Choosing the right Elliptical Trainer
Hey there, Jake from Bandit Fitness. Here to talk to you about elliptical trainers, what some of the major differences are between different types, and some things to look for if you’re considering getting one.
Why an Elliptical?
So first off, why an elliptical trainer? The main attraction to the elliptical is that it provides a very high impact cardio workout while also creating very low impact on your joints. That’s pretty important for a lot of people especially if you’re facilitating some kind of existing joint pain in your knees and hips, or working around some kind of injury or surgery that you need to be more careful with.
For that reason, ellipticals are pretty popular among ex-runners who are still looking for a similar movement without the joint stress. However, it’s a little different than outdoor or treadmill running.
Ellipticals are also a lot more engaging for some people, since it occupies all four limbs, it is easier to get into a flow where you’re less distracted.
The workout is also as intense as you want to make it. You can simply glide to start, and then later raise your resistance or incline to get more cardiovascular benefit out of your time spent on the machine.
The shape and design of an elliptical have a lot to do with their physiology. There are really 3 main types of elliptical that you’ll encounter and that’s a front, center, or rear drive. Each one will have some differences in how they feel, and some may not feel as comfortable to some users based on their personal physiology.
A Front-drive elliptical is pretty common. You’ll see these from a lot of major manufacturers both in the gym and from residential brands. Front drive ellipticals tend to be very smooth, but are less similar to a running movement than other types of elliptical. They will also frequently have an incline function, which helps to activate more of the hip and glute muscles. However, front-drive ellipticals frequently have a permanent fixed stride length.
Center-drive ellipticals have a more pronounced “gliding” sensation, making it feel more like your feet are swinging front to back instead of stepping up and down. This can really feel great to some people. It will have less glute and hip engagement however, which is something to be aware of. Also Center-drive ellipticals are more likely to offer a stride adjustment option, which can be a bonus to some families. More on that later in the video.
Rear Drive ellipticals are the last major type, and these will typically have more of a “bounce” as the pedals rotate. These can therefore feel more akin to running as a result of that higher leg movement that accompanies that bouncy feeling. They’re also pretty likely to have an adjustable stride option.
Having an elliptical that inclines is another feature some users might really want. Incline will allow your workouts to have a little more variety, and raising the incline is another way to increase difficulty without just raising the resistance. Since changing the step height also engages a few additional muscles in the hips, it can just generally make the workout more strenuous. The same way that walking up stairs takes more energy than walking on a flat surface.
As with most cardio in the 2020s, there’s the choice of choosing an interactive and internet-connected elliptical or a traditional simplified console. Both still have their benefits. Regardless of internet connectivity or not, most consoles will have a relatively standard set of programs. There’s typically a manual mode, a hill (if it’s an incline model), HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, and oftentimes a few more cardio-focused programs that typically take the user’s heart rate into account.
With internet-connected equipment, you’ll gain some form of entertainment built into the machine, however this is also easily replicated with an iPad or other tablet that simply rests on the console. Usually, you’ll have mostly the same programs regardless of connectivity.
Stride adjustment is a feature that becomes more important when there are multiple users of a machine who might have very different physiologies. While most fixed-stride elliptical machines will come in at around a 20” stride, some users might find that to be a stretch or too short. That’s a good time to think about an adjustable stride, especially if you have for example one person who’s over 6 feet and another who’s closer to 5 feet –– you’ll likely have very different comfortable stride lengths.
Why not an elliptical?
An elliptical is what’s considered a machine-defined exercise, meaning that the elliptical is defining all of your movement for you, as opposed to something like a treadmill where you are responsible for all of your own movement patterns. While that makes it easy to do, it can sometimes make your workouts a little too easy. Make sure you’re consistently pushing yourself to achieve more results. But of course, don’t overdo it either. That gliding motion can sometimes be easy to get into without really pushing yourself, you’re just cruising along.
Personal preference and comfort is a huge factor when deciding on an elliptical trainer as well, so we always recommend finding a store or place where you can test out machines before you buy them.
Hopefully this helped! If you’re ever in the neighborhood and want to try out our ellipticals, feel free to swing on by our showroom near Clearwater, FL.
Have a great day and train hard.