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The Best Big-ticket Home-Gym Equipment, According to Workout Professionals

Photo: MGM

Remember that creaky stationary bike your grandma used to have in her basement? Today’s big-ticket home-gym equipment is nothing like that. The treadmills, bikes, and rowing machines listed below are so advanced, you can join live classes or work out with a virtual personal trainer right from the comfort of your own living room. With most of the country currently limiting time outside their houses during the coronavirus pandemic, a home gym is more appealing to a lot of us than it ever has been before. And while this story covers only the best large gym equipment, including cardio and weight machines, if you’d like to add some smaller items to round out your gym, we’ve written about a variety of those, too. And we’ve also gone deep on foam rollers.

Best treadmills

If you’re training for a hilly race but live nowhere near any hills, or if you’re just looking for an intense running workout, Steve Uria, founder of Switch Playground, likes that this treadmill “goes up to a 40 percent incline where most treadmills stop at 15.” Plus, it includes access to workouts from NordicTrack’s iFit pro trainers, like runs featuring video from scenic locations around the world. “It also automatically increases speed and incline for you as the trainer leading your workout accelerates or climbs,” says Uria. “All stats are saved so you can monitor your results and gauge progress.”

Running on a traditional treadmill burns fewer calories than running outdoors, because the moving belt helps propel you forward. But this nonmotorized treadmill, recommended by David Juhn, personal training manager at Life Time Athletic Sky gym, forces you to do all of that work yourself. “You can also adjust the resistance for power-development workouts to add variety to your workout routine,” he says. “You can achieve advanced cardiovascular and strength workouts in a short period of time while only needing minimal space for the machine itself.”

A similar nonmotorized treadmill that’s a few thousand dollars cheaper than the Skillmill.

Best exercise bikes

Bringing the energy of a group workout class to the comfort of one’s home, it’s not surprising that the Peloton bike is hugely popular. According to Recode, Peloton finished 2018 with more customers than SoulCycle. Personal trainer Harry Hanson, founder of Hanson Fitness, loves it for helping clients get in shape fast, on their own schedules. “Users can go in a live or taped stream and they’ll be in a workout-class setting. This increases the motivation they need to get the workout done. It’s a great way to burn fat, release endorphins, and feel fabulous overall,” he says.

If you’re willing to spend a little bit more, you may want to invest in Peloton’s newest bike, the Bike+, which features a larger screen that rotates 360 degrees to easily follow along with workouts off the bike, automatic resistance adjustments that match your instructor’s program, and full integration with the Apple Watch.

Keiser M3i Indoor Cycle

Olson also recommends equipping your home gym with a spin bike. “Cycles are so excellent for cardiovascular systems, have no impact, and are knee-, hip-, and spine-friendly.” This bike’s compact design also takes up less space than a treadmill or elliptical.

Old-school, wind-powered air bikes with handles, which were originally popular in the 1970s and ’80s, are having a comeback, according to Nick Clayton, personal training program manager at the National Strength and Conditioning Association. “You’re biking and pushing and pulling at the same time, so it’s low-impact, but as far as working muscles and getting the most out of any kind of interval session, [it’s] probably the best bang for your buck,” he says. Simple to use, easy to set up, and with no motor to potentially break down, it’s a valuable addition to any home gym.

Technically a “stand-up bike,” the ElliptiGO 8C is a favorite of runners looking for a low-impact way of getting and staying fit when they’re recovering from injuries or want to reduce stress on their joints while still getting a cardio workout. The stationary trainer turns the 8C into an at-home option for those days you’d rather work out inside. “It’s perfect for getting in a quality workout that mimics the feel of running, without the added stress on your joints,” says Isabel Seidel of the running clothing brand Tracksmith. She likes that “you can change the resistance like the gears on a bike,” to simulate hills.

Best cardio machines

Instead of an elliptical machine, Will Ahmed, founder and CEO of WHOOP, prefers the VersaClimber, because “it’s more of a full-body workout and you’re also working against gravity.” Athletes like LeBron James love it as well, and Ahmed says you can get a “full-blown, high-intensity workout” in as little as 10 to 15 minutes. Matt Withers, facility manager at Definitions Personal Fitness, agrees that the VersaClimber will give you “hands down the best butt-kicking you can get in under 30 minutes.” He explains that the machine “forces the individual to use not only the full body, but primarily the largest muscle groups in the body — the lats and legs — resulting in a greater demand of oxygen and hence cardiovascular intensity.”