The best home functional trainers should be durable, come with smooth acting pulleys, and be backed by a great warranty. They should also offer enough exercise variety to act alone as a complete home gym system if need be.
After all, if you invest in the right trainer, there’s a good chance it’ll be the last home gym you ever have to buy.
Finding these home gyms can be a little tricky if you don’t know what to look for. Needless to say, all functional trainers are not built the same.
This guide will walk you through all the ins and outs of these machines and show you the key specs you need to consider when comparing models to make sure you don’t waste your money.
I also included my top picks currently available based on these specs.
Let’s start from the beginning.
What’s A Functional Trainer Anyway?
“Functional trainer” might sound like something overly sophisticated, but it’s really just another word for a cable machine.
They became known as functional trainers because they’re often used in rehab and sports medicine clinics where clinicians are using them to practice functional tasks- aka, functional training.
The goal of rehab is to return the patient to performing their activities of daily living (ADLs) as efficiently and safely as possible. The best way to learn how to do a skill is to practice doing that skill.
Functional trainers are a great tool for therapists because the adjustable pulleys offer pretty much unlimited range of motion. This gives them a ton of options when trying to find a safe way to strengthen or improve certain tasks.
They’re often used to strengthen sport specific moves like swinging a baseball bat or golf club. Pitchers could use them to strengthen specific parts of their wind-up.
Functional trainers are also great for core strengthening because of all the rotational movements you can perform.
Although these machines are used a lot for rehab purposes, they’ve become very popular as home gyms as well- due in large part to the vast exercise variety they can offer.
These systems come in a lot of different shapes and sizes. In order to offer the exercise variety they’re known for, these machines need to have a least 1 adjustable pulley system, although most have 2.
Most use a weight stack (or 2) for the resistance, although there are some trainers out there that still use weight plates.
Trainers are also known for having several different handles or attachments to choose from depending on the exercise you’re doing.
Nowadays, there are also combo units that combine functional trainers with Smith machines or power racks for even more workout variety.
Functional trainers are great because they offer a ton of workout variety and can stand alone as a complete home gym (well, the good ones can anyway).
They’re also safe to use alone since you don’t have to worry about getting crushed by a rogue barbell.
Even though it’s a completely different type of system, the TRX trainers could be classified as functional trainers too.
They offer the ability to do a ton of exercises as well as functional moves, but instead of using external resistance, you work against your body weight.
Choosing A Functional Trainer
Finding the right functional trainer to meet your needs isn’t that much different than finding any other piece of fitness equipment- you just need to know what you should be looking for.
I recommend paying special attention to the following features/specs to ensure you find a quality machine (and not waste your money or time):
Most quality functional trainers use weight stacks these days. This is nice because the resistance is built-into the machine and you don’t have to worry about switching out plates (or worry about purchasing and storing these plates separately).
If you’re looking at a trainer that is part of a Smith machine or power rack combo unit, it may use plates. Some of the budget stand alone trainers also use plates.
But the higher-end trainers usually stick to weight stacks.
When looking at these systems, you’ll have to decide whether you want a 1 stack or 2 stack (dual) system. If you’re looking for the best, and have the budget, I would suggest a dual weight stack system.
Having 2 stacks doubles the total resistance available. It also allows 2 people to workout at the same time, depending on the exercise each is doing, of course.
Speaking of resistance, the weight of the stack varies from machine to machine. And this is something you should consider when comparing options.
Most weight stacks come standard as 150 lb, 165 lb, or 200 lb. Keep in mind that because of the mechanical advantage of the pulley (2:1 ratio), you are only really lifting half the selected weight- 100 lb on the stack feels like lifting 50 lb (although not all trainers use a 2:1 ratio).
Because of this fact, when stuck between machines, I’d go with the one with the most resistance. You never know how strong you’ll get and it’s nice to know your gym can grow with you.
Also know that most trainers allow you to upgrade the weight stack for additional cost. Most allow you to buy an extra 50 lb or so per stack.
Although most functional trainers use weight stacks, nowadays there are other ways to provide resistance.
Some trainers, like the NordicTrack Fusion CST, use magnetic resistance to provide quiet, smooth operation without the traditional stack system.
The pulleys are the most important components of these systems. A high-end trainer should have smooth acting pulleys that are easy to adjust.
Speaking of adjusting, the pulleys should be fully adjustable, meaning they can be set every few inches for the entire height of the machine.
Most quality trainers allow you to set the pulley position every 3 inches or so. It’s important that you have access to both upper and lower pulley positions for optimal exercise variety.
Unless you’re able to try a machine out in a sporting goods store, you probably have access to try one out before purchasing- so you won’t know how smooth the pulleys act firsthand.
This means you’ll have to read user reviews (or guides like this one!) to get an idea of the general consensus regarding pulley quality.
The number of attachments that are included with a trainer varies. Some brands will include a bunch, others will throw in a single pair of handles to get you started.
When comparing prices, check to see which attachments are included with purchase. If two models look similar but there’s a difference in price, could be one comes with more attachments.
Here’s a list of commonly seen attachments:
- D handles- the common handles that are included with every trainer, most exercises can be performed with these
- Triceps rope- a great attachment, allows you to perform a large variety of tricep extensions and bicep curls (I like to use them for abdominal crunches from a kneeling position)
- Long bar- straight bar that attaches to both pulleys and acts like a barbell
- Short bar- shorter version of the long bar, only attaches to one side
- EZ curl bar- contoured bar often used for bicep curls
- Sport bar- a small, straight bar used for performing sport specific moves (swinging a bat or golf club, etc)
- Ankle cuff- attaches around your ankle so you can do hip strengthening exercises
- Multi-purpose belt- often used for pull up assistance
- Pull up bar- a lot of trainers come with a pull up bar in the front, these come in all kinds of shapes
Benches are usually sold separately. A lot of trainers are compatible with preacher curl attachments and leg developers too, which are also usually sold separately.
Warranty is one of the most important specs to me. I always stress the importance of a strong warranty when purchasing any kind of fitness equipment. Functional trainers are no different.
Warranties on functional trainers are usually broken down into frame and parts. And longer is always better.
I love to see a lifetime warranty on the frame and many quality trainers are offering this. Lifetime parts warranties are also seen on the best machines, although not quite as common.
Depending on the price, any warranty 10 years or more on the frame is pretty decent. I’d shoot for at least 2 years on the parts as well.
Warranty is usually directly related to price- the more expensive the trainer, the longer the warranty should be.
You can save a lot of money and go with a budget machine with a poor warranty, but you might end up paying more in the long run if it fails on ya.
Finally, I highly recommend you take a close look at all the dimensions to make sure the trainer you like will fit in your space. These machines, even the compact ones, take up a good chunk of floor space.
If there’s any doubt about having enough room, you need to measure out your floor space and see how much room your trainer will take up.
Most home trainers are about 5′ wide, 4-5′ long, and about 7′ tall. This doesn’t count the extra room you’ll need to exercise- I would add at least an extra foot to each side for comfortable use.
Also, keep in mind these dimensions don’t include the space taken up by a bench (if you plan on using one). Adding an adjustable bench usually adds a good 4′ or so to the length of the trainer.
Most dual stack trainers weigh somewhere between 700 and 800 lb fully assembled. This would be a pain in the you-know-where to move- I recommend you know exactly where it’s gonna go and stay before building.
The Best Home Functional Trainers Of 2021
#1 Inspire Fitness FT2 Functional Trainer
It was a pretty easy decision for me to give the top spot on my list to the FT2. Inspire Fitness has developed a really cool gym system here and the included features are quite impressive.
The inclusion of the Smith system is a game changer.
At first glance, the FT2 is an impressive looking specimen. With a solid, heavy-duty frame and matte black color scheme, it’s a great combination of cosmetics and function.
This trainer comes standard with dual 165 lb weight stacks.
If it came with 200 lb stacks, it might be the perfect functional trainer. But alas, nothing is perfect. Inspire Fitness does offer 50 lb weight stack upgrades if you think you’ll need some more resistance.
The pulleys are fully adjustable and smooth acting. Something else the FT2 really has going for it- it offers 8 different pulley starting positions.
A lot of home trainers only have the 2 adjustable pulleys, but this trainer has 6 additional pulleys (at different widths) allowing you to perform any exercise comfortably.
The FT2 comes standard with 7 different handles, as well as a pair of water bottles, 2×5 lb add-on weights, and an exercise booklet to get you started.
There’s also an adjustable height pull up bar, adding to the workout variety this machine offers.
Oh yea, I almost forgot to mention that this trainer also acts as a Smith machine. The fully adjustable Smith bar allows you to perform squats or bench press (or anything else you’d do on a Smith machine) with the safety of the built-in lock out system.
There’s even a “weight multiplier” attachment for the Smith bar that doubles the resistance (an extra pulley attachment).
Speaking of resistance, the Smith bar uses the same weight stacks everything else does- no need to worry about weight plates.
Inspire Fitness also backs the FT2 up with a limited lifetime warranty on the frame and all parts.
Overall, the FT2 is a commercial grade machine with pretty much unlimited workout potential. The inclusion of a Smith bar into the design is incredible and you can’t beat a lifetime warranty on everything. If you want the best, here it is. See full review.
#2 Inspire Fitness FT1 Functional Trainer
Yup, another Inspire Fitness trainer made the list. The FT1 is a smaller, watered-down version of the FT2. It’s lacking the Smith bar and the additional pulley positions, but what’s left works great.
It also comes with a significantly smaller asking price.
The FT1 also comes with dual 165 lb weight stacks. It would be nice if these stacks were a little heavier, but I’m not complaining too much.
Just like the FT2, an additional 50 lb can be added to each stack for additional cost.
Both pulleys are fully adjustable with 30 different starting positions. Just like the FT2, the pulleys provide smooth action and they are easy to adjust.
This trainer comes with all the same attachments as the FT2. The only difference here is that the pull up bar isn’t height adjustable. It’s a fixed, angled bar that allows you to perform pull ups or chin ups with several different grips.
The FT1 is easy to assemble. Each tower comes pre-assembled, so you really only need to connect them via the frame (most users can do so in about 2 hrs).
This functional trainer is a good choice if your workout space is on the limited side. At only 54″ wide, the FT1 is one of the most narrow dual stack trainers around.
Finally, the FT1 is backed by the same awesome warranty as the FT2: limited lifetime on frame and parts.
Overall, the Inspire Fitness FT1 is a great functional trainer. If you want the quality of the FT2, but don’t need the Smith bar (or the cost), the FT1 is a smart buy. See full review.
#3 BodyCraft HFT Functional Trainer
BodyCraft’s HFT trainer is very similar to Inspire Fitness’s FT1 (and the XMark trainer below), although I must admit I find the FT1 to be a little more pleasing cosmetically.
This is another dual stack system with pull up bar and attachments as well as a great warranty.
One small difference we see here is that each stack only comes with 150 lb standard. These are the lightest stacks we’ve seen thus far.
Considering this gym is a couple hundred bucks cheaper than the FT1, I don’t think it’s a huge deal. Like most trainers, you can purchase an additional 50 lb per side if necessary.
Like the other machines discussed thus far, each pulley is fully adjustable and can be used independently of the other.
The HFT also comes with 7 different handles as well as an exercise booklet- plenty to get your workouts started in the right direction.
There’s also a multi-grip pull bar on this model. The shape is different, giving you the option to use a narrow, neutral grip if you like.
This is another pretty narrow machine with a width of only 55″ once assembled. If space is limited, definitely something to consider.
The HFT’s warranty is what sets it apart from the XMark trainer below. The HFT comes with a lifetime warranty on both the frame and parts, making it the most affordable machine on this list with a lifetime warranty on both.
Overall, the HFT is very similar in specs and features to the FT1 and the XMark. The stack weight is a little lower, but for the price, it’ll be hard to find a better warranty. A great buy. See full review.
#4 XMark Functional Trainer Cable Machine
The XMark Functional Trainer looks like something you’d find at your local Gold’s. And I mean this in the best way possible.
Although the frame is available in white as well, I love the classic look of the black and chrome. Good ol’ fashioned weight lifting at its finest.
XMark’s functional trainer is a little cheaper than the FT1. It’s very similar in features, but with a few significant differences.
First of all, this trainer comes with dual 200 lb weight stacks. I think it’s great that XMark includes 200 lb standard on this machine.
This is the most weight we’ve seen on this list, so if maxing overall resistance is a priority, this trainer is a good option.
The 2 pulleys are fully adjustable. Each has a handle on the back making it easy to grip as you make your height selection. Users are pretty unanimous that the pulleys and cables feel commercial grade.
This trainer comes with 7 different attachments as well, although they’re a little different than the handles Inspire Fitness includes with the previous models (see the full review for an explanation of each attachment).
This trainer has a built-on pull up bar as well (again, very similar to the split pull up bars you see in commercial gyms).
The warranty on this trainer is pretty good, but not quite as impressive as the previous warranties. XMark backs up their functional trainer with a lifetime frame and 1-year parts warranty.
This is the biggest reason I ranked the FT1 and HFT higher- even though this trainer has 200 lb stacks, the lifetime parts warranty on these other trainers is a smarter bet in my opinion.
Overall though, the XMark Functional Trainer is still a solid machine. With heavy stacks, a ton of attachments, and a more budget friendly asking price, it’s earned its spot as one of the most popular home trainers around. See full review.
#5 Body-Solid Powerline Functional Trainer (PFT100)
Rounding at my list is the budget friendly PFT100 by Body-Solid. What it lacks in features, it makes up for in budget-friendliness.
This trainer is roughly $1000 cheaper than any other machine on this list, so if your budget is tight, the PFT100 might be a good fit.
At first glance, you’ll notice this machine looks a little bare bones. This is because there isn’t much going on in the middle of the frame- no exercise book holder or storage hooks for your attachments.
Even though it’s more affordable, this trainer still comes with dual weight stacks, each weighing 160 lb- which can be upgraded to 210 lb for additional cost.
Unlike all the other trainers on this list, the PFT100 only comes with a single pair of handles. No long or short bars, no ankle cuff (no wonder there aren’t any attachment hooks on the frame).
There is a straight pull up bar running across the frame, but no multi-grip options or contours.
This straightforward gym is fairly easy to assemble, although it is a lot wider than some of the gyms mentioned already (width = 62.6″).
The warranty on the PFT100 isn’t quite as generous as the trainers above. Body-Solid offers a 10-year frame warranty and a 1-year parts warranty on this model.
This is a significant step down from the lifetime warranties seen already, but a lower price usually means a shorter guarantee.
The PFT100 isn’t in the same league as the FT2 or FT1, but for the price it’s hard to beat. If you’re looking for a simple home trainer that won’t destroy your budget, the PFT100 is a good choice. See full review.
Although functional trainers got their name from their rehab background, they’re becoming increasingly popular in home gyms. Their versatility is hard to match, especially now that prices on these machines are starting to improve.
When looking for a functional trainer, I recommend you use the same criteria to grade each machine. This will make it easier to objectively compare all your options and find your best match.
If nothing else, I recommend comparing the following specs: weight stack (1 vs 2, weight), pulleys (fully adjustable), attachments, warranty, and size.
Of course price should be considered as well. Luckily, most of the best functional trainers fall in the same price range.
That about does it. If you have any questions or concerns, leave a comment below and I’ll get back to ya soon.