What to consider before buying an elliptical machine

You want to improve your cardio and burn fat at home, but your knees hurt too much to run and your current bathing suit body is, well, not quite what you hope your future bathing suit body will be.

So, you hop on the Internet to start brainstorming solutions and fall in love with the elliptical machine.  And who wouldn’t?  It’s sleek, offers a full-body, fat-burning workout, and every single model posing with one is way better looking than you.

Ready to take action, you waltz into the nearest fitness equipment store, waiving your credit card in the air, thereby declaring yourself the easiest sale that staff has had in years.

They immediately pounce on you and begin inundating you with questions you never considered, and before you know it, you’re leaving with an elliptical machine, a year’s worth of meal replacement drinks, and a pre-paid three-year commitment to daily Personal Training sessions from Jillian Michaels herself.

So THAT’S what they meant by “Starting at $299.99…”

To keep this from happening, consider the following before ever walking into one of those places and being made an example of.


Yes, cost.  Elliptical machine popularity has exploded over the past decade, and manufacturers are putting in new technologies that make even the most prominent Rocket Scientists scratch their heads.  And guess who funds those “innovations?”

Elliptical machines can get pricey, so know well beforehand what you intend to spend. They range anywhere from $300 to $4,000, so it makes sense that the ones on the lower end are, well, bad, and the ones on the higher end will not just give you a great workout, but make your bed and pay your taxes as well.

Unless you plan on going pro and obtaining the coveted “Elliptical Trainer World Champion” title, sticking to the mid-range options is your best bet.


Elliptical trainers are tall and long, so they won’t fit into a closet space or New York studio apartment.  Remember: elliptical trainers emulate an exaggerated stride, and that takes up at least three-and-a-half feet of length (plus more space for whatever pedal mount they use), and whatever your height is (figuring an additional 18-inches for ground clearance).

Also, consider your own size.  Elliptical machines have a maximum weight capacity, and you want to be sure not to exceed that.  For example, the Schwinn 430, has a limit of 275 pounds, but they offer other models which can accommodate up to 300 pounds. (Read more specifics in our online review).

Otherwise, you will put undue stress on the joints and bearings, and before you know it, you’ll either be back in the market for a new one or too disheartened to continue your workout program.


Up, out, down, back.  Up, out, down, back.  That’s the elliptical motion for which the trainers are named, and any time you are doing that much repetitive motion, you want a pedal strap in place to keep your foot from slipping out.

And be sure that it is adjustable; too tight, and you wind up getting your foot stuck (or just breaking the strap).  Too loose, and your foot slips around and out anyway, so what’s the point?


Does it have a heart monitor or calorie counter?  Do you want a heart monitor or calorie counter?  Look, features are great, but they can be costly, so best to just go with what you need.  Sure, the attached HD TV with stereo surround sound is great looking, but don’t you already have a TV at home?

A note on one particular feature worth paying for: rear and center drives.  The drive is where they keep the flywheel, that thing that allows the rotary motion to take place.  Some manufacturers mount this on the front, and others at the back or center; rear and center mounts have fewer components and are thought to provide a more natural range of motion during your workout.

What that means for you is a better workout and less worry about replacement parts.


Even the most expensive elliptical trainer won’t burn fat for you, so the time to “gut check” yourself is BEFORE you buy.  It’s not that you have to admit to yourself your laziness or anything, just consider how many distractions you have in your daily life.

How much time do you really have to work out?  Do you have all day to do it because you work from home and set your own schedule, or must you squeeze a workout in between shifts at the coalmine?  Being realistic now can literally save you thousands of dollars later.


Good manufacturers offer a free 30-day trial period, which is perfect because 90% of the people buying their equipment either don’t do their homework before buying or lie to themselves when assessing an elliptical machine’s practicality in their lives.  This should – SHOULD – come without question, but if it’s not mentioned during the sale or on the website, always inquire and be sure they throw that in.

And, as always, be sure to check with your doctor before you embark upon any exercise regimen.

Remember to check out our own Schwinn 430 elliptical machine review.