Those large robot-looking machines you see lined up in the cardio sections of many sporting equipment stores or fitness clubs are called elliptical trainers. Using one is a bit like a cross between running on a treadmill and doing the moonwalk. The oversized pedals and moving handlebars imitate the motion of running without stressing the exerciser's joints.
Elliptical machines come in two primary styles -- rear drive and front drive -- although neither has been proven definitively superior. The rear-drive elliptical tends to cost more because it has less moving parts to wear down or break. Front-drive styles are often lighter, sometimes foldable and usually less expensive.
The feel of an elliptical trainer is the most important buying factor. Because a user can tell only so much from reading specifications and viewing the equipment, it's essential to try the machine to find your perfect fit. Exercisers say they feel more at center on a rear drive elliptical, while a front drive sometimes gives a slight forward lean.
When purchasing an elliptical machine, be prepared to spend between $1,000 and $3,000. Pricing often depends on available brand, features and durability. Owner reviews indicate that machines costing less than $1,000 may have numerous durability issues.
ConsumerSearch compares currently available machines by the most essential features in four categories: performance, ease of use, durability and customer service, as well as by what experts and users say. Our Best Reviewed elliptical trainers contain all required attributes, and are well rated by professionals and owners alike. They have a record of quality performance over an extended period.