The Multi-Gym Concept – What Works and What Doesn’t
The multi-gym was based on the idea that you took multiple strength training functions from a commercial gym, and put them onto a single machine. It was a good idea – to let people get more done at home, in little space, with more flexibility.
But cheap treadmills and exercise bikes had already shown up in the home, and many of the same manufacturers chose multi-gym designs that were cheap to make, and seemed to do what a commercial gym did – but in fact offered exercises that were among the least effective, and as a collection, generally useless. It's still like that today.
So...many multi gyms offer feeble single-muscle isolation exercises (like pec flyes, leg raises) but very few, if any, compound exercises - those that use whole groups of muscle - the way our bodies work when doing something substantial. These underpin real strength training, like presses, squats, deadlifts and rows. You won't get far with pec flyes, leg curls or leg extensions or press-downs. (Isolation exercises have a secondary role…warm-up, rehab, variety, pleasure, for instance) Secondly, multi-gyms very often depend on cable for connecting to the resistance, or weight. Cable can be pretty good for rows, but otherwise it's not good for major pushing and pressing exercises in the compound class. And cheap-to-make multi gyms use cable because it works with pin-loaded weight stacks, and space-wise, this lets the manufacturer tack on a lot of isolation exercises. Of course, isolation exercises don't compare in value to the many variations of compound exercises a well-designed unit will offer.
And though rows can be done well with cable, few home multi gym makers can make them work well. Next, to work among the clutter, the cable sometimes takes complex routes, leading to compromised resistance, or to movements where there are different levels of resistance at different points of an exercise, leading something to break much sooner than it would otherwise. (Though by this stage, many users will have gained their best workout by taking it to the kerb) Finally, having been designed to be cheap, and to fit into a 12 cubic-feet flat-pack for low freight costs, they provide very little adjustability for body size, and grip variation, which are very important to serious training.
Spot the compound exercise. An expert can do it in less than ten minutes!
(None of these are sold in NZ - but there are many like them)
So, in a Multi-Gym, what’s good?
Leverage, and iron. Heavy and solid materials, not just for loads, but to make it feel good to use, and not shake, rattle or rock. Leverage and good engineering that provides smooth, even delivery of resistance. (Sure, real life doesn’t always produce that, but it’s great for training) The most productive compound exercises. And a big variety of isolation exercises, with good body fit and adjustability; and great grip variation, which adds real quality to results. We looked hard and far, and found the best products in big markets, the US, and Europe – and notably Australia, where they're a bit like us.