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Getting your very own elliptical machine can be very exciting, so we have laid out this Elliptical Trainer Buyers Guide to help you navigate the options available to you.
Elliptical Trainers are an excellent piece of fitness equipment that delivers a total body workout with little impact on your joints. It’s no wonder that it has steadily become a favorite in the hearts of more and more people of all ages and fitness levels. If you want to skip this buyers guide, you can go straight to our top 3 recommended elliptical trainers to see what we recommend.
The variety of elliptical machines and features can leave the uninformed buyer overwhelmed. But don’t sweat. With the right information, you’ll find yourself knowing enough to make the right choice.
Elliptical Trainer – First Things First
Certain information is very important in evaluating and selecting an elliptical. Before shopping for an elliptical, answer the following questions:
FREQUENCY OF USE:
The more frequently you use it, the better quality elliptical you will need.
- How frequently do you intend to use the elliptical?
- Will you use daily, every other day or some other frequency?
A general rule of thumb is to invest in a better quality, often more expensive machine, if you intend to use machine frequently and for long durations.
- What will be the duration of your workouts?
- Will you work out on your elliptical for 30 minutes, 60 minutes, or a different length of time each session?
Choosing a better quality elliptical will help to ensure your investment holds up to the use of multiple users.
- How many people will use the elliptical?
- Will others in your household use the elliptical? If so, get an idea of the frequency and duration of their workouts.
WEIGHT OF USER (S):
Making sure your elliptical can accommodate your weight is the best way to ensure your machine withstands your use and the test of time.
- How much do you weigh or what is the weight of the heaviest user?
- Every elliptical has a maximum user weight. Some might be as low as 150 lbs while others might be over 350 lbs.
Your answers to the above questions and considerations will make sure you buy an elliptical that’s right for you not to mention durable.
What’s Your Budget for the Elliptical?
Before you begin looking at the wide variety of elliptical machines and all their features, determine your budget.
How much can you, or are you willing to invest in an elliptical?
Save Time & Money on your Elliptical Trainer
You will discover that elliptical trainers range anywhere from $125 to over $3,000.
Knowing and staying within your budget will save you hours, days, and weeks of search time. More importantly, it’ll help you buy the right elliptical for you and spare from buyer’s remorse.
Where will you place and use your Elliptical Trainer?
Where will you place your elliptical?
You want to measure the height of the intended room’s ceiling and area. The ceiling height is important especially when factoring in the users’ height.
Basements are often notorious for having low ceilings. You will also want to plan to have a few feet clear surrounding the machine to ensure ease of use.
The noise factor is important when considering others in your home or neighbors (if you live in an apartment or condo). Ideally, you want a machine that operates as quietly as possible regardless of your living arrangements.
The Right Stride
You might be in for an uncomfortable and bumpy ride if your new elliptical doesn’t have the right stride shape.
The elliptical trainers name comes from its stride shape, which mimics an oval or ‘elliptical’ shape. Many people consider the stride shape to be the most important feature of an elliptical, and rightly so. This feature helps provide an ergonomic, natural, smooth, rhythmic, and comfortable stride. The end result is an overall more enjoyable workout.
The better quality elliptical trainers have the foot beds (pedals) attached to a separate track and NOT THE flywheel. By having the foot beds attached to a separate track it provides for a natural, smooth, and elliptical stride shape – instead of a circular shape.
Often the more compact the elliptical machine, the more circular the stride shape. So there’s a trade off between the size of the elliptical and the stride shape.
When you think of stride length, think about walking.
If while walking, your stride was restricted to say a maximum of 6 or 12 inches (depending on your height), this restriction would make for a very uncomfortable and unnatural walk. Somewhat like taking baby steps.
The same holds true for elliptical trainers. Your stride length needs to be long enough to accommodate your height. Taller people have longer strides; therefore, they’ll need an elliptical with a longer stride length. The stride length adds to the smooth and natural experience that makes an elliptical enjoyable. It allows for a healthy and natural range of motion.
You will find many ellipticals with stride lengths ranging from 16 inches (1.3 feet) to 24 plus inches (2 feet or more). Beware of ellipticals with stride lengths of less than 16 inches.
An 18-inch stride length might be well suited for someone who is 5’4” or shorter, whereas as someone 5’6” to 6’6” will benefit from a stride length of 20- to 24-inches. It really depends on your height.
The typical fitness club elliptical has a stride length of 20 inches, which is often capable accommodating a broad spectrum of users (heights). Here are general guidelines:
- 5’10” or taller: 20-inch stride length plus
- 5’5” to 5’10: 18- to 20-inche stride length
- 5’4” or shorter: 18-inch stride
If you need an elliptical to accommodate people of varying heights, you might consider one with a variable or adjustable stride length. Although most ellipticals have a fixed stride length, there are some on the market with an adjustable stride length.
Foot Beds (Pedals)
The main consideration regarding elliptical foot beds (also referred to as pedals) is the distance or space between them.
When running or walking, there is typically only a few inches between your feet. This is natural.
Ellipticals present a bit of a challenge due to the position and size of the flywheel. A good rule of thumb is 6 inches or less. The closer together the foot beds the better. When spaced to far apart, unnecessary strain can be placed on a person’s hips, knees, and ankles.
As with stride length, the user’s height comes into play here. Taller people can generally tolerate foot beds spread further apart.
Other Foot Bed Considerations
- Size: Make sure that the food beds are large enough so you can place your foot in the most comfortable position.
- Pivoting & ergonomics: Many ellipticals have foot beds (pedals) that pivot and mimic the elliptical motion (cycle). You’ll also find some machines with shock-absorbing foot beds. Such additions can provide minimize strain to your feet and ankles.
The Drive System
An ellitpical’s drive system consists of a drive axle, bearings or bushings, belts, and generators.
There’s no need for you to become a mechanic or engineer in order to select an elliptical with a good drive system. Who has time for that? After all, your goal is fitness, health, and maybe weight loss – not becoming an elliptical engineer.
Think of the drive system as your car’s engine. Like a car without an engine, an elliptical without a good drive system is useless. A good drive system will provide a relatively quiet and smooth ride.
3 Drive Systems
You’ll find 3 types of elliptical drive systems:
- Rear drive
- Front drive
- Center drive
Rear drive ellipticals were the first on the market and still tend to dominate the market. Nevertheless, front drive ellipticals have also been around for quite a while. They both have good histories. In comparison, center drive ellipticals are somewhat a newer design with less history, however it has some decent reviews.
Consider the manufacturer’s warranty. This is usually a decent indication of not only the quality of the drive system but the overall elliptical.
The flywheel is what creates the oval and elliptical movement as well as providing varying degrees of resistance for your workout.
A heavy-duty flywheel and magnetic braking system is best. Also, better quality and heavier flywheels will provide for more stability and also a smoother ride.
Features & Extras
An elliptical trainer’s extra features are not necessary, but they add an element of fun, variety, challenge, and measurement – with just a touch of a button.
Many ellipticals come with preset and customizable workout routines and programs.
Programs allow your workout’s resistance, duration, and intensity to be either preset or you can customize it yourself. All you have to do is select the desired program. Then you can work out while you watch your favorite TV program, listen to your favorite song, or enjoy an excellent audio book.
Heart Rate Monitor
Heart rate monitors are great for giving you an indication as to whether your workout is too light, too intense, or just right.
Elliptical heart rate monitors come in two forms:
- Heart or chest straps
- Wireless hand grips
The favorite type is the wireless handgrips. It will allow you to easily determine your heart rate while working out or by taking a brief intermission.
This is an excellent feature for those wanting to stay tuned to the latest news, enjoy their favorite show, or keep track as to what’s going on in the financial and stock markets. The TV console allows you do this while working out on your elliptical.
Some ellipticals have built-in adjustable fans. This is an extra feature for those who like to feel a cool breeze while working out.
The average elliptical weighs about 200 lbs and some weigh over 300 lbs. Transport wheels make it easier to move the elliptical within the same room or to some other room.
Ellipticals with the ability to fold up are ideal for those with limited space. Due to the compact nature of a “folding elliptical,” you might sacrifice stride length (a very important element).
Delivery, Assembly, & Warranties
Free delivery can be an excellent cost-saving benefit when buying a 200 plus pound elliptical machine. This type of delivery generally means the elliptical is delivered to your front door only.
For those wanting avoid the hassle of moving a 200 plus pound piece of equipment from their front door to the desired room, “in room delivery” is the way to go. This is when the delivery driver actually takes the elliptical from the truck all the way to the room you intend to setup and use the elliptical.
In Home Assembly
Assembly might be even more important for those who don’t want to hassle with tools and the uncertainty of whether you actually put it together properly.
The elliptical manufacturer’s warranty is very important.
The warranty provides a good indication of the equipment's quality and the integrity of its maker. The longer the warranty, the more likely you’ve chosen a better quality elliptical trainer.
Good warranties are also a form of investment (equipment) insurance.
A Decent Warranty
Make sure your elliptical has a reasonable warranty that comes close to the following:
- Lifetime warranty on the frame and braking system
- Minimum of 1 year on parts
- Minimum of 1 year on labor (ideally in-home)
Depending upon the manufacturer’s warranty, you might not need an extended warranty.
However, if you are looking at an elliptical that doesn’t have “a decent warranty” as listed above, then you might want to:
- Consider purchasing a better or slightly more expensive elliptical with a better manufacturer’s warranty, or
- Purchase an extended warranty
After finally deciding upon the right elliptical, there’s one more thing you should consider – customer reviews.
Customer reviews will provide you with the following information:
- Common positives and negatives of the elliptical’s design, comfort, etc.
- Typical malfunctions or annoyances (squeaks, noises, stability, etc.)
- Quality of the product
- The manufacturer’s integrity and if they stand behind their product or warranty
- Manufacturer’s customer service
Keep in mind, few products will have all perfect reviews. However, if half or possibly even one-third of the reviews for the product are unfavorable then you might want to consider another product or manufacturer.
You now know more about elliptical trainers than most people do and we hope you enjoyed our Elliptical Trainer Buyers Guide. You are better equipped to purchase the right machine for you, your goals, and budget. Congratulations!
Best wishes on your choice of elliptical, fitness, and health. If you would like more help, you can check out our top 3 recommended elliptical trainers.