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Best Low-Impact Exercise Equipment of 2020
Low-impact exercise gear provides a rigorous workout without damaging your joints. Our shopping guide is here to help you find the best low-impact exercise machines to accommodate your fitness needs.
Low-Impact Exercise Equipment for Your Home Gym
Exercise keeps your heart and lungs strong, muscles toned, and mind sharp. Low-impact exercise gear lets you work out while saving your joints. As the number of people who exercise at home increases, more equipment options continue to appear on the market.
Whether you row, cycle, use an elliptical machine, or walk on a treadmill, you can find a machine that bumps up your heart rate and fits your budget. Even within these broad categories, you'll find options that range from high-tech to the most basic home exercise gear. Our product roundup provides an all-around view of your low-impact options, their pros and cons, and how much you should spend.
BestReviews' Favorite Low-Impact Exercise Gear
Editor's Choice: LifeSpan TR3000i Folding Treadmill
Bottom Line: This is a professional-quality treadmill with a domestic design that works for any home gym. Multi-user families will like the many speed and program options.
Editor's Notes: A biomechanical deck suspension system absorbs shock, further reducing wear and tear on your joints. It's foldable for easy storage. While a little pricey, this treadmill is built to last.
Bottom Line: If you like to mix up your workouts, this hybrid elliptical machine and recumbent bike is the way to go. Just think of it as two machines for one reasonable price.
Editor's Notes: Smooth operation for the elliptical and easy transition to the bike make this a model worth considering. The only downside is that assembly takes two people and may take a couple of hours.
Best Value: Marcy ME-709 Recumbent Exercise Bike
Bottom Line: It's hard to beat the price or the warranty of this comfortable recumbent exercise bike. It might lack some luxury features, but if you're on a budget, you won't want to pass it up.
Editor's Notes: The rollers allow you to move it anywhere. The quiet magnetic resistance means it's ideal for apartment dwellers. However, the seat isn't the most comfortable model we've seen.
Types of Low-Impact Exercise Equipment
Though these machines aren't typically thought of as low impact, if walking is your preferred workout, you can't beat a good treadmill. While basic models may go no more than six miles per hour and include only a few incline choices, that's all you need if walking is your goal.
For low-impact workouts, you probably don't need more than a 2.0 continuous power motor. You can increase the intensity by upping the treadmill's speed and incline but doing so might give your workout more impact than you want.
Today's treadmills have features that can keep you cool, comfortable, and entertained. Here are a few worth considering:
- Fans: A fan built into the treadmill's control panel blows directly on your face for more comfort while you walk.
- Speakers and USB Ports: Speakers pump up the volume more than your smartphone can, and USB ports let you watch your favorite shows or sync your phone while you exercise.
- Foldability: Treadmills take up serious floor space. Models that fold have a smaller footprint when not in use, and some slide underneath your bed. However, foldable models may not have the extra features or speeds of a traditional treadmill.
- Heart Rate Monitors: Heart rate monitors on the handles let you keep track of your workout intensity.
- Display: A basic display may only show your distance, speed, and time elapsed. A display with all the bells and whistles may also show steps, incline, and heart rate. A few high-end models have touchscreen displays for easier use.
- Preset Programs: If you like to change things up, pre-programmed workouts challenge your muscles in different ways. They are an excellent way to keep your muscles guessing.
Once reserved for gyms, ellipticals are now a common household exercise machine because they offer a low-impact, total-body workout. An elliptical's flywheel is either at the front, back, or center of the machine. Front-drive ellipticals are compact, rear-drive machines are easy to maintain, and center-drive ellipticals have the best stability.
If you're looking to shake things up, you might want a hybrid elliptical. It transforms from an elliptical to a recumbent bike. And a little versatility helps keep exercise interesting.
A few extras you might find on elliptical machines include:
- Variable Stride Length: If users of different heights will work out on the elliptical, a model with variable stride length will provide everyone with a better workout. Though a variable stride length adds to the cost of the machine, it will make it far more usable.
- Size: Measure your space before you decide on a model. Ellipticals with a compact front or center flywheel take up less space. There are foldable models, but they tend to have poor construction quality and lack extra features.
- Preset Programs: Like treadmills, some ellipticals come with preset workouts. The more programs that are included, the higher the price, but preset workouts will challenge your muscles and let you easily change up your routine.
- Speakers and USB Ports: Built-in speakers produce better sound than your smartphone. USB ports mean you'll have a wide array of entertainment options while you work out.
- Heart Rate Monitors: Heart rate monitors are usually on the handlebars and let you keep track of your workout intensity.
Rowing machines provide a serious workout. They target the biceps, lats, and abs, not to mention the quads, glutes, and calves. It's an intense total-body workout. Best of all, there's little pressure on the knees and ankles, keeping it low impact.
Rowing machines are categorized by the type of resistance they offer: water, magnetic, air or flywheel, or hydraulic resistance. Of these four options, water and flywheel rowing machines deliver a workout that's most similar to actually rowing.
Rowing machines are fairly basic, but you'll still need to consider:
- Size and Foldability: There's no getting around it: exercise machines take up a lot of space. If there's a shortage of square footage in your home gym, a foldable rowing machine is probably right for you. However, keep in mind that fixed models have better durability.
- Design: Rowing machines with contoured seats and handlebars with rubberized grips are easier to use. Adjustable footrests with straps let multiple users of different heights comfortably row.
- Resistance Type: Magnetic resistance is smooth and quiet, making it a good choice for first-time rowers, while air and water resistance are ideal for training for a rowing competition. Hydraulic resistance doesn't mimic outdoor rowing, but it does provide a substantial full-body workout. Rowing machines with adjustable resistance are best for multi-user families.
- Monitor/Console: Not all rowing machines have a monitor or console. However, those that do track stats like your speed, time, distance, strokes, and calories burned.
Recumbent Exercise Bikes
Recumbent exercise bikes take the pressure off your knees, ankles, and back. They're also a great way to do some hands-free exercise, so you can read a book, your smartphone, or tablet while you work out.
With recumbent exercise bikes, consider these features:
- Seat: The seat can make all the difference in your comfort. Thick padding and good ventilation are the important factors, while adjustability will determine the versatility of the bike. The more adjustments the seat has, the more users can ride comfortably.
- Handles, Armrests, or Hand Pedals: Recumbent bikes often have handles or armrests next to the seat rather than in front. A few models have hand pedals for a full-body workout.
- Preset Programs: Hills, random, speed: the more programs, the higher the price but also the more options you have to keep boredom at bay.
- Heart Rate Monitors: Usually found on the handles, heart rate monitors help you track your workout intensity.
- Fans, Cup Holders, and Speakers: These convenient features won't make you more fit, but they can certainly provide a more enjoyable ride.
- Display: An easy-to-read display is a must. You can often track speed, distance, time, revolutions per minute, calories burned, and your heart rate.
Low-impact exercise machines require some investment, but how much do you need to spend to get a good workout?
For under $500, there are some basic but trustworthy machines. At this price, you'll find rowing machines (hydraulic and magnetic), ellipticals, and recumbent bikes that provide a decent workout. These machines may have limited resistance options and few features, but you'll still feel the burn. While there are treadmills at this price, they aren't as reliable as other low-impact options in this range.
Once you jump into the $500 to $1,000 range, low-impact exercise machines become more durable with a longer list of features. Air and water resistance rowing machines, some top-notch recumbent bikes, ellipticals with a few extras, and good-quality (though basic) treadmills are all at this price point.
You won't see any recumbent bikes over $1,000, but ellipticals and treadmills take off from $1,000 to $2,000. These machines will have impressive durability, reliability, and extra features. Top-of-the-line rowing machines also fall into this category. You'll feel like you're ready for competition with one of these high-end rowers.
Ellipticals and treadmills are all you'll find over $2,000, though there are plenty of options well over the $3,000 mark as well. These models have Bluetooth capability, speakers, USB ports, fans, and a wide array of preset programs.