The old home gym isn't what it used to be. It's more creative, often combining traditional fixed-path movements with self-balancing "functional" movements that force you to use more muscle groups to stabilize the load. Despite very different designs, the four models reviewed below share key attributes most people will love: compact, room-friendly footprints, a wide variety of exercises that can work you hard from head to toe, and retail and online sales prices of less than $2,600.
Look, Ma, no weight stack
Inspire BL1 Body Lift: The single-station, multi-exercise gym does not have a weight stack. Instead, the design uses cable pulleys that allow you to lift a percentage of your body weight.
Likes: Eerily quiet, smooth and effective. The workout difficulty and variety of exercises are no different from a traditional single-station gym and are certainly safer if you have children since there are no weight plates to smash fingers. To adjust resistance, you just slide an under-the-seat handle with one hand. Whether you do presses or pulls, legs or arms, standing or sitting, the cable pulley lifts you and part of the machine's weight. It allows lots of exercises, including a seated mid-row, seated leg extension, standing leg kickback and curl, lat pulls, standing biceps curl, standing triceps push-down, chest press, ab curl with strap, an off-machine cable fly and more. Footprint is a compact 31/2 by 41/2 feet.
Price: $1,395. http://www.inspirefitness.net
One of a kind
Inspire PT1 Power Tower: It combines a simple, venerable VKR (vertical knee raise) machine and a modern-day cable-pulley machine with a 160- or 200-pound weight stack, yielding a huge range of functional exercises.
Likes: Lots of exercises in a space-efficient package. You can start with superb old-school VKR exercises such as dips, pull-ups and leg raises, then flip the pivoting bars out of the way for a standard V-shaped functional trainer with sliding cable-pulley handles that can be positioned from head to toe for a number of challenging exercises. A comparable setup might cost double. The triangular shape fits well in a corner and makes it easy to slide in a chair or an exercise ball.
Dislikes: No leg curl and leg extension seat and apparatus. You must do a lat pull down on your knees unless you push your own chair or bench in. The 160-pound weight stack may be light for some and can't be upgraded.
Price: $1,595. http://www.inspirefitness.net
Torque H2: A traditional single-station home gym featuring a press bar, overhead lat pull bar and seated leg extension/leg curl position is melded with adjustable mid-range pulley arms to allow for self-stabilizing "functional" exercises.
Likes: The least expensive hybrid home gym. Hybrids are great for anyone who likes to switch traditional body-supported exercises with more functional, unsupported ones.
Dislikes: Comes with a too-light 150-pound weight stack (upgradable to 200 pounds for $150). It lacks a low-pulley foot plate, good for rowing and some leg exercises, found on the similar Bodycraft GLX hybrid gym ($2,699).
Price: $2,599. http://www.torquefitness.com
Precor S3.15: The traditional single-station machine has all the standard upper-body and leg exercises, plus a low pulley.
Likes: It gets the job done at a bargain price. The low pulley, often not included on other entry-level models, allows some welcome functionality (floor-seated rows, standing biceps curls, standing ham-glute curls, etc).
Dislikes: The light 150-pound weight stack (upgradable to 200 pounds for $200).
Price: $1,299. http://www.precor.com
Wallack is coauthor of "Barefoot Running Step by Step" and "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times