January is the busiest time of year for exercise equipment sales as well-fed consumers look to make good on their health-based New Year's resolutions. But if you're considering a home treadmill or elliptical, it might make sense to pull the trigger sooner rather than later.

"January is usually a good time to buy treadmills and ellipticals, when prices are reduced to attract resolution-conscious consumers," says Courtney Pennicooke, a CR market analyst. "But consumers can also find huge holiday discounts at big-box stores, sporting goods stores, and fitness dealers now."

Although you can purchase exercise equipment online, we don't recommend it. The fit and feel of the machines are very important to your workout experience, especially with ellipticals, where the wrong ergonomics can wreak havoc on your pedaling stride.

Pennicooke points to three walk-in options: big-box stores like Sears and Walmart, sporting goods stores like Dick's Sporting Goods, and specialty fitness dealers.

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If you have access to a specialty exercise equipment dealer, it's worth a visit if you're considering one of the higher-end models that dominate the top of our ratings, such as the Precor TRM 243 nonfolding treadmill or the Landice E7 Pro Sport elliptical. The staff members at these stores tend to be very knowledgeable, plus you'll be able to try a variety of machines.

One more thing: Dealers typically offer delivery and installation. The service might set you back another $150 or so, but given the weight of these machines and their often complex assembly, it might be money well-spent.

If saving money is your top concern and you don't mind lugging a box weighing a few hundred pounds into your home and handling the assembly, then check out the big-box stores. Sears, for example, carries many models that did well in our tests, including the NordicTrack SE9i elliptical and the NordicTrack C1650 treadmill. Keep in mind that assembly of exercise equipment is usually a two-person job, especially when it comes to connecting the console to the machine. As with any installation, make sure to read the instructions all the way through before getting started.