Elliptical Buying Guide
First Things First
This really sounds silly, but why are you thinking about buying an elliptical trainer? Have you used one in the past? Do you exercise regularly on an elliptical or have you done so in the past?
The reason that elliptical trainers are so popular and rapidly growing as a major segment of exercise equipment is two reasons. #1- They work! #2- They have a lower impact on your joints than traditional treadmills and stair climbers.
Ellipticals are rapidly becoming one of the big categories in the fitness industry. Many fitness stores that we talk with now sell nearly as many elliptical trainers as they do treadmills. Elliptical trainers are very important to the fitness retail store for two reasons. They sell enough volume of these machines to help cover their expenses, and they tend to make more money on ellipticals due to the wide variety of ellipticals available.
The variety of elliptical trainers is a very important point. Because there are so many ways an elliptical can be made, there are a lot of competing choices and marketing claims. Many of these claims are complete fabrications just to get you to buy their machines so you need to be very careful.
Let’s go back to our original thoughts. Why are you buying an elliptical trainer? Is it to lose weight, tone up, stay in shape or rehabilitate? The answer to this question, along with a few other factors will help you determine how much to spend.
If you haven’t put much thought into it yet, you may want to take the questionnaire located at the end of this pamphlet. If so, go to the last printed page before the final logo sheet and take the questionnaire so you will have a better idea of what you are looking for. If you just want to dive in, let’s get started!
HOW MUCH TO SPEND
You should never, ever begin seriously shopping for an elliptical trainer without determining how much to spend. This is unless you want to pay too much. This may seem obvious but when some of us were salespeople in fitness stores, over 90% of shoppers had no idea how much elliptical trainers cost. They also were totally oblivious in regard to the amount they wanted to spend. We’re going to help you figure this out step by step. Remember the old adage: If you don’t know what things cost, you will have your pants around your ankles and never knew your belt was undone.
Financial limitations are important and your budget will determine what you can spend. If you can’t afford a $3,000 elliptical trainer, let’s not even consider it. A person on a limited budget may window shop for a Mercedes but when it comes to serious car buying time, they will go to the Chevy dealer. Determine the maximum amount you can spend. You may need a better elliptical trainer, but only spend what you can afford.
This is where our second question comes into play. Have you ever used an elliptical trainer? If you have, and you used it simply for short periods of time, does it make sense to buy one that’s built for a marathon runner? You can limit your choices at this point. A good basic model may be all you need or you may need one with full programmability and heart rate control (HRC) features.
This is where the third question comes into play. Do you use an elliptical trainer regularly or have you done so in the past? If you have, we recommend that you buy a better elliptical trainer than if you haven’t. The reason is that if you have a pattern of consistent exercise and you are like most people, you will not buy an elliptical trainer that will meet your needs. You will see the $399 specials and then try to use it 1 hour per day, every day of the year and then wonder why it completely breaks down within the first few months of use. If you have a track record of consistent use, buy accordingly.
Using this pamphlet, determine your needs and select the options you want before you go shopping. It’s like buying a car, appliances, a new home, or other large purchases. If the seller can get you emotional about things you don’t need, he or she has a good chance of selling them to you. You don’t want to get home and regret your purchase. Simply find the features that you want and if the dealer brings up an option that sounds great, take some time to think about it. You don’t have to buy it immediately.
DECIDE WHO, WHERE, & HOW
Decide who will be using it. This is important because a single user that weighs 110 lbs. will need a much different elliptical trainer than a family of 4 that has 2 people over 200 lbs. For each person, over 2 people, that is using the elliptical trainer on a regular basis, which is 3 times per week, we recommend stepping up 1 level in quality (we will talk about quality levels in later on in the guide).
The “Where?” is equally important as the “Who?”. If you have a tiny space to place the elliptical trainer in, you won’t be able to buy a large commercial unit, even if you can afford it. You want to make sure you see the elliptical trainer every day. Remember, out of sight, out of mind. Space may necessitate an elliptical trainer that can fold up or you may need to limit the weight of the unit if it will rest upstairs in an older home. Think through all of these factors before you purchase.
How it will be used is the most important consideration. An older 95 lb. lady that wants to use the unit 10 minutes a day, 3 days per week is going to need a much different elliptical trainer than a competitive athlete. Normal use would be considered using it up to 30 minutes per day, every day of the week. Past this, you should step up 1 level in quality for every 30 minutes per day extra that it will be used.
DETERMINING QUALITY LEVELS
This is the most difficult part of buying an elliptical trainer. There are some great marketing people in the fitness business. Their goal is to make you think that their elliptical trainer is worth much more than someone else’s elliptical trainer, regardless of price.
Although it is difficult to absolutely determine quality from the price of the product, it is still the best way to separate the quality levels of ellipticals. It makes sense as well. A manufacturer has to spend more money on a better quality elliptical trainer.
Therefore, they have to charge more for it as well. In some cases, you pay for a name brand but on our web site at http://www.treadmilldoctor.com you can review our Elliptical Reviews section and our Best Buy picks will help you discover which ones are better than others from a quality perspective.
So, let’s separate quality levels by price ranges. Currently, we separate the quality levels as follows: $0 - $399, $400 - $699, $700 to $999, $1,000 - $1,499, $1,500 - $1,999, $2,000 - $2,499, $2,500 - $2,999, $3,000 - $3,999, $4,000 and up. Each price range should be considered a step up in quality.
Therefore, if you are single, weigh over 200 lbs., and will use the elliptical 90 minutes per day (remember our earlier example), you will need an elliptical trainer that is in at least in the $700 to $999 price range.
There are many variables to consider but here are the three main variables you must consider when purchasing an elliptical trainer:
The weight of the users makes a difference in how the elliptical trainer will operate. Many ellipticals will start to have vibration problems, increased noise, and balance issues when user weight goes much over 200 lbs.
For every 50 lbs. of weight over 200 lbs. of the heaviest user, go up one level in quality. For instance, if the heaviest user is 350 lbs., select an elliptical trainer that is three levels above the bare minimum, or in this case it would be in the $1,000 to $1,499 price range.
We consider normal use 30 minutes per day each for 2 people. For each extra 30 minutes of use per day, go up 1 level in quality. So if the heaviest user is under 200 lbs. but the total use per day will be 2 hours, the minimum quality elliptical you need is up 3 levels in the $1,000 to $1,499 range.
The number of users is the third critical area to consider. Two people is considered normal. For each additional person using the elliptical trainer, go up 1 level in quality. So if the heaviest user is under 200 lbs. and the amount of use is less than 1 hour per day but you have 3 people using the elliptical, you will need an elliptical trainer at least 1 step up in the $400 to $699 range.
ELLIPTICAL TRAINER POINTERS
The drive system of your elliptical trainer is the most important item you should consider. If you don’t make the right selection on this point, you will lament your choice for eons. Seriously, it will be a worse mistake than your first marriage. Really seriously, it will create a great number of problems for you.
The strength of any elliptical trainer or its Achilles' heel is its drive system. By drive system, we are speaking of the drive axle, axle bearings, drive belt, generator or alternator, and power PCB. If these are well-engineered it will hide a multitude of sins. Components are important but engineering is more important in this area.
For instance, one manufacturer uses cheaper quality components but gets away with it (sometimes) because their engineering is so good.
We have also seen others who have fantastic components but poor reliability due to poor engineering.
Ultimately, here is how to determine the good from the bad.
The motion of the elliptical trainer should feel smooth. You should not hear loud squeaks, rubs, or other noises as the machine motion is in progress. You should not have great changes in the elliptical intensity between each level of intensity of the machine.
Right now, there are multiple types of ellipticals that are vying for the title “best elliptical design”. These types can be broken down into three broad categories: Front Drive, Rear Drive, and Center Drive. Each of these elliptical categories will affect the smoothness of the machine.
This is one area where it takes someone who really knows what they are doing to help you figure it out.
FRONT DRIVE ELLIPTICALS
Front Drive Ellipticals are called this because the drive axle is located in front of the user and the weight of the user is centered in front of the user on the machine. When you are using the machine you will see the drive wheel turning. These machines have been around for a long time and have a good track record for maintenance.
REAR DRIVE ELLIPTICALS
Rear Drive Ellipticals are called this because the drive axle is located behind the user and the weight of the user is centered behind the user on the machine. When you are using the machine you cannot see the drive wheel turning. These machines have been around for a long time and have a good track record for maintenance.
CENTER DRIVE ELLIPTICALS
Center Drive Ellipticals are called this because the drive axle can be located in front of the user, behind the user, or the machine can have two drive axles! The defining feature of the center drive concept is that the weight of the user is centered on the middle of the machine. These machines are a relatively new design and still don’t have a track record for maintenance.
DIFFERENT ELLIPTICAL TYPES AND SMOOTHNESS
Frankly, the difference in elliptical trainer smoothness has three main considerations: Design type, quality of build, and weight of the flywheel.
To decide which type of elliptical will feel smoother to you – you will have to try the different models. When doing this make sure that you try them in the same price range. Otherwise you will get a skewed view of the type. The smoothness will depend a lot on your physiology.
The quality of construction will make a difference in smoothness. You will easily be able to tell the difference in the same type of machines. Make sure that you decide on which type of elliptical design you want before you attempt to determine the quality of construction. Otherwise the differences in type smoothness will skew the results.
The flywheel weight will determine to a great extent the smoothness of the machine. The heavier the flywheel the more inertia is available to keep the drive system turning. The only drawback to the heavy flywheel is that the drive axle bearings will wear more quickly.
DRIVE SYSTEM COMPONENTS
The different drive system components that make up the elliptical drive system are the drive axle, axle bearings, drive belt, generator or alternator, and power PCB. Unfortunately you will not be able to determine the quality level of these components by looking at the machine. You can consult our elliptical review section and “Best Buy” picks on our website http://www.treadmilldoctor.com to see what we consider to be the better quality units. Price is also a decent way to determine the quality of the drive system.
Some questions that you can ask the sales person will help you get some general notions of the machine.
Sealed bearings are generally better in these units than shielded bearings. This is because the sealed bearings are better at keeping dirt out of the ball track.
Alternator or generator powered units will typically have more expensive repairs than plug in machines. This is because the alternator generates the power and has trouble maintaining consistent voltage and wattage. This has to be controlled by the power board and it can cause problems.
An overly noisy elliptical trainer points to poor engineering, poor components, or poor assembly. All ellipticals make noise but a reasonably quiet machine generally means less friction and wear on the elliptical. On the flip side, a dead silent elliptical does not necessarily mean that it is perfect.
Some manufacturers have used foam to absorb noise, so make sure you know the construction before you judge an elliptical by its noise but generally, the noise an elliptical generates is a good indicator of the machine’s quality. Plus, when you don’t wake up the neighborhood with your morning workouts, it makes for friendlier neighbors.
ELLIPTICAL TRAINER OPTIONS
Options in the elliptical business sell more elliptical trainers, and are used less, than in any other industry we know. Here’s how to steer clear of option traps.
These provide variation in your workout. Most people never use them and the people that do typically pick 1 or just a few they really like and stick with them. A great option in regard to programs is when the elliptical will memorize your favorite workout and replay it. If you don’t know for sure that you will use programs, don’t pay extra for them.
HEART RATE CONTROL (HRC)
This option is sold as a speedometer for the heart. Great in concept but poor in execution. Most require a gizmo strap that is uncomfortable for most people. The best option in this category is HR handgrips you can hold onto that determine your heart rate. The manufacturers have made this system much more accurate than it was in the past but they are still quite inaccurate on the low cost machines. That’s why Proform tells you to stand on the side while measuring heart rate…we know, it kind of defeats the purpose.
Folding ellipticals are a new phenomena and they are typically made by only one company: Icon Health & Fitness. We are not convinced of the utility of this feature and we would not pay any additional money for it. If you like the feature and could get a good deal we would buy it.
Don’t buy an extended warranty unless you get one from UTS (Universal Technical Services) or Moses tells you to do it. This is usually a BIG waste of money due to some shady companies.
UTS is the best we have seen, and it is owned by Icon Health & Fitness which is another good reason to use the UTS warranties. On Icon machines, you are going to need it if you use the elliptical.
WARRANTY & MAINTENANCE
A standard elliptical trainer warranty is lifetime on the frame, 3 years on elliptical parts, and 1 year on labor. This means that most people won’t need an extended warranty.
That’s good because the track record of most warranty companies in the fitness business is not good. The only exception that we are aware of is Universal Technical Services (UTS). We don’t have any reservations about recommending them. Cheaper elliptical trainers usually have warranties as short as 90 days while usually the more you spend, the longer warranty you will receive.
Warranties lately have become crazy so don’t get carried away with the Lifetime warranties on this or that elliptical trainer. Ultimately, you want to make sure you get an elliptical that you like, is easy for you to operate, and feels good for use. If you don’t like it, you won’t need the warranty anyway because you won’t use the machine enough to break it.
In regard to maintenance, keeping it clean is the golden rule. To help with this, put it on an elliptical mat and periodically clean the entire elliptical. You can order mats, cleaning products, lubricants, and our Elliptical Care Kit which includes our elliptical care pamphlet for more information about keeping your elliptical trainer in top shape from our web site.
Elliptical Trainer Selection Guide Checklist
It is easy to figure out the quality of elliptical trainer that you need. Of course, if you wish to buy a better elliptical trainer, do so, but this quick and easy survey will help you find out the MINIMUM quality of elliptical that you will need. If you can’t afford what you need, you will have to settle for the best you can afford, but this is a great guideline to not overspend and get what you need!
Circle the answer that bests fits. If you received this via emai or download it off the website, it will work best if you print it out.
- Why are you buying an elliptical?
- I want to lightly use my elliptical to lose weight, have light aerobic activity, or to rehabilitate.
- I want to moderately use my elliptical for cardiovascular health and training.
- I want to vigorously use my elliptical for regular exercise or cross-training.
- I am planning to use my elliptical for serious training such as a marathon.
- What is your experience with elliptical trainers in the past?
- I have never used an elliptical trainer.
- I have only used an elliptical trainer on one or a few occasions.
- I have used an elliptical trainer on and off over time.
- I have used an elliptical trainer regularly.
- Who will be using your new elliptical trainer?
- I will be the only person using my elliptical trainer.
- I, along with one other person, will be using my elliptical trainer.
- I, along with two other people, will be using my elliptical trainer.
- Several different people will be using my elliptical on a regular basis.
- How long per day will your elliptical trainer be operated?
- My elliptical trainer will be used less than an hour per day.
- My elliptical trainer will be used for more than 1 hour but less than 90 minutes per day.
- My elliptical trainer will be used for more than 90 minutes but less than 2 hours per day.
- My elliptical will be used for over 2 hours per day.
- How much do the people weigh that will use the elliptical trainer? (We know this is a touchy subject, but we won’t know your answers unless you fax it to us!)
- No one who uses my elliptical trainer will weigh over 200 lbs.
- At least one person who uses my elliptical trainer will weigh over 200 lbs.
- At least one person who uses my elliptical trainer will weigh over 250 lbs.
- At least one person who uses my elliptical trainer will weigh over 300 lbs.
Assign the following point values for each answer:
For every (a) you circled, give yourself 1 point.
For every (b) you circled, give yourself 2 points.
For every (c) you circled, give yourself 3 points.
For every (d) you circled, give yourself 4 points.
Now, let’s fill out the following form using your survey information.
For instance, if you answered (d) on Question 2, your form would look like this:
Question 2- 4 points x 3= 12
Question 1- ____ points x 2= ____
Question 2- ____ points x 3= ____
Question 3- ____ points x 2= ____
Question 4- ____ points x 4= ____
Question 5- ____ points x 3= ____
Now, let’s total up the points and place your total here .
Compare your point total to the chart and it will tell you which MSRP price range you should consider as a MINIMUM quality level for your new elliptical trainer.
Point Total Price Range
14 Points- $399 or Less
15 to 20 Points- $400 to $699
21 to 27 Points- $700 to $999
28 to 34 Points- $1,000 to $1,499
35 to 41 Points- $1,500 to $1,999
42 to 47 Points- $2,000 to $2,499
48 to 53 Points- $2,500 to $2,999
54 or More Points- $3,000 or More
We hope this survey has helped you establish the minimum standard for your new elliptical trainer purchase and don’t forget to look at our elliptical reviews and our Best Buy picks at Treadmill Doctor before you buy!
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