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Free Weights or Weight Stack System?

First of all, let’s decide if you prefer a free weight system or a weight stack system. Free weights are in the form of barbells and dumbbells. They can be used for a variety of exercises, from arm curls to bench presses. The free weight smith machines in our review all offer free weight exercises as well as a safety locking mechanism (smith machine) for machine-type exercises and most offer safety spotters for free-weight exercises. If you are somewhat past the beginning stage, free weights are probably your best option. Askmen.com and About.com both have good articles on the pros and cons of each. The articles each conclude that free weights tend to be a better choice for almost everyone because you will see greater results. They are more versatile, functional and tend to allow you to build more whole body strength. However, stack machines may be the better option for some because of the ease of use or the need to have multi stations available for you and another exerciser. Weight stack machines are generally safer than free weights because weight machines eliminate the risk of the exerciser dropping weights on himself or herself. They can also often force the exerciser into a safe position and lift correctly. Weight machines can range from multi-station machines to smaller, single-station machines that allow variations of a particular exercise, such as arm curls. All weight machines consist of a metal frame, one or more padded seats or benches, and various handles, levers, or straps attached to resistance devices. Weight machines are generally designed for people between 5 feet 8 inches and 6 feet tall. This can be a problem for shorter or taller individuals. Overweight users may also experience problems with some machines. We recommend a free weight system for anyone that wants a tone or chiseled body and a stack system for those that just want to get a quick workout in each day to keep the flab to a minimum.

What is your budget?

For most, cost is an obvious consideration when purchasing home fitness equipment, but if cost is your main determinant you may end up buying equipment of poor quality and end up spending more money in repairs, new equipment or liability costs than you actually saved. You’ve probably learned before that you usually get what you pay for so don’t expect to get high quality equipment that will last for years for cheap because they simply cannot be made cheaply. A good rule of thumb is that if the price of the equipment is significantly lower than that of other similar equipment, check out the manufacturer. Some manufacturers use cheaper parts and production shortcuts to lower their costs. Although this factor is important to the home purchaser, durability may be more critical to the facility equipment purchaser since the equipment will probably get more use. Things to consider regarding the durability of the equipment include joints, the frame and base, cables, and padding. If the cost of quality equipment is not in your budget, consider buying used equipment.

How Much Room Do You Have?

Next, let’s look at how much space you have in your home or office. This is a factor that may seem obvious, but one that is sometimes overlooked by the purchaser. Before purchasing a gym for either your home or facility use, you must make sure you have proper spacing to accommodate the equipment. Such spacing must allow for easy access to the equipment and enough room to actually use the equipment. If you have any doubts at all, measure the doors and floor space and take into account the floor layout before making any purchase. If you are limited with space, then maybe a single stack gym is best However, if you have room for a smith machine then you can have the advantage of free weights and greater gains toward your fitness goals. Most smith machines combine free weights and machine exercises so you will get the best of both worlds if you choose one of our recommended smith gyms. Multi-stack gyms generally require the most room but give you a variety of easy-to-use exercises. In our research, we found that smith machines actually offer the most variety of exercises because of the many options free weights allow you to perform. So, carefully check the requirements needed for each home gym and ensure that you look at the ones that will fit in the space you have available.

What are your fitness needs?

The best home gym for YOU is the one that meets YOUR needs. Since everyone’s fitness goals are different then the best home gym will be different for everyone. A home purchaser should make sure the equipments look and features are appealing so that they will want to continue to use it. A facility equipment purchaser must know the likes and dislikes of his clientele. Variety in your exercise is very important, so look for a gym that offers you the most variety on the muscle groups that you will need to exercise the most to reach your fitness goals. Most home training programs are abandoned because they become boring and monotonous. Experts also recommend mixing a variety of exercises into your workout routine to achieve the best results. You can reference our exercise chart to see which machine will offer you the best exercises for your fitness goals. Position, grip, angles, smooth action and comfort and support all contribute to appeal. Be careful not to overemphasize the appeal factor, however, or you may buy poor quality equipment simply because it looks good.

Examine the product: features, design, manufacture, safety, and serviceability:

Features & design: What are your fitness needs? The best home gym for YOU is the one that meets YOUR needs. Since everyone’s fitness goals are different then the best home gym will be different for everyone. A home purchaser should make sure the equipments look and features are appealing so that they will want to continue to use it. A facility equipment purchaser must know the likes and dislikes of his clientele. Variety in your exercise is very important, so look for a gym that offers you the most variety on the muscle groups that you will need to exercise the most to reach your fitness goals. Most home training programs are abandoned because they become boring and monotonous. Experts also recommend mixing a variety of exercises into your workout routine to achieve the best results. You can reference our exercise chart to see which machine will offer you the best exercises for your fitness goals. Position, grip, angles, smooth action and comfort and support all contribute to appeal. Be careful not to overemphasize the appeal factor, however, or you may buy poor quality equipment simply because it looks good.

Manufacture, safety, and serviceability: You’ll want to make sure that the equipment has enough padding. Harder foam is generally used in heavy wear areas and softer material in support areas. Contour shapes are good for comfort, but remember that the less complex the shape, the easier it will be to repair or replace later. Upholstery is another thing to keep in mind when examining the padding. Does the covering of the padding look durable? The best covers are upholstered on the back so that the users fingers do not pull at the fastenings. Check to see if the welds are sturdy. Make sure joints that are bolted remain steady during exercises and do not wobble. Does the equipment stand securely on its base? You certainly do not want to purchase anything that wobbles. When examining this factor, you may want to have a heavy-set person test the equipment. Check to see what the maximum recommended load is. Machines are usually designed for people of average weight. If you are overweight or have clients that are, the frame can potentially be strained or damaged. You should also consider what the frame is made of. Is it steel or aluminum? Steel is more durable and lasts longer – unless it is lower quality steel produced in China. What gauge is the steel? The gauge indicates the strength of the steel. The lower the gauge, the stronger and more stable the steel. We recommend that steel be at least 11-gauge. One final note regarding the frame – are the guide rods (weight stack or smith machine) straight or tilted? A tilted weight stack / smith guide can cause the guide rods to wear out and bend or break. Does the equipment use chains, cables or belts? Belts are generally more durable because resistance is spread over a wider surface. Both belts and cables tend to be quiet. If the equipment uses cables, what is the strength? We recommend at least a tensile strength of 2000 lbs. Lastly, What type of finish does the equipment have? A powder coated finish is the most chip resistant and durable. Ask if the manufacturer’s warranty covers premature wear of the finish.

The importance of service and warranty to your buying process cannot be underestimated. Sooner or later, even the best equipment will need maintenance. Check the warranty of the manufacturer and the service program of the vendor. Are you basically left on your own after the purchase? If so, does the company have a toll-free technical support line? If you have any doubts about the service program of the vendor or the manufacturer, ask for references. Or pick up the phone and make phone calls to area fitness professionals to see if they have dealt with the company before.

Another consideration related to service that is sometimes overlooked is the initial assembly of the equipment. Find out if the store will assemble the equipment for you. If not, ask to see instructions to determine if assembly is too complicated or time consuming. Whenever you decide to buy your equipment, make sure the store has a reasonable return policy. Check to see if you can return equipment within 30 days. If you decide to purchase through the internet or from a magazine or catalog, make sure you have some recommendations from friends or others who have used the equipment.

Where do I shop for a home gym?

Have you decided how much you are willing to spend to get what you need? For some, fitness is part of who they are and what they are all about. When you look better you feel better and when you feel better you are usually happier and more successful in other aspects of your life. If this describes you, then you are more likely to expand your budget for a higher quality home gym. The general retail chain stores have entered the home gym and fitness market over the past couple of decades as the demand for equipment has increased. Typically, such stores offer only one or two brand names per machine. They also tend to be inexpensive, which sometimes means poorer quality. However, that does not mean that you cannot buy a quality product from a retail chain store. Equipment at retail chain stores is not always available to test though it is often available to look at.

There are hundreds of brick-and-mortar retail stores throughout the U.S. and Canada that specialize in selling home gyms and home fitness equipment. These specialty fitness stores are a great resource with many knowledgeable sales associates to help you and answer your questions. These stores have floor models that allow you to test and try the equipment before making a purchase. However, most stores only carry 3 or 4 different manufacturers’ products and will often push to sell you on the ones which offer them the best margins, so beware! Also, you will want to visit several different stores to see different products. Of course, this will take a lot of time and effort, both of which we have already spent, and the results are compiled in this review so you won’t have to work so hard.

You can save money by purchasing direct from some manufacturers. Many manufacturers advertise on the internet, television, radio or in publications. But not all manufacturers will accommodate the individual purchaser as some work only through authorized dealers. Equipment ordered from a manufacturer will be delivered, and the required assembly generally must be completed by you. In addition, your only familiarity with the equipment when working through the manufacturer is based on the literature provided. Make sure that you have either tested the equipment yourself or that you have trustworthy references on the equipment before buying.

Obviously, if you are reading this review, then you are computer savvy enough to know the other place to shop. Yes, the internet! There are some gyms that you will only find online and others that you will only find in fitness stores. This review includes both. Some manufacturers sell online direct to the customers or through etailers (online retail stores) which can save you a lot of money. We’ve included links to the best places to buy on the review page of most of the gyms, so you can click on them in buy in confidence that you’ll be getting the best price / service. Happy Shopping!

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