05.Things to consider
- Get a machine with a good warranty, if possible an extended warranty. Quite a few people in our survey experienced breakdowns or even minor niggles that reduced their enjoyment and usage of the machine. However, while many of the problems could be fixed under warranty, the waiting time and hassle involved were still inconvenient.
- There are subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences between models, so try any machine you're tempted to buy in the shop for around 10 minutes (wear suitable clothes and shoes when you shop). Test it out at different speeds to get a feel for the sturdiness of the machine; check for shakes and wobbles, creaks, rattles and overall noise; try out the controls and see how easy they are to operate. If more than one person will be using it, you should all try it, particularly for bikes and elliptical trainers, where stature can affect comfort and usability. All this of course means don't buy an exercise bike on a whim when watching late-night TV. If you wake in the morning still thinking it's a good idea, get out and shop around.
Size matters. A non-folding treadmill, a rower or an elliptical trainer can take up as much floor space as a sofa. A folding treadmill will save you some space, and if it¡¦s easily moved out of the way when folded, so much the better. On the other hand, if it¡¦s out of sight, will it also be out of mind, and sit unused in a cupboard?
Feedback such as speed, distance travelled, time, intensity/wattage, RPM and calories/kilojoules expended can be useful and provide incentive and motivation. Some record the information so you can monitor your progress over time, or you could use a notepad and pen. Note that calorie counters are only a guide, because people of the same age, gender and weight can still have different metabolisms. Some don't even account for differences in workout intensity, so a slow, easy bike ride for 20 minutes appears to burn the same calories as a hard, fast 20-minute ride. When you¡¦re testing machines in-store, try altering the resistance and/or speed and see if the calorie-count changes too.
Heart rate monitors help you gauge improvements in fitness and so help with motivation. Some machines can even automatically vary resistance or speed and therefore your workout intensity according to your heart rate. Chest-strap monitors are considered more accurate (and less fiddly) than thumb or handgrip monitors.
- Some machines have a maximum weight limit for users, so check this if you're overweight.
Think ahead. Walking on a treadmill might be your limit now, but as you get fitter you might want to run. The maximum resistance on elliptical trainers and exercise bikes should be high enough to still give you a hard workout as you get fitter. This can be hard to judge at the start, when even the easiest level is a challenge. But rest assured, stick with it and you'll quickly improve. Take a fit friend shopping with you to test the upper limits, if necessary.
- When our overseas counterparts have tested treadmills, bikes, elliptical trainers and rowers, they've almost always found that quality comes at a price. Of course there are exceptions, with a few relative bargains among the top performers, and some expensive duds. But generally speaking, machines at the top end of the market are better built, sturdier (cheap models can feel flimsy and wobbly), have better durability and fewer faults, offer better features (and are less boring) and perform more like commercial gym equipment.
Some features are useful, but some are gimmicky or turn out to be less useful than you might think. A variety of programs will help vary your workout and keep you interested. A drink holder is a good idea, a caddy for a TV remote or phone might be useful and a rack for hand weights might be appropriate. As for a book rack, some of our respondents thought they were great, others found it difficult to read and exercise at the same time. An inbuilt fan, TV and console backlighting will add to the price, but perhaps not to the functionality. An online support service or 'club' with downloadable programs, races against other users and rewards for milestones can help add and sustain interest.
Learn how to use it properly. If you've never been taught how to use the equipment properly, you increase your risk of injury and may not get the maximum benefit from exercising. If you used exercise equipment in a good gym, you'd normally be taught how to use it correctly. If you're not confident, consider hiring a personal trainer to teach you how to use it, and also establish a program for you - a one-off expense that could prove worthwhile.
- Finally, think about your motivation. If you have a short-term goal, such as weight loss or 'getting fit', your needs will probably be different from someone with a longer-term goal, such as 'I need to integrate more exercise into my overall lifestyle'. Equipment for short-term goals could be cheaper and less sturdy, while for longer-term goals you'd benefit from a better-quality machine with a lower boredom factor.
Plenty of people realise they've made a mistake buying exercise equipment: they're not getting much use out of it, or it's just too big for their home. The Trading Post, eBay and other secondhand markets are a good place to look. If you look around at new models first to find out what features you want - and perhaps even which model - you may find exactly what you're after secondhand, for less cost. Check it out for faults, wobbles and rattles before you buy, though.