How to choose the right exercise equipment

Tempted by late-night infomercials? Save money and get a better workout with our trainer-approved alternatives to popular fitness equipment.

woman, exercise, smiling, stability ball

Q: I’d like some home exercise equipment, but I’m not sure what to buy. Some of the equipment on the television infomercials looks great, but I’m not sure if it really is. Can you help me with some suggestions?

A: You’re smart to ask for advice before you buy fitness equipment. It’s definitely easy to be bamboozled by those mesmerizing infomercials and promises of in-a-flash fitness. But don’t just take my word for it – Google the pieces that interest you (along with the word “research”) to see if they’ve been studied for effectiveness and durability. And don’t be swayed by positive online word-of-mouth alone. Who knows who’s really written those testimonials. Caveat emptor!

Here are some popular pieces of exercise equipment that are sold online or on television, with my suggestions for what you should consider instead.

1. Tony Little’s Gazelle: Some beginner exercisers enjoy the smooth back-and-forth pendulum leg action of the Gazelle. But because the swinging movement is mostly momentum based – versus the lifting, pushing or pulling actions of an elliptical, bike, rowing machine or treadmill – I’ve found that beginners can quickly outgrow this machine. And fitter exercisers have trouble elevating their heart rates no matter how fast they move or how much they increase the resistance.

Instead: Go for a good-quality elliptical machine that requires you to lift your knees and push your feet forward to keep moving. Unlike the Gazelle, you can hold onto stationary handles as an option or exercise hands-free to challenge your balance and increase the intensity.

2. Portable ab machines: This category includes machines like The Ab Rocker, 6-Second Abs and The Torso Tracker. Research shows that these machines are less effective than the standard crunch. They also take up valuable floor space in your workout area and can only be used for handful of ab exercises.

Instead: The same researchers found that abdominal crunches on a stability ball were one of the most effective ab exercises. You can also use the ball for dozens of other exercises. Stability balls are only about $35 and they’re widely available.

3. The Perfect Pushup: The hype promises that these handheld supports with slippery contact surfaces make the standard push up more intense and effective, but studies show no such benefits. One plus is that the off-the-floor position can be more comfortable for some people’s wrists.

Instead: If wrist pressure is a problem, try holding dumbbells during the exercise to put your wrists into a neutral position. Need more of a challenge? There are loads of high-intensity push-up variations that don’t cost a cent. Here are just a few examples.

Barb Gormley is a certified personal trainer and a freelance health and fitness writer. You can contact her at

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