Exercising Good Judgment: Top-Rated Home-Fitness Equipment

Elliptical Machines • Exercise Bikes • Home Gyms • Rowing Machines • Treadmills

Manufacturers are adding connectivity options to home-fitness equipment, and one mobile app even allows you to run the London Marathon in your own home. Meanwhile, companies are introducing elliptical/treadmill hybrids that reduce the impact on your knees.

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Life Fitness

Like most things nowadays, home-fitness equipment seems more connected by the minute. In the past 3 years, we saw an explosion of connectivity to home-fitness equipment, including the capability to store your workouts, compare your results with previous results and those of your friends and control your machine through a mobile device.

What’s good news is that prices remain stable in all categories and price ranges. In fact, we found that in many cases, you’ll receive better performance today for the same amount of money as you would have 3 years ago. For example, treadmill manufacturers added connectivity options to their models, increased the horsepower by up to 1 hp and expanded the length of the tread belts by a few inches to accommodate longer paces and faster running—for no corresponding price increase.

VIRTUAL PACE. Would you like to run in a world-famous race while you exercise on a treadmill in your own home? We reported on so-called virtual races 3 years ago, and 2 years ago they emerged in the form of two apps: RunSocial and Virtual Runner.

RunSocial is the only app that allows you to race in real time against other people who use the app. It provides mile-by-mile, high-definition footage of 15 courses, including the London Marathon and the Prague International Marathon, to an Apple iPad tablet computer or a high-definition TV that’s connected to your iPad. You can run in RunSocial races with TreadTracker ($130), which is a Bluetooth-enabled accessory that you place under your treadmill to track your real-time speed through the virtual race. Alternatively, you can use RunSocial’s built-in pedometer, which translates the vibrations from your treadmill into a rough estimate of how fast that you’re running. Finally, you can connect your RunSocial app to a Life Fitness treadmill that has a Discover (starting at $2,899) or a Track+ (starting at $2,999) console monitor. The app speeds or slows the video to match your pace on the treadmill and raises the incline to match the terrain in the video.

One note: RunSocial’s TreadTracker or pedometer works on any treadmill, but at press time, the app adjusts the incline and speed automatically on only  Life Fitness treadmills. We tried RunSocial, and it delivered an immersive, realistic experience. We just wish that it were compatible with more than just the iPad. RunSocial says it will add Google Android compatibility in 2016 but didn’t tell us when.

Outside Interactive’s free Virtual Runner app works with any treadmill on Android, Apple and Microsoft Windows tablets. The app provides footage of 40 courses and routes, which range from $3 for a 5K to $13 for a marathon. You adjust the speed of the video manually to match your pace on the treadmill. Alternatively, if you have a pedometer that has ANT+ wireless technology, you can plug an ANT+ wireless receiver into your tablet, and the Virtual Runner app will adjust the speed of the video to match your pace. Eventually, Outside Interactive wants to integrate the app into treadmills to control the incline and speed automatically, like RunSocial does, but the company couldn’t provide a timetable for when this feature might be added.

We’ll be interested to see what other interactive innovations are in store for treadmills down the road.

SOFTER SURFACE. The high injury rate that’s associated with running, which doctors and running experts typically say sidelines half of all runners each year for some length of time, is the impetus for a new breed of treadmill/elliptical hybrids that are called soft runners. These machines are designed to reduce the impact that can wreck runners’ knees. Five soft runners were introduced from two companies—Octane and Sproing—in the past 3 years, and we expect to see more such models in the next 3 years.

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