Treadmills & Elliptical Exercisers (Part 1)

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These machines can energize your workouts without busting your budge

When you ship for a treadmill or elliptical exerciser, focus on exactly, why you’re buying it: to stay active or to lose weight. That way, you can avoid paying for unnecessary features that might sound great but won’t help you meet your fitness goals – and might increase the price.

These machines can energize your workouts without busting your budge

These machines can energize your workouts without busting your budge

Our tests of 34 treadmills and 31 elliptical found that you can get top-notch machines for as much as $4,000. But it’s also possible to get high-performing models for a fraction of that price.

“You don’t’ need all of that to train correctly,” J. Matthews, M.S., an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise, says of the optional features.

For example, all of the treadmills and elliptical we evaluated let you adjust the intensity level of your workouts, which can help you lose weight faster since you’ll burn more calories when working harder. You can also do interval training a type of cardiovascular workout in which you alternate intense exercise with slower-paced work. That can make your training more efficient because your overall intensity will be greater than normal, so you can cut the length of your workout by about 20 percent while maintaining or even increasing the benefits, according to research.

The phrase “proper training” isn’t marketing gold, but it’s a reminder to focus on what’s important. Internet connectivity, LCD displays, video simulators, iPod docks, and other features are appealing and can lead you to exercise more, but they should be user friendly and geared to your goals. If not, what’s the benefit?


We evaluated treadmills on their ease of use, ergonomics, construction, exercise range, and safety, and found 16 models to recommend, including four CR Best Buys. For the fourth year, the top-rated device is also the priciest: the well-built Precor 9.31, $4,000. But that doesn’t mean that people on tighter budgets can’t find solid choices. We also recommend the LifeSpan TR4000i, $1,700, which cost a lot less. It’s a folding model that can be stored in an upright position although few owners actually fold their treadmills up after each use

Most treadmills incline from 10 to 15 percent to ramp up your workout.

Most treadmills incline from 10 to 15 percent to ramp up your workout.

Web traps.

The ability to connect to the Internet is an add-on or even a standard feature on some models. But the technology can be hard to use even when you’re not exercising. The folding NordicTrack Commercial 1750, $1,500 a CR Best Buy, has an LCD screen and iFit Live software, providing a virtual trainer, Internet browsing, and other interactive functions. But trying to view and navigate sites while exercising can compromise your posture, causing you to slump or lean your body weight on the rails for a prolonged period, which could decrease the effectiveness of the exercise. Make sure to buy a treadmill or elliptical that allows you to mimic your outdoor walking or running movements and posture. That’s why you should try out models in a store or gym before buying. People who follow that advice are more satisfied and more likely to use their machine consistently than those who buy without trying it first.

Tracking gains.

Determining your current fitness level and charting your progress can help you stick to a workout schedule. Although it didn’t earn recommended status, the solid-scoring non-folding AFG 7.1 AT, $2,000, has Nike+ iPod integration, which automatically saves all of your workout data to an iPod so that you can upload and track your progress at nikerunning.com. Treadmills such as the folding Life-Fitness F3 Track, $3,000 and the F1 Smart, $2,500, have a USB drive to transfer data to your computer. Those LifeFitness models also offer an energy-saving function that the manufacturer claims will minimize electricity use when they’re turned on and idle, although we didn’t test that feature.

Elliptical can weigh hundreds of pounds; consider delivery options.

Elliptical can weigh hundreds of pounds; consider delivery options.

New features.

Set up the AFG 7.1 AT in front of a television and its Passport Media Player can wirelessly display video footage from a runner’s perspective on a TV, changing the treadmill’s incline to accommodate the video’s terrain. Workout stats are displayed on the TV, too, so you don’t’ have to look down at the consoled. Two trails are included, one in the American Southwest and another in northern Italy, and you can buy more.

The folding ProForm Pro 2000

The folding ProForm Pro 2000

The folding ProForm Pro 2000, $1,300, can achieve a decline of up to 3 percent, according to the manufacturer, to simulate down-hill walking or running.

For walkers.

Consider a budget folding model, such as the ProForm Performance 600, $800. It has a shorter deck, which can work for walking but might not accommodate a runner’s longer stride.

the ProForm Performance 600

The ProForm Performance 600


Handgrips that move and resistance that’s adjustable allow you to turn your cardiovascular training into a full-body workout while mimicking the motion of running without the impact. Our test led us recommend 12 models, including three CR Best Buys.

Top Models

The Diamondback 1260Ef, $2,200, and Octan Fitness Q37ci, $3,100, were the highest rated. Following closely are two LifeFitness and two AFG models. The AFG 18.1 AXT, $1,700, has an iPod dock, but the compatible controls and iPod-style control wheel were confusing and awkward to use. The AFG 3.1 AE, $1,000, performed well and is cheaper. It lacks an iPod dock but has a control wheel.

The Diamondback 1260Ef

The Diamondback 1260Ef

Space saver.

The Kettler Unix P, $1,300, and Kettler Rivo, P, $700, are nicely engineered. They’re around 41/2 feet long, which is shorter than the typical 6-foot length, making the suitable for those with limited space. The path of the Kettler pedals is shorter and might not appeal to all users, and the foot pedals are set farther apart than on other machines, which could be a problem. Those elements vary by machine, so make sure you’re not forced into an uncomfortable position. The moving handgrips shouldn’t push your hands behind your body or pull you forward; they should allow you to stand tall with your weight centered.

Quality control.

The NodicTrack E15.0, $1,500, was our lowest-scoring model. It has impressive electronics: a built-in touch-screen tablet functions as a high-resolution display and control panel. But its Android-powered iFit Live software is disappointing. Browsing the Web through the tablet is difficult while exercising and can compromise your position. Simulated video workouts fail to incorporate changes in the animation when you adjust your pedaling speed. And the machine’s resistance or incline doesn’t change with the terrain shown in the video. But functional issues pale when compared with quality issues. Our first sample made a loud, scraping sound when we used it; we deemed it defective. A second samle arrived with a nonworking console.

The NodicTrack E15.0

The NodicTrack E15.0

New category

If high-tech features aren’t user-friendly, what’s the benefit?

We divided our Ratings for elliptical into two groups: those with heart-rate monitoring programs and, for the first time, those with heart-rate monitoring programs and, for the first time, those without them. (You can buy heart-rate monitors separately). Standouts in this new category include the Octane Fitness Q35c, $2,000, and Q37c, $2,600, as well as the Landice E7 pro Sport, $3,600, the most expensive elliptical tested. It’s large and heavy (500 pounds), but if you want a luxury machine, this is the one for you.

The Octane Fitness Q35c

The Octane Fitness Q35c

Did you know?

Adults can add 2 to 5 hours to their life for every hour of moderate exercise they do, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Vigorous exercise can add 5 to 11 hours for every 60-minute training session.

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