Small apartment cardio fitness equipment for a fat n00b?
May 24, 2020 2:30 PM   Subscribe

I'm absolutely not looking to get skinny, but I really want to move my body more, with a big emphasis on cardio. I will admit I might be looking for a piece of equipment that doesn't exist, but I come to the fit folks of MeFi for advice! I do have some significant restrictions, and that, paired with me being a bit exercise-phobic - - I'm floundering, afraid to make an expensive mistake.

Here are my restrictions:
1) I live in an apartment, on the 2nd floor. So, smaller is a requirement, and it cannot have jumpy motions as the floors are quite thin. Most youtube fitness videos don't work because of this, though I always love links to fat-positive stretching and yoga videos. ;)
2) This is something that I'm working on with my therapist, but at this point in my life, the exercise needs to be indoors/not in public. Historically, sports/moving my body/fitness and I have not been friends, even when I was visually "fit" by people's standards.
3) The things I have found most successful in the past are ellipticals, walking the treadmill on an incline. I'm curious about rowing machines. Anything "bouncy" ie running, or a stationary bike with an uncomfortable seat isnt great for me. I worry that mini steppers like these would not be enough for me to really get my heart rate going.
4) I would like it to be semi-easy to move from one bedroom for storage in another bedroom if company comes (not that in COVID time that's likely any time soon!). This is of lesser importance.

Items I currently have include yoga mat for stretching, resistance bands.

FWIW, cis female 40 yrs old, about 240 lbs/5'8. While I would love to not spend a million dollars, I am willing and able to make an investment around $1,000. Thanks in advance!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I have really liked access to rowing machines when I had it, and some of them fold up and/or roll away. I would recommend having somebody watch your form the first couple times so you know when you aren’t supposed to be using your back, though. An online beginning coach should be fine, I’m not thinking of subtle mistakes.

Among rowing machines, only the ones you’re pulling straight back on, usually on a chain or cord.
posted by clew at 2:38 PM on May 24 [5 favorites]

I second the rowing machine, for all the reasons described above. Searching for 'water rowers' will help you narrow it down. (I find the whoosh whoosh sound they make quite soothing, as an added bonus.) They don't involve jumping and jiggling, but give you a good all over workout, and are still good when you are going slowly as a newbie.
posted by EllaEm at 2:46 PM on May 24

Coming in to say check out Concept 2 rowers. You can probably pick up a used one for a few hundred bucks from a gym going out of business or upgrading equipment. Very light and can be placed in a corner or a tall closet.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 2:50 PM on May 24 [4 favorites]

Take a look at the Concept2 Model D stationary rower. It's relatively quiet, shouldn't vibrate much, and comes apart into two pieces for upright storage. The Model E is similar but higher off the ground; unless you need that, I don't think it's worth the extra money.

Note that the Concept2 website says they are currently out of stock due to high demand. You might be able to find a used one or get on the waiting list.

Concept2 really is the industry standard. The model I bought for my basement is exactly the same as the ones I see when I'm traveling and go to the gym. With proper maintenance they will last a lifetime.

You could also look at recumbent exercise bicycles, though I'm not sure how far $1000 would get you with one of those.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:50 PM on May 24 [4 favorites]

I recently got a Gazelle - it's very easy on the joints, similar to the motion of an elliptical, quiet (no motor), pretty lightweight (60 pounds?), and I like it a lot. I've tried various other workouts at home and they aren't as good as this. It came in a week.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 2:51 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]

Rowing machines are absolutely a great answer. As mentioned previously the concept 2 rowers are the gold standard and can be found affordable as second hand. They break into two parts easily and can be stored, and make no vertical noise (bouncing, impact) at all.

They are a hard full body workout if you want, but can also be easy and leisurely. Also, to the extent you want to take baby steps into working out in public, there is a thriving online community where you can join challenges, take public workouts (but not necessarily share your results), etc.
posted by true at 3:14 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]

I recently bought a rowing machine and I, too, am uncomfortable exercising in front of others but badly needed cardio. Collapsing, storing upright, etc will make your research and purchase a bit more complicated but still very doable. (I went with a WaterRower because standing on end to store was a huge bonus, but they’re fairly pricey.)
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:38 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]

You might try a recumbent stationary bike. I find it MUCH more comfortable than a regular stationary bike, and it’s easier on my back and knees. They are usually very quiet, and mine easily folds up if I need to store it. There are many options and price points, but you should be able to find something decent for around $500.
posted by bookmammal at 3:39 PM on May 24 [4 favorites]

So, regarding youtube fitness videos: I've been getting my cardio doing HIIT with a workout that is designed to have no jumping, so apartment dwellers can do it. (I've specifically been using this workout by Emi Wong but it is aimed at people who want to lose weight. There's no bodyshaming but the language that is used takes weight loss as an implicit goal.) The yoga mat is all you need for something like this.
posted by capricorn at 3:51 PM on May 24 [4 favorites]

My partner and I got a Gazelle for basically all of these reasons! You can turn on resistance and it definitely gets our heart rates up. It folds up out of the way. We keep it in an area that I don't use much (craft table) and if I do need to use that area I can fold it up without too much difficulty. It does have a bit of a footprint unfolded. It would be a bit effortful to unfold and fold it up daily, but you could always consider that part of your workout.

I don't know if it would be great for a quote "real athlete," but for my partner and I, who are out of shape and just want to move more, it definitely works up a sweat. I think there's a fancier version of the Gazelle, but the Edge is what we have, I'm pretty sure. We got it from someone on Craigslist for $40, and it wasn't the only one offered, so you might be able to find something near you for pretty cheap and pick up safely via curbside, if you just wanted to try something out before going all in with your money. Though the Edge new is quite within your budget.
posted by brook horse at 3:55 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]

Oh, though as a heads up, it is pretty squeaky. Nothing that would bother the neighbors, but it drives my partner crazy (doesn't bother me, though, and I typically have sensory problems). So every few months we have to squirt WD-40 in every possible nook and cranny, which helps for a while, but then you have to do it again. I don't know if that's just cause ours isn't new, though.
posted by brook horse at 3:57 PM on May 24

If you can find a used Concept 2 rower that would be amazing. We have one in our gym and it's a great machine. Well designed, easy to move, basically silent, no bouncing, and you can go as hard or as easy as you like -- you can totally wreck yourself HIIT style in five minutes, or get a low key 30-minute moderate activity workout by just changing the resistance and your rowing pace. Benefit of this type of machine over a water rower is that it's lightweight, movable, and the fan that provides the resistance blows air on you to cool you down which is brilliant.

Other rowers made similarly will doubtless provide similar benefits, but the C2 is something I can speak to and it is a great machine.

The only disadvantage to it over an elliptical or treadmill is that you're not going to read a book or flip through Metafilter while using it, though you could watch shows/movies on a larger TV screen, or music/podcasts etc.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:02 PM on May 24

I have a foldable step machine and it is more than adequate at raising my heart rate.
posted by metasarah at 4:11 PM on May 24

The only disadvantage to it over an elliptical or treadmill is that you're not going to read a book or flip through Metafilter while using it,

YBMV (Your Balance May Vary) but I find myself unable to use my elliptical without holding on to the handles. No books or phone for me. Just a heads up in case this weighs into your decision.

But I also have extraordinarily bad balance so others may be capable of this wondrous feat.
posted by brook horse at 4:21 PM on May 24

The Concept2 really is fun, but it’s pretty massive. It’ll take up a lot of your floor space. On the other hand, I’ve had a non-chain rowing machine that folded flat, and it was prone to jumping if my form wasn’t great. I still did it when I lived in a third floor apartment, and my neighbor never said anything about it, but if your neighbors are sensitive, it’s something to keep in mind.

An exercise bike is pretty nice because it’s really easy to control your effort. That’d probably be my suggestion for you.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:27 PM on May 24

You can probably pick up a used [Concept 2] for a few hundred bucks from a gym going out of business or upgrading equipment.

This was often true before 3 months ago, but right now as far as I can tell the market for *all* home exercise equipment is very tight. Prices are often double last year's if there's any availability at all. And manufacturers probably face a dilemma: do they ramp up to meet rising individual demand, or are they looking at a demand drop as lots of their usual buyers (gyms) shutter and not only don't buy but dump used equipment on the market? When will the dump happen?

This isn't to dissuade you; I love Concept 2 rowing machines, if they sound like a fit for your needs and you have the means, get one. Just don't feel like you're doing something wrong if they seem difficult to find in the low hundreds (or even below 4 figures).
posted by wildblueyonder at 5:19 PM on May 24 [4 favorites]

If harsh seat aside a bike would work for you the recumbent style exercise bikes can have seats that are like office chairs.
posted by Mitheral at 5:28 PM on May 24

This sounds weird and it’s embarrassing admit the depths of my laziness, but though I like rowing and everything everyone is saying is true, I have a bit of a mental block about getting on the thing, because it’s on the floor and that seems too low/far away (I know!) so I avoid it more than I should. I have no such block about standing on a treadmill or sitting on a bike.

Also, the machine is quiet to me, but I always think my neighbors can hear grinding sounds.
posted by kapers at 5:40 PM on May 24

I'm a cyclist, but I'm going to recommend either an elliptical machine or a rower instead of a stationary bike, because they use more of your body. There's also the cross-country ski simulators from Nordic Track—cross-country skiing is a hell of a workout (the company's website does not make them easy to find, but they do still make them).

My possibly erroneous impression is that rowing machines are better for strength workouts, and ellipticals for cardio workouts.
posted by adamrice at 5:51 PM on May 24

I bought an old wooden Nordic Track (the "classic skier," I think) that I found on Facebook marketplace for $50. I actually owned the mini-stepper you linked previously. The mini-stepper was too stiff, I wasn't able to get going fast enough, and my knees ended up hurting. The nordic track makes you sweat, and my knees are fine. It's got a big footprint when it's opened up but it folds up so you can stick it in a closet or under the bed, and it only weighs about 50 lbs. Also, it caused everyone who came over to exclaim "Wow! My mom had one of these in the 80s!" so that's fun.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:02 PM on May 24

Shovelglove- whole body workout, good for core strength, muscle tone, and cardio; also inexpensive, can be done in small rooms with no impacts and minimal noise, much less than any exercise machine.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:13 PM on May 24 [8 favorites]

A short treadmill with good elevation sounds like a good option. I recommend putting it near a TV and enjoying some light binging. I worked my way through Fringe and Veronica Mars that way, for example. Get comfortable with NOT holding the hand rails.. When you feel more fit, try tiny amounts of running, like 5 seconds each minute or two.

Yoga is a good partner with a treadmill. It will give you strength, flexibility, and balance. All you need is a mat.
posted by bearwife at 12:05 AM on May 25

Aside, about maintenance:
>[Our Gazelle gets] pretty squeaky ... every few months we have to squirt WD-40 in every possible nook and cranny...
It might be you're using a spray lubricant and not WD-40, or you're using WD-40 to chase water out of the joints before lubricating properly, but Water Dispersal (trial) 40 isn't a lubricant by itself.
posted by k3ninho at 2:57 AM on May 25 [4 favorites]

I have a pretty inexpensive recumbent exercise bike (Marcy 709, looks like refurbished ones are still available through Amazon) and am renting a Concept 2 rower from my gym while it's closed. A few thoughts:

I had thought that one needs to stay on cardio equipment for, like, 20 or 30 or 60 minutes straight. As a result I didn't use it as often as I had intended just because it was so boring, despite trying to set it up for more mental stimulation (laptop table, near a window, view of the TV.)

Going to Crossfit for a few months really changed my idea about how to use my recumbent bike. At CF, cardio equipment is used for brief periods at a time, rarely more than 5 minutes, with other exercise in between. Like, I do a few rounds of 4 minutes bike, 20 countertop pushups, 10 squats, 10 sit-ups. My machine is not nearly as sturdy as the Concept 2 bikes at the gym but it works just fine to get my heart rate up and the recumbent seat is so much more comfortable than the upright seat. It's lightweight and easy to roll around, but not really collapsible or anything.

The C2 rower was my absolutely favorite cardio equipment at the gym, so I was delighted to be able to rent it. It is huge and takes up a big footprint in my city-sized living/dining room. Although it was easier than I had imagined to move in two pieces, it would not be trivial to put it up/away.

I had never had a problem with using the rower at the gym, I was very careful about my form, and the coaches always said I was going it right. Much to my chagrin, within a few days of bringing it home--again, with care about my form, and with only a few sessions under my belt in the first week--I started having serious hip pain, evidently not uncommon. I have done a fair bit of experimentation, including not using the foot straps and focusing on using my hamstrings to pull me through the return--but I have not been able to avoid hip pain on the rower, so it's going unused. I'm actually using my cheap recumbent more these days.

This is anecdata, to be sure, but I want to put it out there because it really is true that you can hurt yourself if you're not careful, so get as much coaching as you can and start slow. The C2 equipment will be really expensive, no matter how you slice it, though it should also have great resale value if you decide to take the plunge, then find it doesn't work for you.
posted by Sublimity at 6:17 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]

I bought a sub-100 dollar trampoline from dicks sporting goods and I love it. If you get a good brand with bungee cords it will be nearly silent and not transmit any annoying bouncing to your floor. I purchased it to be able to run and jump in a home without touching the floor or being a nuisance. If you’re overweight it’s far easier on knees and joints than treadmill
posted by shaademaan at 6:46 AM on May 25

Get a stretchy exercise band to try out rowing - google "rowing exercises with resistance bands" for stacks of tutorials, plus it's good for all sorts of low impact exercises, and costs very little.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 2:04 PM on May 25

Lots of recommending for rowing machines here. I will definitely agree that they'll give you the best cardiovascular workout in a machine...

But I would highly highly recommend that if you go down this path, you should pay a rowing instructor for a quick intro session to guide you in the beginning. Using bad form can seriously mess up your back. Don't ask how I know this to be true.
posted by jimmereeno at 3:41 PM on May 25 [2 favorites]

I know you thought the mini stepper would be too little cardio, but I bought this mini elliptical a couple years ago -- I use it in "standing mode" when it's too hot or rainy to be outside, and find I do work up a decent sweat. I have it set up in my upstairs room, on a rug; no transmitted noise to the living room downstairs.
posted by basalganglia at 4:41 PM on May 25

By far, the best piece of exercise equipment I've found is my Apple Watch--because, in addition to being a pedometer, it keeps me honest about when my heart rate is increasing and about what counts as an "exercise" level of exertion. On days when I can't get out to walk or jog outdoors, I open the workout option to "indoor walk," put some music in my earbuds, and basically pace, dance, or step in place around my house until I've reached the time or distance I'm aiming for.

My house is kind of old and rickety, so I am cautious about getting too bouncy in certain rooms, but other rooms (like a tiled, first-floor bathroom) can take a lot of bounce, so I can jog rigorously in place there and get my heart rate up, then do a soft pace around the rest of the house. I would also recommend a small set of weights, around 3-5 lbs, that you can hold while stepping/dancing.

Finally, you may find the yoga videos of Jessamyn Stanley helpful--some really good workouts with really helpful body adjustments. This was a recommendation in a similar recent Ask (and she's published a good book, Every Body Yoga, if you want to get away from a screen). In the greater realm of Youtube fitness, many workouts with a "ballet" tag will be rigorous but not bouncy--a lot of squats, calf-toe rises, and leg lifts that will get your heart rate up, and that you'll definitely feel the day after.
posted by witchen at 8:49 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]

I have very limited space for any machine, and don’t have funds for a rowing machine right now (though that would otherwise be my choice. I’m not impressed with reviews of the ones under $500 online).

I did look at the mini steppers - my personal concern with those is the stride length appears to be pretty short. Which I suspect might unduly strain the Achilles (I saw a few reviewers mention this as well). I’m prone to MSK issues and my lower legs and feet are already spoken for with [multiple] old injuries, so that might just be heightened risk aversion, but I think if you have any issues with foot, ankle or calf pain or think you could, idk, maybe stay away.)

So for low impact cardio absent machines, I suggest 1) workouts incorporating a step and dumbbells, 2) kettlebell workouts, 3) kickboxing workout videos (Billy Blanks’ old ones are on YouTube. Failing that seriously just alternate squats, kicks, and punches for 10-60 mins, endurance allowing), or 4) Wii Fit (I don’t use it, my mom does).
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:04 PM on May 25

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