If you'd like a good low-impact cardiovascular workout, a home elliptical machine is a great choice. However, not all home elliptical trainers are created equal! And because most people want to spend as little as possible, it's easy to get ripped off with a lousy piece of equipment. Don't be left in the dark: read this guide so you know what to look for.
Elliptical machines are a popular way of burning calories and elevating your heart rate (similar to running)--but without the pounding your hips and knees take using treadmills. However, in my opinion running IS a superior cardio workout, and if you can run pain-free, you'll probably be better off with a home treadmill instead of a home elliptical machine. Furthermore, you can do incline (hill) walking on a treadmill, which also burns more calories than simply walking on a flat surface.
Unlike the up-and-down motion of stair steppers, elliptical machines simulate walking, running, and climbing movements. Some include moving handlebars that engage the muscles in the upper body, too. Ellipticals are easier on your joints than treadmills. Also, people who are overweight typically burn more calories using an elliptical than on a treadmill or the exercise bike because they are able to exert on an elliptical at a higher rate.
While home elliptical machines are usually more compact than ones you'd find at the gym, even home elliptical machines can take up a lot of space (they come as large as 7 feet long by 2 feet wide by 5 feet high). An elliptical trainer may not be the best choice if you don't have very much space. However, one benefit with elliptical trainers is that they tend to be much quieter than treadmills. This means your home elliptical machine may be just fine in the living room (which is great because you can watch T.V. while using it and you won't disturb your family)!
The least expensive home elliptical models cost around 300 dollars--and this is for a no-frills, non-motorized piece of exercise equipment. The most expensive commercial-quality elliptical models are $2,000-$4,000 or more and may contain many features, such as a programmable console, a heart rate monitor, and adjustable incline levels. Unless you're a serious athlete or want all the bells and whistles of an expensive model, you can probably find a suitable home machine for under $1,000. The commercial machines are designed to endure heavy traffic, while a home model is assumed to be used at most once or twice per day.
What should I look for in a home elliptical machine?
Here's what the American College of Sports Medicine says to look for when selecting and using a home elliptical machine:
• Safety features: Motorized elliptical machines should have a safety turn-off control. Make sure that it works. The machines shouldn't wobble or seem like it may tip over, and fixed front or side rails should be sturdy to help you maintain your balance.
• Noise level: Some models make more noise than others. Go for a magnetic resistance model rather than a belt or strap and flywheel design if you need a quiet machine.
• Appropriate stride length: Make sure the elliptical machine accommodates your whole range of leg movement. Cheaper versions tend to have shorter stride lengths, which will be fine if you're on the short side, but not if you're 6' or taller. A too-short stride length will be uncomfortable and will give you an inferior workout with less calorie burn.
• Non-slip pedals: Pedals with a textured surface can help prevent your feet from moving around or slipping off the pedal while you exercise. Make sure the pedals are large enough to be used comfortably.
• A good overall fit: You should be able to move comfortably and smoothly in an upright position when you're using your elliptical machine. Your knees shouldn't bump into the console or brush against the upper body handles. Fixed support rails should allow you to stay in a comfortable upright position.