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A functional trainer is an expensive but very versatile piece of home gym equipment. How can you pick the right one for your home gym and make sure you get the most for your money? Here are all the deciding factors that go into choosing the right functional trainer for you.
To pick the right functional trainer, you need to find the right balance between;
- Foot print
- Parts availability
- Customer service
Below you can find what to look for in each of those factors. At the bottom there is a quick decision making list to help you decide in the right order.
How To Select a Functional Trainer
A functional trainer is just a single piece of equipment. They all do roughly the same basic things so why would you need to put time in to choosing the right one? Well, that’s because there are more differences than you might think just looking at the surface specs.
It’s also just an expensive piece of equipment. Even the cheapest models are above $1000 and that’s just not the type of money I spend easily and if I do, I want to make very sure I’m getting the right thing and value for money and I’m sure many people are the same.
The first thing to decide is how much money you want to spend on a functional trainer. None of them are cheap but there are functional trainers that fall into very different price ranges. You can roughly buy one for $1000 to $7000+.
For under $2000 you don’t have a lot of choice. Only a few models have an MSRP this low but you might be able to find a good discount at a retailer.
Most people will find a good machine in the $2000 to $3000 range. Here you can get a high quality machine from a good brand that does all the basics well. No bells and whistles but does everything a functional trainer should do well.
For $3000 to $4500 you can expect a functional trainer that has some extra features. Often this means the pulley machine is combined with a smith bar or place for a separate barbell. Great for combining pieces of equipment that would otherwise take up a lot of space.
Over $4500 you get the best and most complete. Some of these are also designed quite well so they look great in a high end home gym.
In a home gym, the ceiling height is going to be a hard limit of which machines you can place. If you have low ceilings, measure carefully and take any flooring that goes under the functional trainer into account.
The average functional trainer is about 85” tall which doesn’t fit under 7’ tall ceilings. The shortest functional trainer is 82” tall which does fit.
Even if your ceilings are tall enough to place any machine, think about pull ups. To be able to do proper full range pull ups, you want to keep about 16” of space free above the top of the trainer. A lower machine will have a lower pull up bar which can mean the difference between hitting your head and being completely fine.
How much space do you have? Functional trainers come in different sizes and some are definitely smaller than others. They can often be placed in a corner to save space.
To properly use a functional trainer you don’t need much space behind or next to it but a large free space in front of the machine is necessary to be able to perform all the possible exercises.
The average functional cable trainer has a foot print of 65.1” x 49.7”. For this size trainer, a free space that measures 8’ x 9’ is necessary to perform all the exercise options a functional trainer offers. For more compact functional trainers 8’ x 8’ is suitable.
I’ve already touched on the functionality a little above but let’s see what kind of features you can get on a functional trainer.
A functional trainer should have two separate pulleys on the front of the machine that are height adjustable. This is the defining feature of a functional trainer so if it doesn’t have this, you’re looking at a different machine. The pulleys should be height adjustable in pretty small increments. Lower quality machines usually have bigger gaps between the settings. Smaller hole (height adjustments) settings is always a good thing.
Some machines have more pulleys than the ones on the front. Sometimes a low pulley is added to the back of the machine. This is useful for doing seated rows with higher weights. Seated rows are perfectly possible on a machine without this pulley but, you only use one pulley and therefore weight stack. The middle low pulley uses both stacks and therefore can provide double the resistance. This is only an issue if you use more than at least 75 lbs. for rows.
A high pulley is sometimes added in the middle of the front. This is to make pulldown exercises easier. Again, pulldowns are possible with the normal pulleys as well but will require you to put your face very close to the frame or get a different cable attachment.
Both the low and high pulleys are nice additions but will cost extra. They don’t make many more exercises possible but just increase the ease of use.
Pull up bar
Pull ups and chin ups are great exercises for everyone that can do them. Most functional trainers have one with very few exceptions. Pull up bars that have different angles are good because they allow for different hand positions that target your muscles slightly differently. A straight bar does the job as well but one with curves is just better.
Only functional trainers with adjustable arms don’t have a pull up bar because the design just doesn’t allow for one.
Some functional trainers have a built in smith bar. This is a barbell that isn’t free but moves on rods so it can’t go anywhere but up and down. This is a good feature to be able to train classis weightlifting moves like the squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press with a bar which makes it feel closer to the real thing but without the risk.
Pay attention to the maximum resistance this bar can provide since you’ll probably use this with heavier weights than the cable exercises. Usually there is a feature that doubles the effective resistance which is enough for most people.
Of course this feature does cost extra and you can expect to pay about $3500 to get a functional trainer with decent smith bar implementation.
A few functional trainers double as a power cage. That means you can use a normal ‘free’ barbell on the same machine as well as the pulleys. Training with free weights and cable exercises combined will result in very good muscle and strength gains.
The choice is quite limited however and these machines are in general quite a bit more expensive than the basic functional trainers. If you’ve got enough space to place a separate power cage, the total price might not be that far off if you go for a simple cage.
Quality and feel
Now you’ve decided how much you want to spend and which features you’d like, the overall quality and feel are important. The only way to really figure this out is to try them all. Yeah that’s not going to be very feasible. So the best next option is to read as many reviews of the models you have in mind.
You want the functional trainer to be well built. That means a solid frame and high quality components like pulleys and cables. Better components are going to feel smoother for longer.
The frames of pretty much all functional trainers is fine. It’s thick metal tubing that’s either welded or bolted together. There really isn’t that much that can go wrong with it.
Many of the parts are considered wear items but of course higher quality components are going to last longer.
That leads to the next factor; parts availability. How long after you buy the machine can you still get replacement parts. Since the frame itself is going to last for a long time, the longer you can get parts, the longer the machine can be kept in working order. OEM replacement parts are going to fit the best and work the smoothest.
This really depends on the brand. For this reason alone it’s a good idea to buy a functional trainer from a well-known, long established brand. These brands are much more likely to keep parts for older equipment available than a random overseas brand that might disappear in a few months.
Yes those brands costs more but if it means you can keep using your machine for 5 years longer, its well worth it. Give the brand you’re planning to buy from and ask them how long they can provide parts for after the machine is taken out of production.
The maximum resistance a functional trainer can provide is important if you want to make sure you don’t run out of weight before you are at the fitness level you want.
Most functional trainers come with 2x 150/160 lbs. weight stacks. However, because of the pulley system used, the actual resistance at the handles is only half that. That means 75/80 lbs. per side. Most functional trainers do have the option to upgrade the stacks by 50 lbs. to 200/210 lbs. The resistance at the handle then becomes 100/105 lbs.
If you already have a set of weight plates, getting a plate loaded functional trainer can save quite a bit of money. Click here to find them.
For the vast majority of people this is enough for all exercises. And even for people where 100 lbs. per side isn’t enough, they will only require more resistance on a few exercises.
Starting out with 150/160 lbs. as a beginner and will serve you for quite a while. After a while, the upgrade to 200/210 lbs. is enough to keep you busy for much longer. Most people don’t have the goals to get bigger and stronger than 210lbs. of resistance can facilitate.
There are a few functional trainers that can provide higher resistances. However, that’s often not actually through the cables but through the smith bar. Or if it is through the cables, the machine will have some other drawbacks.
If you need more than 100 lbs. resistance per side, it’s often better to actually use a barbell setup. That will allow you to much heavier weights. Combining a barbell setup with a functional trainer will provide the best of both worlds.
There are lots of brands that make functional trainers. Many of them are good while some are questionable. Buying from a well-known brand is not for bragging rights. It’s because those brands often have better customer service if anything goes wrong. Would you be happy to buy a new top of the range phone or laptop and when something goes wrong there is no customer service? That’s unacceptable and it should be unacceptable for gym equipment as well.
That’s the reality of most budget brands though. With something as expensive as a functional trainer, paying a little extra for good customer service is worth it.
At least buy from a brand that has a real office in your country.
As an extension of customer service, a good look at the warranty conditions is a good idea before buying a functional trainer.
It’s not difficult to find a functional trainer that has a lifetime warranty on the frame and parts for residential use. The frame and parts are often covered slightly differently. However, keep in mind that almost no warranty covers wear items. Wear items on a functional trainer are; Cables, pulleys and cable attachments.
I would personally stay away from functional trainers that don’t give at least a 5 year warranty on the frame. Frames are so easy to build strong that there is no excuse for 1 year warranties here.
If you can find the warranty conditions on the website of the manufacturer, definitely take a look at them before buying to prevent and surprises.
Functional trainers almost always come with some cable attachments. Some come with more and different ones. It’s good if a functional trainer comes with everything you need so you can get started immediately. More expensive models tend to come with more different and higher quality attachments.
In the end, this is just a small factor since cable attachments aren’t too expensive and easily bought separately.
Last and maybe least, get something you like the look of. This is pretty personal but for the amount of money you pay for a functional trainer, you should get something you at least don’t hate looking at.
The models at the bottom end of the range usually have a very ‘functional’ look. There is no money and/or effort put into making the equipment look better. Functional trainers will never be a work of art but some do look a bit better than others.
In general, any functional trainer over $2000 looks pretty good and is acceptable for a home gym setting even if you’re going for a more high end look.
Weight stack shrouds are one of the things that have a huge impact on how a functional trainer looks. Full shrouds that cover the sides of a functional trainer on the inside and outside look the best and also help keep dust and dirt away from many of the pulleys.
Things like color and finish are purely personal preference.
Let’s quickly recap how to pick the right functional trainer for you;
- Pick a budget. For a basic functional trainer $2000 to $3000 is great.
- Think about the features you want. (extra pulleys, smith bar)
- Measure your available space (height and floor space).
- Make a short list based on the factors above (Which functional trainers fit in your space and provide the features you need within your budget.)
- Which functional trainers provide enough resistance as standard or with upgraded weight stack.
- Find out what the overall quality, parts availability, customer service and warranty conditions are like for the machines left over.
- Still can’t pick a winner? Which machine comes with the most/best accessories and which looks do you prefer.
Best functional trainer for most home gyms
Above you can find all the information and resource to figure out which functional trainer is the best for you. Can’t be bothered? Here’s the best option in my opinion.
BodyCraft HFT. And I like it the best out for a few good reasons;
- Affordable. Not cheap but in the world of functional trainers, it’s not expensive.
- Basic model. It’s just a functional trainer with two adjustable pulleys. No bells and whistles you’re never going to use. The only other feature is the pull up bar which provides several different grip options.
- Height: It’s only 82″ tall which is among the shortest functional trainers you’re going to find.
- Small footprint and can be placed in a corner to save space.
- Comes with 2x 150 lbs. weight stacks but can be upgraded to 200 lbs. per side.
- Lifetime warranty on Frame and parts (excludes wear items)
- Looks good
- Solid build with high quality components.
- BodyCraft is a well-known brand that makes a lot of different types of workout equipment.
Best Cable Machine Accessories
Make your cable trainer experience even better with these accessories.
- Attachments: No cable machine is complete with a good set of attachments. Click here to find the best set of attachments
- PlateMate: One or two platemates (Amazon link) can help you increase the weight more gradually on your weight stack. Just stick them onto your weight stack.
- Bench: A good adjustable weightlifting bench like the CAP Deluxe (Amazon) adds many exercise options to a cable machine like bench presses and shoulder presses.
Find the most complete functional trainer that includes most of these accessories by clicking here.