Find the Right Exercise Equipment During Holiday Sales

How to choose between treadmills and ellipticals, what to know about buying used, and three product picks

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As the weather gets colder, you may be thinking about moving your exercise routine indoors.

You can do a lot with low-cost equipment such as small weights and a jump rope. But if you want to invest in an exercise machine—especially while it's on sale—the first thing you have to figure out is exactly which machine is right for you.

You can get an equally good cardio workout on treadmills, ellipticals, and alternative motion exercise machines.

Here’s what to consider.

Treadmills, which start at about $500, allow you to walk, jog, or run, usually at a variety of speeds and inclines.

A short, budget treadmill can be a fine space-saving choice, though people with longer strides should opt for a longer deck.

Test any model you’re thinking of buying to get a sense of the size, cushioning, and console configuration.

Ellipticals, which start at about $600, are lower-impact than treadmills and also allow for an upper-body workout.

They’re usually quieter than treadmills.

Alternative Motion Exercise Machines
These specialty cardio machines, which we don’t currently test, combine aspects of treadmills and ellipticals.

Some let you mimic a running motion without the impact on your joints.

Go to Consumer Reports' 2018 Holiday Central for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider tips on shopping, and much more.

More on Exercise Equipment

Where to Put It
Exercise equipment—particularly treadmills—needs plenty of clearance on all sides. (See our treadmill safety advice, below.)

A folding treadmill can save space when not in use. But test the folding function before buying because a heavy deck can be difficult to raise.

Special Features
Some machines come with features like internet or mobile-app connectivity and interactive programs; simpler machines can save you money.

Everyone should use heart-rate monitoring to get a sense of his or her level of exertion, says Peter Anzalone, Consumer Reports’ senior test project leader for fitness equipment, but it doesn’t have to be built into the machine.

Tips for Buying a Used Treadmill

A used treadmill can be a smart, low-cost option, but only if you buy one that will last. CR technician Peter Anzalone offers these tips to help you find one for the long run.

1. Don’t buy from fitness centers. Commercial gyms may sell heavy-duty equipment, but it has probably been used up to 24 hours a day for years. Buying a treadmill from someone’s home is a smarter option. Chances are good that the machine hasn’t seen as much action.

2. Inspect the belt. Examine the entire length for fraying, loose seams, or other signs of wear. Any irregularity could mean that the belt needs to be replaced.

3. Test the motors. Without standing on the treadmill, run it through the full range of speeds, listening for any whining, straining, or other unusual sounds that could suggest a problem with the main motor. Then stand on the treadmill and put it through the full range of inclines, noting any rough transitions or clunking as it goes up and down. They can be signs of a weak incline motor or broken gearing, respectively.

4. Review the warranty. Most frames are welded steel and have a lifetime warranty, Anzalone says. But warranties on parts and electronics can range from one to 10 years. The longer the warranty, the more likely that the equipment is built to last.

Product Picks

Below are three exercise machines that impressed our product testers: one nonfolding treadmill, one budget folding treadmill, and one elliptical.

For more options, see our ratings for treadmills and our ratings for ellipticals.

The Rundown on Treadmills

Ready to lose those extra pounds? Consumer Reports expert, Peter Anzalone, shows 'Consumer 101' TV show host, Jack Rico, which treadmill features will give him a run for his money.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the January 2019 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.


Lauren F. Friedman

I'm a science journalist and storyteller, always regarding fads with skepticism and analyzing studies with care. Decisions about our health are some of the most difficult and critical we all make, so I favor evidence over anecdote and aim to find clarity amidst the confusion. When I'm not reading, writing, and editing, I enjoy hiking, bike touring, and trying new foods in Queens, where I live. Follow me on Twitter (@fedira).