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Elliptical Reviews For Dummies - What You Must Know Before You Buy

Updated on March 19, 2013

Don't Be a Dummy! Know All About Ellipticals Before You Spend a Dime

Elliptical trainer sales have seen a huge increase in the last few years. But you shouldn't rush out to buy an elliptical without knowing all you can. Get the scoop on elliptical reviews here!

The recent surge in popularity is due to the unique nature of exercise provided by an elliptical. Elliptical trainers provide a low impact, ergonomic, efficient indoor workout and burn calories nearly as well as running. New design improvements have brought the gym experience into the home market at an affordable price. You need to know all the jargon before you can choose the right trainer for you.

Images courtesy of Amazon

The four commandments of elliptical reviews:

1. Research ellipticals online so you understand the jargon and know something about the available machines. Read lots of user comments on several shopping websites.

2. Try using an elliptical, preferably the brand and model you're considering. Nothing beats a hands-on experience to compare with the reviews you read.

3. Use your best judgment; don't rely on one review or opinion. Make a choice based on what you need and what you can afford, not what an online expert chooses as best.

4. Look for a reputable seller with a long history and great customer service. The lowest price shouldn't be your only criteria.

Now You're Ready To Start

First, you must determine how much you're willing to spend for an elliptical. Price and quality usually go together, so set your expectations in line with the money you have.

Decide who will use the machine. You need to know body weight, height, and fitness goals for everyone who'll use your elliptical. Each machine will have a recommended maximum user weight for optimal performance. And the actual design will determine which machine is best for different user heights.

Where will you put this elliptical trainer? There are smaller machines suitable for tight spaces or apartments that usually weigh less and sell at a lower price. Ellipticals with heavier frames and more features tend to be much larger, typically six feet in length, and cost more. Be sure you have enough space for the machine itself and room to maneuver around it.

Horizon Fitness EX-59 Elliptical Trainer

Award-winning bestselling elliptical trainer from Horizon Fitness.

Click here to see current ratings and reviews!

Horizon Fitness EX-59 Elliptical Trainer, an award winning bestseller!
Horizon Fitness EX-59 Elliptical Trainer, an award winning bestseller!

Reading Between The Lines of Elliptical Reviews

There are five major specifications for elliptical trainers that will determine the best machine for your needs. Take the time to list these out for each model in a review so you can refer back at decision time.

Front-Drive versus Rear-Drive

The fly-wheel is the heart of the elliptical machine and provides the motion you feel when you use it. Rear-drive trainers produce the most natural foot and leg motion in a floating system. There are less mechanical parts to service and wear out, which is why most gyms have rear-drive ellipticals. Also, the rear drive allows you to maintain proper posture and get a better workout.

Front-drive ellipticals have an extra link between the fly-wheel and the foot pedals. They have more parts to service, including a track that can attract dust and dirt, and need constant maintenance. Front-drive machines tend to be noisier and lose their smooth motion over time. This design requires you to lean as you pedal, which results in a less effective workout.

Ball Bearings versus Bushings

While you don't need to know the difference between ball bearings and bushings, you do need to know which is the better design. Basically, elliptical trainers with ball bearings at the pivot points will need less maintenance and last longer.

Look for sealed ball bearings instead of standard bearings. Sealed, self-aligning bearings are the best as they're protected from dust and dirt and provide a smoother ride.

Brake Systems

Electromagnetic brake resistance systems are preferable to magnetic brakes because they have no moving parts to wear or break down. Ellipticals at the lower price points usually have magnetic brake resistance, which is considered a reliable low-cost option for home machines.

Foot Pedals & Stride Length

The choice of foot pedal design can have a major impact on your experience during an elliptical workout. Articulating pedals are far more comfortable because your feet remain flat through the entire stride. Non-articulating foot pedals put pressure on the balls of your feet, which can lead to numbness during your workout.

While you're checking out the foot pedals, look at the stride length. Most users will find an 18" stride comfortable, but anything less will compromise the workout. Those over six feet in height should look for a longer stride length to accommodate those long legs. Only short people (sorry!) will be happy with a 16" stride length.

Frame Construction

The last component to consider is the overall construction of the elliptical trainer. Small machines are popular because they fit in tight spaces, weigh less, and are easy to move around (some even have wheels). Plus, they tend to cost less.

The downside to small elliptical machines is the lightweight construction. This limits who can use the machine in terms of bodyweight and intensity of workout. Tall users and athletes may find the smaller ellipticals are either uncomfortable or wobble too much.

Larger, heavier frames on the more expensive ellipticals are usually made of steel and are sturdier and more durable. Taller and heavier users will appreciate the extra frame weight and stability during a workout.

These machines, especially those with rear-drive, are bigger in size and weigh more. Once you set up one of these brutes, you probably won't move it again by choice.

Other Options to Consider

These days, nearly all elliptical machines have computerized programming. Some are built-in, some can be customized by the user or controlled by monitors on the elliptical. You should look for program options that suit your fitness goals.

Heart rate monitors are very useful to have. A wireless chest belt provides the most accurate and consistent heart rate measurements. You may also see monitors built into the handle bars. If the handles move, these contact monitors will work fine. But if you have to reach for a stationary handle to make the contact work, you won't have a continuous readout during your workout.

Adjustable resistance is standard on most elliptical trainers. You should be able to make this adjustment without leaving the machine. Having a wide range of resistance to adjust can make it easier for you to customize your workout.

Incline ramps and other dynamic motion features are valuable options if you like variety and challenge in your workouts. If you expect the machine will be used by people of different heights, having variable stride adjustment is another feature to consider.

Attacking the Reviews

You're ready now to ferret out the best information in every elliptical review you read. Amazon's listings and user comments are a great place to start. Keep good notes and choose the elliptical trainer that fits your needs. Remember that this purchase is an investment in your healthy future. And in the end, the best elliptical is the one you actually use.

Bestselling Elliptical Machines

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Do you use an elliptical machine?

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Interesting information

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      My favourite cardio machine!! Low/no impact and you get quite the workout!


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