Before You Buy an Elliptical Trainer

Shop Smart for the Best Home Workout Machine

Using elliptical at the gym
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Elliptical trainers are one of the most popular machines in the gym. They provide a low-impact cardio workout that simulates running, but the machine reduces the impact.

The motion of an elliptical helps protect your joints from damage, which is important for anyone with knee, hip, or lower body injuries. Beyond that, an elliptical can make workouts fun, so it's no wonder that it's a popular choice for home workout equipment.

Buying a home elliptical trainer can be confusing because there are a lot of options available. They range from a basic machine for a standard aerobic workout to beefy models that can offer high-intensity exercise. Beyond that, there are many bells and whistles available. 

Your Budget

For many people, money is the biggest factor in buying any piece of home gym equipment. Elliptical trainers range from $200 to $5000, depending on your budget and needs. 

You can certainly find inexpensive models at discount department stores and they may work okay. However, they generally don't last as long and they may not be as sturdy as higher quality models.

You should also take into account your workout needs and body type. If you have a smaller build and will use the machine for your weekly run, a small machine may be sufficient. Then again, if you have a larger build or want to use the machine as part of your HIIT training, you'll want something sturdy that can stand up to you and your goals.

If you cannot afford the machine that meets your needs right away, it might be worth your while to save up for a higher quality machine. Some of the recommended elliptical makers to look for include Precor, Nautilus, Sole, and ProForm.

Your Workout Space

Elliptical machines are not small. They can take up quite a bit of space, so you need to ensure your home can handle the machine you're buying.

You can expect for an elliptical machine to be between four and seven feet in length. You'll also need to leave room for the pedals while you're in motion. For some machines, these can extend a foot or so behind the main frame. You'll also want to account for about 20 inches of free space on either side.

The last thing to consider is your ceiling height, especially if you're hoping to put it in the basement. Some ellipticals can have a maximum pedal height of a foot or more at the apex. If you're tall or don't have much headroom in your space, you could be hitting your head.

Elliptical Styles

There are three basic designs in elliptical machines and each has their advantages and disadvantages.

  • Front-Drive: Typically, these have a large wheel housing at the front of the machine. They tend to be the most affordable because it's a basic design, though they can be noisy and vibrate quite a bit.
  • Center-Drive: The design is similar to a treadmill, but with pedals where the track would be. These offer a very gentle workout. They also tend to be the most compact design, but you need to account for the pedal reach in the back.
  • Rear-Drive: A smaller wheel housing is located behind the pedals, making these the longest design. The pedals may be on a track-and-roller that allows for an incline. Some use a suspended arm system instead and offer the smoothest workout.

    Must-Have Features

    Some of the features you want to look for in an elliptical machine include:

    • Stride Length: Some machines only offer a 14-inch stride which would be too short for someone of average size. Look for one with a stride around 21 inches instead. An adjustable stride is available and would be good if multiple people will be using it.
    • Smooth Motion: Make sure the pedals move smoothly and quietly. It shouldn't feel jerky and it should fit so you're comfortable through the entire movement. None of the pieces should impede your motion, either.
    • Upper Body Comfort: You don't need arm handles, but it's a nice option for more intensity. Also, you want to make sure that the handgrip movement is comfortable for you.
    • The Quiet Factor: Some machines can be quite loud. You don't want your workout to sound like a freight train, especially if you enjoy one in the morning when your family's trying to sleep.
    • Adjustable Resistance: Most elliptical machines offer adjustable resistance and a broad range can offer maximum benefits. It should be very easy at the lowest setting and be quite the challenge at about 75 percent, with noticeable changes at each level. This allows you to go further as you gain strength and endurance.
    • Adjustable Incline: This isn't necessary, but being able to adjust the ramps can add intensity to your workouts. Some machines offer automatic adjustments while others must be done manually.

    Safety Features

    To keep your workout both safe and effective, look for an elliptical trainer that offers warm-up and cool-down periods. Handrails that provide balance should not get in the way, either. You'll also want an easy-to-read console so you know how hard you're working.

    To protect your investment, look for a maintenance-free elliptical trainer and a good warranty (one year for labor, one to three years for parts) just in case something happens. It's also wise to ask the dealer if they have trained staff to service your equipment.

    If you have children, an elliptical machine can look like a fun toy. Some machines include a pin lock so the pedals can't move and others let you lock up the screen and operations. These are safety features to consider, though many parents simply close the door if one's available in the room.

      Bonus Features

      This is the fun part because your elliptical machine can have all sorts of bonus features. Some will help with your workout while others can make it more enjoyable. For instance, a water bottle holder is good for staying hydrated while a tablet holder can keep you entertained.

      heart rate monitor is one useful feature to consider. An interactive version can even automatically adjust your workout to keep you in your zone. Many machines include pre-set programs, though the more you spend, the more you'll get. Some also allow you to create your own customized workouts.  

      Features like wi-fi, a fitness tracker app, and a great variety of motivation software can be useful as well. Keep in mind that the more features you choose, the more money you'll need to spend. Yet, if it keeps you on track and enjoying your workout, it may be worth it.

        Try Before You Buy

        Before you buy anything, visit a few retailers—preferably those that specialize in fitness equipment—and try several models. Wear your workout gear and use each machine for 10 minutes so you get a feel for it.

        While testing things out, pay attention to the console. Is it easy to see and use? Make sure the motion is smooth and that nothing impedes your movement. Measure it to make sure you have enough space at home.

        A Word From Verywell

        Buying an elliptical machine is not an easy decision. And yet, if you think that adding one to your home gym will keep you motivated and you can find one in your budget, it can be a great asset that keeps you fit and healthy.