Incline training has gained more and more awareness over the past 10 years. It started with the introduction of the TreadClimber made by Hebb back in the day. I went to their facility in Texas to see it being made and was overwhelmed by the complexity of the system. My first thought, which I also voiced, was “there is a lot of parts to break on this thing!”
The guys at Hebb assured me that there wasn’t going to be a problem…how many times have factories given me that line…but their prophecy proved false. There are a bunch of parts to break on a TreadClimber and as the law of averages seems to rule, you see parts that regularly break on a TreadClimber.
The one thing that couldn’t be missed is that a TreadClimber was a better workout than a traditional treadmill and there have been scores of people who are willing to make the tradeoff of reliability for a better workout. I can see how someone would be willing to make that trade. What it did spark was the thought, “how can I get a more intense workout than a treadmill without the reliability issues of a TreadClimber?”
The resulting answer is, “you can’t completely.” When you design a machine to put more stress on the body, it seems that the body puts more stress on the machine, or at least its design. That leads us to the Incline Trainer which was introduced by Icon under the Proform and NordicTrack brands and the first designs proved to be just as buggy as the TreadClimber. Many other factories introduced their own incline trainer models but few were willing to stick around to refine the design to get it to an acceptable reliability record.
With time and refinement, the Incline Trainers produced today by Icon, like the X9i, X11i, and X22i are huge improvements on the original design and have been getting better and better quality wise which has put quite a distance between the reliability we have noted on the TreadClimber and those of the NordicTrack Incline Trainers.
To address the workout gorilla in the room, there is no question, you get a much better workout on either design than you would with a typical treadmill but there is also no question in our mind, you get much better reliability with the NordicTrack models when compared with the Bowflex models. It is just inherent in the design.
So, narrowing it to the NordicTrack models, the best Incline Trainer is the one that is going to work best for you…in other words, it will be the one that you will most likely use regularly. All three of their models have the same basic design, belt size, and incline range so if your criteria is features, they all are very similar is what they can do. Once you move into components, there are some differences in part quality so that’s the main reason you see a big step up in warranty from the X9i to the other models in warranty. Unless you need the big screen of the X22i, my personal pick among the three is the X11i. The biggest downside I see with these is they are requiring an iFit subscription at the time of this writing to buy one.