Before jumping on the first bargain-priced exercise machine that comes your way, stop and think: Am I really going to use this? Will I enjoy using it? Does it fit my body? Will it stand up to repeated use? If the answer to any of these questions is no, that's not the right piece of exercise equipment for you. In fact, most bargain-priced exercise machines aren't up to frequent, heavy use -- so saving up for a midrange or higher-end model is an intelligent decision.
Pick by Preference
An exercise machine won't do you any good unless you use it, so your first choice should always be something you enjoy. The more you like the machine you buy, the easier it'll be to get your money's worth out of it. Try the machine out in a store before buying or, if you're purchasing from the Internet, make sure you have the option of returning it if you don't like it.
It may help to choose an exercise machine that reflects your real-world passions -- for example, if you enjoy running, opt for a treadmill or elliptical trainer; if you're a cyclist, go for an exercise bike or get a trainer so you can bring your outdoor bike indoors.
If the Shoe Fits
Even the best exercise machine in the world will let you down if it can't adjust to fit your body. This is particularly an issue with exercise bikes and elliptical trainers, which might not always adjust enough to fit the very long-limbed or very short-limbed exerciser. Elliptical trainers, in particular, tend to accommodate a very limited range of strides; if multiple people are going to use the trainer, make sure every one of them tries it out before you seal the deal.
Treadmills are another potential hurdle for the long-limbed crowd, as a treadmill deck that's not long and wide enough to accommodate your stride is a safety issue. As a general rule, the less expensive the treadmill, the smaller its deck will be.
For the Low-Impact Crowd
If your joints can't take the repetitive pounding of running, you can still walk on a treadmill; look for a model that adjusts to a high incline -- at least 10 percent, preferably 12 or 15 -- so you can up the intensity without increasing the impact on your joints. Or, if you'd like more intensity without the hills, consider just about anything else -- a rower, stair stepper, step mill, exercise bike or elliptical trainer. As long as they fit your body, any of the aforementioned will give a high-intensity, relatively low-impact workout.
Be Considerate to Your Neighbors
If you share walls, a floor or a ceiling with neighbors who might be cranky about hearing you work out, skip the treadmill; the constant pounding of your footfalls could earn you a complaint. Opt for an elliptical trainer if you like running, or a stair climber or a stationary exercise bike; all three machines are quiet and don't generate a lot of vibration.
Some rowing machines use air resistance, which can get quite loud when you're cranking away at top resistance and speed. But if you have decent soundproofing, rowing machines can be a good choice for upstairs apartments because they don't generate any vibration or impact from footfalls.