Which exercise machines work out best?

Thinking about canceling that gym membership and working out at home? You’re not alone.

According to Consumer Reports, gym memberships peaked at 42.7 million in 2006, have slipped slightly since, and are expected by some to decline further in these recessionary times. But sales of home-exercise equipment, including treadmills, elliptical exercisers and stationary bikes have continued to grow in recent years.

CR’s testers recently trotted, plodded and pedaled on 40 machines, testing for exercise range, ergonomics, construction, safety and more. Prices range from about $200 to $3,300. The pricier machines generally have sturdier designs and more features, but there are bargains that can offer a good workout.

Treadmills are the most popular, commanding about 55 percent of the home-fitness-equipment market. For the best value, CR recommends the Epic View 550, $1,300, and the Sole F63, $1000, both CR Best Buys.

Running is the gold standard for cardiorespiratory fitness, but elliptical exercisers and stationary bikes might help strengthen your legs, hips and glutes more than running because you can ramp up the resistance to work your muscles harder. Among elliptical exercisers, CR deemed the Diamondback 1260 Ef, $2,600, and LifeCore Fitness LC985VG, $1,000, best overall.

How to choose

To find the right machine, CR offers the following advice:

• Check space. Elliptical exercisers and non-folding treadmills are about the size of a small couch and most stationary bikes are a bit smaller. Folding treadmills are generally shorter than non-folding models and can be stored upright. Elliptical exercisers take up more vertical space.

• Make it comfortable. Pay special attention to ergonomics. Treadmills should match the user’s stride. Elliptical machines should be tested to ensure that they don’t cause discomfort in the knee or hip joints. Stationary bikes should be the right size and provide a comfortable seat and pedals.

• Look at the features. The best machines offer a clear display with easy-to-use controls that show some combination of heart rate, calories burned, speed, incline or resistance levels, and details such as time and distance. Programs should allow users to adjust routines based on their fitness level and have heart-rate-controlled workouts that consider age, weight and gender.

Sexier abs! Great legs! Buy now!

TV and Internet infomercials for fitness machines promise that they’ll get you the body you’ve always wanted quickly and with less effort or strain. Are any of the machines worth getting off the couch to buy?

Consumer Reports tested nine of these products. Here’s what they found:

• Abdominal exercisers. The Ab Rocket ($100) claims to give people the body they always wanted, but CR found it was slightly less effective than traditional abdominal exercises. The Rock-N-Go Exerciser ($230) barely felt like a workout to its users, and it was less effective at engaging abdominals than conventional machines. And the Red Exerciser DX ($175) claims consumers will lose four inches off their midsection in four weeks, but tests by CR suggest those four inches aren’t going anywhere without serious dieting.

• Cardio and cardio plus. The Bowflex TreadClimber TC5000 ($2,500) is a good way to burn calories but users should watch their step as tripping is possible. The CardioTwister ($200) provides variety to a cardio workout but testing shows that one would get more effective abdominal and leg workouts doing conventional exercises. The Tony Little Rock’n Roll Stepper ($80) is less effective than conventional leg exercises but offers a fun cardio workout for beginners who can stay balanced on it.

• Upper-body devices. The Perfect Pushup ($40) and the Perfect Pullup ($100) both provide a good upper-body workout for beginners and advanced exercisers who want to add variety to their push-up and pull-up routines.

• Total-body exercisers. The Fluidity Bar ($240) provides a pricey but potentially enjoyable alternative to strength training, plus stretching; however, its heft could make it hard to store.