What is a Functional Trainer Machine?

A Functional Trainer Machine uses adjustable pulleys and cables to provide a vast range of exercises across multiple planes of motion. They typically consist of twin pulleys attached to stacks of weights, fixed within a frame that often features a pull-up bar. On a typical functional trainer machine the height of the pulleys can be adjusted along the full height of the frame to which they are attached.

Functional Trainer


Benefits of a Functional Trainer Machine

Functional Trainer

There are many benefits in investing in a functional trainer machine. Within a relatively small footprint they offer a total body workout and the super smooth movement that is synonymous with cable machines. In fact, most models will provide a workout comparable to that experienced in a commercial gym.

Preparing the machine for a specific exercise takes seconds given that most machines use a system of adjustable pulleys that slide and lock into place along the vertical frame of the machine.

Similarly, adjusting the weight lifted between sets is straightforward, as functional trainer machines utilize the familiar pin selector to select the amount of weight to be lifted from the stack.

This all makes for an efficient work out where your time will be spent exercising rather than loading and unloading weights from bars.

The main advantage of training on a functional trainer as opposed to a multi gym is that the puleys enable you to work along your body’s natural range of motion rather than being forced into a fixed plane of movement that may not suit your biomechanics.

Exercises That Can Be Done on a Functional Trainer Machine

Just about any exercise you can do with a set of dumbbells you can do on a functional trainer. Additionally, you can also perform sport specific exercises to strengthen the core and improve your swing for sports such as tennis and golf.

Some functional trainers even allow users to replicate barbell work by either using a barbell attachment to the pulleys, or by a smith machine attachment or a novel barbell system.

Here is a table of exercises that you will be able to perform on most if not all functional training machines.

Abs / CoreArmsBackChestLegsShoulders
Abdominal crunchStanding Bicep CurlSingle Arm Bent Over RowStanding Chest FlyesLungesRear Delt Flyes
Standing RotationsSeated Bicep CurlFront Lat PulldownFlat / Incline Chest FlyesAdductor crossesStanding / Seated Shoulder Press
Overhead Tricep ExtensionChinsFlat / Incline Chest PressSquatLateral Shoulder Flyes
Standing Tricep PushdownAssisted ChinsStanding Chest PressHamstring Leg CurlUpright Row
Weighted ChinsAbductor flyes
Cable PulloversKickbacks

In addition to the above, many functional trainer machines are compatible with benches for further versatility.

What to Look For in a Functional Training Machine

Functional Trainer

Functional training machines are expensive so your priority considerations when choosing which machine to buy should be the reputation of the manufacturer and the warranty being offered. A one-year warranty on all components should be considered a minimum requirement.

Given the cost of a functional training machine you need to be certain that it will meet your needs for years to come. For this reason I recommend upgrading the weight stack at the time of purchase (if possible) or ensure you buy a machine with at least two 100 kg stacks.

If you think this sounds excessive, remember that the transmission ratio of the pulley system will mean that you’re not pulling the amount of weight you select.

For instance, say the transmission ration is 2:1. This means that if you pull the handle a distance of 1 meter, the weight stack will have only moved 50cm. Therefore, if you had selected 40kg on the weight stack, you would only be lifting an effective weight of 20kg.

There are two main advantages of using a ratio of 2:1 or greater:

  • it makes for a smooth movement;
  • it enables users to perform a wider variety of movements across greater ranges of movement than if a 1:1 ratio was used.

How to Buy a Functional Trainer


Functional trainers are expensive pieces of equipment that can be quite complicated to set up.

For this reason it might be a good idea to find out whether the retailer you are buying from offers a home installation service.

If you have paid for installation this could also help you in the unlikely event that you have to make a warranty claim in respect of any fault that develops during the warranty period.

Considering these points, Amazon is probably not the best place to buy your functional trainer from. You want a relationship with the retailer so that you can get their support if something goes wrong.

After the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 supplies of all homework out equipment are depleted, so you may find that there is a considerable lead time when ordering your new functional trainer.

Your Next Step

If after reading this article you are convinced that a functional trainer is for you then I invite you to bookmark this site as I have some reviews lined up of my favourite models.

You can also check out my review of what I consider to be the ultimate home muscle building machine.

If functional trainer machines are too pricey and you’re happy swinging around some dumbbells, then check out my rundown of the best value selectable dumbbells.

And if selectable dumbbells are too expensive, then consider some resistance bands with handles – you can have an amazing workout and get good results with these inexpensive additions to your fitness inventory.

If you own a functional trainer or are in the market for one, let me know your thoughts. Or if there’s a particular model you’d like me to review, get in touch.

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