Gym addicts of the UK rejoice! If all goes to plan, gyms are due to reopen from mid-April. But if you've enjoyed saving money by not forking out for a pricey monthly membership, you may be looking for a more affordable way to get in shape for summer.
But it's also true that the elements can work against us in any season - whether that's torrential April 'showers' or scorching summer heat. Indoor gym kit offers easy access to exercise all year round, and you can pick up a basic exercise bike or cross trainer from around £100.
Exercise bikes are the most popular option; they offer a good cardiovascular workout without putting pressure on joints. But cross trainers offer many of the same benefits and can be unfairly overlooked.
Most of us only have space for one piece of kit, so we've scrutinised the key features and costs of both to help you decide which to go for.
A key benefit of both exercise bikes and cross trainers (also known as elliptical trainers) is that they each offer low-impact cardio workouts that cause less stress to your leg joints than running or other high-impact workouts, making either choice ideal for those with joint problems.
They both have variable resistance levels that let you set how much force you need to apply to stay in motion.
|Cross trainer||Exercise bike|
|Cheapest price||From £100||From £80|
|Typical size (length x width)||1.5m x 0.7m||Upright bike: 1m x 0.5m|
Recumbent bike: up to 2m x 0.5m
|Average exercise brand customer score*||63%||64%|
|Pros||- Offers a low-impact workout that avoids pressure on joints|
- Works out both lower and upper body
- No risk of saddle friction
|- Offers a low-impact workout that avoids pressure on joints|
- Natural, familiar cycling movement
- Recumbent exercise bikes available
|Cons||- Motion can feel unnatural|
- Best exercise bike brands outperform best cross trainer brands in our survey
|- Doesn't work out arms or upper body|
- Long periods in the saddle can be uncomfortable
As you can see, there's little to choose between cross trainers and exercise bikes when it comes to cost, size or how Which? members rated their machines in our 2020 customer satisfaction survey, and both offer a good cardiovascular workout.
This is the question that everyone wants answered but, unfortunately, the answer is similar to that of the age old conundrum: how long is a piece of string?
Some sources argue that, because you're using your arms as well as your legs, you'll burn more calories with a cross trainer; others reckon you'll find it easier to push yourself harder on an exercise bike, so burn more calories this way.
Ultimately, if you put in the effort, neither is better than the other for helping you stay fit and burn calories, but there are some differences in how they operate that are worth considering.
Exercise bikes are a great cardio workout, and it's not surprising that they're the most popular home gym product among Which? members, according to our survey.
The cheapest upright bikes cost as little as £80; they'll only offer a few resistance levels, but typically have relatively small frames that you may be able to fold for easy storage.
Mid-range models with more resistance settings, monitoring features and quality of life features can cost over £150, while premium models such as the Peloton bike - with high-tech extras such as stat tracking, live-streamed classes and built-in entertainment - cost the best part of £2,000.
If you love to cycle, a dedicated fitness machine is the most natural way for you to move your exercise indoors. Whether you're a newbie looking to kickstart your first cardio regime or a seasoned user who wants to peddle against heavy resistance and really get a sweat on, a bike will provide an excellent cardio workout as long as you put in the prerequisite effort.
Exercise bikes won't specifically help tone your arms, though any cardio exercise will burn calories (and fat) and can help improve your overall physique.
For an equally rigorous cardio workout that also gets your upper body moving, cross trainers have you covered. They're the less obvious alternative to exercise bikes, and the motion may take a while to get used to, but the fact that these machines engage 80% of your body's muscles makes them an appealing purchase.
Plus, because you're standing up, there's no risk of saddle discomfort.
If you want to work your upper body to improve tone, then a cross trainer may be a better bet; cross trainers offer a fuller body workout, toning arm, back and shoulder muscles. They can also be a good alternative for someone who enjoys cycling outside but who wants something different to do indoors.
The top-scoring cross trainer brand doesn't do quite as well as the best exercise bike brand, but with an upper customer score of 72% compared to just 51% for the worst, it's still well worth checking our survey findings before making a purchase.
The differences between the two types of exercise equipment are slight, and what will produce results for you is buying equipment that you will use regularly and push yourself with.
If you're still torn, consider a hybrid exercise bike/cross trainer. These let you mix up your workout, and could be a good choice if you plan on sharing a machine with someone who prefers a different type of exercise.
Choices are limited, particularly at the premium end of the market, where manufacturers focus their efforts on doing one thing well. But here are a duo of budget and mid-range options that could be worth a look.
As the weather warms up and light starts to appear at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, you may be pondering whether it's worth shelling out for home gym equipment.
But don't forget there are benefits that apply regardless of the temperature, or the restrictions we've been living under. Here are a few.
All that said, the great outdoors provides endless space to run and ride for cardio, and the best type of exercise is the kind you'll want to do.
* Our October 2020 survey of the general public rated brands for different types of exercise equipment. The average customer score for exercise bike brands was 64%, while the average score for cross trainer brands was 63%.
Exercise equipment selected based onpopular UK search terms and availability; we've only selected models from brands that achieved decent scores in our survey. Exercise equipment availability remains limited as a result of lockdown.