The best elliptical trainers have

  • A heavy flywheel. In general the heavier the flywheel, the smoother the motion. Look for one that weighs 25 pounds or more.
  • Possible progression. To maximize your training, the elliptical must progress with you.  Most elliptical trainers have at least 16 levels of resistance; higher-end models have 20 or 22 levels to choose from.
  • Quiet magnetic braking. Almost every modern elliptical trainer uses magnetic braking for resistance. The mechanism should adjust smoothly and quietly between resistance levels, with no clunking or jerking.
  • Appropriate stride length. The actual feel of any given stride length can vary between brands and models but, as a general rule, the longer the better (especially if you're tall).
  • Adjustable stride length. You can get by without this feature but, if several people of different sizes are going to use the elliptical trainer, it can be a real lifesaver.
  • Adjustable incline. Adjustable incline ramps serve two purposes at once: They both change your stride length and shift the workout focus to different muscle groups, lending more variety to your workout.
  • Comfortable handlebars. Make sure the handlebars, moving or stationary, feel comfortable when you hold onto them and pedal; it's hard to exercise when you feel awkward.
  • Easy-to-view display. The elliptical display should be easily read from any angle while on the machine. Backlit LCDs are ideal, but LED screens will suffice. Avoid non-backlit LCD screens.
  • Easy-to-use controls. Resistance and incline should be easy to control from the center console or moving handlebars. Ideally, you shouldn't have to stop the workout to make adjustments.
  • Comprehensive coverage. The warranty should cover parts for at least five years and labor for at least one. The manufacturer should be easy to reach, and quick to respond to consumer complaints.

Know Before You Go

Does it fit my available space? Do you have enough space to use an elliptical trainer in your home? The average footprint is about 79 inches long by 30 inches wide by 63 inches tall, and many front-drive elliptical trainers require additional clearance to the rear when in use. Don't forget to measure your ceiling height, too; most ellipticals will add an extra 1.5 feet to your own height. Precor provides a virtual space planner online.

Does it fit me? If you're especially tall or short, look for an elliptical with a longer or shorter stride length. That said, the only way to know how well any stride length suits you is to get on the machine and exercise for a few minutes. Is the motion comfortable? Do you have plenty of room for your limbs (knees and elbows especially) within the elliptical trainer's frame? If not, look elsewhere. Comfort is key.

Who will use it? If more than one person is going to use the elliptical trainer, everybody should try it out. If the users are of very different sizes, you may need an elliptical trainer with an adjustable stride length to accommodate them all on one machine.

Should I have it delivered or assembled? When you pick up or receive your elliptical, it will arrive in one or more large, heavy boxes. Often the shippers will deliver said boxes to the curb, but won't bring them into your house unless you pay an extra fee for "inside" delivery. If you're handy, patient, and able to get the elliptical trainer into your home on your own (even if that means carrying it piece-by-piece), DIY assembly can be a viable, but time-consuming, option. If you don't have the time or patience to mess with it, consider paying for a professional delivery and assembly service (typically about $100 to $200).

How often will I use the elliptical trainer? If you're committed to long, frequent workout sessions, you'll want to invest in a machine with a solid build and durable parts.

Do I want movable handlebars? Although movable handlebars provide a moderate upper-body cardio workout, many exercisers prefer holding onto the stationary handlebars instead. If you're in the latter group, you can sometimes save money by opting for an elliptical trainer that comes without moving handlebars.

Buying tactics and strategies

Shop around for the best deal. Consumers find that online retailers offer the best price, but reliable customer service can be a gamble. One reviewer successfully asked the manufacturer to beat the price of a less-expensive, eBay dealer. Always make sure the retailer you're buying from is certified by the brand, or the manufacturer warranty may not apply.

Talk to a technician. If possible, speak with a third-party fitness equipment technician. Since they have an exclusive view under the hood, so to speak, ask which brands they're called to fix frequently, then steer clear of those.

Double-check the website. Don't depend on specifications or warranty details from retail websites; these may be inaccurate or out of date. Double-check on the manufacturer's website instead.

Try out the elliptical. Specifications and features are all secondary to how the elliptical trainer actually feels. Always take the machine for a test drive at the retailer, if possible. Make sure it has a smooth, natural motion, and don't accept any excuses from the salesperson for knocks or other noise. If the elliptical trainer is noisy or jerky in the store, it'll do the same at home. Check for stability, too; the machine shouldn't rock, even when working at full speed.

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