What to look for when buying an elliptical machine or cross trainer

Want to get fit? Looking for something that will tone the whole body? Not keen on treadmills? Then the thing for you is an elliptical trainer, or cross trainer, as they’re sometimes known.

Along with spinning bikes and treadmills, elliptical trainers are a mainstay of any modern gym and they’re there for a reason – because they’re good and they work. However, it’s important to know what they can (and cannot) do for you. Briefly:

  • They can help improve your cardiovascular fitness, that is your overall ability to exercise safely;
  • They will allow you to exercise in a low-impact fashion, putting little stress on ankle and knee joints;
  • They can improve your balance and core muscles;
  • They can help tone your arms and legs while you get fit;
  • They can stop you going mad or losing interest in exercise through boredom due to all their different modes of operation!
  • They cannot help you get fit without putting the effort in;
  • They cannot help you bulk up your muscles (often a bonus for the ladies);

If you still think they’re for you and are thinking of purchasing one for the home then these are the key things you need to think about:

Consult your bank manager first.

A decent, well built elliptical trainer from a know brand will cost anything from $600 upwards – and that’s for the basic model. Start piling on the features and it can be like buying a car – suddenly the price has doubled or tripled before you know it. We all get sucked into the ‘options list’ so consider carefully exactly what it is you need the cross trainer for and how you’re going to use it.

If you’re just aiming to improve your general fitness, using it once or twice a week then save yourself some money and stick to a basic model. If, however, you’ve used them before and have a definite purpose for needing specific features then delve into the options but keep to those that you really do need. I haven’t looked closely at the second hand trade in second hand elliptical trainers but I imagine that it’s pretty much like the second hand car market – when you come to sell, all those options don’t really get reflected in the price someone’s willing to pay.

Having said all that I would recommend that you buy the best quality that you can; going for a known brand with fewer features is probably going to be a better deal in he long run than buying a cheap rip-off will all the bells and whistles. These are intricate mechanical (and electronic) machines and won’t be cheap to fix.

Test before you buy.

Your final purchase may come from the Internet but take time to go to a local supplier first to actually try out the machines you’re considering. Have a look at the following:

    • How sturdy is it? You can’t tell from a picture how well built a piece of machinery is and marketing blurb is often just that – blurb. Get on the machine to try it; compare it against other models in the store. Very often individual manufacturers will have a price step in their products – that may denote a step up in features but often occurs as a result of improved build quality too.
    • How big is it? Size may matter if you’re planning to have this in a bedroom or have to pack it away between workout sessions. These are not small machines to start with and a top of the range model can be 8ft long, nearly 3ft wide and close to 6ft tall. Jamming that into a closet on a regular basis will be a workout in itself!
    • Does it fit your size? The stride length (ie the lateral distance that the foot pads move as you exercise) of some machines can be quite short. This can lead you to feeling like you’re trying to run with your ankles tied together. Some machines have adjustable stride lengths; if not then check out the stride length to ensure that it is comfortable for you.
    • Is it front drive or rear? Rear driven trainers usually give a longer stride length (see above) but also tend to be longer; front drive units tend to be shorter and often make you feel like you’re leaning forward all the time; the level of effort is probably the same for both but the forward lean (like walking up a hill) can get uncomfortable after a while.
    • How noisy is it? One of the reasons people go for elliptical machines instead of treadmills is that they are a lot quieter so the neighbours down stairs aren’t going to start complaining every time you exercise. That’s not to say that all cross trainers are quiet. Some trainers work on a mechanical belt system and others use a magnetic resistance system. Belt systems are cheaper, magnetic systems tend to be quieter.
    • How smooth is the trainer? As well as being noisy some cheap trainers can sound like someone has left a bag of gravel in the drive system. Check to see that the whole thing moves smoothly and that there is no jerkiness in the system.

On the point above about where to buy from do seriously consider your local dealer over the Internet because there can be many benefits and you can still get a bargain. Many local dealers will go a long way to match (sensible) Internet prices and having a local dealer supplied model can bring much peace of mind. They may be able to help with initial set up of the machine, provide easy payments and help out with those little snags that sometimes arise with new equipment. And if things go badly wrong with your new toy it’s a lot easier for the local dealer to come and pick it up than it is for you to arrange to ship it back to some supplier in an office in China!

So, that’s your basic buying guide for purchasing your elliptical trainer so get out there and get exercising.