Do work and personal obligations keep you busy during gym hours? Investing in a home gym is a great way to keep your commitment to health and fitness, but what are weight stacks, adjustable position cable systems and weight ratios? Where does the advertising talk end and functionality begin? Your options for a home gym and the terminology that goes with them can make shopping intimidating. Pronto’s Home Gym Buying Guide will take the mystery out of purchasing a home gym and help you choose the one that meets your budget and lifestyle needs (see also Exercise Bike Buying Guide, Treadmill Buying Guide, Elliptical Trainer Buying Guide).
Consider the types of exercises you intend to do, then find a home gym with stations that focus on your target muscle groups. Most home gyms are not a good choice for general aerobic exercise as they focus on specific areas instead of providing a sustained, low-resistance workout.
Home gyms with weight stacks are good for people who want to build muscle mass. For general fitness and exercise, home gyms with resistance bands offer an easier, more lightweight solution.
Measure the space where you intend to place your home gym. Make sure you have enough room to move freely around the equipment and clearance for all moving parts. Look for delivery deals that include professional installation.
Make sure you know what’s included with your home gym purchase, as some manufacturers may sell base units that require costly upgrades to function. Look for home gyms that let you add weights or exercise stations as your fitness needs change so your home gym grows with you.
Warranty terms for home gyms should be the deciding factor in your purchase. High-end manufacturers offer lifetime to 30-year warranties on the frame and 2 to 10 years on parts. Don’t buy a high-end home gym with a warranty that offers you less than that or entry-level home gyms that offer less than five years on the frame and one year on parts.
The main body of a home gym. Stations are generally extensions of the frame and can sometimes be added as upgrades in the future. Look for a heavy-duty frame of solid construction. Avoid home gyms with thin frames that may break with repetitive use.
Flexible bands stretched between tension points that use various methods to provide resistance for home-gym exercises. Home gyms with resistance bands are generally more lightweight, but they do not provide as much of a workout as gyms with weight stacks.
An area of a home gym designed for a specific exercise. Home gyms have multiple stations designed to work different parts of the body.
A stack of weights that a home gym uses to provide resistance for exercises. Most home gym weight stacks are around 200 pounds, which is good for most users. Dedicated body-builders may want the option of adding more weight.
When shopping for a home gym, consider what types of exercises you want to do. Different types of home gyms offer specific benefits. Are there problem areas where you want to focus? Are you training or toning for a particular activity or simply looking for general health improvements from aerobic exercise? Do you need to build muscle mass? Once you know what sort of exercise you want to perform, you can focus on finding a home gym that provides the exercise stations you need. The following table lists station names on home gym equipment and their areas of focus:
|Station||Area of Focus|
|Lat Pulldown||Upper Back|
|Leg Extension||Thigh and Hamstring|
|Leg Curl||Thigh and Hamstring|
|Abdominal Crunch Station||Abs/Stomach|
|Hip Raise/Dip station||Hips, Thighs, Glutes|
|Knee Raise/Dip station||Abs, Shoulders, Triceps|
|Arm Press||Pectorals, Biceps|
|Pulley Exercises||Upper Back, Arms|
If you are looking for a general aerobic workout for increased stamina, conditioning or overall health, a home gym is unlikely to provide that workout. The exercise stations on home gyms are designed to target specific muscle groups, and while those exercises can also provide aerobic exercise, they are less effective than treadmills, exercise bikes or stair machines that offer a total-body workout.
After you’ve determined which exercise stations you need to meet your goals, consider how much space you have for your home gym. A general rule of thumb is that a multi-station home gym requires anywhere from 50 to 200 square feet of available space. Make sure your ceilings are tall enough to clear the home gym’s moving parts during all exercises. Give yourself available space to move freely around the equipment and to reach adjustments.
Once you know how much space you have for a home gym, compare installation options. While most home gyms are stand-alone pieces of equipment, some must be bolted to walls or ceilings. If you don’t know how to attach a home gym to the structural elements of your home—the studs and joists hiding inside the walls—hire a professional to do the job. An improper installation will damage your home and could result in serious injury.
Home gyms can be extremely complicated to assemble, and improper assembly also poses safety risks. Look for professional installation options with delivery. If you decide to assemble the home gym yourself, keep in mind home gyms are often made of solid metal or have heavy weights that require at least two people to properly lift and assemble.
Home gyms use either weight stacks or resistance bands to work your muscles. Home gyms with weight stacks generally cost more than those with resistance bands. Weight stacks can be bulkier and heavier, but they also offer a more complete workout, so if you’re serious about toning and building muscle mass, choose a home gym that uses weight stacks. These typically start at around 200 pounds, with the option of adding additional weights over time.
Some home gyms include a weight ratio that lets them deliver more resistance than the weight stack alone. For example, a home gym with a 200-pound weight stack operating at a 2:1 ratio can deliver up to 400 pounds of resistance. This feature lets you get more of a workout from your home gym but with less bulky weight stacks.
If you are new to fitness and looking primarily to lose weight and improve your overall health, home gyms that operate with resistance bands are a better choice. They are lightweight, easy to assemble and easy to adjust. Consider the design of these home gyms, as some need more space for proper operation. It’s also helpful to check owner reviews to ensure that the bands will not stretch and lose resistance over time.
Beware of low-priced home gyms. Some retailers offer discounted “base” units that will do very little when you get them home. This forces you to purchase upgrades for different exercise stations. What started as a $350 home gym could wind up costing you $1,000 or more. It’s essential to know upfront what equipment and options you’re getting when you purchase your home gym.
With that in mind, home gyms that can be upgraded can be good choices for committed, long-term users. For home gyms that use weight stacks, find out if you can add additional weights as you grow stronger. If you want to start on the core muscle groups and then add specific targeting exercises, look for a home gym that allows you to add exercise stations. Not all manufacturers are alike when it comes to upgrade options, so you need to have an idea of what you might want in the future before you buy.
Due to the repetitive nature of using home gym, a powerful warranty is worth having. If you are considering two home gyms with similar prices and features, let the warranty be the deciding factor. Some high-end home gym manufacturers offer lifetime or 30-year warranties on the frame and 2 to 10 years on parts. Low-end home gyms may offer only 5 years on the frame and 90 days on the parts. With the range of equipment available, a lesser warranty isn’t good enough. Skip these models in favor of similarly-priced home gyms with better warranty terms.