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High-end elliptical trainers offer gym quality without leaving the house

Club-quality elliptical trainers for the home aren't quite as durable as those you'll find in the gym, but they come quite close -- with hefty, durable components and prices to match. The more frequently and intensely you use your elliptical trainer, the more exercisers who share it and the heavier each user is, the more likely it is that a club-quality elliptical will be worth the investment.

Octane Fitness's compact, front-drive elliptical trainers make an excellent showing for themselves in this price range, but Precor still dominates the market in club-quality elliptical trainers for the home. Their large, stable rear-drive elliptical trainers eschew flashy features for sturdy components that last. Even the notoriously picky editors at TreadmillDoctor.com praise Precor elliptical trainers for their exceptional build quality, warranty and reliability.

The Precor EFX 5.33 (Est. $4,500) uses the same frame and many of the same components as the commercial Precor trainers found in gyms, and boasts a lengthy 10-year parts warranty. One owner sums up user opinion, writing that the 5.33 is "a little pricey, but worth it if you'll use it."

Both the Precor EFX 5.33 and the EFX 5.31 offer 20 levels of magnetic resistance and Precor's patented CrossRamp technology, which power-adjusts between 15 and 30 degrees of incline. As the CrossRamp inclines, it adjusts the elliptical's stride length between 21 and 23 inches -- usually long enough to suit even the tallest users.

The most obvious difference between the two machines is the Precor EFX 5.31's lack of moving handlebars for working your upper body. As Fred Waters at Fitness-Equipment-Source.com points out, not all exercisers use the moving handlebars anyway; so selling a model without them makes sense.

Like the 5.33, the EFX 5.31 gets rave reviews from experts for its quality and reliability. Precor doesn't publish a weight limit for any of its residential-use ellipticals, but has tested the EFX 5.31 to 300 pounds and the EFX 5.25 to 275 pounds. Waters says he's confident in the 5.31's ability to handle "excessively heavy individuals," and notes that Precor ellipticals generally have just one-fifth of the standard service issues one would expect in the fitness industry.

Moving down the Precor price ladder, the EFX 5.25 draws similar praise for its solid build and great durability. It and the Precor EFX 5.23 (Est. $2,300) offer 16 levels of magnetic resistance and a CrossRamp that adjusts between 15 and 25 degrees of incline, providing a stride length between 19 and 21 inches. The Precor 5.25's CrossRamp adjusts automatically, but the 5.23's CrossRamp must be adjusted manually.

The front-drive Octane Fitness Q47c (Est. $4,200) is another commercial-level elliptical trainer worth considering, thanks to a "SmartStride" feature that automatically adjusts the stride length to fit your walking, running or jogging stride. However, this model draws some mixed reviews from experts and users alike. The editors of TreadmillDoctor.com praise the Octane Q47c's good engineering and design, but say its components are "average quality."

If your budget is limited but you insist on top-of-the-line quality, the Precor EFX 5.23 offers sturdy performance at almost half the price. In return you'll get just 16 resistance levels to the Precor 5.33's 20 plus a slightly shorter stride, and you'll have to dismount and make CrossRamp adjustments manually. If you can swing it, and want an elliptical that comes closest to commercial-level performance and durability, the Precor 5.33 is your best bet.

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Precor EFX 5.33 Premium Series Elliptical Fitness Crosstrainer
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from Amazon.com
New: $4,899.00   
Average Customer Review:  
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Precor EFX 5.31 Premium Series Elliptical Fitness Crosstrainer
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from Amazon.com
New: $4,299.00   
Average Customer Review:  
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Precor EFX 5.25 Elliptical Fitness Crosstrainer (Latest Generation)
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from Amazon.com
New: $3,499.00   
Average Customer Review:  
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Precor EFX 5.23 Elliptical Fitness Crosstrainer (Latest Generation)
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from Amazon.com
New: $2,799.00   
Average Customer Review:  

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