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Find a workout regimen that works for you

Treadmills, ellipticals, and rowers from Consumer Reports' tests

Published: December 2014
Schwinn 470 elliptical ($800)

The boom in boutique fitness studios—where a single class can cost $30 or more—shows just how much people are willing to pay to get exactly what they want—nothing more, nothing less. Combine that with the trend in wearable technology (wrist devices that track how many calories you burn 24/7 and even how you slept last night), and it’s clear that fitness today is all about customizing the workout just for you.

Considering that 64 percent of people who exercise regularly opt to sweat it out at home, according to the market research firm Mintel, fitness-equipment manufacturers are jumping on the personalization bandwagon. We’re seeing more “smart” treadmills and ellipticals that can access the Internet, plus more workout apps that communicate with the equipment. “With these programs you might be able to display and follow your favorite running trail via Google Maps or customize today’s workout based on how your routine went yesterday,” says Peter Anzalone, senior test project leader at Consumer Reports. “And Precor, for example, is trying to replace the personal trainer with some of its models that suggest workouts based on your fitness goals.”

Given the modern obsession with information, the Internet, and ourselves, it’s a safe bet that almost every home exercise machine will eventually feature some amount of connectivity and personalization. But how well a treadmill or an elliptical does its basic tasks will always matter most—and that’s where our rigorous lab tests come in. We put each machine through a series of torture tests—for example, simulating upward of 175 miles of running to make sure the treadmill will hold up over time. Ergonomics is an important factor for ellipticals, so we evaluate how well their pedaling motions will accommodate a range of body sizes and types. Ease of use and solid construction are essential with both equipment types.

Although no piece of fitness equipment can get you off the couch or out of bed, Consumer Reports' exercise equipment picks will help you find the machine most suited to your ability and health goals. And that may be the best motivation of all.

Which workout will work for you

 

Price range

 

Calories burned*

Demand on the body

 

Great for

 

 

Moderate effort

Vigorous effort

 

 

Bikes

$300-$1,000

 

 290

360

Lower body, minimal impact, non-weight-bearing.

People recovering from lower-body injury or spin-class lovers who can’t always get to the gym.

Ellipticals

$600-$3,000

 

180

270

Lower or full body, low impact, weight-bearing.

 

 

Balance-challenged people who need additional support or runners rehabbing an injury.

Rowers

$300-$1,000

 

250

305

Full body, minimal impact, non-weight-bearing.

 

Water-rowing lovers during inclement weather or cross-training enthusiasts who can’t always get to the gym.

Treadmills

$800-$4,000

 

125

350

Lower body, lower to higher impact, weight-bearing.

 

Walking and running enthusiasts during inclement weather, or as conditioning for recreational sports such as skiing.

*In 30 minutes for a typical 150-pound person

High-tech ways to get more fit

Track your stats, up your mileage, and get a better session with these innovations.

iFit

Created by Icon Fitness, owners of Nordic­Track and ProForm, this technology syncs your machine to the cloud via Wi-Fi. The $99 annual fee (plus the purchase of a separate module in some cases) gets you access to 600 trainer-­designed programs that change depending on the stats from your last session. It’s like having a trainer standing next to you and adjusting the machine for you. It also has 2,500 Google Maps–based routes that automatically adjust the machine to a changing terrain, as if you were running outside.

Machine-linked apps

Precor’s free Preva app lets you set goals, and it stores your workout details from your treadmill or elliptical session as well as all of your other activities. BH Fitness machines work with several apps, including the BH trainer powered by Pear, which has 250 audio-based routines in which a coach takes you through the workout. (The app is free, but there’s a fee for most workouts.) Nautilus and Bowflex have free apps that sync data from the machine to Apple’s Health app or the Google Fit app.

Connectivity to other sites

Schwinn, Horizon Fitness, and Vision Fitness allow you to download your stats to widely used fitness-management sites such as MyFitnessPal and MapMyFitness in addition to the manufacturer sites. LifeSpan enables you to send info via an app to lifespanfitness.com/club, where you can track how your workouts are affecting important health factors such as blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol. You can also get routines designed by exercise physiologists based on your health goals.

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the February 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.



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