Having a full gym setup in your house can be amazing – your own squat rack, bench, barbell, pull-up station, pec deck and leg developer…
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Thankfully, these days plenty of compact multi gyms are available, ranging from box-sized budget gyms that can be stored under your bed, to high-end multi gyms that barely take up a corner of your living room.
In today’s article we are taking a look at the best home gyms on that market that take up a surprisingly small space. Whether you live in a smaller home, an apartment or simply don’t want fitness to dominate your entire living area, there’s something for you here!
Stay tuned for a guide to compact home gyms with plenty of considerations and advice, as well as a FAQ section to help answer some of your burning questions.
No compact home gym chart is complete without mentioning this excellent multi gym from the innovative fitness brand Bowflex. While it may not be as suited to mass building as some of the bigger home gyms, the PR3000 offers a ‘no cable change’ three-position pulley system to deliver more than 50 movements.
This guarantees a good total body workout, with the high pulley offering back and arm exercises, and the low pulleys catering for bicep curls, upright rows and standing calf raises. Then you have the middle pulleys which are great for working both your chest and core.
It also features an adjustable bench that can be removed for even less of a footprint. The full review of the Bowflex PR3000 has all you need about this compact multi gym!
Resistance: FlexPacks (up to 25lbs)
Adjustable Resistance: Yes
Features: SpiraFlex technology, commercial-grade polymer frame, nylon-coated stainless steel cables, ergonomic hand grips, 1 x 5lb and 2 x 10lb FlexPacks, leg anchors, door anchors, PDF nutrition guide, online access to workouts and exercise videos
While not a home gym in the same mold as others, the OYO Personal Gym offers a surprising amount of movements and resistance in a compact 2lb package. Perfect for when space is an issue.
Talking of space, this device has been endorsed by NASA astronauts after use on missions to the Space Station. This certainly separates it from some of the more gimmicky devices out there.
The OYO uses so-called ‘SpiraFlex technology’ that provides up to 25lbs of linear resistance. You can work your arms, chest, back and – to some degree – legs, and expect a pretty effective workout, providing you can follow the online guides. It’s durable, with a commercial-grade polymer frame and nylon-coated stainless steel cables, and features a three-year warranty to back it up.
Time for something completely different! While the Home Gym 2.0 from BodyBoss may initially seem like a bit of a gimmick, hundreds of users swear by this ‘gym in a box’. In fact, it’s undoubtedly the most compact multi gym on this list!
Brought to life as a Kickstarter project, the Home Gym 2.0 offers several pieces and attachments, with a base, two 40lb resistance bands, a squat bar, handles, and wrist/ankle straps. This allows for hundreds of movements to deliver a surprisingly good total body workout.
These include squats, bicep curls, shoulder presses, upright rows, rear delt flyes, triceps extensions and many others. Follow along to included workout guides and online video lessons to really make the most from this unit.
Resistance: Resistance bands
Adjustable Resistance: Yes
Features: Steel frame construction (with padding), dynamic handles, adjustable ankle straps, printed workout guide, instructional DVD
The Tower 200 from Body by Jake is another solid choice if you are looking for a home gym on a budget. It has its limitations, but if you have a door, the Tower 200 provides everything you need to work your body.
In fact, around 200 exercises are on offer with this piece of kit, which fits on most standard doors with minimal fuss. With a steel frame and multiple tension cords, you can adjust the resistance to suit your needs – supposedly up to 200lbs, although in practice it feels a bit lighter.
It’s versatile, allowing you to rep out chests presses, flyes, upright rows, lunges, squats and a lot more. As with many other home gyms, it’s not going to build mass overnight, but the variety will appeal to those short on space.
Resistance: Power Rods
Adjustable Resistance: Yes
Features: Upper and lower pulley system, padded handles, leg extender, aerobic rower function, built-in media rack, sturdy build, workout videos
Another solid offering from Bowflex is the slightly more wallet-friendly PR1000. This multi gym boasts many of the same features as the more expensive PR3000 (above), with a few surprisingly good additions.
For example, it offers more than 25 movements, with a total 210lbs of Power Rod resistance. These comprise the standard muscle-building exercises for both upper and lower body, but – with the bench seat on rollers – it also offers an aerobic rowing function!
While it isn’t as compact as its higher-end sibling, the lower portion housing the bench and rail folds upwards, allowing you to reduce this unit to half its size after your workout is complete. There’s more on this one in our complete PR1000 review!
Resistance: Bodyweight, Resistance bands
Adjustable Resistance: Yes
Features: Steel-reinforced polyethylene base, static handles, dynamic handles, ankle straps, Fusion bar, core wheel, door anchor, tension bands (2 x normal, 2 x strong), Fusion-branded bag, training guide
In the same mold as the BodyBoss, this portable gym from Fusion Motion is surprisingly versatile for such a compact and affordable selection of equipment, making it ideal for working out in tight spaces or while travelling.
Included in this pack is a steel-reinforced polyethylene base, to which you can attach two sets of resistance bands (either normal or strong). You can pair this with dynamic handles, a bar or a core wheel, to perform everything from squats and overhead presses, to lateral raises and bicep curls.
A set of static handles are also handy for a multitude of pushups, while the included training guide offers 200 exercises to get stuck into. Throw it in the included bag for storage or transportation and you’ll really see the value of this package!
Resistance: Bodyweight plus resistance bands
Adjustable Resistance: Yes
Features: Cable and pulley system, compact design, nylon strap handles, removable base plate and handles, 50+ movements
Some people may be tempted to turn their noses up at a budget multi gym that dares replicate the iconic Total Gym design, yet they would be missing out on a very solid unit from Weider.
The Ultimate Body Works is a very affordable and compact unit that offers a bodyweight resistance moving board and pulley system to deliver a total body workout. You can do everything from upper back rows and bicep curls to squats and leg presses.
An innovative feature is the addition of four tension cables at the bottom, which allow you to increase the resistance for an added challenge. There’s more on the Ultimate Body Works in the full review.
This may surprise you, but compact multi gyms can offer as many – if not more – exercise options as bigger units.
Sure, you aren’t likely to build your squat strength in the same way as you would with a bigger unit with a built-in squat rack and a huge stack of weight, but for small spaces these machines rock.
Here are some things to keep in mind when looking for a compact home gym:
Browsing our chart above, you will notice that compact home gyms come in all shapes and sizes – all suitable for different fitness goals and spaces. These designs have found a way to solve the footprint issue without reducing functionality.
You’ll find traditional multi gyms with familiar cable and pulley systems that have simply been built to smaller specs. Some of these will feature a removeable bench or a folding rail that allows you to reduce the footprint of the multi gym when you have finished working out.
There are also Total Gym-style machines, which feature a sliding seat on rails to utilize your own bodyweight as resistance. These units may still take a bit of space when in use, but they fold away after your workout, usually allowing you to put them in a closet or under the bed.
If you are very short on space, the so-called ‘gym in a box’ options are an excellent solution. As mentioned, the BodyBoss model above offers more than 200 exercises, utilizing a range of bands and attachments.
These are certainly limited in some ways compared to traditional multi gyms, yet the fact that you can store them away – or even take in your suitcase when you are travelling – is a huge bonus.
The design you go for will depend on your goals. Obviously, if you are looking to build muscle and strength, something that allows you add your own Olympic plates is going to be ideal.
Alternatively, if you just want to keep fit and value your space more than shifting heavy weight, then a gym in a box style unit is going to be more up your street.
The features of a compact multi gym will usually be determined by the design of it. For example, if you are buying a gym in a box style unit, you know the majority of features are going to be resistance bands and attachments.
On the other hand, bigger – and often more expensive – multi gyms usually feature a bench, a frame, a cable/pulley system, and whatever resistance they utilize (see below).
The frames won’t be particularly bulky on these compact units. Plus, to keep the footprint to a minimum, these gyms may feature a removable bench or means to fold the bench vertically, thus saving space after you have finished your session.
The pulley system a unit offers will define the movements you can perform. High pulleys allow you to do things like lat pulldowns and tricep pulldowns, while low pulleys are what’s required for shoulder press, upright rows and bicep curls.
Some multi gyms will feature a middle pulley system, which are great for performing chest presses, rows and core exercises, such as weighted crunches and trunk rotations.
If the multi gym features a bench, chances are it will also feature a leg developer. These devices are fitted with padded rollers that allow you to perform leg extensions and curls, targeting your quads and hamstrings.
Move away from traditional home gyms and towards the Total Gym-style units and the feature set changes. With a basic cable and pulley system, you can still perform presses, curls, pulldowns and more, but the way you do them differs.
These models will also be armed with several accessories and attachments, including the all-important handles, as well as ankle straps, wing attachment and dip bar.
Whatever style multi gym you go for, expect at least some sort of exercise guide accompanying it. Sometimes this can be as simple as a sheet of movements, while others will offer you a full pack of workout cards, DVDs, wall charts and even nutrition guides.
Once again, it’s the design of the individual multi gym that will determine the resistance used. For example, your traditional multi gym could feature resistance in the form of a classic weight stack, which is convenient – everything you need is there, ready to go.
If you are buying a Bowflex machine, expect surprisingly effective resistance from Power Rods (composite rods that bend as you pull) instead of a weight stack.
You may also find those units that allow you to add Olympic plates. While the disadvantage is that you have to buy your own plates, you can add as much weight as you like and make real strength and muscle gains – something you may struggle to do on a machine limited to, say, 200lbs of resistance.
Total Gym-style multi gyms make use of bodyweight as the resistance, which can be pretty effective. These units usually feature an angle adjustment to allow you to amend the resistance – the steeper the incline, the tougher the movement.
Some units will also include added resistance in the form of bungee cords or resistance bands at the bottom of the machine.
With compact home gyms, there are some limitations to be aware of depending on the design you go for. There’s a reason that memberships to commercial gyms, with high-end machines and plenty of space, tend to be quite expensive!
When it comes to home gyms, the lower the cost and smaller the multi gym, the more limitations there tends to be. Compact units can be great, but they can also be a bit frustrating if you are restricted in the range of motion or by a lack of resistance.
This is why it’s best to be realistic with your expectations. To sell their products, manufacturers will try to pack in as much as they can and keep the cost as low as possible. Compromises have to be made.
This means that perhaps the motion may be a bit jerky or the cables may not feel durable. The seat may be a bit wobbly or it takes a while to move from one exercise to the other as you adjust certain attachments.
We aren’t trying to discourage you – ultimately, don’t expect a commercial gym-grade workout on a compact machine and you should be pleasantly surprised!
Take a look at the chart above and you will have answered your own question! In all seriousness, the best compact home gym will depend on your goals, budget and – most importantly – space.
Are you trying to save as much space as possible? If this is the case, then a ‘gym in a box’ will be your first consideration. While these multi gyms lack traditional features, many boast several attachments, multiple movements and can offer a surprisingly good workout. When you are done, you simply pack it up and store it under the bed!
Are you trying build and maintain muscle? If so, a traditional multi gym setup (i.e. one with a bench and cable/pulley system) will be better for you. These machines will offer a high and low (and sometimes a middle) pulley, with cables and handles allowing you to pull the attached resistance to stress your muscles.
Are you looking to build pure strength? Unless you are a complete beginner, you will need something more than a gym in a box.
While a Bowflex compact gym is a good call for beginners, a multi gym that allows you to add individual plates and really crank up the load will always suit you better than a machine that caps out at 200lbs.
Whether you are setting up a home gym in a corner of your living room or a spacious garage, it’s worth defining your goals before deciding what to buy.
However, a multi gym unit is a good starting point. Whether you go for an ultra-compact gym in a box or a full Bowflex multi gym, you will instantly have means to work your entire body.
If you have more space to work with and a bigger budget, a squat rack, bench and a barbell is ideal, especially if muscle-building is your goal. Of course, if you just want something to help you keep fit and toned, this may be overkill.
Before you buy a multi gym or a power rack, maybe consider if you would be able to work out without one. If you want to build a bit of muscle, a good pair of adjustable dumbbells and a doorway pull-up bar will usually give you all you need to build some strength at home in a small space.
If you are more flexible with the amount of space you can dedicate to your home gym, then adding a cardio machine is another great call. This may be something as simple as a budget treadmill or a rowing machine, elliptical or stationary bike, depending on your preferred aerobic activity.
After that, you can add whatever you like to your home gym. There is plenty of fitness equipment out there. You may opt for an ab roller or a medicine ball to work on your core, or a yoga mat and blocks to aid flexibility. Don’t forget a few workout posters to keep you motivated!
Of course you can! Providing you have the necessary equipment to work your body – whether a multi gym, dumbbells or a treadmill – there is no reason you can’t build a great physique in the comfort of your own home.
However, believe it or not, it takes as much commitment to work out at home as it does going to the gym – sometimes more. This is because, while a home gym is convenient, there are often more distractions to stop you from working.
At a commercial gym, you have driven there for one reason – to work out. At home you may have every intention of working out, but then your partner, kids, dog, computer and TV are all there to stop you in your tracks!
Keep focused – or work out at a time when there are no distractions – and you will have as good a chance of getting in shape at home as you would at a commercial gym.
The other thing to remember is that a good diet is usually more important that the exercise you do. Having a great workout is one thing, but following that with pizza, cookies and beer isn’t going to help you reveal a six pack! Stick to a sensible diet and you will see results sooner.
Bowflex is a big name in the fitness industry and has been since the mid ’80s, thanks to its expanding range of innovative multi gyms (not to mention dumbbells, treadmills and other fitness gear).
Bowflex multi gyms tend to rely on Power Rods – composite poles that bend to create resistance – instead of traditional weights. Providing you are using the equipment correctly and following a decent program, a Bowflex machine can be very good at helping you build and maintain muscle mass.
There are limitations in that the maximum resistance on Bowflex machines is usually around 210lbs (although some are upgradable to 310lbs). If you are just starting out in the world of bodybuilding, then this will deliver a great load that really tests your strength and muscle capabilities.
However, if you are already used to lifting this kind of weight, you will find it difficult to give your muscles the challenge they need to grow. Ultimately, if you are already lifting, say, 300lbs, chances are you are an avid member of a gym and wouldn’t be looking towards a Bowflex unit anyway!
Whether you live in a small home, apartment, log cabin, mobile home or boat, with so many compact home gyms on the market, there is no reason not to get in a decent workout!
By now you will understand the limitations of some of these compact units, but you will also understand how useful they can be.
Whatever unit you go for, make sure it meets your needs – otherwise you may be buying a very expensive clothes horse! However, providing you follow our guidance above, you should end up with a compact multi gym that will give you a great at-home workout.