, versatile machine, but are not willing (or able) to fork out the really big bucks to get it. Well then, one of the mid-range recommendations below should be right up your alley.
#1 Bowflex PR3000 Home Gym
The Bowflex PR3000 Home Gym could be described the older, stronger, and more efficient brother of the PR1000. It offers a greater range of exercises, the ability to upgrade the resistance level, and has a significantly smaller footprint (64″ long x 41″ wide x 83″ high).
Yes, it’s more expensive than the PR1000 (usually in the vicinity of $200 more), but it’s a better machine. The construction, like most Bowflex products, is better than average and although it takes a bit of time to assemble (approx. 3 hours going steadily and carefully) it isn’t at all difficult. Just follow the nice and clear instructions and it should be all good.
As with all Bowflex home gyms, it utilizes the flexible polymer “Power Rods” to create the resistance. Out of the box it comes with 210 lbs of resistance, but unlike the PR1000, this can be upgraded to 310 lbs, either by buying as a package deal, or getting the Power Rod upgrade separately.
As mentioned above, one of the great things about the PR1000 is the ability to do leg presses using the sliding rail and seat. The PR3000 doesn’t include this feature (which is what makes its footprint smaller), however it does come with an attachment that allows you to do squats, which are even better than leg extensions (squats are often described as “the king of exercises”).
Another advantage the PR3000 has over the PR1000 is the “no-change cable system”, which is just a fancy way of saying that it has 2 sets of grips (aka handles) instead of one. This allows you to move between the lat pulldown grips and the bench press grips without having to disconnect or change anything over. It may seem insignificant, but repeatedly switching grips from high to low and back again gets tiresome.
The Bowflex PR3000 Home Gym is undeniably the best mid-range home gym out there, and is one of Bowflex’s all-time most popular products. It’s very well-built and has a smooth operation. If you’re willing to pay that bit extra, we’re confident you won’t be disappointed.
#2 Body-Solid Powerline Home Gym
We’ll keep our discussion of the Powerline Home Gym fairly brief as we’ve done a more in-depth review here.
We will, however, start by saying that just like the Bowflex PR3000 above, this home gym from Body-Solid is a very good option if you’re confined by space. The footprint is only 70″ long x 42″ wide x 80″ high, making it a nice and compact machine.
The Powerline Home Gym also has some nifty features that most other home gyms don’t. For example, the press arms are extremely versatile and can be adjusted to allow you to do inclined bench presses, seated rows, and both standing and seated shoulder presses. These additional exercises are vital for ensuring you get well-rounded muscle development in your chest, back and shoulders.
Another unique feature worth noting is that it comes partially assembled. Body-Solid says you only have to “fasten 9 bolts”, which is a claim you shouldn’t be fooled by. You will have to do more than that, but admittedly not much more. Compared to other machines, especially the Bowflex home gyms, the Powerline is very quick and painless to assemble; it should only take about an hour.
Ultimately, it’s a good quality mid-range home gym that’ll let you do relatively unique workouts in a small space. It usually comes in at around the $800 price point, which we think will be a pretty solid investment long-term.
Best Home Gyms Overall
Now we’re into the big guns. The following home gyms are for those who want a serious machine, to do some serious strength training. The following recommendations take up more space and are more expensive than the beginner and mid-range options, but they will provide you with very versatile and very effective full-body, muscle-building workouts.
#1 Bodycraft Xpress Pro Home Gym
This home gym is just an all-round impressive piece of equipment. If you’ve owned home gyms before, we’re almost certain that none of them will have matched the standard of quality that the Bodycraft Xpress Pro sets (unless, of course, you’ve previously owned this exact home gym, in which case it’ll be a tie).
It’s an extremely well designed and constructed machine. The materials are as good or better than comparable home gyms, and are backed by a lifetime warranty. This isn’t an empty promise from Bodycraft either. They acknowledge that exercise equipment doesn’t last forever, no matter how good the quality is. So when parts such as the nylon cables wear out after a number of years, as they invariably will, just shoot Bodycraft an email or give them a call and they’ll quickly ship you the replacements for free.
Warranty aside, the clever design of this home gym means that the number of exercises you can do is almost endless, and only limited by your imagination. This is mainly on account of the adjustable cable arms, which can be moved into 11 different positions to allow for an array of exercises, including sport-specific movements that you can use to improve your tennis or golf swing (amongst others).
Similar to the Powerline Home Gym, the press arms can be adjusted for regular horizontal bench presses, inclined presses, shoulder presses, and reversed to allow seated rows. Moreover, the press arms have a “double-up feature”, which means the 200 lb. weight stack can be used with a 1:2 ratio, taking the resistance to 400 lbs. That’s massive, and simply unrivalled amongst home gyms.
You can also get a leg press attachment together with the main home gym or as a separate piece later on. Together, this will weigh in excess of 550 lbs, so do your floors a favor and get some protective heavy-duty gym flooring to place beneath it.
Now, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t mention the biggest, most glaring drawback of the Xpress Pro: Assembling the damn thing. It comes completely in pieces, and needs to be put together piece-by-piece, bolt-by-bolt. Although the components and hardware are well packaged and clearly labeled, and the instructions are easy to follow, assembling this beast is still a massive and time-consuming job.
Set aside an entire day, and enlist the help of a friend or family member. If you have the cash, consider getting it professionally assembled. Once it’s together, though, we’re certain you’ll be absolutely stoked.
If your goal is to build muscle and strength, and you aren’t really fussed about the method, then this is likely the only piece of equipment you’ll ever need to purchase. The Bodycraft Xpress Pro Home Gym sets a standard that most others simply can’t match.
#2 Body-Solid StrengthTech EXM2500s Home Gym
You can read about this home gym in-depth by going to our detailed review.
As we emphatically state in that detailed review, this home gym is a real beast. It’s a very solid piece of equipment, and it’ll ensure you get a smooth, quiet, good quality, full-body strength workout. The components are top quality, and once assembled properly, they make this thing a real joy to workout on. That said, it’s also a very large multi-gym, with a footprint measuring 83″ long x 53″ wide x 83″ high. There’s no question that it’ll be the centerpiece of your home gym.
The StrengthTech EXM2500s uses a two station design: One side has a pec dec station, and the other side has the bench press, lat pull down and leg developer. Therefore, unlike the Bodycraft Xpress Pro, this home gym can’t be backed up against a wall. Conversely, the two station design makes it feel less cluttered, and reduces the amount of play in the cables that various exercises produce.
Just like the Xpress Pro, the StrengthTech EXM2500s needs to be assembled from scratch, and it can take quite a while to complete. Again, section off a full day; just to be on the safe side. Also like the Xpress Pro, it comes with a lifetime warranty, meaning it’ll likely be the only cable weight machine you’ll ever need to buy.
All-in-all the Body-Solid StrengthTech EXM2500s Home Gym is cleverly designed and built like and absolute tank. If you decide to drop the money on it, you’ll have made a sound investment in your strength, and overall health and fitness.
Should You Get a Home Gym / Muti-Gym?
Whether you should or should not get any piece of home exercise equipment always depends on what you’re trying to achieve; what your health and fitness goals are. And so it is with home gyms.
If you’re trying to develop very specific functional strength or athleticism, such as a sport-specific skill like the vertical leap, then a home gym is probably not the best choice for you. This is because the nature of the human body’s adaptation to exercise is essentially that we get good at what we do. This observation has been named ‘specificity’ or, more commonly, the SAID principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands).
Most of the exercises you do on a home gym are open kinetic chain exercises, and are fundamentally different from the closed kinetic chain exercises commonly found on the sporting field. As such, your muscles will tend to adapt to these kinds of exercises and, in line with the SAID principle, show very little crossover into closed chain exercises.
Let’s stick with the vertical leap example. The primary muscles that produce this athletic movement are the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. You can certainly work all of these muscles with exercises on a home gym. Doing so will certainly cause them to grow larger and be stronger, in isolation. But, you haven’t trained them to work together in a manner that produces explosive movement upwards. Therefore, while you might have nice and muscular legs, your vertical leap is unlikely to have increased, and may have actually decreased.
Now, if your goals are to build and tone your muscles, burn fat, and / or improve your general health, then a home gym can be a magnificent investment. Home gyms allow you to very effectively isolate and work almost all of your major muscle groups, which should lead to considerable muscle hypertrophy (growth).
Building muscle also helps to burn fat, as muscle is a metabolically active tissue, and consumes energy even at rest. This means that your body consumes more calories for essentially the same amount of work, which more often than not will help you lose weight more effectively.
Finally, research has consistently shown that developing muscular size and strength leads to greatly improved health outcomes. For example, a study that examined data from over 2,000,000 people found that greater upper and / or lower body strength was significantly associated with reduced all-cause mortality (the chance of dying for any reason).
So, if you want to be stronger, slimmer, more muscular, and / or healthier, then yes, you should get a home gym!
Choosing the Best Home Gym for You
Choosing the best home gym for you doesn’t have to be terribly difficult. Here are the key considerations you should take:
The exercises you want to do
If you have some set exercises that you desperately want to be able to perform, then this should strongly guide your choice in multi-gym. For example, not all multi-gyms have a pec dec machine. Many have a combined bench press / pec dec station that you switch between with the removal of a couple of pins, but not all do.
Similarly, only the higher end home gyms will have a leg press station. Even then, it will often be a separately purchased attachment. Lower cost and budget home gyms generally have the bare essential stations, and are ideal for anyone who wants to incorporate some basic strength training into their routines, but don’t have muscle hypertrophy or strength gains as their primary goals.
The type of resistance
The most common types of resistance found on multi-gyms are weight stacks, and power rods. That said, some machines, such as the Weider Ultimate Body Works and the Total Gym utilize your body weight. Still, some rare machines are plate-loaded, and use weight plates (like what you put on the ends of a barbell) as a means of resistance.
It’s important to understand what each of these options offer.
Weight stacks are very easy to use, and generally quite safe. They’re ideal for people who want a hassle-free machine. The downside with weight stacks is that they can be noisy, and are often fairly limited in their overall level of weight.
Power rods are an innovation seen exclusively on Bowflex home gyms, and their draw card is that they’re very safe, and they offer inertia-less resistance. This means that the level of resistance is even all the way through the range of motion of the various stations’ exercises. This is different to weight stacks, which are hardest to move at the beginning of the movement, and become progressively easier as you overcome gravity, and the inertia of the moving stack assists you. Power rods, however, can be complicated to set up, and may eventually require ‘rejuvenating’ with a separately purchased device, or replacing altogether.
Bodyweight machines tend to be inexpensive and easy to use. They’re also quite innovative, and often allow for a huge number of exercises. The downside is that you may quickly outgrow the resistance offered by your own bodyweight.
Plate-loaded machines are great for their versatility and the high amount of weight can often add to them. Dealing with weight plates also unfortunately carries an inherent risk of injury from drops. On top of that, the plates themselves are rarely, if ever, included with the actual multi-gym, and they can be damned expensive.
Frequently Asked Questions About Home Gyms
What does a home gym do?
A multi-gym provides an extremely versatile means of completing resistance training in the comfort and convenience of your own home.
By having multiple exercise stations in the one machine, a home gym allows you to efficiently target all of your major muscle groups. These machines often utilize forms of resistance, such as weight stacks and power, both of which allow you to quickly and easily adjust the level of exercise difficulty.
Multi-gyms save you:
- Time in travelling to and from the gym
- Space in that one machine allows for a full-body workout, and
- Money because they’re a one-time purchase that should last many years
They’re also easy to use. Home gyms require very little know-how, and are therefore suitable for people who are new to strength training and may be intimidated by more advanced methods, such as barbell training.
Finally, while all exercise equipment carries an inherent risk of injury, home gyms tend to be safer to use than free weights. They don’t require spotters, and often have safety mechanisms built-in. Again, this makes them ideal for beginners and anyone susceptible to injury (e.g., seniors and older adults).
What exercises can you do on a home gym?
This largely depends on the specific multi-gym you get. High-end machines allow for a huge range of exercises. As we mentioned in the review, the number of exercises you can do on the Xpress Pro is nearly infinite, and really only limited by your imagination.
Lower-end machines, on the other hand, may only allow a dozen or so exercises.
With all of that being said, the core exercises you want to be able to complete on a home gym / multi-gym are:
- Bench press / pec dec
- Leg extension
- Hamstring curl
- Triceps pull down
- Biceps curl
If you have all of these available to you, you can get a good full body workout.
Are home gyms good for building muscle?
Yes. As we mentioned earlier, home gyms are very effective at isolating muscle groups, which then allows you to work them effectively. In turn, this should lead to muscle hypertrophy.
Moreover, the nature of home gyms is such that the level of resistance can be easily adjusted in relatively fine increments (often 5 – 10 lb increments). This makes it very easy to progressively overload your muscles, which is a necessary and powerful stimulus of muscle growth.
Well, there you have it: The 6 best home gyms you can currently pick up. Whether you’re a beginner seeking to get into strength training, or someone simply looking for a great quality home gym that you can use without concern for years to come, one of the recommendations above will be suitable for you.
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As always, best of luck with your home workouts. Remember: When it comes to our health and fitness, we can either make the effort or we can make excuses, but we can’t make both.
THFF (The Home Fit Freak)