Best Functional Trainers
It can be hard to choose kit for your home gym. Do you buy barbells and invest in lots of plates? Do you install a pull up bar, captain’s chair or power tower? Do you get a rack of dumbbells, or kettlebells, or resistance bands?
There is a lot to choose from.
I would always go with a functional trainer of some kind, however. They can be pricey, coming in at a couple of thousand dollars or more at times. There are, of course, cheaper versions, but you will generally lose a lot of utility as the budget shrinks.
But, for the money, you get basically everything. You can train everything with them, building muscle and strength with one single piece of kit.
However, just as it can be hard to choose the type of kit you’re going to go with, it can be hard to choose the model itself. There are plenty of good options out there.
Luckily, I’ve had the chance to play around with some of the best home-gym appropriate functional trainers going.
What Is A Functional Trainer?
Functional trainers are amongst the most versatile, effective pieces of training equipment that money can buy for a wide variety of exercises and exercise goals. They allow you to work pretty much every muscle group going, through broad ranges of motion, using both isolation and compound style training; they are safe and adaptable for pretty much everybody, no matter their health and training requirements; and the cables and weight stacks keep everything stable whilst allowing you to maintain constant tension through every movement.
Every gym should have a functional trainer of some sort. If you’re setting up your home gym and want to maintain a great range of options whilst eliciting fantastic levels of hypertrophy, a functional trainer will represent a very good investment.
They are, in essence, frames that make use of a series of weight stacks, pulleys, levers and handles to present you with a great many training options. Many will also have added components. It’s common to see them with pull up bars attached, landmine attachments built into them, or even sometimes bench options.
These are all great. However, it’s the base frame with pulleys and cables that you’re after – this is where the magic will really happen.
Our Top Functional Trainers
Each of the following functional trainers will give you all of the above benefits. You will be able to get a complete workout from each and every one of them, hitting all muscle groups with a decent amount of stimulus and time under tension.
Each model is worth its price and then some – though there is a range of price tags represented, they all earn their keep, delivering stellar quality for a fantastic training experience. Whether you end up splashing out nearly four thousand dollars, or go for a cheap and cheerful model at just a couple of hundred bucks, you will be well served by any of these items.
It’s a good idea to think about a couple of things outside of simply budget when choosing the right functional trainer for you. Space is a big deal. Do you have the room for a full-on power rack with integrated cables? Will your home gym, garage, studio or wherever else you’re thinking to set it up have the space for it? If so, great – you’ve got a good set of workouts ahead of you. If not, fine –there are functional trainers out there that can simply screw into the wall.
And what will you be using your functional trainer for? What skillset do you have, what is your experience level, and what are you looking for out of your training? Hypertrophy can be elicited from any of the items on this list, as can muscular endurance. However, for more power based training regimes, something with barbell capability might be best (see the Smith machine below).
Whatever you need, we’ve got you covered – there will be something below to suit you and your requirements.
Titan Functional Trainer
Let’s begin this list with a literal titan of the fitness equipment world in the form of Titan’s Functional Trainer.
It is a comprehensive machine, delivering everything a functional trainer should (i.e., it delivers pretty much everything!). It’s not exactly cheap, at a couple of thousand dollars or so. However, this is incredibly reasonable for this kind of machine, and Titan offer decent financing options that will set you back about what you might be expecting to pay for a monthly gym membership.
What do you get for your money?
Well, quite a bit, actually. There is a fantastic array of accessories and options included – it really is a piece of equipment worthy of even the fanciest of gyms. It comes with all of the essential attachments for functional training exercises, alongside all the different handles you could want. These include the rope handle, the single D and double D handles, the long bar and short bar handles and the dual short strap handles. It has a really good curved pull up bar and requires no extra components to begin using. Everything you need to get started comes in one (admittedly large) box.
The weight stack included delivers a range of 10 – 200 pounds on each side, which is very decent and will allow you to maintain progressive overload and increase intensity as you adapt to training.
I also really like the design. Though nothing outstanding, it looks like it belongs in a good quality gym. It looks like it means business, too. The black and silver design looks sleek in every setting, whether it’s your bricks and mortar garage, your garden, or your fitness studio.
The framework itself features tough, steel construction that will stay strong no matter how hard you push yourself. It really should last you for years without degrading in any way.
The handle heights are, of course, all adjustable, as you would expect from any functional trainer. In fact, there are 20 distinct vertical height positions, so that the pulley should always be perfectly aligned for whatever exercise you’re aiming at.
The mechanisms are all smooth and easy to manhandle, so that you can perform a quick turnaround between sets (this is important: you will likely want to perform super- or giant- sets at different heights, with minimal time wasted between each).
Titan’s Functional Trainer stands at 82 inches with a footprint of 64 inches by 44 inches. The long bar attachment measures at 49 inches in length, and the short bar handle measures 15.5 inches overall length. The dual pulley handles have a grip length of 4.5 inches.back to menu ↑
Rep FT-5000 Functional Trainer
We have another pricey option here that is nevertheless very reasonable for what you get, in the form of the REP FT-5000 Functional Trainer.
As with Titan’s offering on this list, you can expect to pay a little north of two thousand dollars for the FT-5000. Also as with the Titan, you get pretty much everything you could ever want for a full gym experience and full body workout. It can either form the main (or solo) component of your home gym or serve as a fantastic addition giving you some brilliant assistance training options.
The FT-5000 offers 16 selectable cable positions that will allow you to perform a wide variety of exercises, at as many different angles as you could ever need. The weight stacks also go heavy, with
both of them reaching all the way to 220lbs. This should be more than enough for pretty much all mid-rep assistance work, giving you a good range of progression options.
The frame is tough as anything. It is 11-gauge steel, meaning that it’s completely stable when you’re using it. I often get a bit of wobble when I’m performing pull ups (especially when my form breaks down, which it often does!). There was none of that with the FT-5000. It’s all laser cut and robot welded for an incredibly clean looking finish.
The weight selector pins are magnetic tipped, which is fairly standard yet still really nice to see in a home-gym option, and are all very quickly adjusted between sets. The cables themselves are incredibly smooth, with fiberglass reinforced pulleys. There is no jerking or catching here – everything flows very well.
It compares very well to Titan’s model. It gives you the same training capabilities, is slightly pricier, and slightly better put together. I personally think that you could go either way between them and be thoroughly satisfied with your purchase.back to menu ↑
Life Fitness G7 Home Gym
Let’s go top end now, with the G7 Home Gym by Life Fitness. It comes in at the low-to mid three thousand dollar mark, though you can pay nearly four grand to buy it with an optional bench (I would absolutely do this if you have the budget for it).
The basic frame itself is great. It features dual-adjustable pulleys, as do the options we’ve already looked at, which give you all the versatility inherent to this kind of machine. You can choose from 20 incredibly smooth operating pulley adjustments on each side, allowing you to perform a virtually endless number of exercises.
The cables themselves have Quick Lock cable end attachments which make switching out attachments quick and easy. Inter set changes are smooth – it takes only a few seconds to adjust, then you can simply jump straight back in.
Life Fitness also include an exercise guide and video guidance, which I love. The guide is in the form of a mounted exercise book which shows you how to perform over 60 exercises, allows you to build your own workouts, and track your progress. The video is a DVD which enables you to take part in a follow-along session with a certified personal trainer who takes you through a couple of routines.
This makes it perfect for those just setting out. If you’re a beginner, you can hit the ground running, knowing that you are performing all the exercises that will work for you with proper technique and form.
Everything is ergonomically designed to be completely sympathetic to your body’s natural movements.
Then there is the bench itself, which I would always argue in favor of in a home gym.
It’s completely optional and adds around five or six hundred dollars. Put like this, it seems incredibly steep. However, it’s good quality, and at just shy of four thousand dollars, the final result with fully integrated bench seems decent enough.
The bench will allow you to hit a broader range of chest exercises – flyes, presses, and so on. Though you can perform all of these motions from standing, you will be able to go heavier (and thus elicit greater overload) with a bench.
You can also buy a couple of dumbbells or something similar for an added chest press option, which is always a good thing to see in any training regime.back to menu ↑
Marcy Smith Cage Functional Trainer
This had the potential to be my favorite item on this list. On first glance, it’s a good quality power cage with a functional trainer combined into the main frame. There is a good bench, barbell for chest and shoulder presses and squats, pull up bar, and cables.
It should be all you could ever need from a home gym set up. There are very few exercises you won’t be able to do, and no muscle groups left out of a decent, comprehensive routine performed with it.
However, the Marcy Smith Cage Functional Trainer is a little flawed in its DNA. It is a Smith machine, and there are some pros and cons to this.
Essentially, a Smith machine is a barbell that is fixed to sliders. This set up can be safer, as you won’t be able to wobble or drop the bar, and it simply hooks on before and after use. It essentially guides you through each lift and works as a spotter, which makes a great deal of sense for beginner lifters and those training alone, without a workout buddy to keep an eye on their form and catch the bar if something goes wrong.
The downside to this is that a Smith machine locks you into one specific bar path, which is rarely, if ever, the correct bar path for any given body through any given exercise. You won’t have a naturalistic lift at all. This can impair the quality and benefit of any exercise, and can actually do a lot of damage to the joints over time as they have to run through ranges of motion to which they are not naturally suited.
No serious-minded lifter would ever opt for a Smith machine. None would ever use one – I wouldn’t be seen dead training on one.
Does this make the whole thing useless?
Far from it. As above, if you’re a beginner and training solo, you might want to consider it. Only go light and don’t ever expect your form to improve. However, having even sub-par barbell utility mixed in with the cables and everything else – which is all fantastic, designed and built to a good standard – is always a good thing. You will be able to perform a wide variety of exercises, with all the benefits that that entails.back to menu ↑
Lat And Lift Pulley System
Let’s end with something cheap and cheerful, in the form of the Elikliv Lat and Lift System Pulley. It is very well priced and kind of clever, if a little lacking in utility over some of the above items.
In fact, it will only set you back a hundred odd dollars, making it around 5% the cost of some of its competitors. It’s also wall-mounted, taking up very little room, yet it still manages to give you a decent set of cables for your training.
It features a main steel frame with a single fixed pulley, a fixed cable, and adjustable cable, a triceps rope for pushdowns and extensions, exercise handles, a straight bar, and a loading bin with carabiners. It comes with a heavy duty wall rack made from thick, high quality, durable steel.
In essence, the Elikliv Lat and Lift System Pulley is everything you need from a cable system, all neatly and cheaply packaged into one small, inexpensive machine.
I’m not going to pretend for a second that it’s as good as any of the other items on this list. It isn’t even close. It won’t give you anything like as good a workout. There will be far fewer training options for you to make use of, with far fewer available exercises for your arsenal. There is a max load of 220lbs with it, which is about half what its competitors offer. It’s not as heavy duty, not as tough, durable or secure as anything else on this list.
However, at 5% of the price, that’s fine. It’s also fine from such a compact model. Rather than having to devote an entire room to a piece of apparatus, as the other machines on this list demand, you can simply screw it into the wall and forget about it when not training. It’s incredibly easy to assemble and hang, and very easy to get your head around as you set out.
It’s the worst item on this list. It’s also my favorite, and it’s by far the best value for money. Please do consider investing in one.
Why You Need A Functional Trainer In Your Home Gym
There are a few reasons I would give for including a functional trainer in your home gym.
Firstly, there is a serious safety component involved. If you’re training without a spotter, or if you’re new to lifting complex barbell and dumbbell patterns, with the motor co-ordination needed to keep them safe and stable, this can be a really bad idea. They will put you at risk.
Cables are much safer. There is far less need to self-support. There is less chance of slipping or coming out of position. There is, overall, far more stability, coupled with a much smoother action, which will obviously translate into a far lower risk of injury.
The variety is also great. With a couple of different handles, a couple of weight stacks, adjustable angles, and maybe any of the added extras mentioned above, you will be able to perform hundreds of exercises and hit every muscle group in your body.
No two training sessions need ever be the same.
This also limits the amount of equipment you need. Rather than having dozens of different pieces of specialized kit aimed at this or that body part, a single functional trainer will let you do everything, all at a single station.
Functional trainers are particularly well suited to a couple of different fitness goals.
Firstly, if you’re looking for hypertrophy (muscle growth), they are fantastic. They give you time under tension through the full range of every movement. Whereas free weights have an apex, after which the stimulation falls, cables keep constant tension. Every fiber in the muscles you are working will be stimulated for growth.
They are also good for physiotherapy. This is largely due to the safety benefits mentioned above. The adjustable weight (easily and quickly done) and the minutiae with which you can change angles and handles also plays into this, allowing you to fully adapt any exercise so that it’s the best possible version for your rehab.
They are not the best for strength or power work. They are geared towards higher rep work, with time under tension, rather than low rep work that uses great bursts of power. For this reason, functional trainers will often be used for assistance work.
For instance, you may begin your workout with heavy deadlifts or bent over barbell rows, in the 3-6 rep range. Then you might move onto the functional trainer for a combination of rows, pull throughs, face pulls and pull ups, moving up into the 8-12 rep plus range.
This is how I generally use functional trainers (and I use them often!)