How To Buy The Best Elliptical Machine (Buying Guide w/ Images)
Everyone could benefit by working out from home. Especially in the midst of a pandemic, where public gyms tend to be hot spots and are often closed on account of it. Not to mention that working out from home just allows you to get the benefits of a gym without actually needing to leave. That’s part of the reason why a rise in home exercise equipment is almost inevitable.
Another such reason is because of the quality of many modern pieces of equipment. Ellipticals in particular have become some of the most advanced pieces of exercise gear that you could find on the market. With this boost in quality has also come a boost in quantity. But how exactly can you pick out the best of the best of these ellipticals? What features matter when searching for an elliptical trainer? With so many options, you’ll need some way to pick out the best that you can find, regardless of the price range.
That’s what we’re here to help with. We’re going to point out some of the most important aspects you should be looking at when hunting for some of these machines. These elements should remain true regardless of what budget you have in this hunt. Whether it is the stride length, monitor type, handlebars or type of resistance, we’ll cover the most popular options and what exactly you should want from these ellipticals. So with all of that out of the way, let’s get into our elliptical machine buying guide!
What To Look For When Choosing The Best Elliptical Machine:
Types of Resistance:
Let’s start off with the various types of resistance that can come with these ellipticals. There are advantages and disadvantages to each and we’ll go over them here. The primary disadvantage of each as you go up the ladder is how much more expensive the ellipticals tend to get.
Manual/Knob Magnetic Resistance
Manual resistance is the most common type of resistance found in budget elliptical machines. That’s because they are the most basic and cheapest form of resistance that can possibly be put on one of these machines. Normally these resistance modes are controlled by a knob, which you can turn up or down based on how tough you want the workout to be. The magnetic part of this resistance comes from a tension cable (that the aforementioned knob is attached to) that moves a magnet closer or further away to the flywheel.
Standard/Common Electronic Resistance
This is the most common type of resistance that is found on ellipticals. The actual process is extremely similar to the manual mode, with one exception. Instead of you turning a knob to adjust the resistance, a button is pressed or a number is entered in order to change the resistance level. Unlike knob adjustable resistance which comes without preset-programs, these resistance settings can also adjust themselves through preset modes, like a “Hill Run” program (depending on the elliptical model).
Smart Electromagnetic Resistance
From the outside looking excatly like the standard electronic magnetic resistance, this type of resistance is only reserved for the highest tier of ellipticals (and often the most expensive). Instead of having moving magnets around the flywheel, the magnets stay in place. When the resistance is changed, an electrical current is sent to the magnets, making it harder to turn the flywheel. This gives the user access to a higher ceiling of resistance, more instant changes and lowers the chance of something breaking while moving around. And since it is smart, it is capable of changing resistance automatically to mimic uphill/downhills.
Types of Strides:
Another key element of these ellipticals are the types of strides that they have. After all, it is a machine that focuses on your strides as you move, so it’s important to make sure they are appropriate. As for figuring out your ideal stride length, there are certainly ways to go about doing so. One way to do so is to calculate your height in inches, then multiply that number by .25. A longer way to do so is to mark out 10 feet with a marker or chalk and take 10 natural steps forward. Once done, then you mark where your feet end and see the distance between steps. Regardless of how you do so, you will find workouts on these ellipticals more comfortable if you measure your stride.
Fixed Non-Adjustable Strides
As you might have been able to guess from the name, these pedals are at a fixed length and move exactly as far as they can each and every time. They cannot be adjusted to accommodate for different sized people or different stride lengths. In order to make up for this, these stride lengths do usually tend to be as generous as possible. That way more people can comfortably and naturally fit on board.
Manually Adjustable Stride
These stride lengths are able to be adjusted, allowing you to change them if they do not fit or initially feel comfortable. The way in which these stride lengths are able to be changed can vary from brand to brand. However, what makes a stride type fit into this category is that it must be adjustable and cannot be done through a monitor or electronically (your need dismount the machine very time and change stride length). Which leads us to our third category of stride types…
Powered Adjustable Stride
As you might be able to guess once more, these stride types are able to be adjusted through some non-manual means. Whether that is through the monitor on board the elliptical or some other electronic method, the pedals can be adjusted without stopping and touching them. You normally still have to manually enter that you would like to change the stride length, but you won’t have to actually get down and do it.
Types of Incline:
The incline is not always a feature found on ellipticals. In fact, it’s normally a feature reserved for the higher-tier or luxury brands. That’s because it’s a feature that is made to simulate going up and down, well… inclines. Budget ellipticals don’t bother with this normally because they are focused on other elements. The main reason that you would choose an elliptical with an incline system is if you want some different challenges to come with the machine. The fact that they also normally come with higher quality ellipticals is also a positive, as you get the rest of the features with such an elliptical as well.
There are 3 main types of inclines.
Fixed (No Incline)
This one is fairly straightforward. Not all elliptical machines have inclines. For those machines, they have a “fixed” incline measure, since they cannot be adjusted in any sense of the word. Again, these are the majority of ellipticals due to the general cost of the feature. What you would be missing on these elliptical machines is the proper glutes and butt workouts.
For those machines that can adjust the incline, there are two ways that they go about doing this. The first of these is a manual adjustment system, typically used with a lever. They normally don’t offer more than 4 levels and have to be completed when the workout is stopped. So, you basically need to dismount the elliptical, change the incline degree, and get back up to continues which is not ideal at all.
The other type of incline is the fancy one. It Is an automatic incline that can be controlled through the bike’s monitor or other motorised system. These incline levels can vary from brand to brand, with some even going up to 25 levels. One thing that is most certainly sure about these automatic systems is that they are more expensive than either of the two previous ellipticals with (or without) incline systems.
Types of Handlebars:
When people ordinarily think of elliptical machines, what they are likely picturing are those with movable handles. However, that is only one design of elliptical machines. There are also those that can help control the aforementioned strides and inclines, while also stationary ones that help keep track of heart rate.
Only Stationary Handlebars w/o Controls
Once again, we have the simplest version of the handlebars. These are handlebars that sit at the front of the elliptical and do not move at all. They are normally found on cheaper machines, though they can also be found on the more expensive ones as a sort of secondary pair. On the more expensive ones, they might have heart rate sensors and such in addition. The problem with this design is that they don’t allow upper body exercise.
Fixed and Moving Handlebars w/o Controls
These are the handlebars that we mentioned being pictured by most before. You can grip onto them and move them back and forth, getting an upper body workout alongside the lower body one you are getting. This specific type of moving handlebar comes without any sort of controls in regards to the incline or stride length settings. So, it is not as easy to change settings on the fly. But there’s one more type of handlebar.
Fixed and Moving Handlebars w/ Controls
Finally we have the fixed and moving handlebars that DO help you control the incline, resistance and stride length. So, you can focus on your workout when changing settings, even on the fly. These handlebars are fairly rare, but they do exist. They are particularly common among ellipticals made by Sole. It just makes it the process of controlling all the various parts of the elliptical a little bit easier.
Types of Monitors:
Many modern ellipticals also have monitors that allow users to have a variety of new features and elements such as speakers, USB charging ports, wireless connectivity, device holders, and so on.
Non Backlit Monitors
These are LCD monitors that are not backlit. What does this mean exactly? Basically it’s a system of lighting that makes sure you can see the screen even if the light in the room is low. These monitors do not have this ability and thus have some trouble being seen in darker environments. Additionally, non-backlit monitors are often the ones that don’t come with present programs and other useful features.
Blue Backlit Monitors
Then there’s the opposite of the previous monitors. These cross trainer monitors are illuminated by a blue backlight and thus can be seen in darker environments. It’s quite useful for those who want to exercise at night or the early morning. Also, these monitors often come with “Dual-Track” screens so you can place your tablet on one of the screens and still be able to see your stats on the screen which is below.
HD Touch Monitors
In terms of the highest tier of monitor, you have HD touchscreen monitors. These often have other features like Bluetooth connections and can control almost every feature of the elliptical through the monitor. All of these monitors serve as good ways to track the statistics of your workout. Many of the mid and upper tier ellipticals have at least some sort of workout programs already set in the machine.
Types of Drives:
One of the most basic elements for picking out an elliptical is deciding what type of drive you want. The drive can significantly alter your experience with the machine. There are three main types of these.
This is the most classic design of the elliptical. The flywheel is located in the back, with the elliptical itself providing a smooth and flexible workout. They allow the user to replicate their natural stride more and get those legs really moving. Rear-drive makes them also the biggest type of ellipticals.
The front drive of ellipticals take a somewhat different approach. They are lower to the ground and have the flywheel in the front of the machine. As a result, the pedals on this machine go somewhat more vertically and feel almost like a stair climber. Folding ellipticals are often the ones with front drive design.
Center/Side drive ellipticals are rather different looking compared to the other ones. The flywheel is located outside of the pedals, while being somewhat more compact like the front drive ellipticals. These machines allow the user to stay more upright during the session and give less strain on the knees.
There are two different main categories for how heavy the flywheels are on ellipticals: heavy and light. A bit general, we know, but that’s just the way that it is. However, you should still know that it is important to keep track of.
Lighter flywheels are typically looked down upon in the elliptical community. They are generally seen as having a direct impact on the smoothness of the workouts, making them more jerky and uncomfortable. Especially for those who are bigger and intend on regularly using the elliptical for workouts.
On the flip side, heavier flywheels are universally praised. They make the workouts smoother and can support heavier users and more consistent use. These heavier flywheels also play an important part in how much resistance you can face while using the elliptical. Basically, heavy flywheels are better.
Similar to the flywheel weights, there are two main types of max user weights. On one hand, you’ve got the lighter max user weights. On the other hand, there are heavier max user weights. These, unsurprisingly, are the tested maximum user weights that the ellipticals can efficiently handle. One should note that if more than the “max” weight is put on the machine, it isn’t going to suddenly explode or break. It’s just above the limit that was tested by the manufacturer.
Lighter Max User Weights
Ellipticals that have lighter maximum user weights are normally cheaper and lighter than others. This is nice for those who are lighter and don’t particularly mind getting a heavy workout in, but otherwise they aren’t that great. Generally 300 lbs (136 kg) is considered the mid-point of max user weights, so anything below that can be looked at as “lighter”.
Heavier Max User Weights
On the flip side, the ellipticals with heavier maximum user weights tend to weigh more. Many of the higher tier ellipticals have heavier max user weights in order to accommodate for a wider variety of people. As we said, the average max user weight is about 300 lbs (136 kg). Anything above that is normally considered “heavier”.
Because each elliptical has different dimensions, it’s nearly impossible to categorize them into specific classes. That’s why we’ve made the decision to put them into “compact” and “large” groups,
Some of the cheaper brands know that they don’t want to take up giant floor space, so they try to make their ellipticals compact. As we mentioned earlier, those ellipticals with center drives are more compact by their very design. Some brands have also decided to implement a folding capability into their machines (such as the Horizon Fitness Evolve 3).
On the other hand, some ellipticals want to make sure they are the biggest object in the room like this Life Fitness E5. Sometimes this is by design in regards to their frame, while others it is to fit in elements like a larger monitor or moving arms. You’ll want to make sure that you have an area planned out for these larger (and often heavier) ellipticals, as they often prove to be rather immoble as well.
Once again, because of the variety in warranties that come with ellipticals, we’ve been forced to generalize it somewhat. These are short warranties and long warranties. Warranties are generally divided into the frame, the parts, the labor, and sometimes the electronics. These can all be different lengths, thus the complexity of grouping them.
Quite frankly, these are objectively worse. You will often find shorter warranties on cheaper ellipticals because they don’t guarantee the machines for as long. These are warranties that are shorter than one year or can range up to 2 years. In the grand scheme of things, that’s quite a short time for one of these ellipticals.
The longer the warranty, the more we endorse it. If a company is willing to back up their product by guaranteeing you can get replacements if something goes wrong, then we support it. Generally anything above 3 years for the frame is a good one, while reaching for above a year for the various parts is also longer than you’d normally find.
Pedals and Q-Factor:
Considering the pedals are what your feet will be moving around on, it’s important that they be suitably comfortable for the long haul. As for the Q-Factor, it’s also important that you have an appropriate distance between the two pedals. Too narrow and it can lead to injuries. Too wide and it becomes uncomfortable.
Large Non-Slip Cushioned vs Cheap Plastic Pedals
Non-slip cushioned pedals are simply superior. They keep your feet in place and allow you to remain comfortable even on the longer workouts. These are fairly common, with the cheaper plastic pedals only coming on the cheaper ellipticals in general. Keep an eye out for the words “non-slip” and “cushioned” in the descriptions of the pedals. You should also be able to see these little from the product images. As you can see in the image above, these pedals are cheap and there is a huge gap between the pedals.
Wide Q-Factor vs Correct Q-Factor
The distance between the two pedals needs to be at a comfortable length (look at the space between the pedals above and compared it with the one on the left side). If it’s too wide, you feel like you’re doing the splits or running at a strange angle. It’s just not good to have such a Q-Factor, so look at reviews and see how people say the distance between pedals are. Brands such as Precor have a full line of ellipticals (line 800) with especial q-factor (CCR) to mimic correct human walking motion.
Finally, there’s the customer support. If something goes wrong with your elliptical, you want to contact someone who can fix it. Too many companies are absolutely awful at this and cannot help whatsoever for months.
Non-Existing Support From Sketchy Brands
Some brands are just very suspect and cannot be relied on for support. These often have terrible customer support systems and cannot be relied on. Check reviews (and the company pages themselves) for how they rate the customer service.
Good Support From Reliable Brands
The best brands often have the best customer service. Many of these are U.S. based or otherwise have high levels of reliability. Once again, user reviews are often a good way to see how the customer service stacks up.
As ellipticals have advanced over time, their integration with technology has most certainly increased. Now, if an elliptical doesn’t come with at least one of the elements listed below, it could be seen as either a very cheap one or an outdated one. Is this fair? Maybe not. Is it a reality? Certainly.
Because our phones are such an integral part of our lives these days, using them during workouts is a natural extension. If the console can connect to your phone and play music or track workout statistics through Bluetooth, that’s a nice feature for most ellipticals.
Once again related to our phones, having an elliptical that can recharge them is also a nice feature. It means that you don’t have to sacrifice listening to music or watching something for entertainment while you workout. Often ellipticals that come with this feature, they also have speakers.
This is related to how you can track your fitness journey. If the elliptical can connect to third party apps and monitor different statistics and workouts, then that’s more convenient for you. Especially if you already have a preferred app that you use and can continue doing so.
Whether it’s for entertainment or hydration, these holders are just nice to have. They are normally located in and around the handlebars/console, allowing you easy access. Also a tray would be nice. It is more of a miscellaneous feature that can hold anything else you might want to put there. Not the most crucial of these.
That wraps up our guide on how to buy the best elliptical machine. Hopefully, you now know what to look for when trying to buy one of these machines. Whether you are focused on the resistance, technology or drive type, make sure you know what you’re buying before you drop the money and might not get it back (with poor warranties or customer support). Now get out there and get exercising!