Buying an Elliptical Trainer

Elliptical fitness machines (also called just ellipticals or elliptical trainers, elliptical steppers, elliptical cross trainers, elliptical gliders and elliptical exercisers!) are like a cross between a treadmill, an exercise bike, a stepper and a cross-country ski machine all in one package.

On the machine you move your feet in an elliptical (elongated oval) shape which gives the elliptical trainer its name.

They are a fairly new introduction to the home exercise equipment market but they are rising in popularity fast and with good reason among those looking for a cardio exercise machine.

In fact, using an elliptical trainer is one of the very best ways of getting fit at home and many people are now choosing to buy an elliptical trainer rather than a treadmill.

Why Choose an Elliptical Trainerelliptical trainer

  • Elliptical machines are simple to use
  • Ellipticals are easier on your joints that other types of fitness or exercise equipment such as a treadmill. This is because elliptical exercise is low impact – your foot remains in contact with the footpads at all times.
  • A good machine is quiet in operation so that you don’t disturb your family when you exercise and you can listen to music or watch TV
  • Exercise on the elliptical machine burns about 500 – 700 calories an hour and tones your body at the same time.
  • Elliptical exercise equipment for home use will usually take up less space than a treadmill – though you still need plenty of room for it
  • An elliptical machine is generally less expensive than the equivalent quality of treadmill and it is less likely to go wrong too
  • Many of the best elliptical machines are also cross trainers – they have an optional element which allows you to exercise your arms at the same time as your legs. With an elliptical cross trainer you get a more balanced workout (and potentially a better cardio workout) than with fitness equipment which only exercises your legs.

The Exception?

Using an elliptical trainer as your only cardiovascular exercise in training for a marathon or other long distance run is NOT a good idea. Although you will get fit using your machine, you have to train for running by actually running. The motion of the elliptical machine is not quite the same as that of a run or walk.

How to Choose an Elliptical Trainer : An essential Checklist

Although it’s quite difficult to find everything in one machine at every budget level (elliptical trainers range from $200 to over $5000!) be sure to choose the features which are most important to you.

To help in your decision we have produced a FREE in-depth and independent 16 page Consumer Guide to Choosing an Elliptical Trainer. With our Elliptical Buying Guide you get the most comprehensive information you’ll find online or off so make sure that you get your copy and you can be reading it in a couple of minutes.

Meanwhile if you want the brief version here are some important features to watch out for when you buy an elliptical…

Suitable Stride Length

The stride length must be suitable for all those using the machine. You will find cheaper machines have a stride length of only 14 or 16″. While this may be OK if you are of average height or less, the stride length must be 18″ or more to be fine for all except the very tallest. Look for something around 20” if you are over 6ft 4″.

Adjustable Resistance

It’s important to be able to adjust the resistance during your cardio fitness session to vary the intensity of the exercise. In some cheaper machines you have to manually adjust resistance which can be disruptive to the flow of your workout. Choose a machine with resistance which is adjusted autmotically so that you can move smoothly though the stages of your workout from warm up to cool down.

Smooth, Quiet Operation

A squeaky, clunky machine will drive you mad. Opt for quality every time.

Upper Body Exercise

It’s may be an advantage to you to choose a cross-trainer which works your upper and lower body at the same time – you’ll burn more calories faster and feel less tired than you would with a lower body only workout. On the other hand, if you usually work on building your upper body strength separately anyway, you’ll get a better lower body workout from working the ellliptical equipment only with your legs.

Adjustable Articulating Footpads

Adjustable pedals or footpads allow you to position pedals at the right angle for you (and whoever else is using your machine) and may allow you to add more variety to your workout. Static footpads may cause numbness in the feet during an exercise session (although there are ways around this if you buy an elliptical without these – get the details in our free Elliptical Trainer User’s Guide – see below).

Reverse Direction

A reverse direction feature, although not essential, allows you to pedal backwards to exercise different muscle groups

Front or Rear Drive

The position of the flywheel does not affect the machine in operation but a front flywheel may offer more stability in a less expensive model especially if you are on the heavier side. The rear flywheel design has been patented by a few leading elliptical manufacturers who sell more expensive ellipticals. It is less prone to malfunction as the design is less complex to construct.

Brakes / Resistance

Choose magnetic rather than friction brakes as the latter tend to wear more quickly and are found only on older or cheaper models. The best braking system to choose is the Eddy Current Braking system found on better quality models.

Elliptical Programs

Some elliptical cardio machines offer a whole range of exercise programs which can help prevent you getting bored and aid motivation. Other factors such as smooth operation and a sturdy design are, of course, more important but if you are choosing between two similarly priced models the number of fitness programs is a factor to consider.

Maximum Weight

If you are overweight choose a high end elliptical because cheaper fitness equipment is simply not sturdy enough. No matter what they say about weight limits a cheaper machine will not feel stable during your workout. Also be careful of choosing a machine which claims a maximum weight close to yours – machines often do not work well at maximum capacity.


Look for a machine which has a warranty of at least a year. Some cheaper models may only have 90 days warranty.

Best Selling Elliptical Equipment Brands

  • Precor – A Precor Elliptical Trainer is the top of the range. This company invented the elliptical back in the 80s but quality costs – big bucks. if you have $3000 or more to spend see our Precor Elliptical Reviews
  • Proform elliptical trainers are at the lower end of the price scale and they are big on features but some say this is at the expense of quality.
  • Smooth elliptical exercise machines are sold only online and they claim the cost savings you make as a result of this are about 45% over comparable store models. The quality is great too. The Smooth CE 2.1 is one of out Best Buy selection.
  • Schwinn – the Schwinn 418 Elliptical crosstrainer is a particularly popular model with a number of consumer Best Buy ratings. You will find our rating and more details about this model on the Schwinn 418 elliptical trainer review page
  • Reebok elliptical machines are very popular. We love the sleek appearance and the brand but not some of the reports from users. For more details see our review of the Reebok elliptical trainers.
  • Nordic Track elliptical trainers – From the days when Nordic Track introduced their ski trainer they have a reputation for producing some of the best exercise equipment. See our review of the Nordic Track Elliptical crosstrainers to find out if they have earned the same reputation.

Take care when looking at elliptical reviews around the web for machines you want to purchase. You can see our elliptical reviews article for more details about that. For our personal recommendations and ratings see the individual elliptical trainer reviews on this site.

If you want an idea where to start choosing an elliptical workout machine look at our current choices for the best elliptical trainer at each price range on the Elliptical Trainer Best Buys page.

Where to Buy

Speciality fitness stores tend to carry the higher priced elliptical brands whereas larger retailers and chain stores tend to go for the lower end of the market.

Stores are great places to try out ellipticals if you have one in easy reach and are not likely to be swayed by an over-zealous salesman – staff in non-speciality stores sometimes know shockingly little about the goods they sell and may try and sell you something unsuitable. Do your research before you go.

If you are happy to buy online, Amazon is a great place to purchase. You get the reassurance of using a well known company and they offer fantastic deals as well as up to the minute elliptical reviews. Plus your elliptical trainer will be delivered right to your home.

Unfortunately they don’t carry the full range of brands and models. If Amazon don’t have the model you are looking for take a look at Workout Warehouse or Sports Authority online sites.

Have Your Say!

If you already have an elliptical trainer, good or bad, let us know about your experience with it. How was it out of the box? Did the assembly go Ok? Do you enjoy using it or has it got one of those annoying squeaks? If you would like to help fellow buyers, send us your view for our Elliptical Reviews page. Many thanks for your help!