Picking an elliptical machine is tough. You often don’t buy many of these in your life so it’s not uncommon to be a bit confused. Here are the things you need to know to make the right decision.
Elliptical trainer buying factors
Let’s look at what the most important deciding factors of choosing an elliptical trainer are. There are quite a few factors you should know about when choosing the right one for you;
- Front or rear drive
- Workout goals
- Stride length
Let’s take a look at all of those factors separately. These are just the options you have. For every factor I’ll give a recommendation for people that are buying an elliptical for their home gym. Of course every situation is different so make sure to check if that recommendation is right for you.
It’s the thing most people will start off with. And that’s a good thing. You can almost always get something better if you are willing to spend more. But your wallet is probably not bottomless.
How much you want/can spend really depends on your personal situation. Your health is worth investing in but not to the point where you’re experiencing financial stress.
Elliptical trainers aren’t cheap. Sure you can get some cheaper models but they might not be what you expect.
The average price of an elliptical trainer is a little over $2200. Prices range from $179 to $7000+ A good elliptical machine can be bought for $800 to $2000. More expensive models will improve on build quality, smoothness of action, warranty and features.
For $800 you can buy a good basic elliptical machine and if you want more features the prices go up from there.
Another consideration before you start looking at which features you want and need is the size. It’s important because if you have to be able to fit into your home gym. If it doesn’t fit, you just spent money for nothing.
Make sure you measure exactly how much space you have available because you might not be as good in estimating dimensions as you think…. And if you get a machine that’s too big, you won’t be happy.
Keep in mind that some machines need a few inches in front of them to be able to move the levers. You also need some space to be able to step on the machine.
I’ve written a whole post about how big elliptical trainers are and everything related to their dimensions. You can also find a long list of elliptical trainers and their exact dimensions.
The average elliptical machine has a footprint of 68.1” x 28.5” and an average height of 65.5”. While there are big differences in length, the majority of elliptical trainers are between 55” and 80” long. The differences in width aren’t nearly as big with the majority of trainers being between 25” and 32” wide.
Smoothness is a big part of a nice feeling elliptical machine but it’s also something that’s not quite possible to read from a spec sheet. If an elliptical machine isn’t smooth, it feels like the resistance isn’t the same everywhere in the stride. It can also be a feeling that something is unnatural in the movement.
The smoothness of the action is one of the most important things to get a good workout experience.
Without trying it’s a bit difficult to find out how smooth a trainer is and if it’s to your liking.
In general, rear drive elliptical trainers will feel a bit smoother and more natural than front driver units. That’s partly the effect of the design but also because rear drive units are generally more expensive and are therefore built better.
If you can’t try out the machine you want to buy, try to find reviews that mention this factor. Also, keep in mind the stride length is important in how smooth a trainer will feel. If the stride length is too short it will feel like your stride is cut short which can feel as not being smooth while it’s just the wrong size machine for you.
Front or rear drive
One of the biggest decisions you have to make is if you want a front or rear drive model.
Your choice might be largely dictated by budget and size constraints. Front drive models are cheaper and smaller while rear drive models tend to have a better feel but are bigger and more expensive.
Of course there is some overlap in price and size between the front and rear drive models but if you want a cheap and small elliptical trainer, you’ll likely have to get a front drive model. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a bit different.
For people who want cheap and simple, a lower priced front drive model makes sense. If you want the best experience possible a more expensive rear drive unit is a better option. However, if you want a great machine but don’t have a lot of space, there are good front drive ellipticals that are suitable but they do come at a pretty high price.
For more in-depth information, check out this post: Front or rear drive elliptical trainer? Should you care?
Not only treadmills have incline settings. Elliptical trainers do too. At least some of them do. Adjustable incline on an elliptical trainer isn’t as common as on treadmills and it’s a feature you’ll have to pay for. So far, it’s only available in the higher price ranges.
Not everyone actually needs an incline setting. Sure it adds extra variety to your workout and can make your workout tougher but, most normal elliptical trainers offer enough resistance to make your workout as tough as you can handle.
Where the incline setting does help is with targeting certain muscles in the legs. The higher the incline is, the more the back of your legs is targeted. That means glutes, hamstrings and calves.
If you’re looking for a very heavy workout and extra muscle growth for the back of your legs, getting a trainer with adjustable incline is a good idea. Otherwise you can save some money by foregoing this feature.
Stride length is how far the pedals go back and forth. This should be suitable to you. In general, the taller you are (or more specific, your legs), the longer the stride length should be.
Some machines have an adjustable stride length while others are fixed. Whether you choose an adjustable version or not doesn’t really matter as long as it’s suitable to you.
If more than one person is going to use the trainer, chances are that they have different stride lengths. In that case, an adjustable length could be useful. However, the adjustment is often not very easy. It takes some tools and some time to do it. That means it isn’t something you do easily between workouts.
If there are two different people with different stride lengths, an adjustable machine will make it easier to find a compromise that both are happy with.
For an average 5’9 person a 20” stride length is suitable. For shorter people (5’5) a stride length of 16-18” is great while for people taller than 5’9 22” is good. The majority of the population can handle a 20” stride which is why that’s a popular stride length in commercial gyms.
The console is the part of the machine with the display that shows you information and has the buttons you use to adjust all the aspects of your workout.
There are big differences between the consoles of different ellipticals. In the end, it’s not the most important part.
However, with better elliptical trainers, you often get better consoles. Better meaning bigger with more options and features. To get a good workout, you don’t really need a really big console with huge LCD display and a ton of information. As long as it tells you the basics like speed, time, distance, and resistance, you know the most important things.
But, if you’re spending thousands of dollars on an elliptical trainer, you do expect to get something in front of your face that fits that price tag. Some brands give you the choice of choosing which console you want. This way you can save some money if you don’t care much or get the better console if you feel you need it. However, most brands don’t give you a choice and you have to just like the one that comes with the trainer.
Quality is something that’s hard to get from a spec sheet. It’s in the little things you won’t discover until you start digging deep. It’s pretty much impossible to do this before actually buying it. And after buying something you don’t want to immediately tear it apart to check the engineering and construction.
A good proxy for finding out the quality of an elliptical trainer is to read reviews of actual owners. People are more likely to vent their frustration in an online review than to come back after a year of ownership to say everything is OK. So take the negative reviews with a grain of salt but if you can see a pattern in the reviews, there is probably something there. And if there is very little negative in the reviews, you probably got a winner.
If there are not enough reviews to draw a conclusion, the brand can provide some clues about the build quality. Sure, not every product from the same brand has the same build quality but, it’s rare to have a brand where one product is awesome and the next one is absolutely terrible.
Another way to get an idea of the quality is the warranty a manufacturer offers with the machine. If they expect their product to break quickly, they won’t give you a very good warranty. Of course good warranty conditions don’t guarantee a high quality product but, it does show how much a manufacturer trusts their product.
Finally, warranty conditions are something to consider. When you’re buying something that is as expensive as an elliptical trainer, you want to be covered for at least a while. The last thing you want is to spend more money to fix something that should be right from the beginning.
As said above, a good warranty is also an indication that the manufacturer stands behind their product and thinks it will be reliable.
In general, you should get at least 2 years of warranty on parts and longer on the frame.