Carol Ewing Garber, PhD, professor of movement sciences and director of the graduate program in applied physiology at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York City. She is a registered clinical exercise physiologist and past president of the American College of Sports Medicine. TC.Columbia.edu
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There are so many makes and models of home exercise equipment that you could work up a sweat trying to choose which are right for you. Among the questions you need to consider: Do I really need to spend big bucks to have an effective workout? Which items are built to last? And which will make me want to work out?
Here are some of the best pieces of exercise equipment for different needs and budgets*…
Construction quality and warranty length are especially important with motorized treadmills, which take a pounding.
Best overall treadmill: Precor TRM 445 is an extremely durable, gym-quality product backed by an excellent warranty. It features an effective shock-absorption system that reduces stress on knees, hips and feet, and it’s capable of creating inclines as steep as 15% and declines up to 2%. It’s very quiet, has a 22-x-56-inch running surface and can reach speeds up to 12 miles per hour (mph)—a five-minute mile. $4,999. PrecorAtHome.com
Best folding/budget treadmill:Sole F80 doesn’t sacrifice durability or running surface area for the sake of compact size the way some folding treadmills do. Its running surface is a big 22-x-60 inches and provides effective shock absorption—it’s capable of speeds up to 12 mph and inclines up to 15%, though it does not decline. $1,600. SoleTreadmills.com
It’s important that you choose a stationary bike that makes you feel comfortable. The best ones have seats and handlebars that can be adjusted in multiple ways. A “recumbent” stationary bike allows you to sit at a relaxed angle on a truly supportive seat rather than perch leaning forward on a small bike seat. Some high-end bikes offer live spin-class workouts or sessions with trainers on video screens, though that generally requires paying a membership fee. You could skip that and just mount a tablet computer in front of a lower-priced no-membership-fee bike, then use free fitness apps or stream spin-class videos and first-person-perspective rides available for free on YouTube.com.
Best overall upright stationary bike: Diamondback 510ic Indoor Cycle Magnetic Trainer, which has an extremely adjustable seat and handlebars, can fit riders from 5’2˝ to 6’5˝. This sturdy bike’s chain drive and 32-pound flywheel provide an admirably smooth ride, while its 16 resistance levels and many preset workout programs help keep those rides challenging and interesting. Its video screen displays data such as speed, distance and heart rate, but if you want a video distraction, you’ll have to place it near a TV or attach a tablet. $750. DiamondbackFitness.com
Warning: Fit and comfort are crucial, as noted above, and not even the impressively adjustable 510ic feels right to everyone. Other well-made stationary bikes worth a test ride include the Assault AirBike Classic ($699, Assault Fitness.com)…Concept 2 BikeErg ($990, Concept2.com)…and Peloton Indoor Exercise Bike, which has grown tremendously popular because of its subscription-based live-video spin classes ($2,245. OnePeloton.com).
Best budget/folding stationary bike:Xterra Fitness FB150 Folding Exercise Bike is solidly built for its price range, yet also capable of folding down to an impressive small amount of floorspace when not in use—18.1˝ x 18.1˝. It features eight resistance settings and, unlike many low-cost models, a useful display screen that provides feedback such as speed, time, distance, pulse rate and calories burned. It’s not designed for people heavier than 225 pounds or taller than 5’10˝, however, though it does fit riders as short as 4’10˝. $120. XterraFitness.com
Best recumbent stationary bike: Schwinn 270 Recumbent Bike is quiet and extremely versatile—with 25 levels of resistance and 29 workout programs, nine of them controlled by the rider’s heart rate. There are heart-rate monitors in the handlebar grips, or an optional heart-rate–monitoring chest strap can be added. Its comfortable seat has ventilation and lumbar support, while its “step-through” frame design makes it easy to get on and off, even for riders who have limited mobility. It can support riders up to 300 pounds, though people significantly taller than six feet or shorter than 5’3˝ might find it a poor fit. $599. SchwinnFitness.com
Best budget recumbent stationary bike: Marcy Recumbent Exercise Bike ME-709 has impressively solid construction quality considering its low price. Like the Schwinn, it has a step-through design and can handle riders up to 300 pounds, but the ME-709 also can handle riders with inseams of 27 to 36 inches. It has eight resistance settings and—unlike some in this price range—it includes a screen that reports time, distance, speed and calories burned. $199.99. MarcyPro.com
High-end ellipticals are more likely than cheaper ones to have adjustable stride length, making them appropriate for a greater range of heights and gaits. Better units also offer a greater range of resistance levels and exercise routines.
Best overall elliptical trainer:Sole E95S lets users set stride length from 18 inches up to 24 inches with the push of a button, a range wide enough to accommodate almost everyone. Users also can choose among 20 resistance levels and 10 workout programs, including two controlled by the user’s heart rate—pulse sensors are built into the grips, or you can wear the wireless chest strap. The E95S is impressively sturdy—it’s capable of handling users up to 400 pounds—and is backed by an excellent warranty. It has moving arms for a full-body workout, and its big 30-pound flywheel provides smooth, quiet operation. The main downside: It’s so solidly built that it can be a challenge to reposition—it weighs 265 pounds. $2,199.99. SoleTreadmills.com
Best budget elliptical trainer: ProForm Endurance 720 E is sturdy and backed by a solid warranty. Its stride length is fixed at 19 inches, but it has moving arms, 20 different resistance levels and a 0%-to-20% adjustable “ramp” angle that mimics an incline. Like many ellipticals, it’s heavy—335 pounds. $1,299. ProForm.com
Different rowing machines produce resistance in different ways. Some use hydraulic pistons, but those provide poor durability and unpleasant, inconsistent resistance. Others use magnetic resistance, which is reliable and very quiet. For a more authentic rowing feel, a few use water resistance where paddles pull through a water tank, or air resistance, where rowing spins a flywheel.
Best overall rowing machine: Concept2 Model D is an air-resistance rower that’s durable enough to be used in professional gyms. It separates easily into two sections, making it simple to store away if, for example, you need to convert your workout room to a guest room for the holidays. The Model D is sturdy enough to handle rowers up to 500 pounds even though the unit itself weighs a modest 57 pounds. Users with inseams greater than 38 inches might require an optional extra-long monorail. $900. Concept2.com
Alternative: The Concept2 Model E, costing $1,100, is similar to the model D but with a higher seat that’s easier to get on and off.
Best for simulating the feel of rowing on water: WaterRower Classic Rowing Machine does this as well as any rowing machine on the market—resistance results from rotating a flywheel that’s inside a small, sealed water tank. With its black walnut frame the WaterRower is more attractive than most exercise equipment, but it doesn’t put style ahead of substance. It’s so sturdy that its maximum user weight is listed at 1,000 pounds, though users with inseams greater than 37 inches might benefit from the XL Rail Option, which adds $100 to the price. $1,495. WaterRower.com
Best budget rowing machine:Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 uses magnetic resistance rather than the less desirable hydraulic resistance provided by many rowing machines in its price range. Build quality is good for home use, and users with inseams up to 44 inches should find it a good fit, though maximum user weight is 250 pounds. $232.55. SunnyHealthFitness.com
*Some products listed here were temporarily out of stock at press time because of increased demand and production delays. Prices are the lowest recently available.