The Covid epidemic of 2020 caused gyms around the world to close their doors leaving millions of people without access to their usual workout facilities.
Continued uncertainty and intermittent lockdowns have left many gym goers questioning whether it makes sense to continue with their gym membership. People are looking to move their fitness regimes to their home and many are asking: what are the best workout machines in small spaces?
In this article I take a look at some of the options for workout machines that can fit in the average home, rating each machine in three key areas:
- Effectiveness: does the machine offer a good workout?
- Cost / Benefit: is the cost of the machine worth the potential benefits that will be gained by using it?
- Space: will the exercise machine fit in a small space?
The rowing machine is a consistently popular workout machine in just about every gym; and it’s no wonder given the effectiveness of a rowing machine workout.
When you row, you use just about every muscle group in the body. Not only that it engages those muscles in such a way to build both strength and endurance – a claim few other workout machines can make.
The workouts on a rowing machine are versatile meaning that whatever your current level of fitness, you will be able to start where you are and build from there. Progress can be easily tracked either through an app on your phone or by the machine’s inbuilt computer system (on more advanced models).
A rowing workout is generally accepted as one of the most effective ways to burn calories and increase fitness and therefore it’s difficult to score it anything less than the full five stars for effectiveness.
Cost / Benefit
A commercial grade rowing machine will cost upwards of $1,300 / £1,000 which, is expensive, but when you consider all the physical benefits that regular rowing workouts bring, it begins to make sense. Think of it as an investment in your own health, rather than a frivolous spending splurge!
If a commercial grade rowing machine is out of reach, then consider a cheaper model, as home rowers have improved significantly in quality in recent years. Budget machines are available from as little as $250 / £190 but with mixed results in terms of quality.
Overall, rowing machines get a moderate three star rating in terms of cost / benefit.
When it comes to space, there’s no getting around the fact that unless you live in a large house with a large area to workout in, a rower such as the famed Concept II is just not going to be practical. However, there are decent compact (and affordable) alternatives which fold up. The footprint of these machines when folded can be remarkably small and the machine can be stored, unobtrusively, in the corner of a room when not in use.
But even the smallest rowing machine will require at least 1.9m of floor space when in use. Any machine with an unfolded length less than this probably isn’t going to allow an average-sized person to row using the full extent of their natural rowing range of motion.
Even though a rower may not be the most practical exercise machine to use in a small space, the fact that most of them will fold means that they don’t have to completely take over a room all the time. Given that there are foldable rowers that can squeeze into a small room, they achieve a score of 3 stars in this category.
OK, so they take up a lot of room when being used, but if you can accommodate one, they will be a fantastic addition to your home gym and therefore score an overall 4 star rating.
The traditional stationary bike has waned in popularity in recent years as spinning bikes used in class settings have exploded in popularity, but as exercise classes suffer under ongoing Covid restrictions, they may see a resurgence in popularity. Let’s consider the traditional stationary exercise bike in a home gym setting.
The stationary bike offers a great cardio-vascular workout but is a lower body only workout, unlike rowing. Nor does it offer the combined muscle-building and cardio-vascular boosting benefits of rowing.
Working out consistently on a stationary bike will do wonders for your cardio vascular fitness, but the workouts can be grueling and as such it’s important to make sure that you enjoy this kind of workout before taking the plunge to buy a stationary bike. After all, a workout that you don’t enjoy, is a workout that you won’t stick to – especially in a home workout environment where you have to motivate yourself.
For effectiveness, the stationary bike scores a solid three stars.
Cost / Benefit
Stationery bikes vary in terms of price and quality: a basic model can be obtained for as little as around $130 / £100, but a higher quality model can cost as much as $1,000 / £800. That’s a lot of money, but cheaper than a commercial grade model of the other fitness machines considered in this article.
A workout routine that is structured predominantly around time on the stationary bike will undoubtedly deliver excellent results in terms of improving cardio-vascular fitness and improving leg strength, but take into account the risk of getting bored and abandoning the workout and it scores just two stars.
A quality stationary bike will be a hefty piece of equipment. They typically can’t be folded away either in the way that some rowers can, this means that there is a risk of it being used a clothes hangar more frequently than an exercise machine! So the stationary bike scores just two stars for the space category.
If you absolutely love cycling and don’t mind the space it will take up, then a stationary bike may be for you. Especially if you’re prioritising cardio fitness above any other fitness goals. However, for small space workouts, the stationary bike scores an overall verdict of just 2 stars.
Cross trainers or elliptical trainers made it into the mainstream in the 1990s offering a totally impact free way to workout and improve cardiovascular fitness.
Many elliptical trainers offer a full-body workout – albeit not to the same level of effectiveness as that of a rowing machine. The main appeal for an elliptical trainer is that they offer a smooth, impact-free workout, making them perfect for those who are recovering from injury or surgery.
It is also very easy to tailor the workout to your level of fitness. Even those who are just starting out on their fitness journey will find that they can set the machine up for an enjoyable low intensity workout. Those individuals who already have a good level of fitness can take advantage of the inbuilt interval resistance programmes that feature in many modern machines.
The cross trainer has one unique advantage compared to the other machines we have been considering: it can improve balance because it requires the user to emulate a walking or stepping motion.
With all these benefits the cross trainer scores 4 stars for effectiveness.
Cost / Benefit
There are a number of cross trainers available below $700 / £500 but for a machine that will give a similar experience to those found in commercial gyms the cost is far higher. There are a number of excellent machines designed for the home gym that are priced between $2,000 – $3,000 / £1,500 – £2,250.
That is a lot of money, especially when compared to rowers and stationary bikes, so for this reason the cross trainer scores 3 stars in the cost / benefit category.
As you can see from the picture above, traditional elliptical machines can be monstrously big! However, in recent years there have been design developments in a number of models whereby the flywheel and rails are assembled vertically so that the footprint of the machine is reduced dramatically.
Machines designed this way would be the perfect small space workout machine.
But overall, given that most elliptical trainers follow the traditional design, they score a 3 star rating.
The cross trainer scores a solid 3 star verdict.
Have Your Say!
In this rundown, the rowing machine has won, narrowly beating the cross trainer. Do you think I was too harsh on the stationary bike? Let me know in the comments.