Ellipticals are a superb low-impact home exercise choice for virtually anyone. But, as with any investment in fitness equipment, our very best advice is “Don’t buy it until you’ve tested it the way you’ll use it.”
The most important feature of an elliptical trainer is feel. Make sure the motion feels smooth, without any jerking or unnatural movement. It's only when you put an elliptical trainer through its paces — adjusting the ramp, trying different programs, or exercising in forward and reverse motions — that you’ll start to notice and feel major differences in quality and comfort between models. So, get into your exercise clothes, put on your walkers or joggers, come on in and spend some time test driving.
The design of the elliptical trainer is very important. A better designed unit will allow your feet to remain in contact with the pedal during the entire workout while others could cause the heel to come off the pedal. Full foot contact during the elliptical motion relieves pressure on your knees and makes it a truly impact free workout. Full foot contact also relieves pressure on the ball of your foot, which would cause your toes to “fall asleep”.
Most quality units carry a lifetime warranty on their frames. For other components, look for warranty coverage for at least 1 year on labor and a minimum of 2-3 years coverage on the parts. (The most popular cross-trainer on the market carries a 10-year parts warranty.) Make sure your warranty includes the electronics and other key “wear-and-tear” components.
If you’ve been checking out elliptical trainers, you’ve probably seen some hype about magnetic resistance. In fact, virtually all cross-trainers create resistance with some form of magnetic brake. Your choice comes down to the types of magnetic resistance (standard or electro-magnetic) and the quality and features of the equipment.
Standard magnetic resistance is created by moving a powerful magnet towards or away from the moving flywheel. As the magnet moves towards the flywheel, the current generated between them increases—creating resistance. On some standard magnetic ellipticals, you turn a dial to move the magnet towards the flywheel and create resistance. On others, a small electric motor moves the magnet.
Electro-magnetic resistance is typically used in higher-end cross-trainers. This system doesn’t have a moving magnet. Instead, an electro-magnet is positioned close to the flywheel, and current is passed through it to create a resistant force. The more current, the higher the resistance. Electromagnets are very controllable, offering a finer range of resistance adjustments than other magnetic systems. Electromagnets are also more durable due to having fewer moving parts.
Most better quality elliptical trainers are equipped with a range of pre-set programs, essentially a series of varying resistances designed to simulate differing uphill gradients (sorry, no downhills). Programs let you choose the level of intensity for your workout—and also vary your workouts so your exercise program is never a dull routine.
Make your local The Great Escape store your personal fitness information center. Bring your questions on elliptical trainers — or any aspect of fitness and exercise. Our certified fitness specialists are walking encyclopedias of information, and you’ll have all of their attention. They’ll be glad to share their knowledge and help you make informed decisions that will get you the results you want.