Different Types Of Elliptical Trainers Explained | What Are The Best Ones For You?

types of ellipticals

If you have ever used an elliptical trainer in your life, then you know just how smooth and fluid they feel. None of the jarring motions associated with the treadmill, yet with equal or more effectiveness when it comes to working your body. They provide no impact training that is easy on your knees and joints, and improve your health in the long run.

Most Common Types of Elliptical Machines

Elliptical trainers derive their name from the ellipse shape in math (it looks like an elongated oval). Any point on the bar, in this case, the foot pedals follows a path that resembles an ellipsis. That is the same path that your feet follow when walking or running. Go ahead, take a moment and test it yourself. Imagine the motion of your ankle when you’re running.

This means that exercising with an elliptical trainer feels natural but with a few added perks. For one, their smooth motion and full-time contact with the pedal means that there is no associated impact, which makes them very friendly for the joints and bones. Second, most come with a range of features that allow you to not only work your lower body but the upper and the arms as well. If you are considering getting an elliptical, but don’t know what to look for and feel a little overwhelmed about all the options available, this article will remove doubts you might have about the different types of trainers, and what are the benefits of each one.


There are several types of elliptical trainers on the market today. Although they all use this same principle, they have a few differences. There are:

  • Front drive elliptical trainers
  • Rear drive elliptical trainers
  • Center drive elliptical trainers
  • Elliptical gliders
  • Compact/foldable elliptical trainers
  • Standard elliptical trainers
  • Elliptical cross-trainers

These are the major types of elliptical trainers. There are a few more that will get a mention, but they all fall within these major categories.


Front Drive Ellipticals

Credit: Proform.com – The Proform 16.9 is an example of a Front-Drive Elliptical

One of the most recognizable differences in elliptical trainers is the position of the flywheel. That is the circular part where the bars are attached. It is typically a heavy circular piece of metal that serves to smoothen the motion and provide the resistance against which you move. As you may have guessed, a front drive elliptical trainer has its flywheel placed in front of the pedals.

This allows it to have more stability, as the center of gravity is at the pivot of the whole machine. It also means that as you train, since the resistance is in front of you, you tend to lean in front as would do when climbing stairs. It gives you more of a slope which can help you burn more calories.In addition, the front placement of the flywheel makes the machine more compact.

For users who intend to have it installed in constrained spaces, this would be a valuable consideration, and you will find that most foldable elliptical trainers are front-drive. They are also cheaper in comparison with the other types.

Front drive elliptical trainers have one main disadvantage, which is maintenance. They use roller tracks or rails which require regular cleaning. They also tend to wear out with time and may require replacement, which may put off some people.

 

Rear Drive Ellipticals

Credit: Precor – The EFX 245 is an example of a Rear Drive Elliptical

As the name suggests, rear drive elliptical trainers have the flywheel mounted at the back, just behind the pedals. They are the oldest type of elliptical trainers, being the first model that was developed by Precor in the 1990s. They are still the most popular today, and you will find them in most high-end gyms.The reason rear drive elliptical trainers are so popular is because of their low maintenance requirements. They generally have fewer moving parts compared to other models, which means less cleaning and fewer parts that need replacement.

Rear drive elliptical trainers have a more horizontal path, and this translates to less leaning and a more natural walking motion. Since you maintain a straighter posture, it also means that you have less pressure on your spine and joints, making them more preferable for people with injuries.

However, rear drive elliptical trainers do tend to be more costly than their counterparts. This is because the rear assembly of the flywheel requires more complicated mechanics. They also come with a ramp lever with either manual or automatic slope adjustment which makes both production and assembly costly. However, once this is done then they are good to go for many years without much attention.

Even though their price is comparatively higher, rear drive elliptical trainers continue to dominate the market. They give you a more natural, fluid walking or jogging motion. The possibility to change slope is also attractive as it means that you can change the resistance level to suit your needs.

 

Center Drive Ellipticals

The NordicTrack FS7i is an example of a Center Drive Elliptical

Due to the popularity of the other two models (and also due to patent rights), manufacturers started to look into alternative designs. The center drive is the most recent result of this, which as you can guess by now has its flywheel in line with the pedals.

To accomplish this, manufacturers put two flywheels instead of one at both sides of the machine, each connected to a pedal.This design has proven to be very smooth and quiet and is thus gaining popularity for home and office use. Besides, the design also brings the pedals much closer together, which makes the motion much more fluid and natural. Besides, since the legs will be much closer together, it means less stress on the hips, back, and knees.

Another perk of the center drive elliptical trainer is more stability. Since the two flywheels are found on both sides of the assembly, they contribute to its overall stability.

However, they do have an inherent disadvantage in that the design does not allow an incline. An incline is an optional feature found on both rear and front drives that consist of a ramp and adjustment to change the incline angle of the ramp. This is a feature that some users like because it lets them work more muscle groups.

 

Elliptical Gliders

The Gazelle Edge by Tony Little is an example of an Elliptical Glider

If you’re not a big fan of the up and down movement of the typical elliptical trainer, then the elliptical glider is for you. Basically, they consist of pedals that swing back and forth on a pivot. This means that they have no flywheel, but their construction is such that you will get the same smooth motion, so no jarring.In spite of this, elliptical gliders follow the same elliptical path that mimics walking or running, which means that they give you the same great cardio workout you would get from any other elliptical workout machine.

For those who are new or are afraid to work out, the elliptical glider may be the best place to start. They are very easy to operate, and you can work out at your own pace. You can also change from a slow to a faster workout effortlessly and vice versa.

Even more important, their motion does not cause any joint or muscle pain that can result from intense workouts with the other elliptical workout machines.

Elliptical gliders also have another big advantage: versatility. You can perform a wide range of exercises on them, from stretching, to jogging, to full out running and full body workout. You can do this by just adjusting your positioning on the machine. If you’re susceptible to injury, overweight, scared or just plain lazy, the elliptical glider is the best option for you.

 

Standard Ellipticals

The Bowflex Maxtrainer M6 is an example of a Standard Elliptical Trainer

All elliptical trainers, no matter what other categories they belong to, can be classified into two major categories: standard elliptical trainers and elliptical cross trainers. This difference lies in the type of workout you can get.Standard elliptical trainers only allow you to train the lower body. They have fixed armrests that you hold onto as you work your legs, just like you would do with a treadmill. This way, you’re able to work out your quads, glutes, and hamstrings.

The main advantage you get with standard trainers is that they are cheap. There are all sorts of categories of elliptical trainers, with some even going for upwards of $3000.  In the end, it all depends on how much you’re willing to pay for your elliptical trainer.

If your goal is to get in shape, burn fat and get your cardio in check, then a standard elliptical trainer is all you need. It will cost you less, needs less maintenance and will likely come with a host of added features. For example, since your hands are stationary, you will usually find that they have pulse checkers, touchscreen functionality, inbuilt speakers for music and much more. Again it depends on what you want and what you’re willing to pay for.

 

Elliptical Cross Trainers

The Proform 7.0 is an example of a Elliptical Cross Trainer

Elliptical cross trainers are those that come with moving armrests, attached to the flywheel just like the pedals. This means that they move in tandem with the pedals and provide resistance for arm and upper body workout. Elliptical cross trainers are very popular because of this feature.Elliptical cross trainers also come loaded with many other features. For example, you can vary their intensity to mimic uphill running, stair climbing, or even bike riding depending on the machine.

Another cool feature with elliptical cross trainers is that they can also function as standard trainers. That is right, you don’t have to hold onto the armrests and they won’t harm you. This means that if you like to start slow and gradually increase the intensity of your workout, you can do that easily with elliptical cross trainers.

Of course, all that functionality won’t come cheap, which may be the reason why you shy away. Depending on size, elliptical cross trainers can cost you a pretty penny. They usually come in sizes because not everybody may be able to reach the handles or handle the resistance, so there are some for short people, tall people, and big people.

While they are more expensive, the ability to work the whole body at once is well worth it. For most people, this may be enough for general exercise and they do not need to purchase any more equipment. This is also the reason why they’re so popular with gyms and spas.

Normal elliptical trainers are large, cumbersome machines that eat up a lot of space. If space is a premium for you, then you need a trainer with as small a footprint as possible. This comes to you in two forms: Foldable cross trainer, and the compact cross trainer.

Foldable Ellipticals

The Proform Smart Strider 495 CSE is an example of a foldable elliptical

Some innovative manufacturers have figured out ways to make some elliptical machines foldable and mobile. To do this, they make it possible to detach some of the longer components or otherwise fold them. You can then proceed to wheel them into a storage area such as a closet.

This is an important feature, especially if you do not have the space to dedicate a whole room to exercise.

They allow you to stow them away somewhere until they are next needed. Most importantly, they do not compromise on the quality of the work out you will be getting.

Compact Ellipticals

The Octane Fitness Q35x is an example of a compact elliptical

These are specially made to be as small as possible. Instead of just making a few features removable, everything about compact elliptical trainers is made as small as possible. Mostly, they just consist of a flywheel that goes between your legs, pedals attached directly to it and some form of armrests (or none).

This gives them an extremely small footprint and can fit anywhere even if its a packed home or office. However, their small size means that you may have to compromise on stride length. In fact, much of what you can do is limited to a walk or a jog, while some may even come with elastic armrests for upper body exercise.

However, they also tend to be very affordable and are a perfect fit for anyone who wants something to help them remain active without a lot of investment.

 

Conclusion

As you can see, there are many types of elliptical trainers. There are even some on which you can sit, called recumbent cross-trainers.

Your particular situation determines which elliptical trainer is good for you. All of them are amazing machines that can help you keep strong, lose fat and keep in shape. It’s just that some are better designed, bigger and durable, have more features and hence more expensive. Finding the perfect cardio machine for you fitness needs is not easy. The importance of doing propper research is major. So, understanding all the idiosyncrasies each type of elliptical has will help you in the long run, and the best value for you money, because at the end of the day it is very easy to make a quick buy that will only get dust around the house

At the end of the day, you just need to make sure that you get something that motivates you to get on it and exercise, and maintains you focused on you fitness goals.

 

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