Total Gym 1000: One Affordable Machine Does It All

Aug 3, 2001 (Updated Apr 8, 2011)

The Bottom Line Requiring no assembly, this transportable, easily stored machine can be your only exercise equipment. Safely encompassing the gamut of weight-resistance exercises, it also provides non-impact cardiovascular activity.

NOTE: Also don't miss my more recent "Total Gym 1000" review:
Total Gym 1000: My Reassessment After Ten Years


Simplicity. Versatility. Portability. Affordability.
Cons: Adjusting the incline (resistance) involves a slight interruption in your workout.

Note: Since Epinions doesn’t list any exercise equipment of this variety, I’ve posted this review in this very general category.

The Quest for the All-In-One Machine

Would you like to own a “universal gym”--one weight-resistance machine that does it all? One machine that can strengthen virtually any part of the body? Better still, would you like that same machine to provide a respectable cardiovascular workout?

You could spend several hundred dollars and get a decent Weider “multi-station” gym for weight resistance (I’ve owned one myself for several years). Alternatively, you could spend more than twice as much for any of the “club quality” counterparts to Weider gyms (see my review of the Parabody 250 home gym). Or perhaps you’d prefer one of the Bowflex machines (see the scores of “Epinions” on the various models). Of course, unless you chance upon an acceptable used unit, all the above machines include steep price tags; moreover, some folks’ cramped quarters won’t easily accommodate such expansively configured equipment. And these machines aren’t really designed to provide a briskly moving cardiovascular workout.

Alternatively, you could spend perhaps $100 to $200 for a set of cast-iron “free weights” and a versatile bench with attachments (I’ve likewise owned this sort of gear for years). But, along with their intrinsic advantages, free weights can pose problems, even dangers (see my aforementioned “Parabody 250” review for a detailed discussion of free-weight equipment vs. “multi-gym” machines). And, again, free-weight gear isn’t primarily designed for a briskly moving cardiovascular workout.

BUT--if neither conventional “multi-station” gyms nor free-weight apparatus seem ideal for you, consider a third option: you could spend $200 or less and own the uniquely versatile Total Gym 1000.

Which “Total Gym” Is Best for You?

Perhaps you saw a Total Gym machine in past TV infomercials with Christy Brinkley and Chuck Norris. But that Total Gym model--the 2000--cost around $500 and offered few, if any, benefits you can't derive from the Total Gym 1000 sold in various retail outlets, including many sporting goods stores. (Note: an essentially equivalent model, the "1500," is now being marketed also; everything I say about the "1000" should equally apply to the "1500.")

I generally recommend you don’t allocate your “hard earned” to any of the more expensive Total Gym models, some of which feature classy nickel-chrome-plated rails and are compatible with special (extra-cost) attachments. Note that the high-end Total Gym models are very pricey: about $1,200 to $1,500. Now, if you’re quite tall and/or very heavy, see below. For most users, however, the basic "1000" model is virtually as serviceable as its classier siblings.

On the other hand, if you weigh more than 250 pounds (the official “maximum weight limit” of the 1000 model), you may have to consider one of the more expensive models whose maximum weight limits range from 300 to 650 pounds. Analogously, the 1000’s official maximum “Resistance Level” is 250 pounds, whereas the various more expensive models provide from 300 to 650 pounds. (Keep in mind these machines primarily use a portion of your own body weight for resistance.)

Additionally, the official “User Height Limit” of the 1000 is only six feet (however, I’m 6' 1", and I have no real difficulty using my 1000, and I suspect users as tall as 6' 2 might squeak by if they’re careful doing certain exercises). By contrast, the various more expensive models are said to accommodate users from 6' 2" to 6’ 10".

Thus, if your height and/or weight are considerable, you should consult the “model comparison charts” at the Total Gym web site (

Proven, Simple, Versatile, and “Safe”

Don’t let the glitzy TV marketing of the Total Gym ("2000") turn you off to the merits of this machine. Many exercise devices seen on infomercials are, of course, blatant rip-offs. But various Total Gym machines have been around for decades; the “gliding incline board”--using your own body weight for resistance--is a simple, proven exercise concept. After three years, my unit continues to function flawlessly. The only "maintenance" I ever performed consisted of spraying a little silicone lubricant on the rails to silence some initial squeaking from the "gliding" action. (I only had to do that once.)

The Total Gym 1000 is essentially fully assembled when you first take it out of the box. As long as you pay a modicum of attention to the instructions when initially setting it up, you should encounter few, if any, “beginner’s frustrations.” As with any weight-resistance gear, you should spend a few minutes doing simple “warm-up” calisthenics before using the machine, lest you risk a pulled muscle.

The sheer simplicity of Total Gym's “gliding incline board” design has its advantages. There are no electronics, hence no batteries to replace. Unlike many machines, there is no tension or spring that you must remember to release after each workout. The uncomplicated rollers of the "glide board" involve minimal friction. If, after years of use, the vinyl-covered cable-and-handgrips set ever needs replacing, the cost should be modest. (You could probably jury-rig your own replacement cable and grips, if necessary.)

The Total Gym is endlessly versatile in that you can easily adjust how much resistance to apply to your muscles and joints. For example, when doing “butterfly” arm pulls, if the current incline feels too steep, you don’t necessarily have to get up and adjust it. Instead, you can simply place your feet flat on the floor (as you continue to lie on your back and do the arm pulls) and let your leg muscles absorb some of the stress; the result is that you can determine exactly what feels right for your arm pulls. To increase the arm workout, compensate less with your legs.

When doing such exercises as arm pulls (using the Total Gym’s handgrips and vinyl-coated cables), you can also instantly change the angle of motion, just as you could do with free weights, and yet you enjoy approximately the same degree of safety as with such “fixed motion” gyms as Weider’s or Parabody’s. Naturally, human fingers and pets' parts should be kept away from the Total Gym’s tracks while the board is moving up and down the incline. (Analogously, many multi-station gyms’ rising-and-falling weight stacks pose a guillotine-like hazard for unwary children and pets; and heavy free-weight gear can obviously be quite dangerous if dropped.)

Conclusion: none of this gear is absolutely risk-free; but free weights almost certainly pose the greatest degree of risk, and the Total Gym the least. About the only other conceivable peril with the Total Gym, I suppose, is if you were to fall off it! :)

Cardiovascular Workouts

You can also do various relatively fast-moving motions that constitute cardiovascular exercise. Such movements range from low-resistance leg pushes and pulls to inclined “sit-ups” that can simultaneously benefit your abs. As a rule, you should lessen the slope (resistance) whenever you’re aiming primarily for cardiovascular benefit. In other words, don’t move too fast against too much tension; you want to gradually strengthen--not suddenly stress--your heart.

The Downside

My only complaint regarding this machine involves changing the slope of the sliding board. You must get up and reposition a pin to achieve this. It’s not terribly difficult, but it is a bit of a hassle and makes for a slight interruption in your workout. Fortunately, with a little experimentation, and by varying the number of repetitions, I’ve found that I can use one incline setting to do many exercises pretty satisfactorily. Since any alternative approach using other machines (or free weights) would entail its own set of disadvantages, the Total Gym 1000 owner should accept this shortcoming philosophically.

Easily Housed

Unlike (most) free-weight benches and (virtually all) “multi-gym” machines, the Total Gym 1000 can be fairly quickly folded flat and easily transported or stored. Although it’s quite lengthy when set up--7 & ½ feet--it’s only 18 inches wide and 4 feet high. In some rooms this narrow configuration may fit better than other “multi-gym” machines--or barbells.

Where to See and Buy

You can check out Total Gym’s site ( to get additional, general information. However, since that site only describes and sells their more expensive versions, you’ll have to look elsewhere for the affordable "1000" model.

Alternatively, investigate your local retailers. They may even have a floor model available for you to try. The stores in my region generally charge about $199.99 (I bought mine at Wal-Mart for $189 in early 1998, but I don’t know that they continue to carry it).

Final Tips

Back in '98 I discovered that my new Total Gym 1000’s “wing device” attachment didn’t fit at all easily onto the frame of the machine. (The “wing device” attachment resembles a bicycle handlebar; for many exercises you grip it, push against it, etc.) I phoned the manufacturer and explained the problem to a very polite young lady representative. She offered to ship me a free replacement wing device; when I received it, it fit perfectly. What was still better, I was finally able to adapt the original wing device using some of my own bolts, nuts and washers, and now I have wing devices always mounted at both the upper and lower ends of the machine--making it unnecessary to continually remove and remount a single wing device as I switch from “lower” to “upper” exercise modes. While I can’t vouch for whether my fortuitous experience could translate into good luck for you, keep it in mind. If nothing else, the Total Gym people could surely sell you a second wing device at modest cost. To me, it would be worth any reasonable price to have two wing devices "permanently" mounted concurrently. On the other hand, if I only had one wing device, I'd generally keep it mounted in the “upper” position; that way, you can still hold the soles of your feet against the lower feet of the machine to do some “leg presses.” But, trust me, you should consider getting a second wing device even if you do have to purchase it.

Finally, before investing in any exercise equipment, realize that the novelty wears off rather quickly. Any equipment you buy--including the Total Gym--will become rapidly relegated to the role of “towel rack” if you aren’t serious about sticking with a sensible regimen. Along these lines, if you’re very lucky, you may be able to discover a disillusioned owner's very slightly used Total Gym in the newspaper classifieds or at a used-sporting-goods dealer. If so, you could end up paying a mere pittance for the most versatile exercise machine ever devised.

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