Consumer Reports Health tests of treadmills and ellipticals produces 14 top machines

After putting 48 machines to the test, Consumer Reports Health lists 14 recommended treadmills and ellipticals for a home workout, including five Best Buy choices which combine performance and value.
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YONKERS, NY— After putting 48 machines to the test, Consumer Reports Health lists 14 recommended treadmills and ellipticals for a home workout, including five Best Buy choices which combine performance and value. The report is part of “Get Fit In 2010,” a do-it-yourself Web guide at www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org. The Web site includes new ratings of bathroom scales, fitness tips for a variety of workout styles, and low-cost ways to stay healthy in bad weather.

Top Treadmills: If you like to run or walk

Treadmills have long been the most popular home workout machines, commanding more than 50 percent of the market. They’re a great option if the workout of choice is running or walking. Running, after all, is the gold standard of cardiovascular exercise. Consumer Reports Health tested 29 treadmills, analyzing ease of use, ergonomics, exercise range, quality and durability of construction, safety and more.

 In the nonfolding category, Consumer Reports Health recommends four machines, including one CR Best Buy, the AFG 13.0 AT for $1,800. It’s the best value of the bunch and comes with a variety of exercise programs. Other options in this category include the top-rated Precor 9.31, a powerful well-built model that scored well across the board at a price of $3,300. Nonfolding machines are usually more powerful with longer decks and tend to be higher priced. 

The best folding treadmills save space and compare favorably with any treadmill. Consumer Reports Health recommends four machines and identifies the Sole F63 as a CR Best Buy at $1,000, a good price for a machine that tops out at 12 mph with a 13 percent incline. The top rated Bowflex 7-Series, priced at $1500, has a bright easy-to-read monitor display, and its 60-inch deck is as long as the deck of any nonfolding model, which makes it suitable for just about any runner. 

Consumer Reports Healthnotes that some treadmills now come with a negative incline option to simulate downhill running, which works different muscle groups. Other models offer adjustable cushioning. While not a CR Best Buy or Recommended model, the NordicTrack A2550 scored in the middle of the pack of the folding models; it allows users to alternate the feel of their workout from running on concrete to running on a padded track. Some treadmills come with gadgets such as an MP3 dock with speakers or a headphone jack. “It’s a good idea to try the machines out in a store and see how you like these features. Bottom line, if those bells and whistles entice you to work out more, they may be worth the expense,” said Nancy Metcalf, senior program editor, Consumer Reports Health.

One of the folding treadmills, the Best Fitness BFT1, earned a rating of Don’t Buy: Performance Problem because its incline feature malfunctioned on two of the three samples tested by Consumer Reports.

Top Ellipticals: For a good cardiovascular workout without the high impact of running

Elliptical exercisers have been gaining ground in the marketplace in recent years. Their motion provides a good cardiovascular workout, but without the high impact of running. Those with joint problems or individuals who are carrying a little extra weight might find that ellipticals are a good choice. Another benefit of ellipticals is the ability to crank up the resistance for strength training or reverse stride to work slightly different muscles.

Consumer Reports’ testers pedaled on 19 ellipticals, evaluating exercise range, ergonomics, construction, safety, and more, recommending six machines. Of those machines, three are Consumer Reports Best Buys: the Sole E35 at $1300 is the top rated of the three Best Buys, followed by the NordicTrack AudioStrider 990 for $900 and the LifeCore LC985VG for $1,000. The Sole has an adjustable incline, pedals with a changeable foot angle, and controls on the moving handgrips, while the NordricTrack is notable for its programs controlled by its heart-rate monitor and a ramp that can be adjusted electronically while working out, features usually found in more expensive models. The LifeCore has a dial control for adjusting resistance and selecting from multiple preset programs.

How to shop for the machine that’s right for you:

  • Budget and midrange models can usually be found at Sears, Sports Authority, Walmart and other discount and sporting-goods chains. Shop at sporting-goods specialty stores for moderate to high-end models. 
  • Keep a close eye on dimensions. Exercisers will need extra space to safely get on and off a machine. When shopping for ellipticals, take close stock of the vertical space, especially if there are low ceilings, because exercisers will be elevated on the machine.
  • The machine’s display should have easy-to-use controls and will show some combination of heart rate, calories burned, speed, resistance levels, and details such as time and distance.
  • When it comes to warranties, look for one that provides two to three years of coverage on major moving parts and a year for labor. Surveys on the probability of failure and repair costs have shown that extended warranties are probably not a good deal.
  • Pay attention to ergonomics and adjustability. When using an elliptical, there should never be discomfort in the knee or hip joints, and knees shouldn’t bump the frame or handgrips. See more detailed tips online at www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org.

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