- Elliptical Trainers
- Fitness Trackers
- Heart Rate Monitors
- Recumbent Bikes
- Rowing Machines
- Spin Bikes
- Treadmill Desks
Offering lower impact workouts compared to a treadmill and running outdoors, elliptical trainers often include some of the most innovative and beneficial design features. This is especially true of variable stride machines and those with an incline, where you don’t have to worry so much about matching your height to machines with a specific fixed stride length.
The price range is also the widest we’ve seen from any cardio equipment. While entry level ellipticals are available for as low as $100, you can expect to pay up to $9000+ for the top-end commercial models with full entertainment features. These commercial models will often feature a much wider range of entertainment options, but we’re also seeing lower priced machines start to integrate tablet holders and smartphone connectivity into their consoles.
Part of what makes elliptical trainers so effective as a form of cardio is that you can turn even a basic training program into a full body workout. While the elliptical stride trains lower body muscles groups – such as the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves, moveable arms can be used to train your upper body, including your chest, back, biceps, and shoulders. Some models in the Yowza Fitness CardioCore collection even feature a unique pivoting arm motion to increase core muscle activation to help tone your abs and obliques.
In addition to providing some of the most effective cardio workouts in terms of calorie burning, ellipticals are often packed with features to make your training more enjoyable and efficient. This includes telemetry heart rate monitoring, performance tracking, fitness app synchronization, an adjustable incline, and connectivity to tablets which act as a high quality display screen for your workout feedback.
Personal Fitness Trackers
Just because you’re not running on a treadmill or cycling on a recumbent bike doesn’t mean you aren’t burning calories. Simple everyday tasks such as climbing stairs, walking to the subway, or cycling to work all form part of your daily fitness routine. But how can you combine this with feedback from exercise equipment to create a clearer overall picture of your current activity level?
The answer can often be found in personal fitness trackers. Often designed in the form of a wristband or pedometer to easily attach to your wrist or clothing, these have been available for a number of years now, yet continue to gain in popularity.
FitBit was one of the first to enter this competitive market and quickly dominated the industry with a number of lightweight, aesthetically pleasing, and relatively inexpensive personal fitness trackers. Some of their most popular models include the Zip, One, Flex, and Charge, but they’ve also started to branch out into the smart watch sector with their Surge design.
These types of devices are designed to be light enough and discreet enough to wear at all times, whether you’re jogging on a treadmill or even when you’re sleeping, with advanced analysis of your sleep patterns being a popular feature.
As well as FitBit, you can also find some innovative and attractive fitness trackers from the likes of Jawbone, Misfit, Garmin, and even Swarovski. But it’s not just cardiovascular exercise you’re able to keep track of. Companies such as Atlas Wearables are working on devices for tracking your resistance training workouts, recording data related to you number of repetitions, exercise, and amount of weight used.
Heart Rate Monitors
Whether you’re trying to stay within a set range or using it as an indication for when your pulse gets too high, heart rate monitors have become an invaluable piece of equipment for many people. Being able to accurately track your heart rate during exercise is something that’s claimed by many elliptical trainers, exercise bikes, and treadmills, but is often far from precise.
This is particularly true of lower priced machines, where you’ll rarely see a user profile option where you can enter your age. This is a key requirement for the maximum heart rate calculation, regardless of which formula you agree with.
So what’s the difference between heart rate monitors and personal fitness trackers?
In recent years this question has become a lot more difficult to answer, as some of FitBit’s latest designs (Charge HR and Surge) offer advanced heart rate monitoring as one of their main features. The Surge even has a screen where your heart rate is displayed, and as a smart watch offers many of the benefits of specialist heart rate monitors that have traditionally dominated this market.
However, whether or not these smart watches and personal fitness trackers operate on the same frequency as heart rate chest belts is yet to be seen. Fitness equipment consoles that suport telemetry heart rate monitoring tend to rely on the signal being sent over a specific frequency, which is where Polar devices have been so effective.
Polar are also one of the few heart rate monitor companies to offer online performance tracking and analysis of your heart rate, in a similar way to how SchwinnConnect, NautilusConnect, and ViaFit (Horizon Fitness) let you track overall workout performance.
If you enjoy your cycling but are looking for a lower impact form of exercise, with improved lumbar support and seat comfort, a recumbent bike could be the perfect choice for your home gym. By cycling from a reclined position, your weight is much more evenly distributed, which reduces any pressure on your knee and ankle joints.
Although you’re not going to be able to burn calories at the same rate as a spinning style bike, the electromagnetic braking systems now available on many modern designs mean you can quickly adjust the intensity at the touch of a button. Many recumbent bikes now also feature touch and telemetry heart rate monitoring via sensors built into handles next to the seat, which are always within easy reach.
But it’s worth bearing in mind that the footprint of recumbent bikes will often be larger than their upright or spin style counterparts, which will often lead to an increase in product weight. However, for almost every recumbent we’ve reviewed, transport wheels have been fitted to one of the stabilizers to make the bike easier to move if required.
If you enjoy being able to watch your favourite movies or listen to music while you workout, you’ll want to look out for designs that feature a media shelf, and ideally a USB charging port. By shopping around you needn’t spend thousands on a top-of-the-line model to benefit from these features. There are actually several high-quality designs that offer tablet and smartphone support, as well as the option to sync your workout data to a fitness app, which are available for around $300. These are highlighted in our buying guide below.
Modern rowing machines have come a long way since the first hydraulic based damper design was patented back in the late 1800s, with a much greater focus on emulating real-world rowing conditions from the comfort and convenience of your own home or rowing club.
All rowing machines fall into one of two categories; floating head and fixed head, with RowPerfect being one of the best known examples of a floating head erg. This means that instead of having the seat slide along the glide rail and the foot plates remain stationary, the flywheel carriage actually slides along the rail as well, creating a dual motion that accurately recreates the feeling of rowing on water.
You can also choose from a variety of different resistance systems, including water, air, and hydraulic. It’s these hydraulic resistance rowers that tend to be most popular among the earlier price brackets, with water resistance rowers being much better represented towards the $1000+ price point.
Despite appearing fairly limited in their display console functions, particularly when compared to equipment like ellipticals and treadmills, you can still benefit from some incredibly valuable feedback that goes beyond the basic time and distance. This ranges from simpler metrics like your 500m split time and stroke rate, all the way through to your force curve data in the case of the RowPerfect3 and Concept2. Some of the more advanced software even lets you race against opponents on the other side of the world.
Regardless of their design, rowing machines remain one of the most effective pieces of cardiovascular equipment for anyone looking to improve their fitness, offering a full body workout that strengthens and tones your back, biceps, quads, hamstrings, shoulders, and hip flexors.
If you’re less concerned about entertainment features such as cooling fans and speakers, and more concerned about high intensity workouts, an indoor cycling bike could be your best option. With their frame design promoting a posture that’s similar to that of riding a road bike, the cycling you perform indoors can have immediate carry over benefits to any road cycling.
Indoor cycling bikes will rarely provide a display console, but when they do it’s only going to provide you with the most essential feedback, such as time and distance. You’re also going to be without any form of preset training program, with HIIT and Tabata workouts proving to be popular and effective replacements.
To help reduce any learning curve if you’re switching between your road bike and an indoor cycling bike, a common feature is the ability to change the stock pedals for a set of your own. This is also sometimes possible with the seat.
Ergonomic handlebars are also a popular feature to include, offering a variety of grip positions to support the different training intensities.
With many modern machines featuring advanced deck cushioning systems to reduce the impact of your foot fall, treadmills have some significant advantages over outdoor running in terms of protecting your joints, tendons, and ligaments, resulting in a safer running experience in the long term.
Despite being on the larger side in terms of their size, many treadmills can now be folded away with assisted lift mechanisms, which reduce the effort required to fold the running deck up and down. In some cases the running deck is stationary and can’t be folded away, such as for the Precor machines. This is when space planning tools can be invaluable, with Precor and Life Fitness being two companies that let you recreate a floor plan of your room, so you can be sure of having enough space before buying.
Having the option to adjust the incline on some machines is another reason treadmills are such efficient machines for helping you burn more calories in a shorter space of time.
The great thing about treadmills is that providing you’re willing to sacrifice a few luxury features, you’re able to buy a machine that offers a wide variety of incline settings, console feedback, and heart rate monitoring for just a few hundred dollars.
If your budget stretches further, then you can even access some of the higher quality commercial designs that offer everything you could want from a treadmill at the gym. This includes features such as password protected console buttons for added safety, impact control systems to reduce fatigue, and zero maintenance running decks.
As we lead increasingly busy lives, it can be difficult to find time to dedicate to exercise on a regular basis. But with treadmills being such an efficient and versatile piece of fitness equipment, a few well known fitness companies have started producing treadmill desks, with the goal of helping you exercise while you work.
The negative health implications caused by remaining seated for prolonged periods of time are well documented. By simply switching from a seated to a standing position, you’re already going to be improving your posture and reducing the risk of health problems, but by walking at the same time you’re actually going to burn calories and even lose weight as well.
It’s worth mentioning that although the belt speed is much more limited for treadmill desks (4mph compared to 12mph+ for a standard treadmill), you’ll often still benefit from the same high build quality and weight capacity, comprehensive warranty coverage, and advanced cushioning systems. Also, because you’re not going to be running, shorter running decks are still well suited to taller users, with the LifeSpan TR800-DT5 being well suited to anyone between 4’10” and 6’8″ tall.
The great news is that they are rapidly gaining in popularity, with many businesses now choosing to offer them as an option to their employees while they work. This has been validated by a recent study that found people walking on treadmill desks perform cognitive tasks nearly as well as those at sitting desks.