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A Beginner's Guide to Buying an Elliptical

WARNING: Always check with a doctor prior to beginning a new workout routine.

If you want to work muscles while staying gentle on your joints, an elliptical trainer is an essential addition to any home gym. With so much variety to choose from, buying the machine can feel harder than an actual workout, but it doesn't have to be. Here is essential information about the best types of ellipticals and features for your cardio routine.

Types of Ellipticals

Front-Drive Ellipticals

Front drives imitate the workout of climbing stairs with an elliptical motion. The flywheel is located at the front of the machine.

  • Lightweight and compact - A lighter, sleeker machine is easier to move so you can easily redesign your home gym as you add more equipment. Less bulky machines are also great for home gyms on a non-ground floor, giving you peace of mind you won’t be disturbing the people below.
  • Typically more affordable - Those just starting a workout routine or creating a home gym will appreciate the lower pricing as they incorporate this machine into their life. Fitness enthusiasts can add a new machine without spending more than they want.
  • Easy to get on and off - Since you're usually lower to the ground and there is less machine to step over, you can confidently get on and off the elliptical. Those with knee issues or less stability will have more peace of mind knowing they'll be less likely to trip on the equipment.
                                                    Browse all front-drive ellipticals

Rear-Drive Ellipticals

Rear drives create a motion close to that of walking or jogging. The flywheel is located at the back of the machine.

  • Commonly have an incline feature - Adding resistance to your routine helps prevent workout boredom, and it also ensures that you can always challenge yourself.
  • Helps you stay more centered during your workout - Correct body positioning is key to getting a good workout without strain. Those with balance issues won't have to worry constantly about falling off the machine during their workout. Instead, they can focus more on intensity and staying in their target heart-rate zone.
  • Allows for a longer, more natural stride - This drive system helps keep users more comfortable, ensuring a high-quality workout on the elliptical. A natural stride helps keep your body in the best position for a great workout.
  • Often offers quieter and smoother operation - If you prefer early morning or late-night routines, those who are sleeping will appreciate the machine's quietness. This feature also helps you focus more on your tunes or workout rather than the noise of the machine.

                                                                                                                                             Browse all rear-drive ellipticals

Center-Drive Ellipticals

Center drives are set in the center of the elliptical with a small flywheel on each side of the machine.

  • Allows for most natural position while working out - A natural position helps users stay comfortable and balanced. This will help you stick to your routine and ensure you're not straining your body.
  • Square-shaped - This space-saving design is great for smaller home gyms. Taking up less space than other types, a center-drive elliptical can allow for a more open gym.
  • Closer foot pedals - With foot pedals that are closer together, you'll feel less strain on your hips. This can help you get a good workout without adding more injury or soreness.

Dual Elliptical Trainers

These models combine the benefits of a standard elliptical with an exercise cycle.

  • Workout while standing on the elliptical - Get all the benefits of an intense cardio session without stressing out your joints. You can easily work on your lower body while standing.
  • Take a seat and workout on an exercise bike - The exercise bike is great for novices who are still getting used to daily exercise. It’s also great for those with back, knee or joint problems that aren’t comfortable standing for extended periods.
  • More workout variety - With the combination of two types of equipment, you can add more variety to your daily routine. You can alternate how you use the machine for interval training or switch up your workout to prevent boredom.

Browse all dual elliptical trainers

Elliptical Gliders

This type has pedals that move back and forth, instead of in a circular rotation. There is no flywheel as gliders are driven by the user's legs.

  • Great for a lower body workout - A lower body workout not only helps develop better leg muscles, but is great for cardio. With your largest muscles located in your lower body, it's a good idea to help increase their strength and stamina.
  • Moving arm components for an upper body workout - Those looking to increase toning in their upper body should chose a model with moving arm components. Gliders can provide a full body workout for optimal exercise.
  • Ideal for minimal joint impact - With minimal joint impact, all ages and body types can get an intense workout without strain or pain. This will ensure you can exercise daily without taking too much time to recover.
  • Foldable for easy storage when not in use - Those not looking to turn a whole room into a home gym can easily store this machine in a corner or fold it up and put it away in a closet. Many models are foldable for simple storage. You can easily keep your home neat and tidy for you and guests.

Features of Ellipticals

Performance Features

  • Incline - An incline lets you adjust the slope of your movement. This way you can simulate walking uphill. An adjustable incline allows you to target various muscle groups in your legs for a more targeted workout, while increasing your heart rate and exercise intensity.
  • Resistance - When you change the resistance of your machine, the pedals stay in the same position but it is harder or easier to move them. This helps you control how hard your body works. Adjustable resistance is great for interval training, where you can alternate between high intensity and low intensity all on one machine.
  • Flywheel weight - This determines how hard you can go and how much weight is supported.
  • Pedals - These can be adjusted to make it harder/more intense, especially for routines on your calves. With adjustable pedals, you can modify them to accommodate your body's needs for comfort and stability.
  • Reverse motion - Reverse motion allows you to move your legs backward, so you can work different muscles.
  • Stride length - Your best stride length is determined by your height. Stride length is important for your comfort and performance during the workout. Those shorter than 5'3" should utilize a stride length of 16"-18", those measuring 5'3" to 5'7" should utilize a stride of 19"-21" and those taller than 5'7" will find a stride length of 21" or longer most comfortable.
Console and Programs
  • Screens - Ellipticals offer LED, touchscreen and backlit LCD screens, making it easier to read the information on the screen when you're tracking your workout progress.
  • Data tracking - This allows you to know your workout stats at a glance, including heart rate and calories burned. Heart rate monitors track your heart rate by having the user grip the machine or through wireless technology.
  • iFit (Google Maps) - iFit is powered by Google Maps and automatically adjusts the incline or decline to match outdoor terrain while displaying Google Street View images. This program also helps you track your workouts, create customized workouts and offers hundreds of other workouts to choose from to help prevent boredom.
  • Pre-programmed workouts - Built-in workouts are designed for weight loss, heart health, interval training and more so you can let the machine do all the workout planning.
  • Pulse grip handles - Grip the handles to easily calculate, monitor and track your pulse.
  • MP3 input - This lets you plug in your MP3 player and control your media playlist directly through the machine's larger console.
  • Water bottle holder - Keep hydrated by ensuring your water bottle is nearby for a quick sip. Bottle holders fit standard size water bottles.
  • Tablet holders - With a built-in holder, you can catch up on reading news or stream videos. The holder is designed to keep your tablet secured to the machine.
  • Bluetooth connection - Specialized machines have Bluetooth connections to track your workout on your favorite fitness tracking website or mobile device.
  • Media capabilities - Many models allow you to plug in your MP3 players, tablets or other mobile devices to utilize during your workout. The machine typically supplies charging capabilities for these devices as well.