How We Test Fitness Equipment

Have you ever run on six different treadmills on the same day? Or did you work out on seven different rowing machines (not during a CrossFit class)? Or my personal favorite: Have you had to carry multiple boxes of adjustable dumbbells up the stairs of your three-story walk-up? 

This is all part of my job description as the main fitness writer at CNET. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it. I’ve been working with our expert editors to improve our approach to testing this equipment. We’ve refined our methodology on how we rate these machines to give you more insight into and why some machines get our stamp of approval. As a consumer of these products myself, I know that those shopping for a treadmill will care about the dimensions of the machine and that it’s sturdy with a decent speed range for running or walking. Someone shopping for an elliptical may focus more on the resistance options and stride length. 

All fitness equipment functions differently yet the goal is the same: to help you get a workout in. That’s why it’s important to take the time to determine if the fitness equipment you’re looking for is right for your needs and home. We know how important it is to make the right decision when it comes to fitness equipment because the last thing you need is a machine that ends up becoming a clothing rack. 

Fitness equipment methodology

We judge fitness equipment based on the following criteria: 

Features:  We look at the types of features offered by these pieces of equipment, how advanced or simple these features are, and whether the machine can connect to built-in or third-party apps, smartwatches and gadgets. A machine with good features should ideally have a built-in touchscreen and connect easily to wi-fi and compatible apps. No matter how sophisticated it is, it should be intuitive for the majority of users to use. 

Software: Many of these machines have programs built in, so we look to see how easy they are to use and any challenges we experience when accessing them or connecting to external compatible devices. 

Functionality: When testing, we determine if the machine works as promised or is faulty. Additionally, we observe how intuitive it is to use whether it has all the bells and whistles or is minimalistic. For example, we know some users will want a machine that’s straightforward without any advanced technology, but the device should still function as promised. If the machine is more modern, it should still be easy to use whether you are a tech pro or someone less familiar with the latest innovations. 

Assembly: We know people want to know how easy it is to put a workout machine together and how long it will approximately take, so we make a note of that. Fitness equipment tends to be heavy and depending on the machine, transferring it into your home and putting it together can be a two-person job. We also look at whether they have the option to choose a white glove delivery and if it’s free or a fee is required.

Warranty:  It’s important to know the warranty information for your equipment in case you experience any issues with it and need a replacement. Since these are big purchases, you should feel comfortable knowing that you’re getting a top-quality product. In the event something needs replacing, the window for replacement or refund should be spelled out clearly. The length of a warranty will vary depending on the type of machine you own, what falls under the warranty and what the manufacturer is willing to cover.  


Testing the Tempo Studio at the CNET warehouse.

Giselle Castro-Sloboda/CNET

How we score fitness equipment


Taking the Nordictrack iSelect Adjustable Dumbbells for a test run.

Giselle Castro-Sloboda/ CNET

We use a 1-5 score across these five subcategories, with 5 being the highest rating a product can receive within each category. We then calculate using an in-house formula to apply a 1-10 scale to determine the overall score for each product. If a product receives a 10 it means it performed exceedingly well, has the latest tech and is the best item compared to the other equipment we are testing. We avoid recommending products that receive a score under 6.5. 

How CNET gets the products we review


Trying out our favorite commercial Nordictrack Adjustable Dumbbells first-hand.

Giselle Castro-Sloboda/CNET

The number of machines we test will vary depending on how easily we can connect with the manufacturer, if they have loaners or samples available or if there is a showroom where we can test a demo. I request products directly from the manufacturer’s public relations or marketing contact. Often, my contacts reach out to me when there’s a newer model of the machine available as well. We aim to test at least six machines at once but always strive for more. We look to well-respected brands as well as some lesser-known options so that there is some variety. We often depend on customer reviews and the newest models to help guide us on selecting the machines we test. 

Meet the fitness equipment testers

Giselle Castro-Sloboda


I’m a wellness and fitness journalist with over a decade’s worth of experience. I’ve dabbled in personal training in the past and have taught group fitness classes. In addition, I’ve taken just about every type of fitness class you can imagine—including an indoor surfing-inspired class. In my tenure at CNET, I’ve tested everything from treadmills, ellipticals, rowing machines, adjustable dumbbells, smart fitness mirrors to smart home gyms, to name a few. I’m a new mom who doesn’t subscribe to the mentality that mothers are fragile and having a child is a setback. Instead, I believe that when they resume their favorite workouts, they can come back as stronger and mentally healthier athletes. 

Favorite workout: I find I thrive in the weight room or running on the open road, so I have a particular interest in these topics. 

Least favorite workout: Anything Pilates and yoga, but mainly because I prefer something more fast-paced. Also, Pilates reformer classes always kick my butt. 

Fun fitness fact: During my fitter days, I competed in a plank competition where I held a 15-minute plank and won second place. 

Where we test

CNET Warehouse testing lab

The CNET Warehouse which is where we test fitness equipment.

Giselle Castro-Sloboda/CNET

When it comes to the big pieces of fitness equipment, we need ample space for testing. Since we are a small team and the equipment is on the larger side, the process requires lots of research and planning months in advance before testing. Typically, I have these pieces delivered and set up in our Louisville-based CNET warehouse by our lab technicians. The warehouse is also used to test other pieces of non-fitness-related products, which you have probably spotted among other CNET verticals like our home section. On occasion, I will test bigger pieces of fitness equipment from my home or try a demo at a showroom. 

The testing process

Tonal showroom

Testing the Tonal at the manufacturer’s showroom

Giselle Castro/Sloboda

When we test our fitness equipment, we try to get in as much time as possible when using a unit. The process leading up to testing can be lengthy (about a few months) as we aim to get as many pieces of equipment in at the same time so we can carefully test the machines alongside each other. Since most machines are assembled by on-site staff at the CNET warehouse, we have to account for that time as well. That can take the most time, especially if they’re working on other projects as well. On occasion, there will be one-off testing throughout the year if a new piece of equipment is released and is worth testing out. 

I usually aim to test the machines over about a week for about six hours a day as it takes time to set up the machine, troubleshoot any wi-fi or connectivity issues, test out the software and programs, connect to its built-in or third-party apps, assess the design and materials of the machine and then account for the experience. This will sometimes vary depending on how much time I get with the equipment and space. If I observe any similarities among some of the machines, I make a note to test those features repeatedly. The same applies if a machine seems to have a better feature or function than another that is similar in style. I keep notes the old-fashioned way (written) as it helps me remember certain details about my experience better.

When testing I try to approach the machines from a customer-centric point of view. Although the machines are all different, I think about what the average customer or a beginner might be looking for when shopping for a treadmill, rowing machine or another big piece of equipment. I also think about what a more experienced or tech-savvy user might find helpful or appealing. 


Testing out how well the Peloton Row’s screen tilts for floor workouts.

Giselle Castro-Sloboda/CNET

Why you can trust CNET reviews

CNET editors, writers and staff value integrity and unbiased coverage. We refuse compensation for placement or positive coverage. We also don’t guarantee a best-list spot for all brands who send editorial samples. The way we order the best list depends on the superlatives we give a product among other factors. A “Best Overall” pick will always be placed at the top followed by others we deem valuable. We also include an “Other Equipment We Tested” section to acknowledge the other products we tested, alongside our top picks. Sometimes a product in that section may still be appropriate for some users, but it came up short when compared against others that made the best list. When medical information is involved, we share with our medical review board to check behind us and get everything right.

The order in which our product recommendations are listed does not always correlate directly to their numerical ratings. After a best-list is published, we may use audience engagement metrics to reorder the list after the Best Overall pick, to give more prominence to products and services that have shown the most positive responses from readers. All recommendations are based on our personal experience, from expert fitness equipment testing with a range of different types of machinery.