Looking to build a little muscle at home? Or just want to keep moving when you can’t get to the gym? Home gyms can be an excellent solution if you are short on time or just hate commercial gyms!
Surprisingly, these days you can buy an excellent multi gym for less than $500. These units will offer you ways to hit multiple body parts and enjoy a full-body workout in the comfort of your own home.
In this article we will be showing you some of the best home gyms you can buy for under $500, highlighting their features, pros and cons.
We will also discuss this price range in general, along with its strengths and limitations, as well as tackling a few frequently asked questions below.
Similar to other Bowflex units, the Power Rods can lose resistance over time
Not as compact as the PR3000
No option to upgrade the resistance
Topping this list is the PR1000 from Bowflex, which builds on the innovation present on the brand’s first multi gym unit, released in 1986.
The PR1000 features a range of Power Rods at the rear to provide up to 210lbs of adjustable resistance, with a cable and pulley system offering a flexible range of movements. In fact, this multi gym offers more than 25 exercises, targeting your entire body including your legs and core.
Further features include a bench on rollers to allow for aerobic rowing, which is a unique and useful addition. As we mention in the full review of the Bowflex PR1000, this sturdy and stylish unit also features a media shelf so you can watch workout videos as you go.
Just one glance at the MWM 990 from Marcy is enough to tell you that this home gym means business. With its stealthy black and red color scheme it wouldn’t look out of place in a commercial gym.
This multi gym features a heavy-duty steel construction and a 150lb weight stack, with 10lb increments. The exercises you can complete using the MWM 990 are standard for this range – which is a good thing. You can hit your pecs with both chest press and flye arms; your back with a multi-angle lat pulldown bar; and legs with a padded leg developer.
It also comes with a removable preacher pad for cable bicep curls. However, you won’t be short of inspiration, with a huge chart of exercises pasted onto the main column.
A good weight stack with a total of 330lbs of resistance
Features an adjustable preacher pad for arm development
Vinyl weights feel a little cheap
Not as sturdy as some of the other units on this list
Gold’s Gym is a name that needs no introduction to anyone with an interest in bodybuilding. The brand’s stylish XRS 55 offers you the chance to get some of that classic Gold’s Gym experience in the comfort of your own home.
The XRS 55 features a 125lb vinyl weight stack, with a meaty total of 330lbs of resistance on offer. This is attached to a traditional high/low cable and pulley system, along with all the attachments you need.
This unit allows you to work the majority of your body, arriving with a lat bar, chest press station, foam-covered leg developers, and even a preacher pad to target your biceps. It’s not perfect, but you are getting a lot of gym for the low price.
Comes with everything you need for a full body workout
Handy workout chart supplied
Stylish and compact design
Range of motion on butterfly arms feels limited
Quite tricky to put the unit together
Similar to the MWM 990, Marcy’s MWM 988 is an all-round solid home multi gym with a slightly different design to make it a little more compact.
However, it still offers everything you would need for a great total body workout at home. Taking center stage is the 150lb vinyl weight stack, featuring increments of 10lbs. To work your chest, you have a pair of dual-action press arms, while the overhead lat bar allows you to easily target your lats and triceps.
There’s also a padded leg developer and an adjustable preacher pad, as well as an ankle strap to use with the lower pulley system. Like its sibling, the MWM 988 also features a handy workout chart permanently affixed to the central column.
Delivers everything you need for a full-body workout
Folds away easily to save space after a workout
Features more attachments than the 1400 for a wider range of exercises
Comes with DVDs and flip chart to boost your workout planning
Quite a long unit when in use
Not the best machine for strength or muscle building
Have to remove certain attachments to use others
The name Total Gym carries a lot of weight in the home fitness industry, with their 1900 an advanced offering over their already-popular 1400.
It utilizes the original design, using a sliding bench and cable/pulley system, as well as plenty of accessories to provide more than 60 different bodyweight resistance movements. These include chest press and rowing variations, as well as options to work your triceps, biceps, abs and legs.
You can set the bench angle to 12 different levels, adjusting the resistance to suit your level and goals. It folds away easily, making it ideal for compact spaces. To give you a little direction, it also comes with an easy to follow exercise flip chart, as well as two workout DVDs.
Shopping for a Home Gym Under $500
When you look at $500 multi gyms and compare them directly to multi gyms under $300, you may not notice a huge difference. At least not until you take a closer look.
Even though the lack of obvious differences may put some people off spending more than $300, the subtle differences lead to a much better machine – easier to use, more movement options and other benefits.
Let’s take a look at what you can expect, and what you should look out for, when shopping in the $500 range:
Truth be told, there is no drastic changes in design when jumping two hundred bucks from the $300 to $500 category. You will still find that multi gyms in this range come in all shapes and sizes.
Some of these will be similar to the traditional resistance machines you may find in a commercial gym, with a pec deck, chest press, lat pull-down and leg extender all crammed into one unit.
Alternatively, you can still find the Total Gym-style bench-on-rails multi gyms (yeah, just like Chuck Norris endorses!). In this price range these systems will be similar to those in the budget category, but they will feature more attachments and more accessories, leading to more advanced workouts.
The prime benefits of this style of unit is that they are foldable and more compact when not in use, yet still deliver a surprisingly good full-body workout.
Your goals and living space will determine which home gym is best for you. If you feel a preacher pad is essential to help you carve your biceps, then you are unlikely to be sold on a Total Gym-style machine.
A plus, as you increase your budget to $500, is that the aesthetics and build quality of these units improves. They are far from perfect, but components such as the cable and pulley system, and the seat, will feel a little sturdier in use.
The multi gyms in this price range are pretty fruitful in the range of movements they deliver, with more on offer than budget units.
This means additional attachments and accessories to give you everything you need to target your entire body. You’ll find dual-action chest press arms to hit your chest; multi-angle lat bars to target your back and triceps; and leg developers and low pulleys for your legs.
A unit in this range will usually also give you a preacher pad for building your biceps and a row plate, so you can get off the bench and complete a low row. These features are not usually seen on budget models.
Another cool thing we start to see is a bit more innovation in design, as each brand competes for your attention.
For example, Bowflex’s PR1000 caters for the standard muscle-developing resistance movements, but also offers an aerobic rowing option by fixing the seat to rollers. Very smart and unique in this range.
You can usually expect a workout chart or guide to accompany your multi gym, with many providing DVDs to offer full workouts. Of course, if they don’t, YouTube is usually full of inspiration on how to squeeze the most from your machine.
What’s a multi gym without resistance? A big waste of space! Yes, the resistance a machine offers is just as important as the design and build.
The majority of home gyms under $500 will feature a sizable stack of weights, usually up to around 150lbs. You can select increments of weight (usually a manageable 10lbs) with a pin system.
In this price range, the weight stack will still be vinyl as opposed to the metal weight plates you may find in the $1,000 multi gym range and beyond.
However, you can also find alternative resistance to traditional weight stacks, such as Bowflex’s innovative Power Rods or simply your own bodyweight.
With these systems you can still alter the resistance – usually by selecting different rods or by adjusting the angle of something to make your bodyweight feel heavier or lighter than it is.
In most cases you will be able to find weight that allows you to build muscle and strength, although how effective this weight is will depend on the movements you are doing and your current level. It goes without saying that a beginner will find 150lbs of resistance a lot more effective than a seasoned lifter.
Before you click ‘Buy’, take a moment to consider what you are buying your multi gym for. While $500 isn’t a life changing amount, installing a multi gym in your home is not something you should do on a whim.
Chances are it will take up a considerable portion of whatever room you place it in, so make sure it is going to meet your needs before it turns into an expensive clothes horse!
Are you looking to build muscle? You may also want to buy a pair of adjustable dumbbells to do some movements that multi gyms may not allow you to do effectively, or simply to add a new dimension to your training.
Similarly, you may want to add in an ab roller, medicine ball or Swiss ball to allow you to focus on your core – something multi gyms in this range don’t always cater for.
Whatever unit you buy for under $500, be realistic with your expectations. These are certainly sturdier, more reliable and more advanced units than those entry-level models, but don’t expect the same smoothness or resistance you’d find on a machine at your local gym.
Manufacturers are trying to pack in as much as they can into a single unit for a relatively small price, so the overall performance can sometimes be a bit disappointing if you are expecting a gym-grade workout. Perhaps the cables may feel a bit flimsy, the seat may be a little shakey, or the range of motion isn’t complete.
At the end of the day, there’s a that reason gym memberships are so expensive – each machine costs thousands of dollars!
Don’t let this put you off. You can certainly achieve excellent total body workouts by using a home gym, providing you understand the limitations of these units, and put in the hard work.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Multi Gym?
Ever walked into a gym and seen the pec deck, chest press, lat pulldown, low row and leg extender and thought, ‘I’d love all those machines in my garage’? That’s pretty much exactly what a multi gym is.
Commercial gyms have big budgets and plenty of room, so they can dedicate permanent floor space to a single machine. Home users don’t have that luxury. This is why multi gyms exist.
Regardless of the style, multi gyms provide users with a way of performing several resistance exercises on one machine. Unless you can perform at least five movements on the machine it cannot be classed as a multi gym (at least, not a good one).
Is a Home Gym Better Than a Gym?
There are many advantages to having a gym in your home or garage – whether that’s a multi gym like the units on this page, or a full setup including a good treadmill, dumbbells and other accessories.
For starters, you don’t have to travel there and back every day. You don’t have to wait for a certain machine to be free, nor do you have to put up with others pressuring you to hurry up. You can wear whatever you feel comfortable in.
Of course, neither do you have to pay a large annual fee for using equipment that is not yours.
But is a home gym better?
Unless you have endless space and no spending limit, it’s unlikely you will be able to match the variety of exercises you can do at a commercial gym. Walk into any decent gym and you can run, cycle, row, step, squat, deadlift, press and curl as much or as little as you like.
With a home gym you are usually limited to one aerobic exercise machine (such as a treadmill or stationary bike) and whatever multi gym, rack and weight you have at hand.
So, while a home gym is certainly more convenient and can be more pleasant – with nobody pressuring you or judging you – it’s no better than a traditional gym.
What Equipment Do You Need for a Home Gym?
Firstly, define your goals. Are you looking to lose weight? Develop strength? Or build muscle?
If weight loss is your target, then cardio machines are likely to be first on your list. Look for a good rowing machine, treadmill or elliptical – aim for the best one you can afford, and you will soon start to reap the rewards.
You shouldn’t shun resistance exercises though, as they are another means to burn calories and tone your body, so you have a nice figure to reveal after you strip away the fat. This is where multi gyms – like those we highlight on this page – come into play.
Of course, these are also good if you are a beginner looking to build some muscle and strength, or want to maintain the muscle you already have.
If you are a more experienced lifter and want to create a home gym, you may want to opt for free weights as opposed to a multi gym. A squat rack, bench, barbell, dumbbells, and – of course – some weight plates, can give you everything you need to perform squats, deadlifts, bench press and countless other movements.
If you have cash left over, accessories such as weighted vests, pullup bars, resistance bands, and even a couple of motivational posters are all worthy additions to your home gym.
Determine your budget, determine your goals and determine how much space you have – then go
What Exercises Can You Do on a Multi Gym?
Multi gyms have one job – to give you a platform on which to perform a good full-body workout, targeting your chest, back, arms, legs and shoulders.
When sitting on a traditional multi gym, the movements you can perform will be obvious. The butterfly arms will allow you to perform both chest press and flyes, while a multi-angle bar at the top will give you means to do lat pulldowns for your back, as well as standing triceps pulldowns.
You will also find preacher pads for bicep curls, leg developers for working your quads and hamstrings, and sometimes a low pulley to perform a low row.
When you actually get to grips with the machine, it's surprising how many movements can be done on one.
Some multi gyms will offer multiple ways to target each muscle group. For example, the Total Gym-style units offer more than 50 to 60 different exercises, including chest flyes, dips, pullups, bicep curls, shoulder raises, and even scope for Pilates workouts.
Spending around $500 on a multi gym to add to your home gym setup is a good call. It’s not a lifechanging amount of money, but the quality and choice you have when compared to the budget market makes the step up in investment worthwhile.
As our chart suggests, in this range we are big fans of the innovative Bowflex PR1000. It’s not without its limitations, yet it provides a great full-body resistance workout as well as a little cardio thrown in.
Ultimately, the decision is yours. Determine your goals, read some reviews and take some time to determine what kind of machine you need. Then prepare to get your sweat on!
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