A Quick Buyers Guide: Ellipticals
Front or Rear Wheel Drive?
The rear wheel models were once thought of to be superior to front wheel drive models then a shift occurred in high end elliptical machines when Vision Fitness and Octane chose to create a front wheel assembly for their newest elliptical models. As a result today quality elliptical, as well as low quality elliptical can come in either front or rear wheel drive.
The resistance mechanism provides the resistance to the pedals and handle bars. Belt resistance is rarely seen on decent elliptical trainers as it uses a rubber belt to create friction against a flywheel, and all that friction eventually causes the rubber belt to wear down. Magnetic resistance is superior and works by applying a magnetic field to a cast iron flywheel. Lower-end elliptical trainers require moving a permanent magnet either closer or further away from the flywheel to vary resistance. In the commercial and more expensive models, you usually find an eddy current brake system (ECB).
The ECB works with an aluminum wheel and an electromagnetic current that controls the tension. Because the ECB system doesn’t have any moving parts its more durable and reliable than other resistance systems.
Stride length is the distance that your feet a travel front to back and is a critical feature. Stride length is between 16-19 inches. Anything shorter than 16 inches will tend to make the movement feel more like a stepper. Some of the higher end trainers have a self-adjusting stride length that adjusts to your personal stride just as Octane’s SmartStride interactive ergonomics which monitors pace and direction and automatically adjust stride length accordingly to replicate walking, jogging or running.
Upper Body Handle Bars:
One of the great advantages of most elliptical trainers is the ability to exercise both the lower and upper body at the same time. The upper body workout comes from pushing and pulling a set of handle bars attached to the lower rails. If this is an important feature to you than be sure to verify that the model you’re considering comes with handle bars, as not all do. And again this is a category where Octane really takes the lead with their ergonomic path of travel and low pivot point which distributes more of the workload to the upper body and core.
The flywheel controls how smooth the elliptical feels. The heavier the flywheel, the smoother and quieter the elliptical will feel because the additional weight helps it spin efficiently. Flywheel weights for most home ellipticals generally begin at around 13 pounds.
This is the link between the flywheel and the pedals. Quality belts use grooves to maintain an efficient transfer of energy between the pedals and flywheel. The more grooves on the belt, the less slippage the user will feel.
Pay attention to the terms of the manufacturer's warranty, higher-end elliptical trainers usually comes with longer warranty periods that cover the frame, mechanical parts, and labor, but even these warranties rarely cover labor beyond one year. If an extended warranty is offered, take it.