Among cardio machines, elliptical machines stand out particularly. These machines seem to be pretty popular in commercial and home gyms – perhaps mostly because they combine the features and possibilities of several cardio machine types. With an elliptical trainer, you can run, ski, climb stairs, cycle, and much more than that!
Before we move on to the core of this post – our buyer’s guide – let’s talk a little about the benefits of elliptical trainers.
The Health-Related Benefits Of Elliptical Trainers
A great advantage of elliptical trainers is that they allow for significantly reduced impact and joint stress while training. This benefit of elliptical trainers allows them to be used by older users or those with injuries.
Apart from that, elliptical trainers allow for a number of health benefits. According to Healthline, these health benefits are:
- Boosted stamina & cardio capacity along with better cardiovascular health.
- Calorie spending. With elliptical trainers, you can burn 270-400 calories in 30 minutes.
- Reduced stress on the joints (as already mentioned).
- Whole-body training (particularly thanks to the movable arms).
- Fat & weight loss.
- Improved coordination & balance.
Apart from that, Healthline also mentions a few disadvantages. According to John M. Martinez, MD, a primary care sports medicine physician at Pain-Free Running, since elliptical trainers force you into a motion different than running or walking, different muscle groups are activated. If your muscles don’t adapt, this may lead to injury.
Additionally, since there is a lower impact on the bones, muscles, and joints than in lifting or running, you may see lower leg strength gains along with worse improvement in bone density. With that, lifting or running would be preferable for strength training, but an elliptical trainer still is worthy of consideration at least as a supplemental training tool.
How To Choose The Best Elliptical Trainer For A Home Gym
Elliptical trainers are perhaps more difficult to shop for compared to treadmills or other sports equipment. This is because it can be challenging to pick an elliptical trainer that works for your height and body proportions, as well as your training needs.
With that, to hopefully guide you in the right direction, let’s talk a bit about the most important specs & features to pay attention to in an elliptical trainer.
Types of elliptical trainers
Elliptical trainers can be of three types – front-drive, center-drive, and rear-drive. Let’s talk about the pros and cons of each very briefly.
- Front-drive. In these machines, the drive wheel is placed at the very front. Because the pedals in front-drive machines are usually supported by wheels and glide on a track, this type can be rather noisy and produce a lot of vibration, but their price is pretty low as well.
- Center-drive. With their drive wheel in the center, center-drive machines typically are the most compact among the three types. However, this is only in storage – when training, the pedal arms may move well beyond the trainer’s frame.
Center drives also offer gentler movement than front-drive models.
- Rear-drive. With their drive wheel at the rear behind the pedals, rear-drive trainers tend to be the longest. However, they also offer the smoothest and quietest workout, especially those models whose pedals are suspended on long metal arms. Those rear-drive machines whose pedals are mounted on a track also usually allow you to adjust the incline.
Elliptical machines use one of the 4 types of systems to generate resistance – manual friction brake, manual magnetic brake, eddy current, or electromagnetic induction. Below are the brief descriptions of these systems:
- Manual friction brake. This is a simple and inexpensive system that’s not very often used in modern elliptical trainers. Manual friction brake systems are not very reliable and require frequent maintenance due to wear, as well as require that you manually adjust the resistance level. With that said, some modern machines use very high-quality friction brakes in their machines, so manual friction brakes should not be ignored.
- Manual magnetic brake. This system has reduced wear and maintenance needs compared to manual friction brakes. The main problem with magnetic brakes is that their quality varies significantly, and many trainers with this system don’t offer much resistance.
- Eddy current. Eddy current resistance systems are like manual magnetic brakes, but they are controlled electronically. Because of this, they can produce much higher resistance.
- Electromagnetic induction. These are the most complex and powerful systems available in elliptical trainers. In electromagnetic induction systems, resistance is determined by the amount of current that the magnets are exposed to. This allows for much higher resistances than in previous systems. Not only that, but electromagnetic induction mechanisms have no moving parts, and they respond to changes in resistance levels instantaneously.
Stride length is the distance between the pedals when they are the farthest away from each other as you train. In other words, stride length can basically be viewed as the travel distance of the trainer’s pedals.
The stride length should neither be too long nor too short. In both cases, you would be making unnatural movements and quickly fatiguing yourself, not to mention that such movements may lead to injury.
For in-home elliptical machines, the most common stride lengths are 16, 18, 20, and 22 inches. Some machines have 14-inch stride length, but this is too short for most people.
Note that in some elliptical trainers, the stride length can be adjusted. If several people will be using the machine, then this is a good feature to have.
Check out the chart below to find the proper stride length based on your height. Note that for most people, 20 inches is optimal. However, this won’t work for very tall or very short individuals, so check out the chart to make the right choice.
With all that said, also know that your height isn’t ideal for picking stride length, The length of your legs can also be important, just as your manner of walking. Ultimately, the right stride length comes down to what feels comfortable to you.
Apart from that, know that the motion trajectory of the pedals may significantly alter how an elliptical machine feels. With the same stride length, different pedal articulations may cause completely different results.
So all in all, pay attention to stride length but don’t overvalue it because there is much more to training comfort on an elliptical trainer. Ideally, you should try an elliptical trainer before buying to see how it works for you. There is no objective way of determining which stride length or pedal motion will work the best.
Movable arms vs no arms
Most elliptical trainers have movable arms that go back and forth as you rotate the pedals. However, some elliptical machines may not have movable arms and only have stationary arms to provide support.
Machines with movable arms mostly move the arms strictly back and forth. In some more advanced machines, the arms converge towards the center of the body, allowing for more natural movement. Besides, a few models have adjustable arms where you can stop arm movement when you don’t need them.
Which style to go for? For most people, movable arms will probably be ideal – by moving not only your legs but also your arms, you should be able to burn more calories and lose more fat.
When exercising on an elliptical trainer with movable arms, your body should be upright. A major factor in your position is how far away the arms are from you while training.
If the arms are too far away, then you will have to lean forward to exercise comfortably. Otherwise, you will have to lean backward or bend your arms excessively to stay upright.
Most elliptical trainers have heart monitors that allow you to track your heart rate while you are training. Furthermore, the most advanced trainers are also capable of automatically adjusting the machine’s resistance based on your height rate.
In these more advanced machines, you set the target heart rate – while your heart rate is lower, the machine will increase the training intensity. And if it goes higher, the intensity will be reduced.
Note that although integrated heart sensors do a decent job at tracking heart rate, they can be inconvenient and inaccurate. So if the heart rate is important to you, you should also think about getting a chest-strap heart rate monitor. However, know that not every elliptical trainer supports third-party heart rate monitors.
Adjustable incline & resistance
These aren’t must-haves, but if you want some progression in your workouts, you should also look for an elliptical trainer that allows you to adjust its motion recline and resistance.
Pay attention to how many settings the desired machine has – the more it has, the higher versatility you will have in intensity adjustment.
Also, consider how the resistance and incline are adjusted – in simpler models, you’ll have to do this manually, while pricier machines make adjustments electronically at a push of a button.
Finally, pay attention to the maximum supported weight as well. With this, things are simple – just take your weight, add 10-20% on top for some headroom, and pick a trainer that can support you more.
If more than one person will be using the trainer, then determine who weighs the most and find the required weight capacity the same way.
Schwinn 470 Elliptical Machine – A Good Elliptical Trainer To Consider For A Home Gym
To close our post, we would like to suggest the Schwinn elliptical machine as a worthy consideration for a home gym. As a front-drive machine, Schwinn 470 may be a bit noisy, but it’s also not as pricey as a center- or rear-drive model would have been.
This elliptical trainer offers 25 levels of magnetic resistance that may be controlled electronically. For an added challenge, Schwinn 470 also has motorized incline adjustment. While training, you may either hold onto the support bars or grab the movable arms for a full-body workout.
This elliptical trainer has 29 integrated programs too, 4 of which can be customized.
Training features aside, Schwinn 470 also has advanced multimedia benefits – such as an MP3 input port, speakers, USB for charging, and even Bluetooth connectivity. Via the latter, you can synchronize your training progress with the Schwinn Trainer mobile app.
The main console of the Schwinn 470 machine is very nice as well – the display is large and clear, while the buttons are oversized, have visible markings, and should be easy to press while working out.
Interestingly, Schwinn 470 also has an adjustable integrated fan to keep you cool. Among other notable small details are the integrated bottle holder and media rack for your tablet or smartphone.
The stride length in the Schwinn 470 is 20 inches as well, which should be a good size for most people out there.
Note that the particular listing we based our review on also contains other Schwinn machines – 430 and A40. These are cheaper and a little simpler (e.g. have fewer resistance levels or shorter stride), but they are worthy alternatives to the 470.
Hopefully, our buyer’s guide has brought you a step closer to the best elliptical trainer for your needs!
To be fair, shopping for an elliptical trainer online is pretty difficult – there are many things that impact your comfort in these machines, but you can’t see or feel them on a website like Amazon. With that, it would be a good idea if you tried to shop locally first.