Home gyms have simplified our lives and even motivated many of us to engage more often in fitness-related activities. The tricky thing here is that one has to choose the right equipment to reap benefits.
A functional trainer is an excellent home gym choice and could be your only investment if you choose the optimal equipment that serves your purpose.
Not all functional trainers are the same and making an appropriate choice depends on several integral factors such as weight stacks, pulleys, attachments, warranty, and size that bring about the value to the equipment.
Though the word ‘functional trainer’ might sound complicated, if you look closely, it is only an alternate word for a cable machine.
The machine got its name because it was primarily used by physicians to help people perform functional tasks.
But now, the trainers have become many people’s favorite as it enables excellent core strengthening and versatility to perform numerous exercises.
You need to focus on a couple of important features to ensure that you have made the right purchase.
Most functional trainers feature the presence of a weight stack which is advantageous to users—you get built-in resistance without the extra job of switching out plates.
You needn’t worry about spending extra bucks on buying new plates, investing time in looking out for quality plates, or storing them safely.
But, if you want your functional trainer that’s a part of a Smith machine or power rack combo unit, the story is altogether different. They mostly use plates and the case is the same with budget trainers too.
High-end trainers feature a weight stack and, in fact, you get the option to choose between 1 stack and 2 stacks (dual) systems.
My suggestion would be to opt for the dual-stack trainer if you want the best and you’ve also got the budget to afford it.
This is mainly because a dual-stack system doubles the total resistance available and even gives you the advantage of accommodating two users simultaneously depending on the exercise each of you is doing.
The weights of the stacks differ between equipment—it could be 150, 165 or 200 lbs. normally and you need to consider this while finalizing.
It is always better to choose one with higher resistance as it gives you a competitive edge as you progress in your fitness goals.
Most trainers also give you the option to upgrade weight stacks at an added cost, around 50 lb. per stack.
Some recent equipment comes with magnetic resistance options, unlike traditional weight stacks. The perfect example is the NordicTrack Fusion CST which boasts of a smooth and quiet operation due to its advanced resistance system.
A pulley is a critical part of every functional trainer and high-end trainers usually come with smooth pulleys that are easily adjustable.
The pulley included must be fully adjustable. This makes it easy for the user to set them every few inches for the entire height of the machine.
Good trainers enable users to set pulley positions every 3 inches or so.
One cannot comment about the smooth operation of a pulley unless you try the machine before purchasing and that’s possible only at a sporting store.
The ideal way to judge the functionality of a pulley would be to read user reviews. This would give you a fair idea of the quality of the pulley included in the equipment.
Every brand lures customers with its unique set of attachments provided as these help users perform variations in workouts and experience versatility.
There are some brands that give you a bunch of attachments while some others simply provide a pair of handles.
While two different models could look similar they could be priced differently and this is where attachments play an integral role—the higher priced model could come with more attachments that the other one.
Some of the common attachments that are generally included with a functional trainer include D handles, triceps rope, long bar, short bar, EZ curl bar, sports bar, ankle cuff, pull up bar, and multi-purpose belt.
Most trainers are also compatible with preacher curl and leg development attachments but these are usually sold separately at an additional cost.
The same goes for benches too, they come as an additional accessory at a separate price.
Warranty is critical to every piece of equipment purchased as according to me, the length of the warranty period defines the quality of the equipment and the reliability of the manufacturer.
The same holds good for functional trainers too where the warranty part is broken down into frame and parts.
It’s good to obtain a lifetime warranty for the frame and there are good-quality trainers that usually come with this option.
There is some equipment that offers a lifetime warranty on parts too though this is rather uncommon.
In general, if you get a warranty period of 10 years and above on the frame I would recommend that you go with the product without any hesitation.
It should be at least two years on the parts.
The warranty period is directly related to the pricing of the machine.
Higher the price, longer is the warranty period offered.
Budget machines come with a minimal warranty.
You could purchase an inexpensive piece of equipment but suffer from long-term costs for maintenance and part replacements due to shorted warranty period.
You are buying a trainer for your home gym where space is a great constraint for most people.
It is better that you measure the available space and take double caution in measuring the dimensions of the trainer to ensure that it suits your space before finalizing the product.
Remember, even the most compact trainers occupy much floor space generally. Most trainers are 5′ wide, 4-5′ long, and about 7′ tall.
Besides this, you need some extra room space for doing your exercises comfortably.
If you are planning to use a bench to bring about extra movements in your workout routine, you would need an additional 4 inch or so that adds length to the trainer.
Also, dual-stack trainers weigh more between 700 and 800 lb when assembled. So, don’t even think about moving it around.
Decide upon a designated space and set up the equipment so that it stays good there forever.
Traditional Weights VS. Functional Training – Which Is Better?
You are interested in weight loss, fitness, and athletic performance but confused as to which path to choose—traditional home gym or functional trainers.
Each has its own pros and cons and it’s purely up to the individual to choose what’s best for him/her.
Before seeing an in-depth comparison on both let’s look at what each of the trainers do.
Traditional trainers focus on one specific muscle group at a point thereby making it safe for multiple repetitions.
The muscles involved also become stronger and adapted to handle more weight with time.
Traditional weights are best fit for beginner trainers who don’t have much knowledge about postures and for individuals who have a fixed path as it reduces the risk of improper motions thereby minimizing the risk of injury and stiff muscles.
Also, if you have injured a specific area of the body or would like to strengthen a particular muscle you could probably choose a traditional home gym without a doubt.
Use a leg press, leg extension, chest press, lat pulldown, and bicep and tricep bars which help you rebuild muscle strength focusing on a set of motions repeatedly.
On the other hand, a functional trainer is well-suited for fine-tuning your entire body focusing on different muscle groups.
They are the best option for full-body workouts and go about bringing in movements that your body performs naturally during the everyday routine.
You always get the option to workout different muscle groups with a functional trainer.
As the trainer’s main focus is on those movements that are performed every day doing them repeatedly on the machine makes your daily activities easier and simpler.
These advantages might attract you after reading this but am also obliged to inform you that a functional trainer is more suitable for those with optimal knowledge about doing different exercises.
The trainer never restricts your range of movements and the machine is designed smartly to enable you to move the body in any direction as the cable doesn’t follow a fixed path.
This helps individuals playing sports to practice their movements and garner strength which helps them excel on the field.
For instance, a golfer can hold cable handles and stimulate swinging movements while a baseball player can get a good grip on the handle to practice a throwing motion.
You get the freedom to do ample different moves with the utmost flexibility.
But, if you don’t know the actual ways of doing motions and exercises it could become a nightmare using the functional trainer.
Don’t invest in a trainer unless you have a thorough knowledge of what you are getting into.
But, trainers are also better-suited for home gyms when compared in terms of space.
They occupy less space and are even comparatively less expensive compared to traditional home gym equipment.
In a nutshell, a trainer is a piece of apt equipment for individuals with intermediate to advanced experience in fitness/exercise and gives them an upper hold on the exercise regimen as they perform exercises as per their needs.
Traditional weights, on the other hand, could be used by any level of the trainer with/without much knowledge about exercises and techniques.