An elliptical machine (also called an elliptical trainer, or cross trainer) is a stationary cardiovascular exercise machine that produces body movement similar to running or walking, but without the harsh impact on the body other forms of cardiovascular exercise can produce.
Ellipticals do provide resistance during motion, however not as much as pure resistance workouts, like weightlifting. Due to their low impact movement, any excessive pressure on the joints is completely eliminated, which significantly reduces risk for injury – making them an excellent form of exercise for anyone, including those hindered by a permanent or temporary injury to the lower body.
This makes them an excellent choice for those who shouldn’t be using high impact exercise like older or injured people. Resistance can be adjusted from low to high depending on the user’s fitness level.
Elliptical trainers offer a full body workout. As such, they feature vertical handles that move back and forth (similar to the motion your arms make when running), in addition to working the lower body through the hill climbing motion of the pedals/foot platform.
Elliptical Machine Purchase Considerations
Precor Elliptical MachineElliptical trainers are very popular among those with home gyms and commercial gym-goers alike. They provide an excellent, low impact cardio workout without being too hard on joints, such as exercises like running, jogging, jumping jacks, jump rope, etc.
If there is a downside to elliptical machines, it’s that they don’t enhance your athleticism like outdoor cardiovascular exercises. But if calorie burning or increased strength and endurance are your goal, elliptical machines are one of the best choices.
Quality aside, one of your main considerations when purchasing an elliptical is your budget. Like most things, you’ll have to weigh the balance between price and quality. Pricing ranges from $200 to $5,000, and of course this wide range typically reflects quality, but not always. Even though $200 seems like a great buy, most serious users would probably want to pay a bit more for one of the leading elliptical brands, like Precor, ProForm, Sole, or Nordic Trac.
Not only will your machine be much sturdier with better overall construction, you’ll also get better features like warm up and cool down settings, more workout variety, etc.
Features to Look For
Speaking of features, here are a few that any respectable elliptical trainer should have:
Stride Length – Be sure the machine you purchase has a decent sized stride length, and at least 21″. Otherwise, it may be too small for you.
Solid Arm Handles – Some ellipticals are designed for lower-body only workouts and don’t include arm handles, but we don’t recommend that. Instead, choose one with solid, sturdy handles – that way you an be assured you’re getting a full body workout (both upper and lower body). Arm handles typically extend from the body of the machine up high enough for you to grab onto. The go back and forth, along with the leg movement.
Adjustable Incline – This is largely an optional feature and not needed for everyone, but for those of you that are pretty fit already should definitely consider this option.
Smoothness and Quietness of Motion – Make sure your elliptical is made of solid construction and materials, but operates smoothly and as quietly as possible. These are all important ingredients that just make the machine “feel” like it’s giving you a great workout.
Adjustable Resistance – This won’t be an issue for the vast majority of elliptical trainers on the market because they pretty much all feature adjustable resistance, but some lower tier models don’t. It goes without saying that you need to adjust your resistance to obtain the full benefit of working with an elliptical.
Pedal Adjustability – Lastly, make sure the elliptical you purchase has the ability to adjust the pedals for optimal comfort throughout the motion. The ability to work different muscles in the lower body is another side benefit to adjustable pedals.
Warranty – Make sure the manufacturer of the machine you’re interested in offers a minimum of one year warranty. You may even get away with lifetime warranty on frame and brakes by some manufacturers.
Elliptical Machine Design
Elliptical Machines have evolved over the years since they were first introduced to fitness world in the 1990s. Three designs have been used over the course of time since then, depending on the motor/drive location. The first models had a rear drive, then a front drive model was produced, and the latest models are center drive.
Gym Quality Elliptical Machines
For those who want to adjust the muscle usage throughout a workout, machines with adjustable and variable pedal are available. On the commercial grade variety, many other adjustments can be made, and even incorporated into pre-programmed workouts.
The benefits of these varying movements and speeds ensure the user won’t plateau over consistent use, as it’s commonly known that a single exercise done repetitively for months will produce a diminishing return effect, whereby a new workout would be required to proceed making fitness gains.
Elliptical Machine Workout – Whole Body Exercise
The dual action between the lower and upper body on an elliptical trainer creates a whole body exercise that of course uses more muscle groups simultaneously, thus burning more calories and fat. But buyer beware – some inexpensive and poorly designed machines have arm levers that are simply extensions of the drive mechanism and don’t actually provide any resistance.
Commercial quality trainers of course have an equal weight bearing distribution between the arm levers and drive train, taking advantage of more muscle groups and enhanced fat burning.
At first glance it may seem like the motion of an elliptical trainer would limit workout variety, but that’s not the case at all. Users can mix up any number of features and adjustments, such as, programmed workouts, speed of motion, motion resistance, foot position, direction of motion, and workout length to create a wide variety of workout types.
The video below illustrates a few examples of these options.
My personal favorite workout using the elliptical machine is the interval training type workouts that are usually programmed on the commercial grade ellipticals. It’s widely known that the best form of cardiovascular exercise is intervals, which alternates the intensity from low to high throughout the duration of the workout.
For instance, one or two minutes of low intensity within your ideal cardio zone, and then a burst of high intensity for a minute or so. This offers a combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercise, maximizing strength, endurance, calorie burn and fat loss. For a more thorough overview of interval training and it’s benefits, you can view this article.
The Future of Elliptical Machines
With the incredible efficiency of elliptical trainers, along with all the other benefits above, they have exploded among home and commercial gyms. They continue to evolve and gain popularity – even replacing much more mature fitness machines in home gyms, such as the treadmill. In our opinion, there’s just no other machine that offers the same degree of cardio, strength, flexibility and balance of the elliptical. You can’t beat all the options they offer, like pre-programmed workouts, heart rate monitoring, time, distance, ideal aerobic zone, and caloric burn level.
Elliptical machines also require much less space within your home gym, so even if you live in an apartment, there will be room enough to accommodate an elliptical trainer. We don’t see any other machines overtaking the elliptical for popularity until something else more efficient is invented.