As a leading fitness retailer, we understand that selecting the right equipment can be a daunting task, whether you are shopping for yourself or outfitting a commercial gym. Both functional trainers and home gyms offer distinct advantages, so it's essential to understand their features, benefits, and considerations before making a decision. We'll spot you through the process and ensure you find the perfect fit.

A functional trainer is an exercise machine designed to strengthen natural movement patterns. Instead of isolating just one muscle group at a time, you can set up a functional trainer to provide weight or resistance for virtually any type of movement. These machines come with adjustable cable pulleys, weight stacks and attachment points in different combinations, allowing you to fine-tune each exercise to your body type and gradually adjust as your strength and fitness improve.

A home gym usually incorporates several fixed exercise stations into a single unit, such as a bench press or lat pulldown. Home gyms rely mainly on simple motions and are better for isolated exercises targeting specific muscle groups. 

Here, we go over how to choose the best type of machine for your goals. We’ll cover how both types of machines work and what they can do for you.

Key differences of functional trainer vs home gym machines

The value of a traditional home gym machine vs a functional trainer depends on your specific needs and fitness goals. While both can provide a decent workout for most people, each has its own benefits.

Benefits of functional trainers

Functional trainers replicate real-life movements and target multiple muscle groups simultaneously—less weight is used and the movements are more complex. Because this type of machine allows for a greater range of motion, you are forced to engage your core for the entirety of the exercise. Over time, functional training provides better overall core strength and stability than traditional weight training, which makes it ideal for overall fitness and athletic performance.

How does a functional trainer work?

At its most basic, a functional trainer is a set of two cables, each running over a pulley at the top of the machine and then down to a stack of weights at the bottom. This is called a cable crossover, and it is fantastic for symmetrical upper body exercises. No matter how tall you are, there is enough scalability in the design to start each rep at your full wingspan. With a narrower machine, simply step forward until you have a complete range of motion. 

But you don't have to use both cables for every exercise—two people can use even the most basic functional trainers at the same time (potentially even more on a comprehensive unit with several stations and attachments).

At its most comprehensive, a functional trainer is an all-in-one machine (also called a multi-functional trainer or multi-gym) that combines the elements of a home gym with a smith machine and cable crossover setup, plus several other stations depending on the model.

Muscle training with functional trainers

While everyone's needs are different, lifting goals generally fall under three main categories: power, muscle mass and muscle endurance. For pure power, you can get away with longer rest between sets, but for muscle mass and endurance, rest periods need to be brief, sometimes as short as 30 seconds or less.

The time it takes to adjust the weights and perform the right number of repetitions (with the proper form and cadence) can easily add up to more than 30 seconds on any machine. Logistically, if you’re working out with a mate and all you have is a traditional rack, you either have to complete every set of an exercise on your own before switching, or compromise on rest time. For this reason, functional trainers are perfect for people who like to be social when they lift.

How much does a functional trainer cost?

While entry-level functional trainers start at a higher price point than home gyms at around $2500, their ability to allow unrestricted, core-strengthening movements in limitless variations should weigh heavily in a cost-benefit analysis.

The most inclusive machines, like the ForceUSA Pro All-In-One Functional Trainer, are essentially an entire weight room integrated into a standalone piece of equipment.

Any lift you can do in a commercial gym can be accomplished with a multi-gym like this one. With all the ways these machines can be adjusted, you can get creative with your workouts and fine-tune them to fit your goals precisely. With prices around $7500, these trainers pack quite a punch considering all their capabilities.

Benefits of home gym machines

For a home gym, the focus is more on multiple exercise stations and a weight stack or resistance system to target specific muscle groups. While some home gyms may offer limited versatility by including attachments and adjustable seats, they generally don't provide the same level of adaptability and functional movement options as functional trainers.

How does a home gym work?

At its most basic, a home gym is a single-seat machine with one weight stack and three or four stations. Almost all home gyms have at least a chest press, leg extension, leg curl and lat pulldown. The characteristic I-shaped base of the smaller units makes these machines very space-efficient, and the starting price of around $1,000 makes them very cost-effective as well.

At its most comprehensive, a home gym is a combination of several basic weight machines fused together into one unit. Where functional trainers help you develop wide-ranging, natural movements, home gyms are built to isolate specific muscle groups. The exercises on home gyms are usually simpler, but less customisable. The highest-priced ones go for up to $8-10,000, but since they incorporate many units into one, this may be a solid investment.

It's important to note that while single-stack home gyms offer benefits, they may have limitations in terms of exercise variety and functional movements compared to more versatile options like functional trainers. However, for individuals primarily focused on targeted muscle isolation and convenient strength training, a basic, single-stack home gym can provide a cost-effective and space-saving solution and a more complex, multi-stack home gym can support a wide range of isolation exercises.

So which one is better, a functional trainer or a home gym?

Both functional trainers and home gym machines have their unique features and benefits. Functional trainers excel in providing versatility, functional movements and overall core strength and stability. They are ideal for individuals aiming for a well-rounded fitness routine and enhanced athletic performance. On the other hand, home gym machines prioritise targeted muscle isolation and offer compactness and cost-effectiveness.

GymQuip is the ideal supplier for functional trainers, home gyms and a multitude of other fitness products in Australia. We supply all the products mentioned in this article directly from the manufacturer, plus a wide range of other equipment from Body Solid, Circle Fitness and DKN, so you know you are getting the best price. Whatever you’re looking for, from simple weight setups to to all-in-one trainers with every attachment, we will help you find the perfect equipment solution for your goals.

It is strongly advised to consult a physician before starting any exercise program, as individual health conditions and medical considerations may require personalised guidance.