If you’re a cardio junkie and you want to spice up your home gym with a piece of equipment that’ll burn calories fast without wearing out your joints, an elliptical trainer may be the right choice for you.
For the reasons stated above, when the elliptical trainer first made an appearance in the 1990’s, it quickly replaced the stair climber as the machine of choice for a cardiovascular workout that targets the lower body.
As with treadmills, elliptical trainers can be very expensive, but there are certainly budget options in this category as well. Read on to learn about the must-haves, the would-like-to-haves and the could-do-withouts when it comes to buying elliptical trainers.
- 1 Price
- 2 Drive Systems
- 3 Resistance Systems
- 4 Stride Length
- 5 Weight Capacity
- 6 Warranty
- 7 Other Considerations
Elliptical trainers are pretty pricey and, as a rule, when you purchase an elliptical you get what you pay for. These machines can be broken down into two price ranges:
- low-end from $300 to $1,000
- high-end from $1,000 to $5,000
While low-end machines are more financially attractive up front, they can actually end up being more expensive over time. Because the low-end machines are not made to withstand extended use, they tend to have mechanical problems early in their life spans. These machines also tend to be noisy and they aren’t as “joint friendly” as the high-end elliptical trainers.
If you plan to use your elliptical everyday, or you’re purchasing it for family use, your dollar will go further if you invest more money up front and avoid the low-end machines altogether.
But, if you’re a sporadic home gym junkie and you only intend to use your elliptical two or three times a week, you might find that the lower-end machines are adequate for your purposes.
The high-end elliptical trainers offer sturdy construction, extended life and a variety of built-in workout options. These machines generally come with better warranties than the low-end machines and, while costly up front, they won’t continue to cost you over years of use.
Elliptical trainers fall into two main categories, front drive and rear drive. There is also an emerging third category called center drive, which is relatively new and lacks extensive testing of maintenance issues resulting from extended use. The drive system is the main component of the elliptical machine.
Simply put, the drive system is what makes the trainer “go”. If it’s made with cheap parts or shoddy engineering, you’ll be able to feel it in the performance of the machine.
Front drive trainers place the drive axel in front of the user on the machine. The front drive models are typically more affordable than rear drive models; however, there are some drawbacks to the front drive machines.
The motion of the front drive is relatively flat, which requires users to take longer strides to get maximum benefits from their workouts. Additionally, front drive machines usually require more maintenance than rear drive machines and they don’t operate as smoothly.
One good aspect of the front drive elliptical trainer is that the flatter motion lends itself nicely to individuals who are restricted in motion or prefer a lighter workout.
More advanced athletes will get a greater benefit out of the rear drive system.
The rear drive trainers place the axel drive, as you might have guessed, behind the user on the machine. Rear drive models were the first types of elliptical machines produced so their maintainability and quality have been proven over the years.
Rear drives are more expensive than the front drive machines; however, if you can afford it, it will be worth the investment to purchase a rear drive elliptical trainer since you won’t have to do as much maintenance on it; it will provide a much smoother motion and you won’t end up paying repair fees a year after you buy it.
When looking for resistance features in elliptical trainers you’ll have to choose between three different types.
- The most basic type is manually-adjustable
- Middle of the road is the electromagnetic system
- The most advanced type is eddy – current resistance
Let’s take a look at what you’ll get for your money when it comes to each of these options.
This resistance system is exactly what it sounds like. There’s a knob on the console that you’ll have to turn to increase or decrease the intensity of your workout. This system is found in low-end, inexpensive machines and generally has a choppy motion that’s not good for extended use.
As you increase the intensity on a manually-adjustable machine you’ll hear a noticeable increase in noise from the drag of the brakes. This can be a big deterrent for a user who’s intent on passing their cardio time while watching television!
The electromagnetic brakes are adjusted with the touch of a button. These can be found on low-end and high-end machines, depending on the quality of other features on the machine. This system uses friction created by a particle brake to create resistance which increases intensity. As with the manual brake system, this machine doesn’t provide the smooth function that you’ll find in high-end machines and many of the models are noisy as the resistance is increased on them.
Eddy-current brakes use magnetic resistance to increase the intensity of your workout. This type of resistance system is the most desirable and, of course, the most expensive. With eddy-current brakes, as you increase intensity, you’ll get a much smoother motion than with other resistance systems. The eddy-current brakes are also excellent for those people who like a quieter machine, as the magnetic resistance doesn’t work through friction, but through electromagnetic induction.
As with other advanced features, if you intend to use your elliptical trainer often, or you have a whole family that will be using it, the eddy-current brakes will last longer and provide a higher quality workout.
Stride length on an elliptical trainer is the distance between your front foot and your back foot during full extension of your legs. The machine you choose should accommodate your individual stride length in order for you to get an effective, pain-free and injury-free workout.
If your height is at the mid to low end of 5 feet, you’ll need a machine with a stride length between 16” and 17”. For someone who’s height is at the high end of 5 feet or above, you’ll need a machine with a stride length between 18” and 19”.
Many people purchase elliptical trainers with the intention of having the whole family use it. If you’re one of those people, you’ll want to try to find adjustable-stride machines. They are a little more expensive than fixed-stride machines, but it’s worth the extra money to avoid potential injuries.
The maximum weight capacity of an elliptical machine is very important since, if that weight is exceeded for any length of time, the machine will inevitably break down. It’s important to note that most elliptical trainers designed for home gym users have a maximum weight capacity of 250 lbs. You can get higher capacity machines; however, it will definitely cost you.
Most of the less expensive elliptical trainers will begin to feel unstable after a few months of use even for users that are within the maximum weight capacity.
So, if you’re planning on using your elliptical on a fairly regular basis, or if you’ll have more than one user in your home, you should consider spending a little more money in order to be sure that your machine will withstand extended use.
As with the treadmill warranties, the elliptical trainer warranties give you a good idea of the quality of the product you’re purchasing. If the manufacturer knows that the durability of the product is lacking, you’ll probably only get a 90 day warranty with it. On the other hand, if the equipment is of high quality, it will be reflected in a warranty of at least a year.
Okay, now you know about all of the things you should look for when purchasing an elliptical trainer. These are typically some of the more expensive home gym options; however, as I pointed out earlier, these machines are wildly popular because they burn fat fast and they are easy on your joints.
When you go to purchase an elliptical trainer, make sure you wear your workout clothes. In order to really be able to tell if a machine will work well for you, you should spend about 20 minutes working out on it. Particularly with elliptical trainers, you have to buy one that fits you well. Otherwise, the added benefit of a low impact workout will be negated by wear and tear injuries from using a machine that’s not made for you.
Additionally, if you use the machine for a little while before you buy it, you can decide if you really need all of the features that you’re paying for. Perhaps the console fan looked like a great idea before you tried it and then you figured out that it blows right in your face and is just annoying.
Maybe you thought 10 pre-programmed workouts would be sufficient, but then you scrolled through them and found that you really want more.
Below are just a few additional miscellaneous things that you should think about before you buy an elliptical trainer based on the criteria listed in the above sections.
Forward and Reverse Motion
Some elliptical trainers come with forward and reverse options, as well as incline options. These are wonderful to add intensity options and to target different muscle groups. Some high-end machines have console displays with indicators to highlight which lower body muscles each incline level will target.
While these features are good for preventing boredom and to add a little more intensity to your workouts, they’re not one of the must have features on an elliptical.
In fact, they’re more of a could-do-without feature – unless of course the incline or the reverse mode is what will keep you coming back to exercise every day.
Most elliptical trainers come equipped with handlebars that are similar in style to ski poles. They provide an added benefit to your cardiovascular workout by training your upper body at the same time as your lower body.
By pushing and pulling with your arms during your elliptical training, you’ll strengthen the muscles in your back, chest, biceps and triceps while you’re burning fat and toning you legs – talk about an efficient workout! You can really target your upper body by using your arms to initiate the elliptical motion instead of allowing your legs to do most of the work.
Aside from the added benefit of upper body toning that the handlebars provide elliptical users, the incorporation of upper body motion into any cardio training allows you to increase you heart rate and burn calories faster.
When you’re considering the handlebar option on your elliptical trainer, look at is as just another intensity option that you’ll have at your disposal to challenge yourself and get fit faster.
As with treadmills, many elliptical trainers come equipped with pre-programmed workouts, which will target everything from fat burning to cardiovascular endurance and increase aerobic capacities.
The most basic elliptical trainers don’t offer the program options at all, while some have just a few programs and the high-end trainers offer up to thirty different program options. If you easily tire of doing the same workout day in and day out, the pre-installed programs will definitely be worth the cost of a slightly more expensive machine since they break up the monotony of performing the same workout everyday.
If you plan to use your trainer while watching television or talking on the phone, you’ll want to make sure you’re not buying a cheaper machine that uses electromagnetic brakes or one that’s poorly constructed, since either of these options will create a lot of noise while you’re working out.
If you want a quiet trainer that offers durability and stability, look for one that has the eddy-current brake system and is priced in the mid to high range. You’ll be pleased with the results of your investment.
Most of the options that are available on elliptical trainer consoles are “nice to haves” not “need to haves”. That being said, if you need gizmos and gadgets to get you motivated, by all means, get your trainer fully loaded!
However, if you know you’re going to workout regardless of whether or not your console provides iFit assessments or a built-in aromatherapy option (yes, they do have these) you may be wise to save the extra money to invest in additional home gym equipment or to have for a rainy day.
Heart Rate Monitor
There are three basic types of heart rate monitors that are typically offered with elliptical trainers…
- Handlebar monitors
- Finger clip monitors
- Chest strap monitors
The most advanced and expensive of these three options is the built-in handlebar monitors. These work by detecting the pulse in your hand to determine your heart rate. While these are not the most accurate monitors, they are the most convenient.
The next option in heart rate monitors is the chest strap option. With this option, the user wears a strap around their chest, which then wirelessly communicates your heart rate to a display on the console. This is the most accurate option; however, some users find that the chest strap is uncomfortable.
Finally, the finger clip monitor comes with a device that is attached with a wire, to the console at one end and to the users finger at the other. This arrangement is typically uncomfortable and inaccurate, making it the least desirable type of heart rate monitors.