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Elliptical Cross Trainer Buying Guide

Posted 06/07/2017 : By: Brandon Last

Elliptical Cross Trainer Information

Part 1: Elliptical Cross Trainer History

The elliptical cross trainer is a relatively recent addition to the line of cardio equipment available in gyms. The principles behind the machine were established in the late 1980s and they became commercially available in the mid 1990s. Considering the relatively short period of time they have been available for, when compared to treadmills and exercise bikes, they have quickly become established as a favourite machine in both gyms and in the home.

EFX554 Cross Trainer

Part 2: Cross Trainers Today

The elliptical machine or cross trainer is one of the most popular pieces of exercise equipment in both the gym and at home. It is possible to achieve your target heart rate faster on an elliptical machine than on other cardio machines as they are designed to target the user’s cardiovascular system and burn more calories than they would if they were walking at the same speed on a flat surface.

The elliptical cross trainer is widely regarded because of its low-impact features. This means that less stress and tension is distributed to the joints and bones by moving the feet in an elliptical pattern. The cross trainer helps to relieve the pressure put on the joints that can occur when using other cardio equipment like the treadmill therefore exercise-related injuries are less likely to occur. Using the handles on the elliptical trainer allows the user to get an upper body workout as well, increasing the calories burned.

Depending on the price and feature level of the cross trainer many features and optional extras could come with the elliptical machine, these could include a heart rate monitor, stride length adjustment and resistance adjustment. The machine’s console will vary significantly depending on the type of machine you buy, ranging from a simple LCD read out with a few programs to a full colour touch screen display with internet connectivity, Bluetooth and a wide range of program options.

Elliptical Cross Trainer Buying Guide

Cross Trainer in use

Part 1: How are You Going to be Using It?

Even at the lower end of the market, elliptical cross trainers can represent a substantial investment. When you have made the decision to buy a cross trainer, it is important to make sure that it is going to do what you want it to do. The best way to make sure you get the right piece of equipment is to first know is how you want use it. By answering a few questions about your needs, you can narrow down the options available to you.

How frequently will it be used? The amount of use the cross trainer will get should be a consideration. If several people going to be using it a number of times a week, it will be important to get a higher specification machine than if it is it just one person using it for infrequent exercise?

How much space do you have available for the elliptical? This should also be a major consideration. Cross trainers are reasonably bulky pieces of equipment

What is your budget? Cross trainers range significantly in price with the lower end of the price market not always representing the best deal. Heavy use of a budget elliptical could cause it to break down in a few months. As the price increases, cross trainers tend to get sturdier frames, smoother operation, rear drive operation, larger workout areas and better consoles. In most cases, a quality elliptical cross trainer that has been refurbished is a better deal than a brand new budget machine and will have a longer lifespan.

Part 2: Cross Trainer Components and Options

Once you have answered these questions, it will be easier to find a machine that is well suited to your needs. There are a number of different options to choose from when buying an elliptical cross trainer and these are all factors to consider when choosing the machine most ideally suited to your needs. This section will go into further depth on each of these options.

Front or Rear Drive?

X3 Cross Trainer (Rear Drive) ReeboK TXF3.0 (Front Drive)

The two main styles of cross trainer available are either front wheel or rear wheel drive machines, this refers to where the flywheel is placed on the machine. Which one you get is a matter of preference, so it is worth trying both if you have the opportunity to see which you prefer. There are some basic differences between the machines, the American College of Sports Medicine describes rear-wheel drive elliptical machines as providing a more natural movement that tends to feel better on your body. This can be replicated on a front wheel drive machine by using articulating pedals which mimic this motion but front wheel drive ellipticals without articulating pedals will not have the same natural feel.

Cross trainers with a rear wheel drive design often feature an adjustable ramp which can be altered to target different muscle groups. Your strides on a front wheel drive may feel longer with a motion more similar to jogging. Front wheel drive models are typically less expensive (especially without articulated pedals) but this can come at the expense of a more natural feeling stride.

Stride Length

Stride Length

This is measured by calculating the maximum difference between the rear of the front foot and the front of the rear foot. Stride length is critical when it comes to choosing the right cross trainer. Motion should feel natural and comfortable, with each rotation of your feet and legs being smooth.

An elliptical that allows longer strides will generally be better as it will allow you to go faster, but if the maximum stride length is too long, you run the risk of straining your muscles and if it is too short your workout will feel cramped and be less effective. Longer strides should also deliver more elliptical-shaped (oval) leg motion, as opposed to an up and down action. In general, taller users will need a machine with a longer stride length, whilst shorter people will be able to use a more compact cross trainer. It is a good idea to try out different products to find the machine that feels right for you. In most cases, stride lengths vary from 30 to 50 cm (12-20”).

User Weight

Most manufacturers will provide information on the maximum user weight. Typically, cheaper home use machines will have a lower maximum user weight whereas higher specification cross trainers will take a heavier user. Commercial machines tend to have a significantly higher maximum user weight but these machines are often considerably more expensive than a home use model. A cross trainer with a maximum user weight of 160kg (350lb) will generally be a sturdy and well-built machine.



The weight of the flywheel is an important factor that affects the resistance and smoothness of your motion, because as you work out on the trainer you build up its momentum. Generally, you should look for an elliptical that has a flywheel weighing at least 7kg (15lb) as a heavier flywheel typically indicates a higher-quality and better built machine. Be aware that some manufacturers don’t publish the flywheel weight so it is worth doing some extra research to find this information if you are looking at one of these machines.



The console is where the user controls their workout by setting new programs and altering resistance levels. The console is also where the user gets feedback on their workout, from heart rate to speed to calories burned. Consoles on lower priced machines will be much more basic, usually featuring a basic LCD screen for readouts.

More features are generally added as the specifications increase, all the way up to an advanced multimedia system. More expensive models may feature backlit LCD or colour touchscreen displays, offer connectivity to your phone or fitness tracker, have speakers and provide more in-depth feedback on your session which can provide extra motivation.



Some cross trainer manufacturers describe a measurement known as Q-factor, this is the distance between the inside of the foot pedals. The closer together your feet are as you use the machine, the more natural and comfortable any motion will feel. On an elliptical with the pedals too far apart, moving through the cycle will make the user’s legs travel too far outwards which will be uncomfortable. It is therefore better to pick a machine with a low Q-factor of around five centimetres (two inches), as that will help foster a bio-mechanically correct workout position.



A cross trainer works differently to a treadmill where you set the speed of the belt rotation and keep up with that. On an elliptical your activity sets the speed you work out at, resistance is altered to increase the difficulty and intensity of your workout.

There are a number of factors to consider when looking at resistance on a potential cross trainer. There are different methods of generating resistance, the cheapest being either belt resistance or a manually adjusted brake. These will be on the lower specification machines and will often require manual adjustment before you begin the exercise. Using electromagnetic resistance is one of the most versatile methods and works by moving an electromagnet closer to or further away from the flywheel, these are adjustable from the console and allow you to increase or decrease the resistance while you are training. As no parts touch with electromagnetic resistance, the mechanism also lasts longer.

It is important to also consider the range of resistance especially if you plan to use the cross trainer for long-term training, so as the workout starts to get easier you can put the resistance up and still get a good workout. Having a large number of adjustments will not always imply a wide range of resistance, there could be a smaller increment of adjustment between each setting. It is a good idea to try out any machine you are considering so you can see how tough the challenge at the top end will be.

Heart Rate Monitoring

heart rate monitor

Your heart rate can be measured in a couple of different ways. Many machines will measure heart rate through the hand sensors on the fixed handlebars. Some elliptical machines also have a wireless receiver which connects to a compatible chest strap and transmits your heart rate to the console. Chest straps tend to be more accurate than the handlebar sensors and if you plan on training within heart rate zones you should definitely look at a machine which uses this system.


Cross Trainer

There are many things to consider when buying an elliptical cross trainer. As with most types of product, buying the highest specification product you can afford will usually get you a piece of equipment that is more durable and with more features.

There are ways to save money. Refurbished items can get you a higher quality cross trainer at the price of a cheaper model. Remanufactured items will not usually carry the original manufacturers warranty but a reputable refurbishment company will often guarantee their work.

Elliptical Cross Trainer Buying Guide
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