More and more of our treadmills, step machines (“StairMasters”), and exercise bikes have gone connected, which means they can become degraded, or even — in extreme cases — useless without an internet connection and a subscription. Imagine being remotely locked out of a feature on an exercise bike? No thanks.
And new classes of exercise equipment like Mirror and Tonal have emerged, where smart, connected features are the whole point.
But what should you buy if you just want to sweat it out now and then, and not worry about someone harvesting your health data, removing features you enjoy, or trying to integrate your workout into their subscription business model?
Concept2 Rowing Machine with PM5
Concept2 has been making great exercise equipment since 1976 and their flagship is the rowing machine. This device is the industry standard for high-performance rowing machines and you’ll find them in almost all serious gyms, whether it’s a college gym, a high-end Equinox, or a CrossFit box.
The standard RowErg sells for about $900, meaning it’s expensive but not unobtainable. Because this rowing machine has been largely unchanged for decades you can safely buy a used one and not feel like you are getting something outdated or in any way an inefficient tool for your full body workout. In fact it’s pretty easy to find a Model D in great condition for less than half the retail price of a new model. (Model D was made from July 2003 to April 2021).
The current model is called the RowErg, which replaced the Model E. The Model D, Model E, and RowErg are essentially the same rowing machine, but have different graphics and the RowErg is a bit taller than the previous two models.
The modern Concept2 rower does have a “computer” called the PM5. This device is basically a big graphing calculator, with an old school grey LCD display and no touchscreen.
The Concept2 rowing machines do have a little computer called the “Performance Monitor” or PM. The most high-end version is the PM5.
The PM5 needs nothing but a battery to operate and never needs to be connected to the internet or updated or subscribed too.
If you are more option to connected features, the PM5 does support ANT+ networking and Bluetooth, but both are totally optional. You’d mainly use these to connect the PM5 to your smartphone (iOS or Android) in order to improve the display and get some more advanced performance tracking than the PM5 offers. You can also use this feature to connect the PM5 to non-Concept2 exercise apps.
The wireless connectivity feature will allow the PM5 to connect to a heart rate monitor if you are tracking heart rate or any of your personal activity information in a more cohesive manner.
The PM5 also has USB support so you can store workout data on any standard flash drive. This means your data is easy to get off your PM5 without any third party apps or internet connection.
In other words, Concept2 does a fantastic job of making technology features and convenience available without roping you into technology you don’t want or need.
Concept2 SkiErg and BikeErg
There is no way you can recommend and love the Concept2 rowing machine without having an appreciation for the company’s cross country ski machine, the SkiErg, or its exercise bike, the BikeErg. Both of these are built on the same principle of upgradeability, repairability, lack of technology, and timeless build quality as the rowing machine.
While both as excellent choices, they aren’t the non-brainer pick that the rowing machine is, simply because a cross country skiing machine isn’t a very popular exercise choice for most people — it’s mainly used for warm-ups — and because there are so many exercise bikes on the market.
So while both of these are excellent picks and Concept2 is a company that is an ideal for this list, you might want to keep reading. No interested in researching? Buying Concept2 machines across the board is actually a good strategy.
Assault Fitness AirBike
For some reason, the “wind bike” or “fan bike” design has been highly resistant to unnecessary technological enhancements. Maybe it’s because these bikes are decidedly old school and are downright hard to use or because people tend to use them in short bursts, not 45-minute video-friendly workouts. Whatever the reason, a wind bike is a great pick for a low-tech exercise, especially if you are interested in HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts.
A good way to go if you are interested in a wind bike is the Assault Fitness AirBike. This is the standard issue gym bike, usually collecting dust in a corner until you see some particularly intense workout people hop on and absolute go wild for a series of 30-second sprints.
The AirBike is sold in three models:
- AirBike Classic – Standard model, great for all settings, about $750
- AirBike Pro – Improved exercise monitor, heavier duty parts
- AirBike Elite – Gym-grade build, better sweat resistance over the years, competition mode, Bluetooth, improved seat, $1300
The Assault Bike Classic has a LCD exercise monitor that is as low-tech as thing come. It’ll time your workout, measure your output and do other simple calculations but little else. You can use it to track things like RPM, heart rate, and speed., There are no connectivity options or smart features.
If you get the Pro or Elite models there is an upgraded monitor, called the Elite console. This LCD is simple like that found the Classic model and it’s primarily designed for tracking RPM, time, calories, and heart rate. There are enhancements that make it better at structuring HIIT workout intervals, plus it has Bluetooth and ANT so you can connect to apps and wireless heart rate monitors. But that’s it — no subscriptions or Netflix players here.
An alternative to the AirBike is the Rogue Fitness Echo, but having less experience with that exercise bike, we’ll hold on specifically recommending it, even though feedback seems to be excellent and the level of tech is in keeping with the rest of the options on this list.
Low-Tech Elliptical Machines
Of all the types of endurance exercise machines, elliptical machines were the first to deeply integrate technology (followed quickly by treadmills). And now if you see an elliptical machine that is more than 5 years old, you just know it’s going to have a broken interface that is littered with defunct Twitter and Youtube integrations and who knows what else (Google Reader? Vine?).
Some elliptical machines have stayed dumb though, usually by needing to be small or cheap, but at least some options still exist.
Schwinn Fitness 411 Compact Elliptical Machine
The Schwinn Fitness 411 is a small elliptical that is under $600, which means there is no space for high-end tech or smart features, which works out great for us. It’s also quite small, at just 2 feet wide and 4.5 feet in length.
The Schwinn 411 has an LCD display and no internet connectivity is required but to do need Schwinn’s “Explore the World” subscription to get all the world routes. This feature almost kept this elliptical off this list but we will note that it’s not required for use and the low price and small size makes this machine too appealing to ignore. The world routes feature also requires a Bluetooth connection, which is annoying, especially because many user reviews point out that the integration tech is the devices low point.
So why include the Schwinn 411 at all? Simply because there are so few LCD display ellipticals and because ellipticals get expensive quickly so a low-tech-possible machine for under $600 should be on buyers’ radar.
The one major non-tech downside of this machine is that it has a short (18-inch) stride, so it takes some getting used to and might not be a good pick if you are over 6 feet tall.
- FreeStep LT3 Recumbent Cross Trainer