In its annual fitness-themed New Year's issue, Consumer Reports magazine went way beyond analyzing one category in a big way but expanded its "shape up" section into a rather massive 10 pages -- a large percent of its 63-page February issue.
The section looked at fitness gear sold on TV (four pages), noting it was putting "amazing claims to the test;" spent a mere three pages on both treadmills and ellipticals, with some surprising notes that often vary from past years; and took on health clubs in another three pages.
The magazine obviously didn't start with the hypothesis that all TV gear is bad; in fact, it wrote, "Any piece of equipment that motivates you to exercise may hold some value." But it added that results achieved with TV equipment can often be attained with little or no equipment.
Categories analyzed were abdominal exercisers (Ab Lounge XL, The Bean, Ab-Doer Xtreme and Red Exerciser DX, ranging in price from $50 to $210), aerobic devices (AirClimber and Urban Rebounder, for $140 to $150), total body exercisers (Easy Shaper Ultimate and Fluidity Bar, for $200 to $215), and a "bun and thigh machine" called Leg Magic Professional ($180). The team had apparently also used the Bun & Thigh Doer but noted it was discontinued -- and wrote that their tester earned a good share of bruises using it.
In its "CR's Take" about each piece, most noted that the claims made wouldn't come true by using the piece in a minimal way or without additional training -- or even without quite a strict diet. After luring you in with fantastic claims, the manuals then will say that a user needs to do additional work to get substantial results. None were deemed bad, per se, although many pieces were unneeded and sometimes were only a way to spend more money. The Bun & Thigh Doer, however, was panned for design flaws that caused injury.
Treads and ellipticals
For the first time, CR showed pictures of some of its testing, including its durability testing and a device that showed the elliptical pattern of an elliptical's pedals in motion, which helped CR analyze ergonomics.
In its treadmill ratings, the PaceMaster brand appeared for the first time in three years but ranked eighth of 16 folding treadmills with its Gold Elite, with the magazine noting how the deck cracked on one side during assessment. Also faring poorly was the Horizon T1200 (in ninth place among folding models) because its deck cracked on both sides. Falling below those two were the NordicTrackC2255, New Balance 1200 and the ProForm Sports 1200, which were all called fine for walking; the Evo FX30, Horizon Fitness RST5.6, LifeSpan TR1000-HRC and the Image 17.5S.
The Epic View 550 was the "best buy" among folding models, but second on the list to the Bowflex 7 Series.
Among non-folding treadmills, the Landice L7 Cardio Trainer was tops (for the third year), with the NordicTrack S3000 next, then the Precor 9.31 and the SportsArt TR32 and the True PS300 followed by two Vision models (T9500 and the T9200).
The Vision T9200 was the category's best buy, just as it was last year. Ranked as "best for avid runners" were the Landice, NordicTrack, SportsArt and True -- also exactly as they were last year.
Among ellipticals, Precor retains its lock on the top spot (5.31), while the Life Fitness brand dropped to fourth with the X1 (its X3 was second in the magazine's last elliptical rankings two years ago). Octane appeared on the list for the first time, pulling up into third, just behind Keys CG2 in second place. The NordicTrack AudioStrider 990 was fifth and called the category's best buy. The magazine also noted the Precor, Keys and Octane were recommended models for a "gym-quality feel."
Coming in as "not recommended" were the Nautilus NE3000, which the magazine panned for resistance and computer control defects, and the Diamondback 460Ef, with CR noting defects that hampered operation, including misaligned belts on one and belt slippage on another.
Noted as less crowded than most and gaining a top recommendation were, generically speaking, yoga/dance/Pilates studios, but insignificantly lower was Life Time Fitness, with a "work gym" right below that tied with a "community center." The first for-profit gym on the list was Curves, with Gold's Gym right below that. In the write-up, which took a look at which to join, what to look out for, and provided tips on knowing your options, researchers noted that "Life Time is hot, Bally is not," and said Life Time was the only large chain toward the top of list. Bally -- understandably considering its current situation -- was criticized for long wait times, contract problems, cleanliness issues and poor locker rooms.
SNEWS® View: Last year when we talked to a head researcher for the division that focuses on equipment, SNEWS® was told the magazine has found that fitness and health issues are important to its readers and they would give them more attention. No kidding. Ten editorial pages this year -- compared to two on treadmills last year and five the year before -- is quite a bit of attention. Of course, every review will find its criticisms and complaints, but we still say we're glad to see CR continuing to discover higher-end and higher-quality equipment.