An Elliptical Machine Buying Guide

Have you been considering purchasing an elliptical machine? When we are trying to get in shape or lose weight, we can’t help but be amazed (and a bit overwhelmed) at all the different equipment on the market.

Woman on an Elliptical Machine

If you listen to the fitness trainers, especially at gyms, you have likely heard them say good things about elliptical machines, especially when it comes to helping people lose weight.

Before going out to purchase your first machine, however, there are some things you need to know about them, since you want an elliptical machine that fits your own individual needs.

If you ask people what an elliptical machine is, many of them will give you a clueless look. They may know it by some of its other names however: a stepper, stair climber, or cross trainer. These are actually stationary exercise machines intended to simulate certain exercises, such as climbing, walking, or running. Based on your setting, the machine can present extra resistance, forcing you to burn more calories. The major benefit of using a elliptical machine against other stationary machines like treadmills is that this exercise is low impact, allowing even people with previous or healing injuries the ability to exercise different muscles throughout the body.

Elliptical Machine Features to Consider

While elliptical machines in general will give you a great low impact workout, there are some things you need to consider before purchasing one for your home gym. Many people look at cost alone, but sometimes, certain features can be more important than the cost of the machine itself. Some must-have features worthy of consideration include:

  • Stride Length: This is an area where many people have issues with an elliptical machine. The standard stride for most machines is 14″, which is much too short for the average American. Look for a machine that offers an 18-21″ stride.
  • Adjustable Incline: This is optional, but some machines allow you to workout at an incline, like you were running or jogging uphill. It isn’t necessary, but a useful feature for those looking for a more intense workout.
  • Smooth Motion: When trying out a machine, make sure the machine isn’t jerky. Every motion should be smooth and quiet. If not, avoid buying that machine since it may have issues!
  • Upper Body Options: Do you want something to challenge your arms and upper body as well? This is something to consider since some machines offer a full body workout, while others just have stationary handles.
  • Noise: Do you listen to TV or music while you exercise? If so, you may want an elliptical machine that isn’t very noisy. One of the downsides of many cheaper machines is that they are very noisy when things get more intense. A high quality machine should be fairly quiet or produce only minimal white noise.
  • Adjustable Resistance:  Make sure that the machine you buy has multiple resistance adjustments and that it is capable of growing with your exercise needs.
  • Additional Features: Although not necessary to obtain a good workout, there are addition bells-and-whistle features that you might want to add to your workout experience; like a heart-rate monitor, fans, and inputs for your ipod.

How Much Do Elliptical Machines Cost?

One of the reasons that purchasing an elliptical machine can be so intimidating is the fact that they are sold in just about every price range. The cheapest ones on the market sell for around $300, where the most expensive, gym quality machines can cost up to $10,000. Based on Consumer Reports numbers, however, a quality elliptical machine costs around $2,000. For this price, you can get a durable elliptical machine without too many bells and whistles. Some brands, however, do run specials, especially NordicTrack, which offers their models starting at $1500.

Elliptical Machines
Features like built-in speakers, fans and quick buttons can add a lot of value to an elliptical machine, even though they aren’t necessary. Heart rate monitors are another feature that can be very useful to have. You can monitor your heart rate using either handle bars with built-in pulse sensors or a heart rate chest strap for hands-free pulse monitoring. Also there are a variety of heart rate interactive programs available depending on the model of elliptical machine you purchase.

Where to Buy an Elliptical Machine

Currently, the best places to purchase elliptical machines aren’t your local fitness or sporting goods store. The best physical stores for purchasing elliptical bikes, at least at the time of this article, were Wal-Mart, Costco, and Sears. These stores have great prices on their elliptical machines and frequently have them on sale. During certain times of the year, they even deliver them right to your home for free.

The downside to purchasing from these retailers, however, is that they have a small selection of elliptical machines, leaving you with very few choices. If you are willing to wait a bit longer for the delivery of your machine, the best place for price and selection is usually  As well, you can read reviews by other individuals who purchased these ellipticals, which are usually truthful (and often brutally honest) about the machines.

Elliptical Machine Brands & Ratings

Choosing a brand of elliptical machine can be challenging, especially since there are dozens of different brands on the market. What can make things even more confusing is that each brand has their own selection of machines, all of which are designed for different user experiences and activity levels. To pick the best brand and machine for you, it is important that you know what you are looking for in an elliptical machine before you even start shopping. To make the choice easier for consumers, Consumer Reports has created a list of their top 10 brands, as well what they are typically known for in the industry.

  • Fitness Quest ($1,000 or less) – These machines are actually manufactured by the New Balance machine brand. They have sold more machines in number through infomercials than any other manufacturer. They sell a wide range of exercise equipment.
  • Horizon Fitness ($2,500 or Less) – Horizon Fitness is another fitness company that focuses on selling equipment at a lower cost. For this reason, they were one of the top sellers in the nation. Unfortunately, this also means that their products are not always of the highest quality.
  • Icon Health & Fitness ($500 – $5,000) – Icon Health and Fitness is actually one of the leading manufacturers of elliptical machines and exercise equipment in the world. They currently sell machines under the well-known NordicTrack, Proform, and Reebok names.
  • Keys Fitness ($3,000 or less) – Keys Fitness is a Dallas based company that makes fitness equipment, including elliptical machines. They currently offer machines under both their own brand and the Ironman label.
  • Nautilus ($2,300 – $3,300) – In the fitness and sports world, many people know the name Nautilus. What most people don’t know, however, is that they are the actual maker of many fitness machines. They currently make machines under these other current brand names – Bowflex, Schwinn Fitness, StairMaster, and Universal.
  • Octane Fitness ($2,000 – $4,200) – Unlike most of the other companies on Consumer Report’s list, Octane Fitness is a relatively new company. They currently make only elliptical exercise machines.
  • Precor ($2,500 – $5000) – In the United States, Precor is one of the leading manufacturers of elliptical machines, known to provide high-end home equipment. Most of this equipment is a bit more expensive, but is comparable to the equipment found in professional gyms.
  • Schwinn ($1,300 or less) – While Schwinn is well known in the biking world, most of their elliptical machines are actually not manufactured by Schwinn themselves. Many of their models are actually made by Nautilus and are some of their lower end models.
  • Spirit ($2,500 or less) – Spirit has been around for over 25 years and is one of the leading sellers in the nation of elliptical equipment. While they can’t be found in all stores, they can usually be found online.
  • Vision Fitness ($1,000 – $3,500) – This brand has been on the market since 1994, and is one of the few companies based in the United States. Typically, these machines can be found online or in specialty fitness stores.

Which Elliptical Machine is Best for Home Use?

If you want to get the best elliptical machine for your own home, it is important that you do your research first. With so many machines on the market, there really isn’t any one machine that far outperforms any other. Rather than focusing on what others think is the best machine, focus on your own wants and needs within your own routine. Find one that has the right stride for your legs and features you deem important, especially if you are buying a machine on a budget. For those who are buying an elliptical machine for the first time, make sure to test the elliptical machines in-store before purchasing it, even if you are planning on buying it online. With the right amount of research, you should be able to find the right machine for your own exercise needs.

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