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Tested a variety of exercise machines & ALL the Total Gyms ... not just for "body builders"
on April 28, 2011
I'm a pretty unlikely reviewer for exercise equipment. I'm very much into wellness, an outdoor enthusiast, and enjoy a variety of spots with my family (biking, hiking, skiing, etc) but have little interest in home exercise equipment, body building, etc.
But about 10 years ago accidentally stumbled upon a Total Gym (early model - 1000 maybe?) at a damaged freight auction, of all places. I saw a pallet stacked about 5 feet high with all sorts of metal pieces, some mangled pretty bad. In the middle of the mangled mess I saw the Bowflex logo, got excited, and bought the pallet for $5.
When I got it to my garage, I was able to piece together 3 complete machines - a Bowflex, a Total Gym, and a Gazelle. (The rest was bent or incomplete). So I had a blast testing these three machines (probably $2,000 of equipment I got for $5!). The Bowflex seemed like a great strength training/muscle building machine, but took up way too much room and I sold it pretty quickly. The Gazelle was a load of fun - used it for about 4 years. Provided a nice gentle workout. And it was light, folded up nice, but the handles are curved so it wouldn't fit under a bed or in the closet. I decided to sell it when I moved, but probably would have kept it if I had the space.
The machine that made the cut was the Total Gym. It seemed to do the job of both the Gazelle & the Bowflex - it's advertised for strength training, but actually I primarily use it for aerobic. My favorite aerobic exercise is the row machine function (which obviously also works the arms & chest), but there are a variety of other aerobic exercises as well.
This model is pretty light (maybe it's 54 pounds like the box says, but it seems lighter to me), and will fold up and store in the closet or under most beds. If your bed is too short (like my previous bed) invest $10 in some bed risers (ie, ASIN:B001AYWV52 Bed Risers/Lifts, and it will definitely fit under a bed. It stores away great, has such a broad variety of exercises, & is so easy to use, it wins hands-down in my book in terms of most convenient exercise machines.
My experience with the Total Gym doesn't stop there. Over the years I've kept my eyes open for Total Gyms - at church sales, garage sales, etc. I even discovered that my local Goodwill Thrift Store refuses to sell any exercise equipment, so they give them away free on the curb whenever one is donated. Whenever I saw a different model, I picked it up and gave it as a gift to family members, or sold it. I've tried just about every model - the 1000, 1100, 1500, 2000, an off-brand called Fitness Quest, and even the top-of-the-line Total Gym XLS.
If you're shopping for a Total Gym, here's how they compare:
The off-brands I tested (Fitness Quest, Bayou, even a K-Mart branded machine), did not compare at all to the Total Gym. The parts were plastic (not metal) and tended to break. The back board was smaller and wasn't comfortable. Maybe these off-brands have gotten better in recent years, but I can't recommend any of them.
In terms of the Total Gym, all of them performed well. The differences between the 1100 and the more expensive models are: The back board is wider and more padded, they handle extra weight, and they come with extras/amenities for different exercises.
So I ended up giving away or selling the more expensive models (XLS, 2000, 1500) and kept this one! I would recommend the more expensive units if you are a body builder and want to add a greater variety of exercises (the leg builder & squat tools are nice on the XLS), if you are over 250 or 300 pounds (check the weight limit on the box), if you need a wider or more padded back board (i.e., if you are in physical therapy), or if you like all the fancy gadgets. For me, the 1100 has plenty to keep both my wife & myself busy.
One other thing - most people who buy exercise equipment end up using it 3 times before it ends up a clothing rack or a dust collector in the garage. The primary reasons for this are (a) building a new routine, and (b) convenience - and that's why the portability of this unit helps. However, if you're undecided about what type of machine to get, I suggest the less expensive 1100 ... and if you use it every day and eventually need more, sell it and get the larger unit. In my experience, the price point for a new or like-new 1100 (on Amazon, auction sites, local ads, etc) should be between $150-200 delivered. Hope this helps!