Looking to get fit in the comfort of your own home? Then be prepared to be lured by high-tech designs.
According to Consumer Reports, manufacturers of exercise equipment continue to introduce new features, including innovative engineering that allows you to vary your routine. Some have MP3 docks or USB connections that let you transfer your workout records to your computer and track your progress at the company’s Web site.
But how do you distinguish flashy machines that fall flat from the truly fantastic?
To find out, CR recently tested 48 machines, at prices ranging from $500 for the most affordable treadmill to $3,700 for the most expensive elliptical.
Treadmills have long been the most popular home workout machines, commanding more than 50 percent of the market. They’re a great option if the workout of choice is running or walking. CR tested 29 treadmills, analyzing ease of use, ergonomics, exercise range, quality and durability of construction, safety and more.
In the nonfolding category, CR recommends four machines, including one CR Best Buy, the AFG 13.0 AT for $1,800. It’s the best value of the bunch and comes with a variety of exercise programs. Other options in this category include the top-rated Precor 9.31, a powerful well-built model that scored well across the board at a price of $3,300. Nonfolding machines are usually more powerful with longer decks and tend to be higher priced.
The best folding treadmills save space and compare favorably with any treadmill. Consumer Reports recommends four machines and identifies the Sole F63 as a CR Best Buy at $1,000, a good price for a machine that tops out at 12 mph with a 13 percent incline. The top rated Bowflex 7-Series, priced at $1500, has a bright easy-to-read monitor display, and its 60-inch deck is as long as the deck of any nonfolding model, which makes it suitable for just about any runner.
One of the folding treadmills, the Best Fitness BFT1, earned a rating of Don’t Buy: Performance Problem because its incline feature malfunctioned on two of the three samples tested by CR.
Elliptical exercisers have been gaining ground in the marketplace in recent years. Their motion provides a good cardiovascular workout, but without the high impact of running.
CR’s testers pedaled on 19 ellipticals, evaluating exercise range, ergonomics, construction, safety and more, recommending six machines. Of those machines, three are CR Best Buys: the Sole E35 at $1300 is the top rated of the three Best Buys, followed by the NordicTrack AudioStrider 990 for $900 and the LifeCore LC985VG for $1,000. The Sole has an adjustable incline, pedals with a changeable foot angle, and controls on the moving handgrips, while the NordicTrack is notable for its programs controlled by its heart-rate monitor and a ramp that can be adjusted electronically while working out, features usually found in more expensive models. The LifeCore has a dial control for adjusting resistance and selecting from multiple preset programs.
Finding the right machine
• Budget and midrange models can usually be found at Sears, Sports Authority, Walmart and other discount and sporting-goods chains.
• Keep a close eye on dimensions. Exercisers will need extra space to safely get on and off a machine.
• The machine’s display should have easy-to-use controls and will show some combination of heart rate, calories burned, speed, resistance levels and details such as time and distance.
• When it comes to warranties, look for one that provides two to three years of coverage on major moving parts and a year for labor.
• Pay attention to ergonomics and adjustability. When using an elliptical, there should never be discomfort in the knee or hip joints, and knees shouldn’t bump the frame or handgrips. See more detailed tips online at ConsumerReportsHealth.org.