Home gym types:
Weight Stack Home Gyms
Weight stack based home gyms take up very little floor space, offer a wide range of workout exercises (most often entire body - chest, shoulders, back, arms, abs and legs) and usually last for a long time.
These home gyms utilize usually only one central weight stack that is used for each different exercise.
Weight stack home gyms use a pulley system to hook the weight stack with desired exercise bar.
They are very safe and durable - only problem is that with having central weight stack, only one exercise can be perform at one time.
On the other hand, multistation weight stack home gym exercise machines have multiple weight stacks, enabling several people to train simultaneously or making possible circular workouts without changing the pin settings all the time.
Of course, multistation exercise machines are much bigger, heavier and costlier. They should be positioned on the strong floors with plenty of space around the machine.
Free Weights Home Gyms
Free weights home gym normally has no pulleys or cables. Instead of having multiple benches and units, there are several stations incorporated into one large frame system around one or two adjustable benches, that requires manually loading weight plates (free weights) at each station.
Although these systems are designed to simulate a free weight workout, there are big differences between lifting free weights using barbells or/and dumbbells (harder and less safe) and lifting weights using free weight home gyms (easier and safer).
Free weight home gyms require more space than single weight stack home gyms, are heavier due to additional plate weight, but they can last a long time and are very safe to use if used properly.
Free weights home gyms enables lifter to isolate muscles more than that would be possible using free weights. This is great advantage if you have certain issues like shoulder problems and you want to bench press. On the other hand, free weights stress more muscles (main muscles and stabilizers) and if you want to bench press, you have to do it with a free, loaded bar.
Also, some home gyms use Smith cages for safer workouts (this is always open to a nice debate) and such machines can use both free weights or weight stacks, or even something else.
If you want to lift weights, go to the gym, otherwise, consider weight stack or resistance rods home gyms. Although free weights home gyms have their advantages, personally I don't like them - but that is just me.
Resistance Rods Home Gyms
In order to provide the resistance, these gym systems use different strength rods. These systems are very compact, use very little space, provide numerous exercises, but they also have some major problems - rods lose resistance over time and they have to be changed from time to time. This can be great problem if there are several people working out with the same rods.
Rods and pulley system are not maintenance free - rods can be purchased and replaced as required, just like pulleys and cables.
Single workout station machines require little space, but anything more leads to increase in size and weight, but still, they are lighter than multistation weight stack or free weights home gyms.
On the other hand, these home gyms can be great choice for occasional trainee just wanting a moderately intensive workout with moderate volume.
Other Home Gyms
This is very broad category of possible home gym exercise machines.
'Other home gyms' include home gyms that don't use classic free weights, weight stack or resistant rods. They use other means for creating resistance, for example - gravity.
Some home gyms look like Medieval torturing devices, but keep your mind open and think out of the box - best solutions are usually the most simplest one, but if you do need something specific, why not try something different.
Best Home Gym - How to Choose One?
Choosing best home gym machine can be sometimes a challenging task. Among many things to consider, two are the most important - money and trainee.
Money - price of home gyms vary significantly regardless of home gym type and so does their quality of construction, features, exercise options, maintenance etc. Price can vary from few hundred dollars/euros to thousands of dollars/euros. Of course, if certain home gym costs more, that doesn't mean that that home gym is better than some cheaper model.
Trainee - home gym machine should be bought for a trainee, not for showing off - OK, some showing off is always a good thing, but don't buy it just for that :) Elderly people and people with certain health issues don't lift heavy weights and their primary concerns are safety and simplicity - especially if they have to carry heart monitors and similar gadgets around. Compact, all-in-one resistance rods and center weight stack home gyms are recommended types for them.
Also, before buying any of these, consider few more things like quality of construction, features and exercise options, workout goals, safety features, weight and size, home gym machines maintenance etc.
Quality of Construction
Construction quality determines how strong, robust and durable home gym machines are. This highly influence the price and warranty, but good home gym can last for a long long time. When in use, good exercise machine should not move, wiggle and produce any squeaking sounds or anything similar - if they do, check if the machine is assembled properly.
Also, before buying, check if there is option to have the home gym machine assembled on the spot by a technician - these machines are not complicated as a space rockets, but why bother ...
When buying check for details, for example, if exercise machine uses bushings instead of ball bearing - some of them even go step further and instead of ball bearings use roll bearings! Plastic pulleys are durable, if made out of good and strong plastic, but steel pulleys last much longer. Cables made out of artificial fibers are strong, but they get easily damaged and stretched beyond returning to original state - steel cables are often more expensive, but much better option in the long run!
Features and Exercise Options
Again, if you are senior citizen or occasional trainee who don't want or don't have time to go to commercial gyms, maybe the weight stack or resistance rods home gym is all that you need. Don't be impressed with countless exercise options (although having a longer list of possible exercises is good thing), since just a 7-9 various exercises are more than enough for full body workout.
If you plan on working out individually and/or in pairs, single station exercise machine is more than enough. On the other hand, working out in small group have advantages, but waiting for your turn can sometimes be counterproductive - in that case, consider multistation exercise machine. Also, changing weight with a pin or resistance rod is easier and faster than loading and deloading weight using free weights.
It is important to define goals before purchasing any fitness equipment, not only home gym. If you aim high, maybe you should just join local gym. Not that people using home gyms have moderate goals, but sometimes it is very hard and unsafe to train, for example, squats with 200kg at home, even if you have the best squat rack.
On the other hand, most of the goals set even by moderately advanced trainees, mostly depend on their nutrition and not so much on training methods - OK, many people will not agree with me on this one, but everything is relative. For example, if your aim is to slam dunk, but you have 30% bf, what is more important to focus on, losing weight or squatting 250+ kg? Also, if your goal is to bench press 2x your body weight, it is easier to achieve this if you have 10-12 bf% and much harder if you have 30 bf%!
Home gyms are usually very safe, when used properly. If you are using free weights, be careful about using and positioning of safety pins. These pins limit range that bar can travel, so position them carefully, especially if you are working out alone exercises like bench press, squat and similar exercises where you are between loaded bar and floor/bench.
Again, quality of design, used materials and exercise machine itself is very important for safe workouts - nobody likes snapped cables, pulled out pulleys, broken resistance rods etc. Not to mention that all those parts, when broken, usually have velocities high enough to hurt somebody.
Weight and Size
Home gyms can be very heavy, so pay attention where you plan to place them. Also, due to physical dimensions, be sure to have plenty of room around your home gyms, especially if you have multistation machines.
Weight stack home gym that has 4 stacks weighing 100kg, can easily reach half a ton - that is around 1100 pounds. Also, that is weight of 5 little bit bigger guys and in modern homes, such weight should not be a problem.
On the other hand, compact, all-in-one resistance rods or single weight stack style home gym can fit into a larger room, requiring very little space and practically no special flooring, although some padding under equipment is recommended.
But, if you plan on having free weights gym and you squat 150-200kg, deadlift 200+kg etc., throwing that weight off your shoulders (no safety pins, or safety pins not dimensioned properly) can have significant consequences on the exercise machine and on the floor, even if you have rubber coated plates and heavy rubber mats on the floor!
Home Gym Machines Maintenance
Maintenance depends on the type of home gym machine, its quality, usage etc. Before you do anything, read manual, at least twice.
This can help you in the long run and save you some money and time.
Lubrication should be done using recommended lubricants on a regular basis. Lubricants can be smelly and some people don't tolerate them very well - good ventilation is highly recommended in such cases.
Pulley, cables, resistance rods and similar parts should be replaced after some period of usage (read manual!) or when they show problem signs, preferably before they actually malfunction.
Of course, there are even more things to consider when buying such expensive exercise machines, but in the end it is all about personal preferences!
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