Elliptical Machine Buyer’s Guide
Are you in the market for a new elliptical Machine? Here’s our Elliptical Buyer’s Guide to help you along the way…
Elliptical trainers make the ideal workout machine as they are easy on the joints, low impact, and challenge both the upper and lower body for ultimate calorie burn. Unlike traditional treadmills, elliptical trainers use cushioned pedals and a drive system that creates a smooth, circular motion that is similar to walking or jogging, but unlike walking or jogging the users feet never leave the pedal and joints are supported at all times. Another benefit of an elliptical trainer is the ability to work out the upper body simultaneously with the lower body, a major benefit for increasing muscle tone and achieving optimal calorie burn. Before choosing an elliptical trainer, it is important to consider a few factors and know what to look for to find the ideal elliptical for you and your needs.
Budget and Goals
The first consideration to make before purchasing an elliptical trainer is your budget. How much are you willing to spend? You want to also research the features of the tiers of trainers (basic, standard or elite), so you know what price range to target. For example, if you are looking for a compact elliptical for personal daily use and you are not interested in bells and whistles or advanced customizable features, consider looking for basic trainers starting at around $500 that still offer a durable frame but with basic features. On the other hand, if you are looking to reach advanced fitness goals and you are interested in heart rate monitoring programs and a more advanced console, you may want to look into standard or elite models, usually starting at $1,500 and going significantly higher. The bottom line is that you do not want to pay for more if you want less, so know your goals and stay within your price range based on your needs to achieve those goals.
Space and Design
Depending on the brand and design, some elliptical trainers are more compact and come with wheels or a foldable design, while others have neither. This depends largely on where the drive system, or flywheel, is located: either in the front, the back, or on the sides. In rear drive elliptical trainers, flywheel in the back, trainers are rarely compact or easy to transport, but in front drive trainers, flywheel in the front, trainers are usually more compact, easy to store and transport, with some brands offering a foldable design. The newest model, center drive design, has the flywheel on either side of the machine and is also very compact with a few models offering a foldable design. Knowing your space requirements will also help you choose the overall build and design of the elliptical trainer. More elite trainers and those with higher weight user capacities are generally much heavier machines and can be very difficult to maneuver, especially since few of these models have transport wheels. If you need to transport this trainer daily (for example, fold into a closet or move into a corner), you probably want to look for wheels, a lighter model, or a foldable design. Be sure to check out our latest list of best ellipticals for home use.
Brake and Resistance System and Flywheel
The brake and resistance system and the weight of the flywheel are perhaps the most important factors to consider before purchasing an elliptical trainer because these systems control the durability of the trainer, overall feel of the machine, and how loud the machine will be when in operation. When looking for an elliptical trainer, look for machines with eddy current brake systems that use magnets to create resistance. Electronic magnetic resistance systems are the most common and also the smoothest type of brake and resistance system because there are essentially only three parts: the servo motor that moves the magnets into position, the magnets that create the resistance, and a computer board that signals the motor when to move the magnets. Electromagnetic brake systems allow users to control the resistance by simply pressing buttons on the console or handle bars, while manual brake systems use a tension knob that does not allow for an adjustable resistance level (though manual brake systems are quite rare now). Because this system uses magnets on the flywheel to provide tension, the weight of the flywheel is also very important. Basic and standard trainers will have flywheel weights around 15 pounds on average, but more elite trainers will have flywheel weights well over that, around 17 pounds or more. The heavier the flywheel, the smoother every stride will be, but flywheel weights are not always posted, so be sure to ask about the flywheel weight if not posted. Brands have multiple names for this type of brake and resistance system, some calling this “silent magnetic resistance” or a “quiet drive system.” Either way, look for this feature for the quietest operating machines that also creates a very smooth and natural feel.
Console features are largely a matter of preference. If you are looking for advanced entertainment options, like Apple or Andriod compatibility, internet connectivity, or built-in speakers, consider the more elite type of trainers. Some standard trainers will have speakers or device compatibility, but if you are looking for all of the bells and whistles, elite trainers are your best bet. Most consoles now feature an LCD screen, some are backlit (easy to see or use in dim rooms) and some are not. If you are using the machine in a dim room, choose backlit. The size of the screen also varies by brand and price point. More inexpensive trainers will feature screens around 6 inches on average, whereas more elite trainers feature LCD screens around 10 inches or more. Most standard or elite consoles also come with basic features like cup holders, a reading rack, an accessory tray, and a built-in fan, but there are particular brands that do not have these basic features even though their trainers are well over the $1500 price point, so be sure to check for the basics. The placement of the cup holder is also important as some brands have the holder mounted well below the console so you have to stop your workout and reach down, whereas others have the holders conveniently placed at an arm’s reach. Another factor to consider on the console is the number of workout programs and heart rate monitoring system. You can expect anywhere from about 8 to 28 workout programs depending on the price point, and some more elite trainers also offer wireless heart rate monitoring systems that also link to pre-set workout programs. While almost all trainers have heart rate monitors in the handlebars, only the elite and some standard models will have a wireless heart rate monitoring system.
Customizable options are great if multiple people use the same elliptical trainer, but these options are also ideal in general for people who want to change things up or work multiple muscle groups. Possible customizable options include an adjustable stride, adjustable pivoting pedals, or an adjustable incline. Some trainers in the more elite category offer electronic or automatic adjustable incline based on built-in workout programs that automatically adjust based on the program and muscle groups being worked, but more standard trainers lack this feature. A customizable stride means that you can set the stride or length from front to back of trainer, shorter, usually at about 18 inches, or longer, up to 24 inches, depending on the brand and price point. Longer strides are ideal for taller people, while of course shorter strides are best for shorter people, but stride length variations can also be used when targeting specific muscle groups. Adjustable pedals are not offered on all trainers, but this feature is ideal if you can find it because the less you have to lift your foot to meet the motion of the stride, the less strain you put on your lower body. Some models even feature pedals that pivot with the natural stride motion of your legs. Fixed movement trainers are typically less expensive, but having the option to adjust several features on trainers make for a more comfortable and customizable experience.
Warranties are something many people forget to look for, but they are very important as the warranty stands as an indicator of quality and the trust that the manufacturer has in their own product. Warranties vary wildly based on many factors, but most brands offer a lifetime warranty on the frame, no matter if you are looking at basic, standard, or elite trainers. The parts and labor warranties do vary based on price point though. For a basic trainer, you can expect parts and labor warranties as low as 90 days. For standard or elite trainers, you should look for parts and labor warranties that are at least 1 year, but the average is 3 to 5 years. Most trainers will have a shorter labor warranty, averaging at about 2 years, and a longer parts warranty, averaging at about 5 years. For trainers over the $1000 price point, it is acceptable for manufacturers to offer a warranty of at last 3 years on parts and 1 year on labor, but for less expensive trainers, you will get a shorter warranty. One important warranty to also look for is a warranty on the brakes system. Some elliptical trainers list this warranty separately and some not at all, while others include the brake system along with the frame warranty. The ideal warranty on the brakes system would be a lifetime warranty.