If you've used an elliptical trainer at the gym, it's most likely a commercial machine. Reviews say these types of ellipticals are more expensive, durable and feature-laden than most people need at home, and experts question their value for most home users. 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 machine will be worth the investment. Precor models earn several recommendations in this price range, especially the EFX 5.33 (*Est. $4,300).
It draws strong praise from TreadmillDoctor.com, a review site that's usually quick to dismiss overpriced machines. In this case, the 5.33 is deemed to be of "exceptional quality," and receives a very rare score of 10 out of 10 for both reliability and quality. The EFX 5.33 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. A Fitness-Equipment-Source.com review praises the EFX 5.33's solid components, describing it as "commercial grade for the home." Most users say they're very happy with this machine, although some complain about its bulk and heaviness, and occasionally the price. One owner sums up, "A little pricey, but worth it if you'll use it."
The most obvious difference between the Precor EFX 5.33 and the EFX 5.31 (*Est. $3800) is the latter's lack of moving upper-body handlebars. Fred Waters at Fitness-Equipment-Source.com points out that 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. TreadmillDoctor.com says the Precor EFX 5.31 is "hard to beat," and names it a Best Buy in its price range. The few user reviews available are mostly positive, although owners do note some downsides. For one, the foot pedals are closer to the handlebars than Precor's commercial machines, which can be uncomfortable for tall users. The display can also be complicated and hard to read, according to posters at Amazon.com.
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 (*Est. $3,000) also draws praise for its solidity and durability. Reviewers like the automated incline from 15 to 25 degrees, adjustable stride and variable resistance. The experts at TreadmillDoctor.com rank the EFX 5.25 as first runner-up in its price range, describing it as "exceptional quality for a reasonable price." In a Fitness-Equipment-Source.com review, Waters likes the Precor EFX 5.25's automated incline, reliable performance and sturdy design.
The few user reviews available at Amazon.com indicate that this elliptical feels smooth and stable during a workout. "The actual performance of the machine is a dream. All movement is so well balanced and fluid the machine actually feels like an extension of your body," says one owner. Assembly is straightforward, comments say, but the elliptical is large and heavy; it takes some time to put together. One Amazon.com poster recommends recruiting a friend to help.
The Smooth Agile DMT (*Est. $2200) is another well-reviewed elliptical that can stand up to heavy use. It includes all the features you would expect at this price range, and experts are especially impressed with the adjustable motion feature that helps work various muscle groups. TreadmillDoctor.com gives the Agile DMT a Best Buy award, praising its "consistent quality" and adjustability; the elliptical also gets high marks for ergonomics. Fitness-Equipment-Source.com applauds the Agile DMT's exercise range, calling it an "innovative exercise machine."
However, several users at Amazon.com say the machine didn't work properly after being professionally assembled, and customer service representatives were unresponsive. "I hear nothing from them for weeks despite me calling every few days and leaving my cell phone number and every possible way of reaching me," says one owner. Assembly can also be a challenge, likely because the unit weighs 356 pounds. Another Amazon.com user calls it ''the Everest of assembly required.''
The Octane Fitness Q47c (*Est. $4,200) is another commercial-quality elliptical trainer worth considering. It offers not only varying resistance levels but a feature called SmartStride that automatically adjusts the stride length to fit your walking, running or jogging pace. Fred Waters at Fitness-Equipment-Source.com says the Octane Q47 is ''definitely worth considering'' if you're looking for a high-end elliptical trainer. TreadmillDoctor.com isn't as positive, calling the Q47 "a relic of an elliptical market when you could make a pretty good machine and charge the hell out of people for it."
TreadmillDoctor.com is similarly harsh about the Octane Fitness Q37ci (*Est. $3000), saying Octane simply isn't in the same league as Precor; however, this was the only negative review we saw of this machine. In fact, the Q37ci is the top-rated elliptical trainer in one recent independent test. Waters calls it "solid as a rock" and raves about its standout features, including a cross-training mode and narrow pedal spacing. Even so, he recounts one negative user review that warns of poor customer service from Octane Fitness. A few owner comments at ConsumerReports.org are universally positive.
Major differences between the Q37ci and Q47c include the number of workout programs -- the Q37ci has 16 to the Q47c's 12 -- and a fixed, 20.5-inch stride length for the Q37ci versus the Q47's adjustable range of strides. Otherwise, the models are quite similar. The Q37ci lacks the Q47's handlebar-mounted controls, but does have heart-rate control programs and workout booster modes for targeting specific muscles.