The 10 Best Home Gyms
10. Marcy MWM-988
9. Bowflex Xtreme 2SE
8. Body-Solid StrengthTech
7. Marcy Diamond Elite
6. Body-Solid Powerline
5. BodyCraft Xpress Pro
4. Bowflex PR3000
3. Total Gym XLS
2. BodyCraft Galena Pro
1. XMark XM-7626
You've Got To Pulley Your Weight Around Here
Classically, there are six simple machines in our scientific understanding of mechanics. Asking a small group of people at a party to name all six is a blast, as they can usually figure out five of them, and there's always one elusive one, though it's not always the same one group to group.
They are, in order of my personal preference: the inclined plane, the wheel and axle, the screw, the wedge, the pulley, and the lever.
As low as it is on my personal list, the pulley is the machine that is most valuable to us in our discussion of home gyms, because it's the one around which most of these units are built.
It's pretty darn easy to understand: you put some weights on the ground and attach them to a cord. Then, you run that cord through a pulley and attach its other end to a bar. When you pull the bar, it transfers your energy along the cord and through the pulley to lift the weight.
This way, you can pull that bar from almost any angle and achieve the same lift, allowing you to work different muscle groups with one simple combination of pieces.
That's not how all home gyms work, however. The Bowflex famously changed this system by introducing long flexible plastic arms that bend at specific tensions, replicating the progressive resistance of free weights without all the clanging of metal plates.
How does the Bowflex transfer the energy of your movements to its fancy bows? Why, with pulleys, of course.
Stay Fit, Stay Anonymous
Fitness is not attractive. Sure, once you're toned and buff, lean and mean, you can go sauntering along the shorelines in a billowy tank top, innocently overflexing various muscle groups just to pick up a Frisbee, but the path to fitness is acutely unsightly.
You're going to sweat, you're going to groan, you very well may cry, so why not do all that suffering in the privacy of your own home?
Currently, the least expensive multi-club plan at 24-Hour Fitness comes out to about $640 per year, which means that in just two years you'll have spent as much on your gym membership as you would have on four of our top five home gyms.
And that's not counting the gas you expend driving to and from the gym or the therapy bills you'll incur after you have a lactic acid fueled emotional breakdown in a very public place.
It just makes sense, then, to keep your work in the safety and financial security of your own home with a gym that'll last you years and years.
Which one of these gyms does it for you will have to do with two major variables. Space and ambition.
If you have limited space, odds are you'll want to get the most gym you can fit into that space. The Bowflex at number two has a great deal of available workouts packed into a smaller footprint, so check those measurements and start there.
If space isn't much of a concern, you'll want to know how far you plan to take your routine. A person aiming for lean muscle doesn't need to spend the extra money on a home gym that can be upgraded to handle extra resistance. They're going to do just fine performing more reps with lower weights.
A big old beefcake, on the other hand, will want as much weight as possible, so our gyms at one and four would serve them best.
Take an inventory of the available room in your house and the eventual bulge of your biceps and work from there.
An Upgrade To An Ancient Rite
Remember that movie 300? In case you don't, it was the one about a small group of Greek soldiers using the environmental strategic advantage of a narrow mountain pass to even out their numbers against a much larger Persian army.
Oh, and it was also about their abs.
As inappropriate as that might seem, the ancient Greeks were all about fitness. Their art counts among the first depictions of men toning their bodies with free weights and other implements in preparation for their Olympic Games.
So, if you're going to make a movie about supremely fit Greek soldiers, it makes sense to use supremely fit British actors. Wait, what? British?
After the Greeks, there wasn't much to speak of a personal fitness regimen. Farm work and household chores did the bulk of the necessary toning anyone would need or want, and there wasn't a global media conglomerate shoving a gender-binary beauty standard down our throats.
Then came the industrial revolution, which is credited for some pretty wonderful and pretty awful developments in the history of mankind.
One of its side-effects was the increase in sedentary labor for the average worker, many of whom occupied the same spot in a factory setting and performed menial tasks in the assembly of more complicated products. So, yeah, they got fat.
While that may have helped usher about the opening of recreational centers like the YMCA, it wouldn't be until a famous fitness guru with fantastic eyebrows came along to introduce home gym equipment. This guy, a fellow named Jack Lelanne, first developed that now integral cable pulley system in the 1950s, and the home gyms we see today have all evolved out of that idea.