Do you want to buy a weight machine for home? Well, I know it is not an easy task if you have never purchased a home gym before. There are hundreds of strength training systems on the market. How do you know what type is the most suitable for you?
Instead of showing you certain products, I would like to focus on the different types of machines for resistance training. I will show you their pros and cons, for whom they are the most suitable for and how versatile they are.
You know, I have been lifting weights for almost 25 years now and during this time I have tried a lot of weight training machines. I also have a home gym. So, I have experience in this field.
So, here are the best gym machines and their uses.
1. Power Racks – Best weight lifting machines to build muscle
A rack is a pretty simple home exercise equipment which is basically a steel frame with safety and catch bars for barbell workout. Also, cages have pull up bars and weight plate storage pegs. Moreover, some racks can be extended with a pulley system, dips station or others.
The rack is without out a doubt the most beneficial home gym equipment for people who want to build muscle and strength. Such free moving barbell workouts like squat, bench press, deadlift or shoulder presses are the most beneficial compound exercises to gain. These are free moves that are not controlled by any machine system so besides the main muscle groups they work many stabilizer muscles as well.
Moreover, thanks to safety catches and bars, you can lift without the need for a spotter. Hence, you can heavy weights at home which is the best workout technique to grow big and strong.
Many power racks come with pull up and dip station letting you do the most beneficial bodyweight exercises. And, if it is possible to add a cable system to the rack than you can do a wide range of cable exercises such as lat pull down, curls, chest flyes, etc. Therefore, you can have a home gym machine that provides a real total body workout.
What are the cons?
You need to have a barbell, weight plates and exercise bench. And, if you do not have them yet, that means extra cost. Also, a rack is a rather big weight machine.
What to check out when buying?
- The weight capacity which is in most of the cases enough for the regular user. Do not go under 500 lb.
- Available attachments for more versatility. Although, some people prefer to have just the rack to have more space to work out inside.
Which cages do I recommend?
To sum up: The power rack is the most beneficial strength training equipment to build muscle at home. However, you need to invest in additional gear if you do not have yet.
2. Smith Machines – For controlled lifting
Smith weight lifting machines are very similar to power racks. The difference is that it has a vertical steel frame with a barbell attached to it. The bar moves on rails vertically or almost near-vertically. Hence, it provides stability for the exercises. It controls the movements. And, thanks to the catches you can quickly put the bar back.
For example, when you do squats, it does not let you lean backward or forward. But, because of this control stabilizer muscles do not activate as much.
The main benefit of a Smith cage workout is that it gives stability and safety for heavy weight lifting because of the fixed bar. Like a power rack, you can lift heavy since these weight lifting machines have a very high weight capacity. In most of the cases over 600 lb.
Finally, you can find machines that feature various mobile weight elements or cables that make them even more versatile.
The main disadvantage is the movement restriction for the bar. This way stabilizer muscles do not work, and you cannot perform such exercises like deadlifts.
They come with the attached Olympic bar, but no weight plate set. That means extra cost if you do have them yet.
What to check out
- Most of them are equipped with Olympic barbell. Hence you need to have Olympic weight plates with 2″ holes. However, there are gym weight machines with a standard bar, and for that, you need plates with 1″ holes. But, if you already have Olympic plates, you can use 2″ sleeve adapters.
- Just a few Smith exercise machines come with a workout bench. If you need to buy one, opt for an adjustable weight bench with high capacity. This way you can lift heavy and perform decline, incline, and flat bench exercises.
Finally, check out what types of accessories the machine supports to have more versatility.
Which Smith machine I recommend?
Marcy Smith Cage is an excellent price/value machine. It even comes with a weight bench.
To conclude: The Smith machine is a versatile and useful weight training equipment which is beneficial for beginner, mid-level users, but powerlifters also enjoy it.
3. Weight Stack Home Gyms
These weight machines are multifunction home gyms that work with cables and pulley systems that connect to weight stacks. Depending on the model, they come with less or more types of exercise stations, but almost all come with lat pull down. Typical stations are preacher pad, low pulley for rowing, pec fly workout station, leg extension/leg curl.
Basically, the more types of exercises and higher resistance the machine supports, the more expensive it is.
What are the benefits?
Firstly, because weight stacks are included, you do not need to buy plates if you do not have yet. Plus, changing resistance is very easy. Typically, you just need to replace a pin.
Although that depends on the home gym machine, you can perform a lot of exercises. The best models actually provide a full body workout. A quality item can substitute many home workout equipment.
Almost always you have to assemble it, and since they are multifunctional, there are a lot of parts. Though, you can get a rather affordable home gym assembly service.
Besides, once you are ready with assembly, it is difficult to move. So, you need a dedicated space for it.
Finally, they have limits. Most of the multi-gyms are not upgradeable. As you develop, you may reach the level when the provided resistance is not enough. So, in the long run, it is better to buy one with a higher maximum load (above 300 lb).
Most important features to check
- Cast iron weight stacks are the most durable. They cling, but there are rubber coated versions. I do not recommend to buy vinyl-cement plates.
- Most of the stack weight machines come with a fixed resistance which is around 250-300 lb. That is enough for most people. A better option if you get a gym with an upgradeability so that you can add more resistance in case you outgrow the machine.
- Depending on the pulleys you want to use, the machine has different weight ratios. Typically, 1:1 rate is very rare, the resistance is almost always less than you set. That means even if the fitness equipment is promoted as a 300 lb resistance machine, the real feel maybe less.
- Some products can be upgraded with various attachments such as preacher curl pad, leg developer, etc. This way in the future you can add more exercises to your total body training.
Which weight stack home gym system I recommend?
To sum up, multi-stack gyms are versatile strength training exercise equipment that is particularly beneficial for starter and medium fitness level trainers. They have their limits, though.
4. Plate Loaded Leverage Weight Machines
These machines are very similar to the previous ones. They are multifunction home gyms. The resistance, instead of stacks, comes from the plates that you place on different pegs. Hence, they are useful for those who already have plates at home.
The capacity for the pulleys is the same. However, these machines come with various arms that you can load with much higher weights. A lever press arm for chest press or squat can be used up to 500 lb. Hence, they are beneficial for pro athletes.
5. Cable Crossover Machines
Cable crossover machines have two lateral weight stacks connected to pulleys and cables. These functional trainers are very versatile letting us do a lot of exercises to each body part. They are particularly beneficial to perform drills to build muscles more defined and shaped.
There are two types of cable cross machines. The first version comes with weights stacks, the other is plate loaded. If you already have plates, then I would prefer the latest since you can save money.
These weight machines have dual high and low pulleys, and the number of cable exercises for each muscle group is numerous. For example, curls for biceps, extensions for biceps, cable crunches for abs, cable lunges for legs, flyes for chest, etc. But, better models even have a pull-up bar for bodyweight training.
What are the disadvantages?
Well, these are rather big weight training machines, so need space to use it comfortably. Also, some cable machines have to be bolted to the floor for better stability.
What to check out?
- Get a machine with both low and high pulleys to benefit from a wide array of cable exercises.
- Maximum capacity. Make sure that the cable machine has a limit that suits your needs.
6. Power Rod Machines
The power rod resistance technology is invented by Bowflex. The construction of Bowflex home gyms is very similar to the traditional weight machines, but the instead of weight stacks or plates the resistance is generated by flexible rods. The cables are attached to these flexible rods, and when you pull the handles or the bar, the rods bend generating the resistance.
There some Bowflex gyms we can choose from. The basic one called Bowflex PR1000 home gym let us perform about 30 exercises. The top level one called Bowflex Xtreme 2SE home gym supports over 70. So, versatility is not a question. Also, each gym is fully adjustable, and it is effortless to set the resistance.
Some users find it disturbing when they pull the cables they have to control the motion. This unstable motion is because of the power rods. Bowflex gyms do not have stabilized stack resistance that we are used to. However, because you have to control the motion many stabilizer muscles have to be activated to perform the movement. And, that leads to a more effective workout.
Depending on the workout machine, maximum resistance is between 210 lb to 410 lb, but keep in mind that the real feel of resistance is slightly less than that. Therefore, I recommend the Bowflex home gym system for novice or intermediate level users. Advanced level people may not find any of these machines efficient.
In my opinion, the best buy is the Bowflex Blaze home gym because it is upgradeable and provides the most exercises even for weight loss.
How to use these machines effectively?
No matter which item you choose above to get results you need to use it the right way to get results. Here are three tips.
- Decide what you want. Do you want to get bigger and much stronger? Do you want to make your muscles more defined? Or both? It is important to know what you since you have to get the right workout plan.
- Learn the proper form of each exercise. If poorly-performed exercise not only inefficient but can cause injuries. Do not hurry! Start with lighter resistance so that you can focus on the proper form.
- Never neglect any body part. Each of the weight lifting machines above let you work every muscle group of your body. Full body workouts are required for a healthy, balanced and symmetric body.
As you see, there is a wide range of home weight machines for strength training. You can lift with a barbell or use machines that control the motion more. If you do not know the difference read more about machines vs. free weights here.