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.
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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.
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.
Choosing the Right Treadmill
First, think about your fitness objectives. Whether it’s enhanced athletic performance, general health and fitness, or rehabilitation, knowing how you will use your treadmill can help you identify which model to buy.
Next, consider your budget. Investing in a more expensive machine gets you sturdier construction, a longer parts warranty, a larger running surface, higher top speeds, and steeper inclines. But if your goals don’t require the latest and greatest, you’ll likely be just as satisfied with a less expensive model.
Try It Before You Buy It
It’s essential to try out a treadmill in person. Here’s our try-before-you-buy checklist:
• Does the cushioning and shock absorption of the running deck feel comfortable?
• When you walk or run, do your feet hit the motor housing?
• Can you easily straddle the deck when standing on the side rails?
• Is the display monitor easy to read?
• Are the controls easy to reach and operate?
Four Factors to Keep in Mind
• Size. Most treadmills have a similar footprint, on average 77 inches long by 35 inches wide. A folding treadmill will be half its length when stored. You’ll need adequate empty space around the treadmill for access and safety.
• Ergonomics. If you’re a runner, you will need a deck length that accommodates your stride. Consider how comfortable you are on the machine while walking or running. Choose a model that appeals to you ergonomically and aesthetically.
• High-tech features. Docks for iPods, USB ports, and wireless Internet connectivity are standard features on many treadmills.
• Adjustability. Most treadmills have top speeds between 10 and 12 mph; some will go faster. They typically incline between a 10 and 15 percent grade, but some offer an increased gradient.
Other Purchase Considerations
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, here are some other things to consider before making the purchase.
Weight and assembly. Treadmills are heavy, so ask about delivery. Check whether assembly, tricky even for experienced DIYers, is included or available at an additional cost.
Warranties. When it comes to the warranty, look for three to seven years of coverage on parts, and at least one year on labor. Most treadmills have a lifetime warranty on the frame, and you should get that for the motor as well.
Returns. And what about returns? Confirm the store’s return policy. Even if they will take back the treadmill, you might have to pay for the store to retrieve it, as well as for restocking fees. If you purchase online, find out how return shipping is handled.