Friday, 4 July 2014

How to Choose the Best Elliptical Trainer for Your Needs

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Elliptical trainers are becoming an ever more popular choice for the home gym and it’s easy to see why!  The advantages of elliptical trainers over other types of exercise machines include:

·     Elliptical Trainers offer a low impact form of exercise that is easier on your knees and joints than other types of exercise, including treadmills.
·     Elliptical Trainers allow you to work both your upper and lower body to give you a more effective total body workout.

There are many different models of elliptical trainers widely available to choose from, with varying features, build quality and price ranges.  Whilst generally the higher end models (and higher priced) elliptical trainers offer better build quality and more features, you may find that you don’t actually need an elliptical trainer with all the bells and whistles, and that a lesser model would be more than adequate for your needs.
Choosing the best elliptical trainer machine for you will depend on a variety of factors, including:

·     How much time do you intend to spend exercising?
·     Are you looking to do some light exercising to generally keep you fit or are you looking to challenge yourself or are you looking to do some serious training?
·     How much do you weigh?
·     How many people will be using the elliptical trainer on a regular basis?
·     How much space do you have in your home for an elliptical trainer machine?
·     How much money are you prepared to pay?

Thinking about the answers to the above questions will help you to determine where to begin when looking at elliptical trainers.

Let’s take a look at some of the most important factors to consider when choosing an elliptical trainer machine to help you decide which would be the best type of elliptical trainer for you:


If you expect to use an elliptical trainer for light use (10-20 minutes a day, 3 times a week or so), don’t weigh too much, and are not bothered about lots of different workout programs, then a basic model would be good enough for you.  Basic models tend to be cheaper, smaller in size and have a lighter flywheel.
30 minutes a day, every day, would be considered an average workout and a mid-range elliptical trainer would be best suited for this type of workout.

If you intend to use an elliptical trainer for more serious workouts, or if there are several people in your household who are likely to use the elliptical trainer regularly, or if you are a heavier person, then opt for a higher-end model as it will be more solidly built with a heavier flywheel to give a smooth workout while being able to withstand more intensive use.

Flywheel Weight

Generally the heavier the weight of the flywheel, the smoother and more consistent the elliptical will be in operation.  This is particularly important if you intend to use the elliptical trainer for intensive workouts or if you are generally a heavier person.

User Weight Limit

Bear in mind when purchasing an elliptical trainer that different machines have different user weight limits.  Generally, the basic models tend to have a lower user weight limit (200 lbs).  If you find you’re just on the edge of the user weight limit of an elliptical machine then it’s best to go for the next model up otherwise you may find that the machine struggles, resulting in a jolty and unsturdy workout, and even a squeaky machine.

Stride Length

Different elliptical trainers come with different stride lengths, while others come with an adjustable stride length.  Generally the cheaper models come with a shorter stride length.  Ideally you want an elliptical trainer with a minimum 18" stride length.  For taller people, choose an elliptical trainer with a 20" stride length.  If you have several people in your household who are likely to use the elliptical trainer, choose one with an adjustable stride length.

Workout Programs and Heart Rate Monitor

Different models of elliptical trainers offer varying amounts and types of workout programs and resistance levels.  Before you decide, first consider if you are likely to use all the different programs that a machine may offer.  Many people tend to stick to basic workout programs so you may not need to pay out extra money to get a machine with loads of programs.  If on the other hand, you are the sort of person who gets bored easily, then choose a machine with lots of programs to keep your workouts interesting and varied.  A higher range of resistance levels will help to keep your workouts more challenging.

Some elliptical trainers offer the option of programming your own workouts, usually referred to as “custom workouts”.

Most elliptical trainers feature a console with LCD display to track the progress of your workouts, including stats like time, distance, calories burned and so on.  More advanced and higher-end elliptical trainers offer the ability to upload your stats to an online source where you can save your progress.

Typical LCD console display on an elliptical trainer
A typical LCD console display on an elliptical trainer

Some elliptical trainer machines also offer the ability to track more than one user’s workout stats, so if there is more than one person in your household that is likely to use the machine on a regular basis then this would be a good feature to have (check whether the machine you’re looking at supports 1, 2 or up to 4 users).

Not all elliptical trainers come with a heart-rate monitor (requiring a chest strap) and those that do aren’t always all that accurate anyway, so you need to decide if this is an important factor for you or not.  Many machines do come with a pulse hand grip instead although these also tend to be questionable as to their accuracy.  If this is an important feature for you, then check other people’s reviews online on the machines you are interested in to see how accurate they are, or alternatively buy a separate heart-rate monitor (e.g. heart-rate monitor watch).

Drive System

The elliptical trainer should feel smooth in motion and although most machines make some noise, there should be no loud squeaks or rubbing noises.

Generally speaking, a heavier flywheel will give a smoother ride as it creates higher inertia to keep the drive system turning.  Remember that smooth motion will also depend on your body weight to some extent.

Elliptical trainers with sealed bearings are generally better than machines with shielded bearings as they help to keep the dirt and dust out.

Different drive systems work better for different people, depending on your own physiology.  It’s always best to try out the different systems to see which one feels best for you.

There are 2 main different types of drive systems typically found on elliptical trainers:

  • Front drive – the drive axle is located at the front of the machine.  This type of elliptical will typically give the user the feeling of leaning forwards with a stride more like a stair climber but without the abrupt motion.

  • Rear drive – the drive axle is located at the rear of the machine.  This type of elliptical will typically give the user a more centered feel, helping to reduce back strain and giving a more natural stride similar to walking or jogging.  Rear drive elliptical trainers are generally more expensive than front drive machines.  Rear drive machines have less moving parts and require less maintenance than front drive machines.

Size and Weight of Elliptical Trainer

It can be surprising how big some elliptical trainers are.  When you look at an elliptical trainer in a store, it can be hard to assess how big they really are.  Generally a machine will look smaller in the store than it will in your home!  Before you buy an elliptical trainer, bear in mind how much space you have in your home to put it.  Check out the dimensions of the elliptical trainer you have in mind to make sure you have enough space for the machine itself and working space around it.  Also remember to bear in mind where your electrical sockets are placed if you intend to purchase a machine that needs to be plugged in.

Remember to bear in mind how heavy the elliptical trainer is.  Generally speaking, elliptical trainers are delivered to your door boxed up and have to be assembled.  Bearing in mind the weight of the machine, it’s best to assemble the elliptical machine in the room you intend to use it in.

Usually, the higher-end models or commercial machines tend to be the largest and heaviest.  The advantage of these, is that once assembled, they tend to be more stable and hard-wearing.

Price Ranges

Generally, elliptical trainers tend to fall into the following price ranges:

·         $0 - $399                             Lower end models for light use.
·         $400 - $699                        Light to moderate use.
·         $700 - $999                        Moderate /average use.
·         $1000 - $1499                   Average use.
·         $1500 - $1999                   Average to higher use.
·         $2000 - $2499                   Higher use.
·         $2500 - $2999                   Intensive use.
·         $3000+                                Commercial use.


Remember to check the warranty that comes with an elliptical machine.  A typical warranty on an elliptical trainer usually comes with a 10 year or lifetime warranty on the frame, 3 years on parts, and 1 year on labor.  Warranties can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and model to model, with lower-end or basic models generally having a lesser warranty such as just 90 days on labor for example.  As you would expect, generally the higher the model, the better warranty you will get with it.

Remembering to keep your elliptical trainer clean and lubricated (according to specific manufacturer’s instructions) will help to keep your machine in good working order.

N.B.  It's advisable to consult your doctor or health care professional before undertaking any new exercise regime.

See also Health & Fitness Benefits of Low-Impact Exercise

Prices/discounts indicated are correct at time of writing/publishing.  E&OE.

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