This elliptical trainer buying guide should be your Bible for knowing what features to look for and what’s important when comparing ellipticals.
You’ll find some that have lots of bells and whistles that may not have the basics, while others are stripped-down but have everything you need. This elliptical buyers' guide points out what to look for. (Also see Shopping Online for an Elliptical Trainer.)
Every buyer's guide will tell you that stride length is more important to your comfort than any other feature, particularly if you are tall. The longer the stride, the more range of motion you’ll have. A full range of motion is key to a really good workout. Some elliptical machines have a relatively short stride, and these can feel jerky when you’re using them.
Rule of Thumb: Over 18" is ideal for most users....over 20" if you are 6' or taller.
Be sure you know how much noise the machine makes. It may not bother you at first, but over time you’ll stop using a loud elliptical trainer, especially if you can’t enjoy music or television while you’re exercising. In general, magnetic resistance is quieter than belts, and a solid, weightier machine will be quieter than one that may wobble or thump on your floor when you’re really putting it through its paces.
Rule of Thumb: Heavier flywheels and better construction will generally equate to less noise overall.
The foot pedals should be large enough to accommodate your feet comfortably and have a non-slip surface to lessen the risk of injury or stumbling. Some machines also have an adjustable slant, which can increase your comfort level.
Rule of Thumb: Fixed pedals will be much more uncomfortable than articulating ones. Better brands will feature better pedals.
Make sure your elliptical trainer will fit the space you’re planning on putting it. This sounds obvious, but some people don’t realize just how large these machines can be, and you want open space on all sides so that you can easily get on and off.
Rule of Thumb: Rear drive ellipticals are generally larger than front drive ones, while mid drive models offer the smallest footprint.
If you have small children, look for safety features like an automatic safety turn-off button and a covered flywheel. Also make sure the hand rails are sturdy enough to support the heaviest user.
Rule of Thumb: More expensive ellipticals tend to have the most safety features, especially the commercial-grade brands like Life Fitness, Matrix and Precor.
Elliptical machines are first and foremost for cardiovascular workouts, so you really need to have a way to monitor your heart rate. Whether it is a pulse rate monitor or a chest strap monitor, no elliptical trainer buying guide will tell you to bypass this essential feature – it is how you check your progress and make sure you aren’t overdoing things.
Rule of Thumb: More expensive machines tend to offer wireless heart rate monitoring, which is more accurate than the pulse grip readings.
Don’t buy an elliptical trainer just because the machine has the most features. If you aren’t counting calories, there’s no need to know how many calories you’ve burned and what your average calories per hour are; but if this is important to you, that’s fine. Compare features to make sure you’re getting everything you need and nothing you don’t.
Rule of Thumb: Start with your budget, then look at those machines and see which features you definitely need vs. those you want.
Let’s hope you won’t need to fall back on your warranty, but if you do have problems with your elliptical trainer, your warranty can make or break your satisfaction level. Warranties range from 90 days to lifetime, depending on the company, the model and what part of the machine you’re talking about.
Rule of Thumb: Compare warranties before buying and, if you’re making a sizable investment, consider purchasing an extended warranty.
Following these guidelines should help you avoid mistakes and narrow down your choices considerably. But even an elliptical trainer buying guide can’t make the final choice for you – that’s your personal choice.
UPDATE: New Year's Elliptical Sales are still on!
Here is your chance to rant or rave about the elliptical you use at home or at the fitness center.