How to pick the best fitness machine for your heart-healthy hustle

The oversaturated world of futuristic fitness tech can be tricky to navigate, but never fear – we’ll help you find the best gym gear to fit your building, budget, and body type

Man on exercise bike
(Image credit: Getty)

When it comes to outfitting your home gym with the best fitness machines to suit your needs, one size most certainly does not fit all. Some can while away hours on a bike while others may need something more interactive. You may hate running and need to find another way to get your cardio or are looking to build some bulk without turning to freeweights. 

From iFit-equipped treadmills to ultra-compact adjustable dumbbells – and everything in between – we’ll help you size up the latest fitness machines before you invest hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars on a piece of equipment that will end up collecting dust in your garage or spare room. 

Ready to burn the calories in 2022? Read on to find out which fitness machine is best for your lifestyle. Whichever machine you choose, you’ll need to be dressed right, so set out on the right foot with the best workout shoes. You can also check out the top fitness trends to shape home workouts in 2022 or keep track of those stats with the best running watch

Which fitness machine should I buy?

Finding road running too tough on your lower body? Try a treadmill

Echelon Stride 5s

(Image credit: Echelon)

Strengths

  • Robust running routines right from your living room
  • Virtually everyone can benefit from running/walking/hiking
  • Hi-res touchscreens and dynamic personal training platforms
  • Makes inclement weather a non-issue
  • Softer running surface than concrete

Weaknesses

  • High cost of entry
  • Rougher on the joints than other cardio machines
  • Usually on the bulky side (though some are foldable)
  • Tricky to move from room to room once assembled

If you want me to list off all the holistic health benefits of a regular running routine, you better be sitting down. From maintaining overall cardiovascular health to strengthening every single muscle group in your body (not to mention your joints); keeping your weight in check; boosting your immunity; improving your sleep habits; and literally addings years to your lifespan, there are myriad reasons to make running your cardio activity of choice. But you already knew that.

Granted, not everyone has the space in their abode for a bulky machine with the footprint of a dune buggy, but some foldable treadmills take up less space than you’d think, and companies like NordicTrack and ProForm offer white glove delivery services to take care of assembly when the treadmill arrives. 

Treadmill workouts used to be boring as sin, but no more! Thanks to built-in training platforms like iFit, you can explore the whole planet from the comfort of your living room via hi-res touchscreen. The premium treadmills are equipped with massive hi-res displays (up to 22 inches for premium models) that give you access to top-tier fitness coaches, running teams and a whole lot of customized cardio action. Such connected devices usually come with a monthly fee – on top of paying for the machine itself – but if you’ve already said goodbye to your gym membership, it might be time to say hello to a new treadmill.

Find the right model in our guide to the best treadmills.

Want comprehensive cardio that’s easy on the joints? Try an elliptical machine

Treadmill vs elliptical

(Image credit: Technogym)

Strengths

  • Symmetrical path of motion is easier on the joints
  • Helps build muscle while torching through calories
  • Great for off-season skiers and hikers
  • Allows for targeted leg workout
  • Improves balance and stability

Weaknesses

  • As bulky (and expensive) as a treadmill
  • Less intense cardio than running

When it comes to running form, there’s only so much you can tweak on the fly, especially if you’re just jogging in place. Plus, if you’re an inadvertent greenhorn who consistently runs alone with improper form (don’t worry, improvement is part of the journey), that’s eventually going to catch up with your back, knees, hips, and ankles. Ellipticals, however, keep your feet firmly in place as you stride your way to better health, improving balance as you push through varying levels of resistance and incline/decline gradients. It’s not as intense as running, but it’s a low-stakes way to mix things up and strengthen subsidiary muscle groups from the neck down. 

Running is inevitably a full-body affair, but elliptical machines emulate the main muscular motions of cross-country skiing and stair-stepping (premium models usually have more adjustability in this regard), allowing you to target your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves at will. That’s why you’ll often see professional athletes using ellipticals as they recover from an injury; it’s a low-impact exercise that still lets you put the work in as your body heals. 

Find the right model in our guide to the best elliptical machines.

Want a low-impact way to build power and endurance? Try a rowing machine

I tried the Hydrow Boathouse experience

(Image credit: Hydrow)

Strengths

  • Full-body workout that emphasizes your back, shoulders, and legs
  • Low-impact exercise that’s perfect for all fitness levels
  • Great for building both power and endurance
  • Meditative motions are good for the mind, too

Weaknesses

  • A relatively expensive fitness machine
  • Takes up as much space as an elliptical or treadmill 
  • Very little (if any) back support

Rowing machines can be a bit intimidating for the uninitiated, but make no mistake: you’ll be feeling the burn after just a few minutes on these bad boys, regardless of which brand you choose. A proper rowing stroke consists of roughly 70 percent leg work, 30 percent upper bodywork, and 100 percent raw power. Your quads, calves and glutes are activated each time you push off, while your pecs, arms, and abs pick up the slack as you row.

If you’re looking to mix up your cardio while toning your whole body in the process, the top rowing machines are anything but boring. Like their elliptical and treadmill brethren, some are equipped with touchscreens that let you row your way down virtual river routes and even compete against professional athletes. (Virtually, that is.) 

While nothing can replace the simple serenity of gliding across the English Channel as errant swans gently peck at your face from above, rowing can be a meditative practice that’s as beneficial for the mind as it is for the body, especially once those endorphins start kicking in. Woosah.

Find the right model in our guide to the best rowing machines.

Looking for some low-impact cardio with leg support? Try an exercise bike

Peloton Bike+ review

(Image credit: Peloton)

Strengths

  • Great for athletes of all ages and body types
  • More compact than other fitness machines
  • Targeted leg workouts build strength and endurance 
  • Excellent for interval training and losing weight
  • Recumbent bikes have back support
  • Safer than road biking

Weaknesses

  • Less robust workout than running overall
  • Primarily targets leg muscles

Professional athletes have long been using stationary bikes in the background to keep their bodies in pinnacle condition, but anyone can reap the benefits of low-impact cardio exercise, such as improved brain function, lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system, more natural energy throughout the day, and a heckuva lot more. In fact, if you pair cycling with any fitness routine, you can expect increased performance to your sport of choice. 

On the other hand (or foot), if you’re recovering from any lower-body injuries – such as a torn ACL or sprained leg muscle – an exercise bike or folding exercise bike lets you stretch out your legs in one fluid motion that doesn’t twist your hips or knees, allowing for gradual muscle growth as you heal. Recumbent bikes also provide lower back support, which makes for a comfortable reading position if you feel like catching up on The Times whilst you pedal away. Is weight loss one of your fitness goals? An exercise bike can help get you there, bucko.

Exercise bikes and folding bikes are obviously safer than their outdoor counterparts, depending on your neighborhood, but if you want pedal-to-the-metal cardio no matter where you are, complement your road bike with a top-notch turbo trainer, which instantly turns it into a stationary situation, lickety-split. 

Find the right model in our guide to the best exercise bikes.

Looking to replace your gym membership for good? Try a fitness mirror

NordicTrack Vault price release date

(Image credit: NordicTrack)

Strengths

  • Doubles as functional furniture
  • Stylish way to hold your gym gear
  • Very efficient use of space for personal training
  • Essentially replaces your gym membership 

Weaknesses

  • Still needs workout space 
  • Cost prohibitive equipment
  • Requires monthly fees

One part of being an adult is owning a decent mirror, so why not get one that’s also a storage rack for your weights and personal trainer? Fitness mirrors like the NordicTrack Vault, Tempo Studio, and Tonal all bring the personal training experience right to your home, and thanks to the magic of hi-res technology, it’s never been a better time to ditch your gym membership – for good. iFit is adding new trainers to their team all the time, and manufacturers have figured out the perfect balance of fitness tech and top-tier training. In short, it’s a pretty cool time to be alive.

If having a reflective surface to admire yourself in isn’t a deal-breaker (and you have the space for a dedicated weight station), a multi gym might be just what your garage has been missing. These all-in-one contraptions are the perfect companion for any cardio machine you settle on. With the right combination of gym gear, no muscle group is safe.

If you're looking for a cheaper option, try camera-only solutions like the Peloton Guide or the Tempo Move. 

Are you looking to build muscle but short on space? Try adjustable dumbbells

JaxJox DumbbellConnect review

(Image credit: Lee Bell)

Strengths

  • More compact than traditional dumbbell sets
  • Efficient way to add strength training to the mix
  • Virtually endless exercises available for every muscle group

Weaknesses

  • Usually tops off at 55lbs/25kg each so not for powerlifters
  • Can be somewhat clunkier than individual dumbbells

Ranging anywhere from 2.5 pounds to 100 pounds or more, dumbbells have been a strength-training staple ever since humans started lifting standardized weights for fun. Trouble is, purchasing individual dumbbells for your home gym is expensive, and they take up an awful lot of space. If you don’t usually use dumbbells heavier than 50 pounds, adjustable dumbbells might be just the tool you didn’t know you needed, and it’s easy to swap out weight plates with a few quick adjustments, as opposed to racking and re-racking your weights. 

Just remember: you’ll want to pick up a weight bench to complement those dumbbells. Trust me, it’s worth the extra spend.

Find the right model in our guide to the best adjustable dumbbells.

  • Looking for more workout and diet tips? We’ve got your (soon-to-be-shrinking) rear covered with our Get Fit for 2022 plan.  
TJ Fink
TJ Fink

As a mild-mannered mobile tech journalist and molecular mixologist, TJ has well over a decade of extroverted storytelling under his belt. As a seasoned outdoor athlete, he's also passionate about every shade of green; he'll never stop exploring this beautiful planet. When TJ’s not coddiwompling through the metaverse, he can be found field-testing futuristic fitness tech from his living room and crafting Dr. Seussian poetry inside a tattered moleskin.