Octane’s Zero Runner ZR7 ($3,299) and ZR8 ($4,299) simulate a running motion by suspending you on individual footpads that don’t touch the ground. The footpads are connected to leg-like supports that have pivot points at the knee and hip joints. It’s sort of like an elliptical, but the footpads allow you more freedom to bend your ankles and knees than do elliptical pads. Because the footpads flex like an ankle does, the design allows you to flick your heel up and almost kick your own butt in a perfect running gait. The Zero Runner also has a large stride length (we got up to 50 inches at full speed, which is double the length of the best ellipticals), and we found that the Zero Runner thoroughly worked our core and legs.
NICE TECHNIQUE. Octane’s Zero Runner ZR8 simulates a running motion by suspending you on footpads.
“The Zero Runner’s unrestrained range of motion allows a runner the freedom to use good running technique, unlike steppers and ellipticals, which lock you into a contained motion with choppy strides,” says Ken Bob Saxton, who is an expert on barefoot, low-impact running.
Sproing’s three soft runners—the Runner ($5,499), the Trainer ($6,499) and the Pro ($7,999)—use a harness to tether you to a post as you lean forward and run in place on a 6-inch adjustable cushion of air and high-density foam. A monitor counts your steps and tracks your perceived distance and speed. The more expensive models include more sensors to measure the amount of power that you generate. We tried out the Sproing runners, and the motion feels like running in place in springy sand. We found that it takes a significant amount of work to get the hang of running while you’re tethered, but we didn’t feel any impact on our knees.
DIFFERENT MUSCLES. Functional strength training includes free-form resistance exercises that hit many muscles simultaneously instead of fixed-position exercises that work muscles in isolation. To replicate some of that functionality in a home gym, about half of all models now include adjustable-position pulley cables that have handles that slide up and down on vertical rails. (Roughly one-third of all models included a functional element 3 years ago.) Because you’re unsupported, each exercise becomes an all-body workout: You brace yourself to stay stable through the movement.
You now have to pay at least $2,000 for a home gym that includes a functional element, compared with $1,300 3 years ago. When we last looked at home gyms, you still could find an economy model that had a low pulley bar that allowed you to do two or three functional exercises. Today’s designs are more elaborate and allow you to perform at least five or six exercises.
Inspire’s FT2 ($4,595), which was introduced in 2015, allows you to do any functional exercise. It’s the only home gym that combines a functional trainer and a Smith machine, which is used to do Olympic-style barbell lifts safely.
OFF THE WATER. Rowing machines have seen a resurgence. Annual sales increased 20 percent to $74 million in 2014, according to Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), which expects the growth to continue for the foreseeable future.
Rowing machines target your core and upper body and deliver a complete aerobic workout without impact on your feet or knees. The low-impact workout that rowing machines provide as well as the current movement toward low-impact exercises partially explains their resurgence. However, SFIA and other experts tell us that rowing machines mainly are “trendy” because of the machine’s widespread use in CrossFit and Orangetheory gyms and appearance on the Netflix TV show, “House Of Cards.”
We counted 14 rowing-machine manufacturers, which is up from 10 in 2013. Models start at $110, as they did 3 years ago, but we found that you have to pay at least $800 to get a machine that’s rugged enough to handle more than 220 pounds and provide a balanced, challenging and comfortable workout. Today’s rowing machines typically have none of the connectivity features that are prevalent in ellipticals, exercise bikes and treadmills, however.
The Inspire CR2 Cross Rower ($1,595), which was introduced in December 2014, takes the old-fashioned rowing machine to a new level. It’s the only rowing machine that has a solid bar that you pull and, more important, push for resistance instead of a chain or rope that you only pull. The seat moves in an elliptical motion, sort of like you’re riding a horse, instead of back and forth in a linear motion as do other rowing machines.
We tried the Cross Rower, and it takes a couple workouts to get used to the motion, but it provides a thorough low-impact workout. That’s good news for our feet and knees.
Roy M. Wallace has covered fitness equipment for 27 years. He is the Los Angeles Times’ fitness-gear columnist and the author of four books about fitness.