By Joli Guenther, MSSW, NASM
Finding the perfect match when it comes to your
exercise equipment is a tricky balancing act.
Assuming you've already decided which type of cardio equipment you want
(for more on deciding between a treadmill, elliptical, or recumbent bike check
out last month's Get
Fit blog), how do you sort out the bells and whistles without paying for
features you'll never use? Here are a
few of the features that are commonly offered; some may help in deciding
whether they're something you need to include in your next piece of fitness equipment.
Heart Rate Monitor Whether you're new to exercising or training
for your next triathalon, you'll find a heart rate monitor to be useful in
meeting your training goals. Hand
sensors tend to be a limited in their reliability, but for the minimal
investment of a heart rate chest strap, you can receive an objective play by
play of the level of intensity of your workout.
This will allow you to tailor your workouts to meet your goals on a
versus Storage Capacity: If
you're investing in a treadmill, this is worth giving some thought to. Do you really need the larger mat size
offered by some models or would you rather your treadmill fit quietly into the
corner of your bedroom? A larger mat
size (typically greater than 17 x 49 inches) will more comfortably accommodate
a very tall jogger or someone who plans to use their treadmill for running
(especially if you’re a tall runner). If
you're 5' 8" or shorter or plan on using your treadmill primarily for
walking, you'll probably find that a smaller mat will meet your needs just fine. A treadmill with a smaller mat size is often
easier to store and will take up less floor space even when unfolded, which
might be a perk if you lack a dedicated space for a home gym. If you're not sure, try giving this a trial
run in your local sporting goods store to see how the different mat sizes
measure up to your needs.
Motor Size Smaller people looking for a walking workout
really don't need to pay for a larger motor size. A larger motor (typically over 1.5-2.0
continuous duty horse power) is going to be most useful for someone who plans
on using their treadmill for running (i.e. more than a slow jog or walking),
especially if that person is a "heavier" runner (i.e. over 180
pounds). Think about your needs. If you're a larger person or if you plan on
using your treadmill primarily for running, it's worth investing in a larger
motor size. If you really plan on using
your treadmill for walking and you weigh less than 180 pounds, a motor capacity
of 1.0-1.5 HP is likely to be sufficient for your needs. If you're on the fence and can afford it,
this one is probably worth paying a little extra for the larger motor. You want your treadmill to last for a long
time and you never know when you or your (larger) significant other might
decide to take up running and give your treadmill a try.
Cushioning Again, this applies to treadmills only. A very shock absorbing treadmill will have a
board thickness under the belt of at least one inch and a 2 ply belt. This is worth shopping for if you're looking
for your treadmill to reduce the impact of your running workouts. If you're a walker or are using your
treadmill only occasionally when weather or scheduling conflicts keep you from
your usual asphalt based run, there's no reason to pay extra for this feature.
Incline Settings If you're not looking to pick up the
intensity by running, inclines are an unbeatable way to increase the demand of
your workouts on treadmills and elliptical trainers. An incline capacity of 10% is sufficient to
challenge most users, although if you really think you're likely to max out
this feature, a 15% capacity will challenge even experienced hikers.
Burned/Display Module No doubt
about it. A high tech display module can
be incredibly motivating. By entering your
weight, you can receive an estimate of the calories burned during your workout,
your average pace and intensity, and the progress you've made. While you may tend to downplay this feature
when you're test driving your equipment, most exercisers find this to be
incredibly motivating when they're working out on their own. An upper end display module will be easy to
read and will allow you to view multiple variables at a time (such as speed,
distance, and calories burned).
Options A good piece of
equipment will allow you to use pre-programmed settings to alter the intensity
of your workout. Look for (at a
minimum), interval and aerobic settings.
For the beginning to intermediate exerciser, these tend to be the most
useful programs. For experienced, athletic
individuals, customizable settings may also be a plus. The "fat burning" workouts offered
by most models are popular, but really offer limited benefit for most
Many models of cardio equipment offer
docking stations for MP-3's, speakers, and headphone jacks, which can be a big
plus. Elliptical trainers and recumbent
bikes tend to be very quiet due to the lower amounts of electricity required by
these systems, but treadmills vary significantly in the level of noise they
produce. If you're comfortable working
out with an MP3 and headphones or will have access to a stereo or media system
nearby, this may not be worth shopping for; however, if you're going to be
using your equipment in a more isolated area of your home, the benefit of music
for your workouts is immeasurable. If
you choose not to look for this option, make sure that your equipment will be
quiet enough to allow you to use a stereo or television nearby.
Systems Although these
in-unit cooling systems don't get a lot of attention in-store, users love
them. Unless you want to haul in a
standing fan to sit in front of your equipment (and take up more floor space),
this is worth looking for.
Warranty A good manufacturer will stand behind the
frame and motor of the equipment you purchase.
A minimum of a one year warranty is pretty standard but you should be
looking for longer warranties on the parts that take a beating, such as the
motor on your treadmill.
Weigh in! What features have you found to be the most
useful on your cardio equipment? How did
these stack up to the things you noticed when you were shopping?