How to Buy an Elliptical Trainer

Elliptical trainers have gained in popularity since they were first introduced to commercial gyms in the 1990s. Because you can burn 70 percent more calories than walking on a flat treadmill for the same time investment, it's no wonder that these machines have become a must-have for any home gym. But before you run out and buy one, consider these tips on how to buy an elliptical trainer.

Criteria for choosing an elliptical trainer

  • Determine who will regularly use the machine. Make note of their weights and heights and any physical limitations, and then find an elliptical trainer style that works well for everyone.
  • Have all users take a test run on different models. An elliptical trainer that feels comfortable for you might not feel comfortable for other family members. If you decide to buy a model online without testing it first, be sure that it comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
  • Evaluate the construction. Does it feel as sturdy when you pedal fast as when using a slower speed? Does the construction seem durable? Any creaks or other noises during use are a warning bell about inferior construction. An elliptical trainer with a good design runs quietly and smoothly. If you don't like how your elliptical trainer feels, you won't use it.

Adjustable stride length

If more than one person will be using your elliptical trainer, an important feature is an adjustable stride length. This means that the pedal motions can be changed to accommodate individual steps and pace. On average, an elliptical trainer with a stride length of 16 to 19 inches works well for heights from 5 feet 3 inches to 6 feet 3 inches.

Moving handlebars

Unless you can't live without the moving handlebar feature, it isn't a necessity and only adds to the price. Moving handlebars offer upper-body toning, but you can get a better upper-body workout using light weights. The powerhouse benefit of an elliptical trainer is the lower-body, aerobic workout. The low-impact movement of your legs is what burns calories without putting too much stress on your knees and lower back.

If you don't get the moving handlebar feature, you can still swing your arms at your sides using a jogging motion.

Resistance systems

A number of resistance systems are on the market. Less expensive elliptical trainers offer a manually adjustable magnetic resistance system. As the price goes up, machines have a particle brake system also referred to as electromagnetic. The benefit of this system is that it adjusts automatically and supports preset programs if you want an elliptical trainer with a few bells and whistles.

On many models, you must press a button and then wait while the resistance settings change. Mid-priced models can be noisy during a resistance change when compared to pricier models.

The resistance system preferred by most is called the eddy-current resistance system. It's silent, highly reliable and extremely responsive. It is also among the most expensive, typically no less that $2,000.

Beware of false terminology

How to buy an elliptical trainer? By being well-informed and closely checking manufacturers' technical jargon. Some low-end manufacturers use similar sounding terminology for features found in high-end models. For example, some companies might call their less expensive, motorized brake systems 'ECB systems.' That doesn't mean they are the high-quality eddy-current systems. When in doubt, double-check all the manufacturer specifications and terminology before making a purchase.

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