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As Covid-19 cases continue to rise across the country, many gyms have remained open. Most require you to wear a mask and many limit capacity. But some Americans are skeptical about returning to the gym, and for good reason: the CDC in October reported gyms can contribute to the spread of the coronavirus, often due to poor ventilation and the necessarily confined indoor space. If you’re looking to stay healthy this winter without leaving the house, your best bet may be building your own home gym.
SKIP AHEAD Expert guidance on building a home gym
Your perfectly located home gym promises no wait time for machines and no contracts or memberships to worry about (well, not with a gym, anyway) — although you might notice a lack of machines and member benefits like towel service. But if you’re in it for basic workouts without a personal trainer, there’s a lot you can recreate at home. And with higher-end smart equipment and streaming classes, even personal trainers can now show you the ways right in your own private fitness space. For one thing, experts told us the home gym presents a very low barrier to any given workout since it’s right there, ready at a moment’s notice.
“For many people, time is a constraint,” said Tara Hackney, a physical therapist. “So eliminating the need to ‘find time to go to the gym’ by having access at home can assist in this barrier.”
Best home gym systems
To help you find the best home gym for your workout goals and fitness realities, we list your top options below, based on guidance we got from fitness experts, followed by general and more in-depth expert advice.
Best total home gym: Bowflex
1. Best total home gym: Bowflex Revolution
While certainly an investment, this highly-rated home gym equipment from Bowflex offers an experience that rivals what you’ll find in a real gym. The Bowflex Revolution allows for over 100 different exercises (and 400 variations on those), working your legs, chest, arms, core and back. It’s extremely versatile, but does need a bit more space than other types of equipment. Users can adjust the equipment to accommodate for sitting and standing exercises, and can add plates to increase weight. The Bowflex Revolution comes with two pulleys, a bench, pads and more accessories. As with cycling accessories, you may want to consider grabbing the adjoining Machine Mat for your next home gym.
Best affordable home gym: Bowflex
This very highly-rated and basic home gym from Bowflex promises more than 25 exercises to hit every part of the body with more than 200 pounds of possible resistance. The cable pulley system means there are no weights to move around but also that your movement is especially fixed throughout your workout. The bench folds up when not in use to help with storage and you can hack the machine to allow for aerobic rowing, giving you a semblance of cardio fitness in your routine.
Best home gym cable machine: NordicTrack
This cable machine combines both strength and cardio exercises for a full body workout. It includes six cables, 20 resistance settings and offers live personalized training, boot camps and strength-training workouts on an included touchscreen tablet — you’ll get one free year of the iFit Family Membership, which will run you $41 a month afterward. Kaitlyn Gannon, who founded prive Texas gym Dallas Iron Fitness, recommended getting a cable machine with cross-over capabilities like this one, which increases the amount of exercises you can do. NordicTrack promises a 2-in-1 experience, too, boasting equal parts strength training and cardio.
Best smart home gym: Tempo
4. Tempo Studio
If you’re looking for an all-in-one smart home gym that offers up free weights and have limited space, Tempo may be the right pick for you. The equipment counts your reps in real time and provides live feedback, including form corrections. Users will get personalized weight recommendations and tracked calorie burn stats, too. Suited for all fitness levels, this smart screen-and-weight-rack in one offers a huge selection of on-demand workouts, which it channels using an Ethernet-ready port and through a 42-inch touchscreen and 60-Watt stereo speakers. A subscription to Tempo's on-demand fitness classes will run you $39 per month. It comes with everything you need for your workout, as well as a few extra: multiple weight plates in different sizes, a barbell, dumbbells, collars, a heart rate monitor, workout mat and even a foam roller.
Best smart home gym and cable machine: Tonal
Tonal works similarly to Mirror and Tempo, with a large screen and a subscription to fitness classes. But this equipment comes with the ability to add attachments, including cables, a bench, handles and rope, creating a full gym in a compact space. Two adjustable arms extend outward from Tonal, much like they do from an all-around cable machine at the gym. They fold in just as easily, meaning Tonal can take up very little space. Like Tempo, Tonal is able to monitor and track your workouts, automatically adjusting the weight and difficulty for you over time. Tonal offers a wide variety of workouts at any intensity and strength level, including strength workouts, HIIT classes and yoga. Shoppers can also set up multiple accounts on the same equipment, making Tonal ideal for larger households. Keep in mind classes aren’t live and attachments cost extra, which can quickly drive up the cost.
Best compact home gym with live classes: Mirror
Mirror was one of the first smart gym screens on the market, and it’s popular for a reason. Slightly more affordable than other smart home gym models, Mirror offers many of the same digital features, including hundreds of live classes and on-demand classes, organized by length, type and equipment needed. Like other smart home gyms, you’ll need to sign up for a subscription ($39 per month). Mirror is much sleeker than other models, though, and can easily blend in as a mirror in any apartment or living space. It’s important to note that Mirror doesn’t come with any physical weights or cables — you’ll have to buy those yourself.
Best power tower: Lx FREE
This adjustable tower is relatively compact and can be used for upper body exercises, including pull ups, tricep dips, push ups and more. The equipment comes with a support pad for modified exercises and can adjust up to over seven feet. The power tower is also much more affordable than other home gym systems and is easy to set up, making it more manageable than other equipment types. Of course, it lacks free weights and isn’t compatible with most traditional weight lifting exercise, but can certainly promote body weight fitness.
Best home squat rack: Rogue
Missing leg day at the gym and just want to bring home the simplest of home gym options? This bestselling squat rack is perfect for heavy lifters, but probably not for those living in an apartment (imagine dropping a 45-pound plate on the floor). It has two bars — one for pull-up exercises and the other for squatting and can hold up to 1,000 pounds of weight. It’s adjustable for height and relatively compact, a good option if you’re low on space. Generally, fitness experts don’t recommend purchasing a squat rack unless you’re a seasoned lifter, as you can easily get injured. Squat racks also have a much more limited exercise variety compared to other home gym systems.
Best compact home gym: Inspire
9. Inspire M2 Home Gym (pre-order)
This home gym promises a Revolution-like full spectrum of exercises, all built into a compact design. It includes two cables, a leg curl and extension station, chest and shoulder press, shoulder press, pulldown cable and more. This home gym is extremely compact for the amount of exercises you’ll get out of it and is easily adjustable for any exercise. This piece of equipment is best for those who enjoy weight lifting and want a gym-like experience out of their home gym.
Make sure you’re really going to use something before taking up space with it.
Mike Fantigrassi, senior director of product development, National Academy of Sports Medicine
Best home gym for you
After checking out the options above, you might be wondering about basic home gym features and how to determine which makes most sense for you. First, experts we consulted advised us to think about how often you work out and what you want to get out of a home gym. Do you plan to use your home gym indefinitely or just until gyms and workout studios reopen safely? With these calculations in mind, you can more easily decide how much you’re really willing to spend.
“Make sure you’re really going to use something before taking up space with it,” said Mike Fantigrassi, senior director of product development at the National Academy of Sports Medicine, where he helps develop and accredit home gym equipment, among other things. “I’ve been guilty of buying something and never using it.”
Not all home gyms are created equal, of course, but it’s also not linear — more expensive home gyms, while certainly laden with features, aren’t necessarily better: You may not have the space to fully furnish an entire gym, for one thing, Gannon noted. Building out a home gym with commercial equipment can quickly run you into the thousands, too. If you aren’t a serious lifter, you may be better off getting smaller, more affordable gym equipment like dumbbells and kettlebells before shelling out for pricier equipment, said Hackney.
Experts recommend combining cardio equipment with strength equipment when building your home gym.
Cardio equipment has grown in popularity during quarantine — you can now find treadmills, stationary bikes and rowers that fit both your budget and lifestyle. Some even come with built-in classes, “incorporating that community aspect of fitness that makes even the most unmotivated want to work out,” Gannon said.
What else to consider when shopping for home gym systems
- Find equipment that can serve multiple uses, like a squat rack, cable machine, pull-up bars, plyo boxes or resistance bands, Gannon said. “Functional movement pieces are a go, too, since you can take almost any workout and modify it to fit those pieces,” she said.
- Consider how much personalization you want. It may be worth it to pay more for “smart” home gyms, which offer specialized guidance or one-on-one training. But don’t shell out for a virtual trainer if you’ve never used one before, said Fantigrassi.
- Make sure your space is electrically equipped. Some gym equipment requires a significant amount of power or a specific electrical set up, noted Gannon.
- Larger (and more expensive) pieces of gym equipment, like treadmills or a cable system will take more maintenance and upkeep than a solid kettlebell. “It will offer more bells and whistles, but costs more and may break or need repairs,” Fantigrassi said.
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