Once you got a taste for the elliptical trainer at the gym, you were hooked. Elliptical trainers, also called cross trainers, help you get a great workout with reasonable effort that doesn’t strain your back and joints. If you’re loving your elliptical trainer workouts and are considering getting one for your home, let Pronto’s Elliptical Trainer Buying Guide lay out the key buying criteria for you so your purchase is informed and worthwhile. The price range for an elliptical trainer is quite large, from less than $200 to more than $4,000, so you’ll want to be sure you know what you want (and need) before making a final decision.
Not all elliptical trainers offer handgrips. If upper body workouts are important to you, limit your options to models with this feature. For folks who get bored easily by the limits of manual-only settings, trainers with pre-set programs to suit different goals (fat burning, cardio, hills, etc.) are the best choice.
Budget-priced elliptical trainers have a maximum weight allowance of around 250lbs while higher end models can hold up to 400lbs. Top-of-line trainers by Precor may have no weight limit.
The best warranties cover parts for a lifetime and labor for one year, while the worst stop after 90 days. Do your homework and read all warranty fine print carefully, or purchase an extended warranty separately.
The more expensive elliptical trainers also tend to be the largest and heaviest. Check your storage/usage location before setting out to buy a cross trainer to make sure what you buy will fit and/or can be stored easily when not in use. Measure the foot print of the trainer and carefully measure intended placement to make sure there will be enough room.
You’ll pay for these, but some like water bottle holders and heart rate monitors and calorie counters, trend toward “need to have” rather than “nice to have”. Think about what you’ll use most and try to avoid spending extra for features you won’t use.
Combining several types of workouts in order to work different muscle groups while achieving the benefits of strength and cardiovascular training. Cross training is one of the advantages that makes the elliptical trainer so appealing — it can cut down the time you spend exercising while maximizing your workout.
This is the natural shape — oval — that the human foot creates when walking or running. It is the basis for the elliptical trainer’s design, and is what makes a cross trainer workout low-impact and highly effective.
This the mechanism most elliptical trainers use to create and maintain momentum. Trainers that use a flywheel cannot adjust the incline level; however, many experts say incline adjustment may be an unnecessary feature since good workouts can be achieved through resistance and program variance.
This is a measurement used during weight workouts and on many cardio equipment pieces that offer adjustable resistance. On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 is no effort and 10 is maximum effort. The scale is defined by the user, depending on his/her level of fitness, so that a 5 for one person may be quite different from a 5 for another.
This is the level of tension you use during your workouts, and is what makes an elliptical trainer a weight-bearing exercise as well as a cardio workout. You can adjust the resistance levels to meet your changing needs. After all, some days, you just may not want to work that hard. But give yourself credit anyway for getting on the machine in the first place!
Before you begin looking at elliptical trainers, you’ll need to think about what kind of workout you’re looking for. Although the vast majority of elliptical trainers include handgrips that work your arms and upper body, a few don’t—even in higher price ranges. If you’re looking for a full-body workout, make sure you limit your options to models that offer this feature. Then, like other cardio machines, elliptical trainers may come with several pre-set programs that allow you to select a specific type of workout (pre-programmed hills, fat burning module and targeted cardio programs along with a variety of manual settings). If you get bored easily or find that manual programming options alone won’t keep you interested, you’ll want to seek out elliptical trainers that define a variety of programs for you.
Some high-end models, particularly those made by Precor, offer an adjustable incline option that experts say can help you focus on specific muscle groups. The final workout-specific feature that you’ll want to review against your specific needs is the number of resistance levels the elliptical trainer offers, especially if you will have multiple users with varying levels of fitness using the machine.
The size of the intended user(s) is especially important when purchasing an elliptical trainer. Most models have a maximum weight limit. Lower-priced models may max out at 250 lbs. while top-of-the-line elliptical trainers can bear up to 400 lbs. The more solidly constructed the elliptical trainer, the more weight it can generally hold. Several of the Precor models are so sturdy they don’t have a maximum weight limit at all.
You’ll also want to know the height of everyone who will be working out on the elliptical trainer. User height affects the stride length or lengths you’ll need the elliptical trainer to accommodate. Generally speaking, the taller the person is, the longer the stride will be. Stride lengths on elliptical trainers range from 15 inches to 20 inches. Using an elliptical trainer with an inappropriate stride will, at best, feel a bit awkward and, at worst, could lead to injury. If you belong to a gym, try out the models they have to get an idea of how they accommodate your stride before making any purchase.
How your elliptical trainer is designed and built will contribute both to its effectiveness and its lasting power. One of the primary reasons the budget-priced models don’t typically earn high marks in consumer and professional testing is that they’re not very sturdy and they don’t last long, which is probably why engineering quality and warranty quality seem to go hand in hand. The more you spend ($1,000+), the better the warranty. Warranties to avoid are those good for 90 days on everything; the best elliptical trainer warranties will have a lifetime warranty and one year on labor. Keep in mind that there are many varieties of warranties in between these parameters, so read that fine print carefully. Also note that as with most appliances and electronics, you will probably be able to purchase an extended warranty if you want the peace of mind.
Knowing where you’re going to use your elliptical trainer and whether you need to store it elsewhere when not in use are key pieces of information in the buying process. If your dream elliptical trainer won’t fit in your workout area or can’t be stored easily, it won’t be much good to you. Here again, spending more gets you more: expensive, higher-quality cross trainers are the largest and heaviest and therefore may be only appropriate for a home gym or a separate large room (ideally on the first floor). By contrast, some mid-range and budget-priced models are smaller, lighter and may actually fold up for storage. The bottom line: be sure to check a model’s “footprint” as well as its weight before buying.
Now that you’ve determined what kind of workouts you want and for whom and found some models that fit your budget and your workout space, what about extras? Many elliptical trainers offer additional value-added features for fun, more effective exercising, and convenience. These include water bottle holders, MP3 players, heart rate monitors, auto-adjusting resistance, calorie counters and dual direction training (forwards and backwards) for working different muscle groups. If you’ve got weak ankles, you can find elliptical trainers with articulating foot pedals that minimize ankle strain. The ProForm 20.0 even offers video games to entertain you while you work out, while the Life Fitness model has a “My Workouts” section that lets you store progress for up to four people. If you’re willing to spend the money, it seems the sky’s the limit when it comes to value-added features.