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Cardio Machine Buying Tips
Exercise Bikes and Rowing Machines

Before you buy an exercise bike or elliptical machine, here are some things you should check out first.

Sci Fit Recumbent Bike
The Sci Fit Recumbent Bike

Exercise Bikes

Exercise bikes have two versions. Uprights are like a traditional bicycle and recumbent bikes have a seat with back support. While both types provide similar workouts, recumbent bikes may be better suited for people with back problems.

Many recumbent bikes also have handles to work your arms and upper body. Some even have chairs that slide out, so someone in a wheelchair can move in and get a cardio workout by pedaling with their arms.

Check the seat and see that it's comfortable. Some seat types can cut off circulation or pinch, so make sure it works or that you can change the seat to something more appropriate.

Seat and handlebar heights should be adjustable. It does you no good to have a seat that can be moved up, only to have your knees hit the handlebars because they're too low. Make sure the handlebars are within easy reach too. You shouldn't have to lean far forward to grab them.

When pedaling, your legs shouldn't straighten out completely. The seat should be set so that your knees remain slightly bent, even at the bottom of the rotation.

Rowing Machines
H2O Fitness Water Rowing Machine

Rowing Machines

The primary differences in rowing machines are how they offer resistance. You can choose between models that pull a flywheel through water, fan or air resistance, piston-driven resistance or magnetic resistance. The different options change cost and noise. Magnetic resistance models are typically the quietest while piston-driven are the least expensive. Machines that pull a flywheel through water tend to simulate actual rowing the best.

When you sit down on a rower, make sure the seat is comfortable and that it moves easily without jerking. If you're tall, you should be able to fully extend and flex your knees. Check weight limitations as well. Some seats won't move properly if you're over a certain weight.

Test the handles to make sure they're easy to grip and hang onto. You don't want them slipping out of your hands in the middle of your workout when you get sweaty.

Once you've checked out the specifics for the machine you want, then use the following guidelines to get the best equipment for you.

Whenever possible, try the machine before you buy it. Pictures won't tell you if a control panel is laid out badly, if the machine is noisy or if your body fits everything properly.

Always measure the length, width and height of the machines. You need to make sure you can get it through any doors, up or downstairs and into the space you have planned. There should also be ample room to move around the machine, both to get on and off as well as space to clean.

Equipment that folds up can save space, but think honestly if it's something you'll do. If that cardio machine takes 5 minutes to pull out and set up, and another 5 minutes to put back, how often are you really going to use it?

Power and connectivity need to be confirmed. Some machines require special power, plugs or filters. If it's internet-connected, you need to know how and what you'll need to make it work.

Many machines offer features like phone docking stations, speakers or television displays. Electronic "extras" may be cheaper if you buy them separately. Also, if they're integrated into the machine, repairing them if they break might be difficult and expensive.

To get the most out of a cardio workout, you should track your heart rate. If you don't use a heart rate monitoring device, look for a cardio machine  that offers one.

Less expensive models often include sensors on handles or rails and the machine read your heart rate when you hold onto them. That's generally not a good idea because it often promotes bad form and many don't work above a certain speed. The most reliable ones work with a wireless connection to a heart rate monitor on your body. Make sure what you have is compatible with the equipment you want to buy.

Programmable machines can make workouts more interesting, as long as setting it up is easy. Some machines allow you to race against your best times, compete against other people or go through virtual courses. There are even simulators that attempt to duplicate running or biking through real neighborhoods or actual courses. These all add to the cost and you should think carefully if you're going to use those features. Also, make sure you can change the program while you're using the machine. Some models force you to stop and reset everything. That may not be appropriate if you frequently adjust your course or intensity. 

Companies have started putting fans in cardio machines, but many are good for nothing more than show. They often have far less power than might be needed. If you want a fan, consider one that's separate from the machine.

Water bottle holders are another nice feature that's often done wrong. Many are too shallow to hold a tall bottle, too narrow to hold a wide cup or too flimsy to stay attached. It's incredibly annoying to be running on a machine, with your water bottle in the holder, listening to the bottle bounce and jump with every movement you make.  Make sure it securely holds what you need.

Plan on who's going to deliver and install the machine. It's not uncommon for a piece of cardio equipment to weight 200 or 300 pounds. Treadmills can easily weigh 400 and some ellipticals 500 pounds. You might need two people or specialized equipment to set everything up. Check into the delivery and installation options available.

A good warranty will cover major moving parts for at least 2 years and labor for a year. If a manufacturer thinks their product is so unreliable that they only give a 90-day warranty, you might want to steer clear. Having said that, most extended warranties are a waste of money. Just make sure the equipment is covered by renters or homeowners insurance in the event of something like fire or flood.

Read the fine print on 30-day guarantees or in-home trials. Some companies will bring it in and set it up, but if you want to return it, you have to disassemble everything, pack it up and pay for return shipping. Cardio equipment can be heavy and the costs may be substantial. Figure out where everything goes and how much it would cost BEFORE you start any "trials."

Follow these guidelines and you should end up with a machine that's just right.

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