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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.”

With its 32-inch touchscreen for streaming instructor-led runs and workouts, the Peloton Tread+ brings the added benefits of live classes and a sense of community. “Accountability is the hardest part of owning at-home workout equipment, so having an app to help guide the workouts is a great way to stay motivated and interested,” says Ava Fagin, a personal trainer and functional-strength coach, who told us this was one of her favorite overall treadmills. Besides giving you group workouts and the ability to track your progress, the Tread+ is also just an excellent piece of equipment. It features a slatted belt for smoother running and better shock absorption than a standard continuous belt, and it has knobs along the sides of the arms for easy speed and incline adjustment.

$2,495

Peloton’s more affordable treadmill has a smaller touchscreen and shorter running surface, and it lacks a slatted belt. But you can still use it for Peloton’s smart workouts.

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.

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