Fitness Equipment for Your Garage Gym: Plate Loaded vs. Selectorized Gym Equipment

Free weights are incredibly popular as a foundational training tool in the garage gym or home gym. With an Olympic barbell and some weight plates, you can do pretty much every exercise known to man, from Olympic lifting, to powerlifting, to general strength training, and even strongman movements.

For various reasons, you might want to consider adding a strength machine to your garage gym. Whether you are looking to supplement a bodybuilding routine with some additional movements, you are a powerlifter working around injuries, looking to add in additional options to keep things fresh, or you are just missing that one machine from your commercial gym days, machines are often the next step after you have locked down your free weight game.

You might be thinking “aren’t machines just for a commercial gym?”

Machines - Body-Solid

(Credit: Body Solid)

Nope! In fact, there are a huge number of residential grade gym equipment manufacturers (and of those, just a handful of reputable ones). Brands like Body Solid, Hoist, Titan Fitness, and others offer a variety of equipment for the home gym and garage gym space at good prices with solid build quality. We are BIG advocates for commercial grade fitness equipment being used even in residential settings, as the durability and longevity exceeds that of even the most overbuilt pieces in the residential fitness equipment space.

So now you are thinking “ok, cool, I’ll just go buy the next leg press I see, right?”

Wait a minute. Strength machines can be complicated. In a home gym, we want to make sure we choose one (or a few) that maximize your use of space and budget while taking the least amount of time and dollars to maintain, because time spent fixing is time NOT spent lifting.

So, let’s dig into some strength machines, cover the pros and cons, and help you make better decisions about your next strength equipment purchase.

Plate Loaded Fitness EQuipment

Plate Loaded vs Selectorized

One of the first major differentiators in strength equipment is plate loaded strength equipment vs selectorized strength equipment. This functionality impacts cost, space, function, maintenance, reliability, simplicity, and more.

In simple terms, plate loaded means you use your own weight plates, like the Olympic weight plates you use for your barbell, to load the machine. A selectorized machine has a built-in stack of plates where you use a pin to adjust the weight up and down.

Here’s a quick chart with an overview of the differences between selectorized and plate loaded equipment:

Plate Loaded

Selectorized

Unlimited weight capacity

Limited to weight stack

Must load and unload all weight plates

Quickly change weight between sets

Simple to maintain

Many moving parts, cables, etc.

Reliable

More frequent maintenance

Bi-lateral movements

Generally uni-lateral

Inconsistent load resistance

Consistent resistance through the movement

 

Let’s look at these differences in detail!

 Leg Press

Benefits of Plate Loaded Fitness Equipment

  • Unlimited loading
    • Most plate loaded equipment allows almost unlimited loading on the machine, which means no matter who you are, you can just keep stacking plates on the machine! This is great for bodybuilders and powerlifters who want the most out of their equipment, and for home gym owners who just want to get strong, this gives you plenty of options beyond a 200lb selectorized weight stack.
    • Most selectorized equipment has a limit, and even with a Gym Pin, you are limited on the amount of weight you can safely load on the equipment without breaking the cable.
  • Use what you already own
    • Have Olympic plates? You can use those on plate loaded equipment! The only limitation is the number of plates you have in your gym!
  • Simplicity
    • Plate loaded fitness equipment is simple, no-frills, and easy to repair. Compare this to selectorized equipment, which has cables, weight stacks, pulleys, and many different parts that can break, fray, or tear.
    • Plate loaded equipment normally has metal bearings, a pillow block or some sort of rotating bearing which allows the weight to rotate smoothly through the entire range of motion for that particular machine.
  • Reliability
    • Speaking of breaking, fraying, and tearing, plate loaded has far fewer components that can break. It's rare to see a fitness tech working on a plate loaded piece of equipment, unless, for some reason, it has cables or more than just bearings for moving parts.
    • Plate loaded fitness equipment, particularly fully welded equipment, is built to last and normally made from heavy gauge steel to take extremely heavy loads. Manufacturers know that people may go crazy on the weight loads, and build their machinery accordingly. Selectorized pieces have limits to the weight rating, and anything added over that limit can cause damage or premature wear and tear.
  • Bi-lateral or uni-lateral movements
    • Ever been frustrated that you aren't always able to isolate one side of your body, or perform single arm, single leg, or single muscle movements on selectorized equipment? Most plate loaded equipment does not have this issue. From chest press to leg press, bicep curl to row, and more, most plate loaded equipment allows single (or uni-lateral) movement or dual (bi-lateral) movement to accommodate one or both sides of your body on the machine. With a few exceptions, plate-loaded equipment is far more versatile in this regard than traditional selectorized pieces.
    • While this particular point may not matter to some, if you are looking to isolate specific muscle groups, and you are noticing muscle imbalances with, for example, your right arm over your left arm, a plate-loaded machine allows you to isolate and use just one arm during the movement.

There are some drawbacks to these kinds of plate loaded setups, which may lead some to use selectorized, or pre-selected weight stacked machines, instead of plate loaded machines, during their training routine.

A Word on Limitations of Plate Loaded Equipment

  1. Load positioning and consistency of load throughout the movement.

    Some have complained that plate loaded equipment does not have the same resistance curve throughout the entire movement compared to a selectorized weight machine. This is because the way a plate-loaded machine is constructed, you may experience more or less resistance at the top or bottom of the movement, particularly with leg curl/extension machines, if they are not well constructed, due to the range of motion and positioning of the plates on the machine. Some plate-loaded machines try to mitigate this by positioning the bearings and pivot points differently, or allowing plates to be loaded at different positions on the machine.

    A good example of this would be the plate loaded Leg Extension / Curl machine from Prime Fitness. You can load different weight horns to
    achieve a balanced or imbalanced strength curve, depending on your goals. This is definitely a consideration to keep in mind with plate-loaded equipment.

    Prime Fitness
     (Credit: Prime Fitness)

    Prime Fitness is a company that makes plate-loaded machines that allow you to adjust load resistance over multiple rotational angles during a movement. Check them out if you want a high quality piece of plate-loaded equipment without some of the drawbacks of traditional plate-loaded pieces.


  2. Ease of use (not having to replace or add plates)

    It is most certainly easier to pop a pin in and out of a weight stack than it is to replace an entire set of plates on a plate-loaded unit. However, you are sacrificing everything we just discussed regarding versatility, unlimited loading, reliability etc. for the convenience of a weight stack.

    Pop-pins also allow, especially in a home gym setting, the ability to perform drop sets and other high intensity techniques more easily. Finish your set, move it down a peg, get to work. Much easier than tossing a few plates to the side. Also, warm-up sets can be done in rapid fashion with selectorized machines. Hit a set of 10, 20, 30, 40, 50lbs in a matter of seconds, opposed to constantly changing and adding plates

King of the Gym Gym Pin
 Credit: King of the Gym

Pro tip
: if you want to increase the amount of weight on a selectorized weight stack, try something like the Gym Pin to add weight plates to the stack. The gym pin is a metal rod that allows you to load Olympic weight plates onto a selectorized weight stack, instead of worrying about maxing out the weight limit on the machine. Just be careful that you don’t overload the cable or weight capacity on the machine!

     

    There you have it! While we are big fans of plate loaded strength equipment, any piece of fitness equipment that gets you moving and active is better than sitting at home on the couch. So, get up and get moving!

    Looking for good plate-loaded options for your garage gym or home gym setup? Search the used marketplace for great commercial pieces of strength equipment. There are some absolute steals that can be had on the used market.

    Stay tuned for our next article where we will be discussing specific types of space-saving fitness equipment for your garage gym setup so you can really maximize that square footage.

    Article Written in Collaboration With: Joe Gray of Gray Matter Lifting

    Plate loaded equipmentSelectorized strength equipmentUsed gym equipment

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