Elliptical Buying Guide

Elliptical Trainers are one of the fastest growing fitness categories. They have quickly become a mainstay in cardiovascular equipment. Non-Impact cardio machines offer an effective workout to those with joint problems that would normally prevent them from using traditional equipment such as a treadmill. Additionally, elliptical trainers offer upper body engagement which, when used properly, can result in a more effective whole body workout. Elliptical training offers a unique combination of stair climbing, cross country skiing and running, resulting in a low impact, variety rich workout. This variety can result in better adherence to a fitness regimen. It is a highly effective cross training activity that is viable for anyone from beginning exercisers to elite athletes.


It is very important to note that every manufacturer has a very distinct motion and feel.  What feels right for you may not feel right for someone else, so it is very important to test any elliptical before you buy.  Many people do not consider elliptical trainers because they tried one in the past that they didn’t like.  If you are unable to make it into a retailer, most major manufacturers are represented in large gym facilities so for a small fee, you can go and try the machines at your leisure. 


DETERMINE YOUR GOALSWhen used properly, all elliptical trainers will burn calories, manage weight and enhance your cardiovascular system. Most families will have a “primary user”, but you will want to consider that more than one individual will likely be using the equipment. A common mistake is to purchase a low quality elliptical trainer that will be used by both a 130lb. and a 200lb. person.

ONLINE RESEARCHBeware of “rating sites”.  Good reviews can be bought and sold on unscrupulous websites.  Often the best brands also make commercial equipment used in gyms and health clubs, so a quick visit to your local gyms will give you a good indication of the most trusted brands.  Take care not to be blinded by flashy features that don’t necessarily add value to the product.

LOCATE YOUR LOCAL AUTHORIZED SPECIALTY RETAILEROnce you find a few companies and models that interest you, most can be purchased online through shopping sites and through retail stores. For retail stores, better quality equipment is sold through specialty fitness retailers, not discount stores. Do your research ahead of time, as many dealers exclusively sell certain brands.



TRY BEFORE YOU BUYYou wouldn’t buy a car without driving it first! If possible, ALWAYS try before you buy.  Specialty fitness dealers will likely have a more educated staff, higher quality equipment and the ability to assemble and service your product more effectively. Some have financing options. Specialty stores will usually have your Elliptical Trainer or a similar model that you can take for a “test drive”. Be prepared to spend some time in the store, and be sure to bring your runners and wear workout clothes! Almost any unit will feel and seem adequate if you use it for 5 minutes. It's only when you begin to put an elliptical trainer through its paces that you will start to notice major differences in quality and comfort. Don't hesitate to spend 15-30 minutes testing the equipment. A good elliptical trainer is a major investment. Take your time.


NATURAL MOVEMENT  How does the movement "feel?" This is a critical question to ask when trying an elliptical. Does the product feel natural? Be sure to try several machines in order to get an idea of subtle differences. Spend at least 10 minutes on each unit. You should not feel unusual stress on your knees or hips, or any odd sensations in your lower legs. Also when using the unit, you should be able to exercise in a neutral position with relatively upright posture, without over-extending or bending over to reach the handrails. Steer clear of machines that feel jerky or unnatural.  An important factor to look for here is the motion of the feet.  Some machines will cause your heels to come up off of the platform. This is not ideal as it can cause nerve issues that can result in tingling in the feet and toes. Have someone watch your feet to ensure that your heels are not coming up, as it may be difficult to notice by yourself.

ADJUSTABLE INCLINE   Adjusting the incline varies the focus on muscle groups and provides a great way to add variety to the routine. Most elliptical trainers only offer two ways to increase intensity – speed and electronic resistance.  Incline offers a third option. Combinations of varying speed, resistance and incline offer a greater variety to your exercise routine, which can reduce boredom, enhance motivation, and keep you from reaching an exercise plateau.

USER DEFINED MOTION  This is a new category of non-impact fitness machines.  There are very few options at this time, however the category is growing.  These machines allow the user to define their own motion and change on the fly.  They are superior to traditional elliptical trainers in the sense that the motion is not repetitive, so each individual can find a motion that is appealing. This in turn can prevent repetitive strain injuries.  They also tend to have a significantly greater maximum stride length, and some even replicate an almost perfect running motion.  Click here to view machines that feature User Defined Motion

UPPER BODY MOTION Most machines have upper body levers to add an upper body workout element. When testing machines with upper body levers, make sure that the motion is comfortable and intuitive. You should not have to bend over to complete the range of motion or otherwise compromise your posture. Many machines offer multiple grips in order to accommodate different users. Test different machines to find what is most comfortable for you.

ADJUSTABLE RESISTANCE Look for units that have a broad range of resistance that is adjusted electronically. Better units have consoles that make resistance changes simple and intuitive so that interval training sessions can be easily incorporated into your routine.  Most machines will have programs that will automatically change resistance using different workout programs.

REVERSE MOTION Essentially all elliptical trainers move in forward and reverse. The ability to move in a forward or reverse motion adds variety and challenge to the workout. When used properly, going in reverse will change the focus of the workout to different muscle groups. This also greatly reduces the risk of repetitive use injuries common with some treadmill and stair climber users. Quality units will have programs that incorporate reverse motion, and should feel smooth while doing so.

QUIET OPERATION  This is a distinct advantage that elliptical trainer have over treadmills. A truly well designed elliptical trainer should be relatively silent at all intensity levels.  This makes them a great choice where you will be watching television, have children sleeping nearby, or in apartment and condo complexes.

ELECTRONIC FEATURESElliptical Trainers today are coming with increasingly interactive options that are designed to motivate, challenge and entertain you. The key is to look at these features subjectively and decide which (if any) will keep you moving toward achieving and maintaining your fitness goals.  These features should be intuitive and easy to navigate.  With higher quality manufacturers, these features are typically offered as options, which allow the user to decide which features will work for them, without having to spend extra money for options you don’t need.



MAINTENANCE Elliptical Trainers are typically maintenance free, other than basic cleaning.  A well-designed unit takes normal wear and tear into account so you don't have to. 

WARRANTY An elliptical trainer is an electronic piece of equipment with many moving parts and computer components. Even a quality unit may require maintenance at some point. Most quality elliptical trainers will offer a lifetime warranty on the frame. When it comes to other components, look for a warranty that provides for at least 1 year of labour and a minimum of 3 years coverage on parts. Ask your salesperson what components are covered.  Many specialty retailers will offer extended warranties.  These can be a great value when you consider the cost of labour from even a minor issue.  Ask the salesperson about their extended warranty options. Ensure that the dealer from whom you are purchasing has their own service staff who are trained to service your equipment!


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