Consumer Reports recently reviewed a trio of alternative motion machines, a new type of exercise equipment that combines elements of the treadmill, elliptical, and stair stepper. The potential for no-impact cardio workouts is probably the biggest selling point of these machines, though there are other reasons to give them a look. That’s true whether you choose the NordicTrack FreeStride FS7i, the Octane Fitness Zero Runner ZR7, or the Precor Adaptive Motion Trainer with Open Stride. 

New movement benefits body and mind. If you routinely use a treadmill, elliptical, or stair stepper for your cardio workouts, jumping on an alternative motion machine will take some getting used to—especially if it’s the Octane Zero Runner. And that’s a good thing, since mixing up your workout will keep you engaged and prevent you from hitting a physical plateau. What’s more, learning new movements builds neuromotor pathways, which helps maintain a healthy brain.

Interval training is easily done. These alternative motion machines let you vary the length and sometimes the height of your stride in practically endless combinations. That makes it possible to come up with your own forms of interval training, which is great for your heart and for boosting metabolism. 

For instance, you might alternate between a 2-minute high-intensity long-stride work phase and a 2-minute low-intensity short-stride recovery phase. Sandwiching a 20-minute work/recovery period between 5-minute warm-up and cool-down periods would make for a highly effective 30-minute session. Next time out, you could swap the strides, doing high-intensity short strides and low-intensity long strides. Or like playing musical scales, you could start with short strides, slowly elongate them to the maximum length, and then quickly work your way back down for the high-intensity work phase.

Cardio workouts: A Consumer Reports project leader tests a Precor alternative motion machine.
Precor's Open Stride feature lets you work different muscles by adjusting the height from 6.8 to 10 inches.

Additional features abound. Each alternative motion machine we tested has unique features that create the opportunity for yet more workout variety.

The NordicTrack’s incline feature changes the angle of the pedaling path, which will activate your leg muscles differently.

The Precor has an Open Stride feature that lets you change the vertical height of the elliptical path during marching or stepping movements.

Both the NordicTrack and Precor have moving handgrips and a resistance feature, which allow for upper body push/pull components.

As for the Octane Zero Runner, it has anchors on its frame for attaching elastic tubing, ideal for off-machine resistance exercises that break up aerobic sessions.

Bottom line: Although any type of exercise is better than none, it’s always best to mix up your routines. With their unique designs and dynamic stride-length features, alternative motion machines are a fresh alternative to traditional cardio equipment. Even if you’re not ready to buy one of these machines for home use, next time you spot one at the gym or fitness club, do yourself a favor and hop on board.