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Elliptical Machine Guide

Updated on March 11, 2011

One of the most effective stationary exercise machines is the elliptical machine. The purpose of an elliptical machine is to provide the exercise of skiing, running or walking without imposing the same pressure or impact on your joints. The physical motion you experience is like a cross between a stationary bike and a treadmill.

When you hear people talk about elliptical trainers or just ellipticals, they're probably talking about elliptical machines. Ellipticals have become tremendously popular in the gym circuit because they give your workout a thorough cardio workout with low wear and tear on your body and they exercise your lower and upper body simultaneously.

Elliptical machines operate by standing on and pushing pedals or pads which glide within elliptical tracking. Additionally, most elliptical machines provide optional arm handles for exercising the upper body while pushing the pedals with your legs.

Types of Elliptical Machines

You categorize elliptical trainers through the drive system utilized by each device. You'll find center drive, rear drive and front drive elliptical exercise machines. You'll find many people have developed an oddly strong bias for one type of elliptical machine or another, but I encourage you to try the different elliptical systems yourself before being too influenced by another's opinion.

To be fair and try versions within similar price ranges as the quality can vary widely depending on price. Be sure to try a center drive, rear drive and front drive for comparison before committing your money.

Top Rated Affordable Elliptical Machines At Amazon

Rear Drive Elliptical Machine
Rear Drive Elliptical Machine

Rear Drive Elliptical Machines

The original elliptical trainer was a rear drive elliptical machine. When they first appeared, you only found them in gyms and fitness centers and you only found large, industrial quality rear drive ellipticals. To this day this is still the most common elliptical exercise machine found in health clubs around the world.

Rear drive elliptical machines feature flywheels towards the back of the device. This allows the device to require fewer moving parts (which leads to a little less required elliptical machine maintenance). This also leads to a smoother feel as the wheel tension is behind you. Rear drive elliptical machines provide a workout which feels a little like walking or low-impact jogging.

Front Drive Elliptical Machine
Front Drive Elliptical Machine

Front Drive Elliptical Exercise Machines

The front drive elliptical machine followed the rear drive machine to market. The front drive elliptical features the drive axled (flywheel) in front of you. Front drive ellipticals feature pedals which move within a track with rollers.

Because of these additional parts, the front drive elliptical trainer usually requires more maintenance than a rear drive machine. However, despite the possibility of the rollers wearing down, they still have a good service record so it may not be an issue for you.

You can find front drive machines which feature dual rollers for greater stability. Front drive elliptical machines provide a feel somewhat like a stair climber.

The Center Drive Elliptical Machine

The latest elliptical to be manufactured and marketed is the center drive elliptical machine. With center drive elliptical machines, the drive axled or flywheel may be slightly in front of you, right under you or slightly behind you. It sometimes features two drive axles.

The primary distinction of the center drive elliptical machine is that your weight is centered right in the middle and right beneath you. The theory is that this creates a greater sense of balance and thus greater efficiency in your movement. Center drive elliptical machines tend to be more expensive than their front and rear drive elliptical counterparts.

Elliptical Machine Workout Benefits

The great thing about an elliptical workout is that you can modify it to fulfill a wide range of workout purposes for a wide range of people.

They work well for professional athletes training for highly competitive sports and they work just as well for a casual workouts for people just wanting to stay fit. They're great for rigorous workout and exercise machines are fantastic for seniors trying to stay in shape and maintain a greater quality of life without wreaking havoc on their fragile joints.

An elliptical machine workout is great for you if you have ankle or knee problems. It is also a great device for rehabilitation as elliptical trainers provide a thorough low-impact cardio workout without straining the back or joints. They also provide a flexible range of workout intensity and workout a range of muscle groups.  One advantage of an elliptical machine over exercise bikes is the wider range of muscles targeted during a workout.

A Proform Elliptical Trainer
A Proform Elliptical Trainer

The ProForm Elliptical Machine

Made by Icon Health & Fitness, ProForm is a subsidiary of this large fitness company just like Nordic Track and Reebok. Because of this ProForm elliptical machines are probably the most common elliptical machine found in fitness stores around the world.

Another benefit of their parent company's size and capital is that they employ more than 200 engineers to develop and refine their fitness machines.

Despite the name recognition, the ProForm isn't necessarily the elite elliptical machine. They fit the budget of a mid-range elliptical. While they have some models over $1000, most of their models are in the $400 to $1000 range.

Most fitness experts consider ProForm elliptical machines to be a light-duty elliptical device. The provide quality walking simulation and are excellent machines for casual users. They're not necessarily rugged and robust enough for serious athletes looking for frequent, rigorous workouts. For that, you need to look in a higher price range.

ProForm features both front drive elliptical machines and rear drive elliptical machines. For economic home use, they even provide space-saver elliptical machines, which allow you to keep them in smaller spaces. For example, one model folds-up and is easily rolled into storage.

If you require an elliptical workout a few times a week and don't want to spend too much money, the ProForm elliptical machine might be good for you. However, if you're looking for serious and frequent workouts, be prepared to spend a little more.

What Is the Best Elliptical Machine?

When you shop for your elliptical machine, I suggest you not get wrapped up in the jargon and instead try the machines for yourself to determine their comfort and feel for your body and your natural exercise gait. You want one which feels smooth and efficient.

The weight of the flywheel and the type of the drive axle can affect the feel, so compare different types to see what fits best with your body size and style of motion.

I do suggest you save up and prepare to spend a little more for a quality elliptical trainer. They're big, complex devices and the cheaper models may cause more headaches than their worth.

Elliptical machines make an excellent compliment to any workout routine, even those engaged in intense exercise through programs like the P90X or similar.

If you invest in a durable elliptical machine with a smooth feel that matches your body type, you'll find yourself using it more often and you'll enjoy an excellent low-impact workout for years to come. 

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