Buying Guide

Anatomy of an Elliptical Trainer

Where Did the Elliptical Get Its Name?

The Elliptical acquired its moniker due to the elliptical motion of the pedal movement. This allows for a very fluid, very low-impact jog simulation. Because the pedals move with your feet in an elliptical motion, your knees and hips take less of the brunt of the exercise. Instead of worrying about how uncomfortable your joints are becoming, you can vest more effort and focus into your high-intensity session.

Front or Rear Drive?

The front drive elliptical has been the most popular in-home elliptical for many years. This is certainly not to say it’s the most ideal personal elliptical. When you go to the gym, all you will see are rear drive ellipticals. The reason front drive has been such a popular option for in-home ellipticals is because they cost less to produce, and they tend to be lighter and more manageable. Although rear drive ellipticals tend to be slightly heavier and somewhat more expensive, they make a world of difference during intense training. They allow the user to stand erect instead of forcing the user to lean forward to counteract the motion found with front drive units. This provides for better posture during the session, helping to make the session last longer and be more enjoyable. The rear drive unit simulates most accurately a natural walk or jog. Most importantly, the rear drive elliptical doesn’t need roller tracks. The front drive unit typically uses a roller track. This is made up of wheels that roll in a steel or aluminum track. These parts are exposed and tend to collect copious amounts of dust and dirt. These units need to be cleaned weekly, if not daily, and oiled after every use. The front drive elliptical tends to be a high-maintenance unit.


The type of bearings an elliptical has provides an idea of the quality of the machine. Manufacturers have a few options when deciding what type of bearings to use at the pivot points. If you find a machine that uses bushings at the pivot points, turn and walk away. Bushings are a much cheaper way to affix the pivot points. They tend to break down fairly quickly and squeak quite loudly. Stick with a machine that uses ball bearings. Sealed ball bearings are the best. They are maintenance free and extend the life of the machine. Standard ball bearings are sufficient, buy may need to be cleaned periodically.

Resistance System

There are three main types of breaking systems. The least expensive is the manual magnetic system. The user manually adjusts this system to the brake force preferred. The next step up is the motorized magnetic system, also know as the electromagnetic braking system. With this system, a motor is responsible for adjusting the breaks. Since this system has a motor, it usually requires more maintenance than the manual magnetic system. The supreme breaking system is called the eddy current system. This system uses an electromagnet in the flywheel. As the user modifies the brake level through the console, the electromagnet is exposed to different levels of magnetic current, increasing or decreasing the force of the brake. Since no parts inside are actually touching within the eddy current breaking system, it is silent. These types of breaking systems are usually found on the higher end models.

Stride Length

The stride length of your new elliptical should be one of the most heavily weighted deciding factors. The stride length will largely contribute to the comfort of your workout. The average stride length ranges from 18″ to 21″. A taller person will want to stay on the longer side and vice versa for a shorter person. If the stride length is too long for the user, he or she will over-emphasize the hamstring and gluteal musculature during the workout. If the stride length is too short for the user, he or she will over-emphasize the quad and calve musculature. The ideal option for stride length is a variable stride length. This feature can be found on multiple models and is highly recommended. With this option, the user can assure the correct stride length for themselves, and any other family member who might use the equipment. Additionally, adjustments can be made to target the aforementioned specific musculature to change up the workout and add a different level of intensity.