Elliptical Trainers: Our Buying Guide
Along with treadmills, elliptical trainers provide an optimal setting for superior cardio exercising, engaging multiple groups of muscles in the back, arms, lower body, but putting the main focus on the legs and buttocks. Actually, an elliptical workout session, especially if the machine is set on a higher resistance and/or incline setting, promotes a physiological response and an amount of calories burned, pretty close to a treadmill.
On the other hand, elliptical machines are known to provide a non-impact cardiovascular workout, which comes with specific benefits. So, determine whether or not an elliptical trainer is the exact exercising machine that you need, first let’s have a look at the whole range of benefits they can provide.
Benefits of Elliptical Trainers
To begin with, ellipticals simulate walking, running or stair climbing, but since there isn’t any direct foot strike involved, the impact on the joints is extremely low, or actually non-existent. Thus, if you recover from an injury, or simply have bad knees for example, an elliptical is the best choice for an exercising machine.
Many people have the wrong idea that elliptical training machines are just for women, or that they only promote light exercising. That’s quite a misconception, as they can provide highly challenging workouts. Just as treadmills, they are a great choice for improving stamina. On top of that, since the workout impact is alleviated, you can undertake longer sessions.
Elliptical trainers are great calorie burners. You can actually burn up to 1000 calories per hour, depending on the training programs used, intensity and incline. This being said, ellipticals are great for losing weight. Also, due to their low impact, they may be even more appropriate for heavier users. All that weight puts a lot of pressure on the joints and spine, and even if you don’t have any problems of the sort, the risk of an injury is increased if running on a treadmill or outdoors. Ellipticals eliminate this risk.
Ellipticals promote a correct exercising posture. They actually force you a little bit in adopting the right posture for your workout, preventing slouching. When running on a treadmill for example, you can easily neglect your posture without even noticing, which can lead to all kinds of strains.
Running for at least 30 minutes a day, or at least walking a minimum of 7-8,000 steps, not only that it keeps you in shape or helps you lose weight, it promotes a whole series of other health benefits. For example, it keeps various detrimental health conditions or diseases at bay, such as diabetes, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and triglycerides levels, stroke etc. After a several hours working session at a desk, a running or walking session is very important, as it reestablishes the electric activity of muscles, promoting the correct muscle tone. Also, your lungs and heart are put to work, which leads to the proper oxygenation of the blood.
Along with the health and fitness oriented benefits, ellipticals do offer several other advantages. First of all, investing in one can help you save money on expensive gym fees, or any other related costs to attending a gym. Second of all, you will be working out from the comfort of your home, while watching your favorite shows on TV, or your favorite streams online. On top of that, just by having the machine in your home can play the role of a motivation factor. You simply see it there and remember that you have to workout and stay healthy.
An elliptical machine is considerably quiet when compared to a treadmill for example, since the thumping sound generated by each foot strike is inexistent. And lastly, an elliptical or treadmill can be a great alternative to running outside, in case it’s winter, or simply the weather conditions aren’t exactly the most appropriate for jogging or walking.
Features To Look For In An Elliptical Trainer
Based on the location of the motor (or drive system), there are three types of elliptical trainers: front-driven, rear-driven and center-driven. The first models of ellipticals were actually rear-driven. As terminology suggests, for rear-driven ellipticals, the motor and the drive wheel are
located at the back of the machine, while the footplates are situated slightly forward. Rear-driven ellipticals, tend to be bulkier, heavier, and more costly. But they also feature fewer mobile parts and joints, which may result in less maintenance.
Front-driven ellipticals are the second generation design. They have the drive wheel and the whole drive mechanism at the front, directly connected with the handlebar and console. At the moment these are the most widespread elliptical trainers. Some of the most advanced ones may still be cheaper than similar models with rear-drive. As opposed to center and rear drive models, the front-driven ones enable the user to lean forward slightly as they step. In some models, the motion is more similar to climbing stairs than walking, without any incline being involved.
When it comes to center-driven ellipticals, there are two distinctive types: one with the motor between the footplates, and one with each footplate having its own smaller motor on its side. The first category of machines tend to be more compact, less sophisticated, less bulky and typically cheaper. The second category of center-driven trainers are built to distribute the weight of the user on a superior level. They’re also quieter, and pedaling is very smooth. Also, they typically provide stride adjustability, and in general they’re pretty costly.
Now, regardless of its drive system, a quality elliptical should fulfill its purpose accordingly, providing the specific walking/running motion, with the lowest impact possible. However, there are several other, more important factors than the location of the drive system to consider.
This is actually one of the most important aspect to lookout for when buying an elliptical machine. That’s because it’s strictly related to the comfort that the machine can provide to you, and also reflects the diversity of workout possibilities. Your average elliptical offers a stride between 14″ and 17″, which promotes an optimal workout for just about any user. However, in case you want to increase the intensity of the workout, you won’t be able to benefit from an ampler motion. On the other hand, elliptical trainers which provide a longer stride, cca 21″-22″, can cover the whole spectrum of motions, from walking to running.
Stride adjustability is a great feature to have in an elliptical. However, most models that boast such a feature aren’t exactly the cheapest. So, if your budget doesn’t fit to one of the models with an adjustable stride that you want, at least opt for one that offers a longer stride.
Another aspect strictly connected to the stride of a trainer, is the distance between the footplates. They should be as close together as possible, in order to supply a natural walking or running motion. If they are too far apart, they will cause unnecessary stress on ankles, knees or hip joints, which can result in soreness, pain or even injury.
Not all ellipticals feature an incline system. In general, it’s a feature found only with the more expensive units. There are two types of incline: manual and automatic. For manual incline, the
machine usually doesn’t offer more than 1-4 levels, and the adjusting of the slope is done manually, by typically moving a lever and securing the incline parts in place for the desired angle. Also, in order to adjust the incline, you must interrupt your workout and step off the machine. A good example of elliptical with manual incline is the ProForm Endurance 520 E.
On the other hand, ellitpicals with automatic incline feature an additional motor that controls the slope. The incline levels advance from degree to degree, the machine supplying multiple levels of incline, in some cases up to 30. The incline is done from the console, and it can be done while you’re actively working out on the machine. Evidently, models with automatic incline are more expensive.
In terms of ergonomics, there are several aspects to look at when it comes to ellipticals. The first ones refer to the footplates. As I mentioned above, they should have an adequate distance between them, and not be too far apart from one another. Second of all, especially if you recover from an injury, it’s best to look for ellipticals with articulating footplates. These adjust slightly with each step, making the motion more comfortable. A ribbed design of the footplate is also a plus, as it improves adherence of the foot during workout. And finally, even though most ellipticals offer footplates spacious enough, it’s important not to overlook this aspect, to make sure your feet will have enough room.
The hand grips of an elliptical have a lot to say about its ergonomics. In general, the more grips they offer, the better. This gives you the possibility to change the position of your grip, and the placement of your hand, and evidently adjust the workout. Not only it improves comfort, it also enriches the spectrum of workout possibilities.
There are elliptical machines which have a fixed handlebar as well, along with the moving hand grips. This particular feature gives you the possibility to exercise while focusing only on your legs. It may also be quite useful to users who require a rehabilitation training program.
Many ellipticals feature pulse sensors incorporated within the fixed handlebar or mobile hand grips (or both). These don’t necessarily increase the price of the machine by a lot. Actually, there are quite affordable models which offer this feature, such as the Exerpeutic 1000XL. Even though a feature of this nature isn’t exactly an ergonomic factor, it sure is useful, especially for elderly users, or users who require to monitor their heart rate as they exercise.
Other factors that fall into the ergonomics category, refer to various amenities, such as sound systems, cooling fans, tablet or phone holders, bottle holders etc. Most of these amenities are incorporated in the machine’s console.
Depending on elliptical, the progress tracking consoles may be more or less sophisticated. The most affordable ellipticals come with a basic progress tracking console. These usually track speed,
distance, calories burned, and time spent exercising. Some of them also have an odometer function, which indicates the complete distance traveled beginning with the first use of the elliptical. Evidently, if the elliptical has pulse sensors, the console will also indicate pulse.
Most of the more advanced elliptical machines offer a variety of preset workout programs, which automatically adjust the resistance and incline. They also have features such as goal setting and tracking, race track function, step counter, various motivational alarms and others. Along with these features, there are elliptical exercisers which offer you the possibility to import/export your workout data, and upload/download from various sites, in order to analyze your progress better. Of course, each and every additional function of this sort, will add up to the final price of the machine. Some of them may not seem really necessary to you, but they’re all meant to render your workout experience more enjoyable, and may also serve as motivation factors.
Other Aspects To Consider Before Buying An Elliptical Machine
Rails / wheels
If the elliptical training machine you have under your scope has wheels and rails involved with the drive system, keep an eye out for bigger wheels, or double rail / wheel systems. These increase the steadiness of the stepping and the smoothness of the ride.
Evidently, each elliptical machine has its share of ball bearings, locked out of sight, as components of the main mobile parts of the drive system. But most of the top-quality models incorporate bearings in the joints of the arms and lateral leg-arms of the machine. Presence of bearings reflects a smoother motion, and quieter as well, since parts including ball bearings are less prone to squeak.
Like most exercising machines, ellipticals come in different shapes and sizes. Some of them have a relatively small footprint, around 38″ (L) x 26″ (W). Usually, this small footprint is characteristic to some of the most affordable models, with center drive system, such as the Sunny SF-E905, for example. On the other hand, there are ellipticals which can take quite some space, such as the SOLE E35, which has a length of 83″. Along with these dimensions, the machines also require some clearance on the sides and at the back, for safety reasons. Therefore, prior to purchasing a trainer for your home, it’s a good idea to double check your available space.
Elevation is another important aspect to consider here. Some of the ellipticals, especially the ones with an incline, can render an elevation of the user, of up to 25″. Therefore, especially if you’re a taller user, ceiling height in the room you want to use the machine, may be an issue. Have that checked and double checked as well.
Maximum user weight
Almost every exercising machine available on the market has its supported weight specified. Needless to say, it’s important to choose one that covers your own weight. Even if the elliptical you’re looking at has a very sturdy design, and you’ll find user comments on various sites stating that it can hold more than it’s specified for, it’s still a bad idea to invest in a machine which isn’t listed to support your weight. In this case, if the machine breaks, you won’t benefit from your warranty.
Warranty is usually a quality indicator for many products. This stands for elliptical trainers as well. To be sure you are investing in a quality elliptical, you should be looking for at least 10 years warranty on frame, and 2 years on parts.
Budget and pricing
In regards to trainers, prices can range between $200 and $5,000, or even more. The truth is, there are plenty of decent models, between $250 and $700. Even the most basic models, offering few amenities and workout programs, can still provide the optimal setting for a daily elliptical workout. But on the other hand, the most advanced units, not only that cover all the comfort features, they’re also longer-lasting.
A Few Of The Top Brands And Recommendations
ProForm is one of the most popular brands, known especially for their indoor exercise bikes, treadmills and ellipticals. It’s part of Icon Health & Fitness which is the world’s largest manufacturer of fitness and exercising equipment at the moment. Even though the company started with products designed exclusively for home use, nowadays they sell gym-rated equipment, designed for commercial use.
At the moment, ProForm offers quite an array of ellipticals, with prices ranging from $349 and up to $1,999, with strides ranging from 13″ to 21″.
The ProForm Endurance 520 E, is one of their top rated elliptical exercising machines. Even though it’s not one of the top-dollar models, and only has a manual incline, this particular elliptical benefits from a lot of positivity from the wide majority of home users. It’s a front drive machine, very solidly built, with a pretty advanced console for the price, offering an impressive pack of preset programs…Read Full Review.
Amongst the other types of exercising equipment they provide, SOLE Fitness simply excels when it comes to elliptical trainers. They currently offer 6 models, ranging from $799 and up to $1,999. Their trainers cover the whole spectrum of training that can be achieved on a machine of this sort. All their models offer dual motion, forward and in reverse, power incline, and strides between 18″ and 22″.
The SOLE E95 is currently one of the best rated ellipticals from this brand, an absolute “Best Buy” and awarded as “Best Elliptical” even if classified with various other $2,000 other models. This is most definitely a heavy-duty machine, rated for users up to 400 lbs. It has one of the heaviest flywheels for an elliptical, with a weight of 34 lbs, offering plenty of resistance and one of the smoothest rides. It covers a wide selection of fitness oriented features and amenities. Has an adjustable stride, of 20″-22″, and power incline… Read Full Review.
Schwinn is actually a brand well-known for they bicycles. They offer quite a range of outdoor bikes, but they also sell several home and commercial fitness equipment. They currently provide five models of elliptical machines, with prices ranging between $399 and $999. One of their main focus is to combine the best price and quality with their trainers, and so far they’ve done a great job at this.
Schwinn offers elliptical trainers with a stride between 17″ and 20″. They all feature eddy brake, and a pretty inclusive console.
The Schwinn A40 is at the moment one of their best sellers, due to its fair price, quality and amount of features. Although it doesn’t have an incline, it does include a pretty solid console, with 7 preset workout programs. It also includes pulse sensors, which is a plus for such an affordable unit, and various other amenities such as speakers, 3-speed fan… Read Full Review.