Man versus machine

We stepped aboard the shiny new cardio machines in Chicago gyms to see how they compare to the old standbys.

Precor’s Adaptive Motion Trainer at Lakeshore Athletic Club(211 N Stetson Ave, 312-616-9000)

The details The “best machine we’ve produced since the elliptical in the ’80s,” according to a Precor rep, this bad boy is really a variety of cardio machines rolled into one. The machine adapts to your movements and the pedals move up and down, left and right and at any incline you choose—so depending on your mood, you can create a stair-stepping, running or elliptical-esque experience, all without touching a single button. A “stride dial” (body diagram) on the display illuminates the muscles you’re working on at that moment.

The workout You’ll fall into a movement pattern quickly—and then it’ll feel a little weird to vary your stride. Stick with it—or, rather, keep experimenting! I was hooked after a couple of sessions and I got the hang of tweaking my stride. It’s easy to break sweat, but you’ll be so tempted to keep changing how you move that it’s nearly impossible to get bored.

The verdict It’s fun and exhausting—a great combo when it comes to exercise. —Liz Plosser

Expresso Fitness bike at Crunch(939 W North Ave, 312-337-1244; visit crunch.com for more locations)

The details One of the first indoor exercise bikes to incorporate modern gaming software into its monitors, this machine offers more than 20 realistic-looking—and feeling—race courses. From the view of your handlebars, the bike ventures through mountain paths, the desert, race tracks and even outer space. Just like a real bike, the handlebars move for realistic maneuvering through each course and the pedal resistance gets harder when you go up a hill and easier as you coast down. There’s an option to log in each time you ride so the bike can track your best races. You’re not just racing yourself on this bike, either. Its technology allows you to compete against other members in the gym who are riding on the other three Expresso bikes at the same time, and if you upgrade to a premium membership for $10 at expresso.net, you can race other members across the country.

The workout Once I got used to the realistic feeling of the handlebars, I was able to appreciate just how cool this bike is. In addition to racing (and beating) the gym member beside me, I also checked out the bike’s “video game” mode, where I rode though a fantasy obstacle course gathering coins and running over monsters and dragons.

The verdict Just like after a real ride, my legs were completely sore when I hopped off the bike. Unlike most rides, though, I didn’t want this one to end. —Kevin Aeh

LifeFitness Elevation Series - 95T at Equinox Fitness Club(200 W Monroe 312-252-3100; visit equinoxfitness.com for more locations)

The details This souped-up treadmill gives you a run for your money, so to speak. Between the variety of landscapes tracking your progress on the screen (from the standard graph to a 5K mountain course) to the ability to seamlessly transition mid-routine between workout modes (from quick start to military fitness training, for instance), this baby is designed to keep your interest piqued. And with some assistance from a personal trainer (who will help establish your goals based on metabolic testing), you can completely customize your own run down to the time, pace and speed of each interval.

The workout While I like a good challenge, I also like to get in and out of the gym efficiently; in other words, “classic” and “quick start” are the only modes I know. After plugging my iPod into the console and scrolling through my tunes on the touch screen, I realized just how easy it was to spice up my exercise using this piece of equipment; the animated personal trainer, offering encouraging progress reports, didn’t hurt either.

The verdict My mind and body will appreciate a change from the doldrums of my routine while still building my running stamina. And my goal-oriented side can’t wait to track the distance I cover by plugging my flash drive into the USB port. —Jessica Herman

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