Elliptical trainers make up the second largest cardio equipment category, and are a staple for fitness facilities. The low impact nature of the exercise, combined with the fact that they often include full body engagement and reduced relative perceived effort (RPE) vs. other cardio machines, make them a very popular choice for a wide variety of exercisers.

In contrast to most other cardio categories, the elliptical class provides a wide diversity of machines and associated motions that each contribute individually to a fitness facility. While there are a number of different machines and movements, they are all grouped together and referred to as “Ellipticals.”

For the most part, a treadmill is a treadmill, a bike is a bike, etc., and the functional differences between machines are usually quite small. Ellipticals on the other hand, can vary significantly across machine types. There are a huge variety of movement options, which is why in many facilities you will find two or even three different elliptical trainers on their cardio floor. So… what makes them so different?

There are a number of variables that are different across machines, and can cause significant differences in feel for the end user.

Variables Include:

Movement pattern – the shape of the ellipse that your feet follow 

Foot pads – hard, soft, texture, and some pads even articulate, changing the feel     

Stride length – options in the market range from 8”(20 cm) to 36”(91 cm)

Front vs. rear drive – affects movement pattern, as well as entry/exit of machine

Incline adjustments – some machines allow you to raise and lower the front of the ellipse

Fixed vs. variable stride – some machines have a fixed movement pattern, others offer the option to adjust the movement pattern length

Manual adjustments vs. automatic – some variable stride machines change the length of stride with a button push, others allow the user to simply stride longer or shorter and the machine automatically changes with them

Upper body handles vs. no handles – some machines have upper body arms that move, some do not. Additionally, among those that do have moving arms, the shape, position and movement pattern of the handles affect the feel. For example, some machines have a simple straight handle, others use multi-position handles; some machines have handles that move parallel to the feet, others offer converging handles that strive to follow a more natural path for the user. All of these options create differences in the end user experience.

So, how do you figure out which is the ‘right’ one for you? The honest answer is, even with all the science behind the machines, and the research that has been done, it largely boils down to personal preference. 

For fitness facilities, having more than one type of elliptical offering is imperative to provide greater satisfaction for members. Allowing members to take their time to try different elliptical options will allow them to feel comfortable and keep them coming back for their new favorite machine.

The diversity of machines within the elliptical category is catered to the preferences and comfort of the user. The more options available at a facility the more opportunities a member will find something they love.