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Picking an elliptical machine is tough. People don’t buy many of these in their life so it’s not strange to be a bit confused. Here are the things you need to know about how to pick the right elliptical trainer.
To choose the right elliptical trainer, you have to think about;
- Front or rear flywheel
- Stride length
- Build Quality
Find out below what to look for exactly in those different factors.
How To Choose The Right Elliptical Trainer For You
Here’s how you pick the right elliptical trainer for you:
- Set a budget.
- Figure you which stride length you need.
- Measure how much space you have.
- Decide which features are essential to you.
- While staying inside the four constraints above choose an elliptical that:
- Has high build quality
- Is from a well established brand.
- Has magnetic resistance
- Has at least 2 years warranty
- Works smoothly
Of course you might not be sure how to choose and find all of those things so below there is a list of all the important deciding factors for an elliptical trainer. 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 there will also be some ways to help you make your own decision.
1. Elliptical Trainer Price And Budget
It’s the thing most people will start off with: Money. 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 some money in but not to the point where you’re experiencing financial stress since that is only counterproductive.
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. Ellipticals that cost towards the upper end of that range will give you better build quality, smoothness, warranty and features.
If you can, it’s a good idea to spend at least $600 on your elliptical. For that money you can buy a good basic elliptical machine although it will not be quite as solid, smooth and have the same level of features as the models you find in most commercial gyms.
There are plenty of elliptical trainers available in the +-$250-$600 range. However, you get a lot of unknown brands. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad but you often questionable customer service, bad resale value and bad parts availability. And for around $400 you just can’t expect an elliptical trainer that comes even close to the ones they use in commercial gyms.
For reference, the commercial models cost $4000 or (sometimes significantly) more. If you want the commercial level machine, look at brands like; Life-Fitness, Precor and Technogym.
For more information on price you can read the following article on this site: How much does an elliptical trainer for home use cost?
2. Resistance Type
Most elliptical trainers have magnetic resistance. This means a magnet works as a brake on the flywheel to make it more difficult to move the levers and pedals. You should look for an elliptical that has this type of resistance since it is consistent, doesn’t require maintenance and is easily adjusted with a button.
There are a few low-end elliptical trainers that use physical brake pad on the flywheel. This generally doesn’t feel good, the brake pad has to be replaced, it’s more difficult to adjust and requires more cleaning.
3. Elliptical Trainer Size
After money, a very important thing to look at before all the other features is the size. Size is important because it actually has to fit in the space you have for it. Make sure you measure exactly how much space you have available for your elliptical and keep in mind you’ll need a bit of space around it as well.
Many elliptical trainers need a few inches of free space in front of them to be able to move the levers. You also need some space to be able to step on the machine.
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.
Bigger elliptical trainers will often feel a bit more solid, feel smoother and have a longer stride length. So if you have the space, going towards a bigger model is not a bad thing.
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. Find it by clicking here: Suggested post: How big is an elliptical trainer?
4. Smoothness Of Walking On The Elliptical
One thing that really impacts how nice an elliptical is to actually use is how smooth it feels. Elliptical trainers with jerky motion are not fun and just feel cheap (and they usually are). It’s also not good for getting a good workout.
Smoothness is hard to read from a spec sheet but it’s very easy to feel when actually using an elliptical. It feels like the resistance isn’t the same at every point during the stride. If the trainer is second hand, it could just be a lack of lubrication and a wrongly tensioned/worn drive belt. New ellipticals shouldn’t have those issues at all.
So if a new machine doesn’t feel smooth, it is likely that the machine isn’t designed correctly (the movement pattern is unnatural) or just doesn’t suit you. It can also be a sign of a low quality product and should be avoided.
An elliptical trainer could also have the wrong stride length for you. If the stride length is too short, it’ll feel like your steps are cut off too soon. This is also a clear sign that this is not the right machine for you. Walking on an elliptical should feel smooth and natural.
Without physically trying, it’s difficult to find out how smooth a trainer is and if it’s to your liking. If you buy online, figure out your stride length, which you can do by reading my article on that by clicking here. Once you know your stride length, select an elliptical based on that and then read the reviews.
In general, elliptical trainers with the flywheel at the rear will feel a bit smoother and more natural than front flywheeled ones. That’s partly the effect of the design but also because rear drive units are generally more expensive to make and are therefore also built better. Elliptical machines with the flywheel at the rear also tend to be bigger.
5. Stride length
Stride length on an elliptical is how far the foot pedals go back and forth. This should be suited to your body. In general, the taller you are (or more specific, how long your legs are), the longer the stride length has to be.
If the stride length is not right, the walking will feel choppy and unnatural. this doesn’t make for good workouts and would probably lead to you using the machine less than you want.
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 fits 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.
But, 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 the average 5’9 person a 20” elliptical stride length is suitable. For shorter people (5’5) a stride 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 commonly used stride length in commercial gyms.
6. Flywheel Location
The location of the flywheel has an impact on the size, and smoothness as you can read above. In general, elliptical trainers with the flywheel at the back are better in many ways.
Your choice for a rear or front flywheel might be largely dictated by your budget an how much space you’ve got. Front drive models are generally cheaper and smaller while rear drive models tend to have a better feel but are bigger and more expensive.
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 expect to pay at least $800 for one.
For more in-depth information, check out this post: Front or rear drive elliptical trainer? Should you care?
The console is the part of the elliptical with the display that shows you information about your workout and has the buttons you use to adjust all the aspects of your workout.
There are big differences between the consoles of different ellipticals but, in the end, it’s not the most important part. How the elliptical fits you and feels is much more important than a higher resolution display.
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 have the most important things to get a good workout.
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 high end ones also have smart functionality like Youtube or Netflix built in which can help you get through a long workout.
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’ll just have to accept whatever you get. As said, build quality, feel and price is more important.
8. Elliptical Trainer Features
The most important feature on an elliptical is:
And it is nice if that’s very easy to adjust. Techogym ellipticals for example have buttons on the hand levers which means you can adjust the resistance without moving your hands. But a button on the console is fine too.
Besides the resistance, ellipticals can have a few other features. Most are honestly not that important to getting a good workout and are just there to make your workout more comfortable. This can be built in fans, speakers, and a display to show videos or workouts on demand. They help but aren’t necessary to get a good workout. If you really want workouts on demand, getting a tablet/phone holder for on your elliptical can save a lot of money.
Built in workout programs and heart rate monitors are nice to have although many people have something like a FitBit nowadays which also monitors your heart rate and is more precise.
One cool feature some ellipticals have is incline. Almost all treadmills have an incline settings but few ellipticals do. It props up the front of the machine thereby changing the angle at which you walk. It doesn’t have as profound an effect as on a treadmill but it does make the workout more challenging and slightly changes the muscles used. However, since it’s a pretty rare feature, i wouldn’t let it dictate my choice for an elliptical.
9. Build quality
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 and after using the machine for a while. 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.
Another way is to go for a large, established brand. 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 elliptical. 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.
And if you spend a ton of money on something, you want to be covered by a good warranty.
As said above, a good, long warranty is an indication that the manufacturer stands behind their product and thinks it will be reliable.
For an elliptical trainer, you should get at least 2 years of warranty on parts and longer on the frame.
Favorite Cardio Accessories
Check out these accessories that improve a home cardio workout:
- Equipment mat: All cardio equipment should be put on an equipment mat. The Rubber-Cal mat (Amazon) is an affordable yet very high-quality choice.
- Interval timer: To time your intervals and workouts, there is no better choice than the GymNext Flex. It’s super easy to use and set up with a phone app.
- Tablet holder: Cardio can be boring. With this tablet holder (Amazon) you can follow along with on-demand workouts or just watch a movie on any cardio machine.
- Heart rate monitor: Monitoring your heart rate is very important while doing cardio. The Polar H10 (Amazon) connects to almost anything you can imagine and is very accurate.
To find which cardio machines I recommend for home gyms, click here.