The 10 Best Home Gyms
This wiki has been updated 33 times since it was first published in May of 2015. Between the meatheads flexing into the mirror, the annoying guy impatiently waiting for you to finish your set, that lady who never wipes up her sweat, and the exorbitant membership costs, going to a regular gym can be more trouble than it's worth. These home gyms allow you to get a great workout in without leaving the house, and at any time that's convenient for you. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
August 16, 2020:
At first glance, the Bodycraft model we replaced with the Body-Solid Fusion 500 might look a lot like the gym that supplanted it, but the modular design of the Fusion 500 really elevates its versatility. Users can put it together in specific configurations to fit in their space, opening up additional stations and possibilities. We also got rid of the XMark XM-7626, as its leg work possibilities were limited, and it really didn't offer a lot in terms of compound exercises for the core or legs. Something like the Marcy Linear Total is a much smarter choice, as it offers only one less pulley — albeit for a set that can't be adjusted vertically — in addition to a detachable seat that can be utilized for leg work, a full Smith machine, and even a pad for preacher curls.
If you're really short on space, options like the Bowflex PR3000 or the Total Gym XLS Universal might be the way to go. Neither offers a ton of resistance out of the gate, but the Bowflex can be upgraded to a total resistance of 410 pounds for serious lifters. At that intensity, however, the weight of the frame itself may cease to be enough to keep it in place for certain moves, and you'll likely want to anchor it to the floor if possible.
April 25, 2019:
Eliminated the Body-Solid Powerline due to its relatively limited workout possibilities, not to mention its paltry weight stack. The far more versatile (and attractive) Marcy Impex took its place.
Speaking of Marcy, the manufacturer placed several models towards the bottom of this edition of the list. The company has different options geared towards different needs, but it seems like they might be better off if they combined them all into one, superior offering, as each of the ones listed here had its own distinct strengths in addition to several unique, frustrating weaknesses.
The Total Gym XLS is somewhat out of place among its competition here. It's not something that will build you a massive, hulking physique, but it's good for staying in decent shape. It's ideal for older users or those recovering from injury, which is why it earned such a high spot here. After all, not everyone is capable of putting up massive amounts of weight on the squat bar or bench press — that's reserved for present company only.
Life Fitness G7 While this is by no means an inexpensive option, it might save you a lot on personal trainer costs, as its integrated training guide can take you through a whole host of moves, with detailed descriptions and diagrams to ensure proper form. It comes from a brand often seen in professional gym environments, and has a lifetime warranty on anything but the padding and cables, which are covered for three years. lifefitness.com
Tonal Digital If you prefer the feel of resistance bands, you can get a much more futuristic workout than what's commonly offered in this category with this device. Everything about it, from its weights to the large viewing screen, is stored in a slim housing that's mounted to your wall by professionals working for the company. It comes with a variety of handles, bars, and grips to increase its versatility, but its maximum resistance is a bit low for some lifters. tonal.com
You've Got To Pulley Your Weight Around Here
Then, you run that cord through a pulley and attach its other end to a bar.
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?
If space isn't much of a concern, you'll want to know how far you plan to take your routine.
Currently, most gym memberships are so expensive that in just two years you'll have spent as much there as you would have on many 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. 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. 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.
After the Greeks, there wasn't much to speak of a personal fitness regimen.
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.