Shopping for an Elliptical? Here's What You Need To Look For – Part II

-Bryan Shutts 

Missed Part One? Find it here.

And please don't forget: my opinions do not necessarily reflect the thoughts and opinions of G&G Fitness or any of its brands.

Hopefully, Part One was informative for you and you were able to take some of the information and utilize it in your journey to find the right elliptical for your home. It was a bit long, and for Part Two, I am going to try to condense it down as much as I can. We covered most of the important things in Part One, so here are a few things that are a little less subjective and more black and white (with features being a natural exception).

Types of Resistance Systems

Manual Friction Brake systems are operated by the user turning a knob, which tightens down a brake pad on the flywheel. This system is one of the most simple and cost effective ways of applying resistance. It is also the least reliable and requires the most preventative maintenance. This system is not as common as it used to be however, as newer technologies have become more sophisticated and cost effective. Still, there are manufacturers today producing equipment that use extremely high quality friction brake systems and they should not be dismissed simply because they use friction for resistance. Talk to your local fitness consultant about the pros & cons of friction resistance and why/how they are not all equal.

Manual Magnetic Brake systems work similarly to manual friction systems, however in lieu of applied friction, it uses a magnet. When the user turns a knob or pulls a lever, a U-shaped bracket with a magnet attached to it is moves closer or farther away from the flywheel. The closer the magnet is to the flywheel, the more resistance is applied. It's more practical than friction resistance, for the most part, because you don't have wear and ongoing maintenance. You want to be careful though because not all magnets are the same quality, and just because it is magnetic does not mean it is going to have powerful resistance. Try the machines out for yourself at your local specialty showroom and compare the different resistance systems. Make sure to match your workout goals with the appropriate system that best meets your needs.

Eddy Current systems work similarly to a manual magnetic system, however the magnet moves with the push of a button. Inside the machine is a curved arm bar with magnets attached to it, evenly spaced from the flywheel. Because this system is controlled electronically, the additional magnets will allow for more resistance that a manual system where the user has to physically turn a knob or move a lever. Just like a manual magnet, there will still be a small gap between the flywheel and the magnet when maximum resistance is applied . . . so there is no wear or friction. All of this equals an elliptical which lasts longer for you.

Electromagnetic Induction Brake systems are the most powerful and sophisticated resistance systems out there today. Instead of using moving magnets, the magnets are fixed in place and as such, no moving parts. The magnets are fixated evenly with the flywheel spinning in between them. When the user increases the resistance, a higher electrical current is exposed to the magnets which makes the wheel harder to turn. Because the current is what determines the magnetic power (as opposed to the current remaining the same while the magnet moves closer and father away from the flywheel), the user has access to much more powerful resistance with an electromagnetic system. In addition, now you genuinely have no moving parts, and as such, less that could possibly go wrong in the future. Lastly, your resistance changes are instantaneous; meaning, when you go from level 1 to level 20 it will immediately respond. In moving magnet systems, you have to wait on the magnet to get closer to the wheel (which could take upwards to 30 seconds).

Electronic Options, Features & Programs (And A Brief Tangent)

A common phrase I hear when talking about electronics is, “bells and whistles.” From my experience and general observations, people who use this term are referring to features integrated on the unit's console apparatus.

First things first here. For you to be able to find the right machine that fits your needs, you are going to need to concretely determine what it is you are trying to accomplish. Console workout programs are designed specifically around these personalized decisions, and unfortunately, I find that they are not talked about nearly as much as they deserve to be. These could include but are not limited to: entertainment options, number and types of workout programs, heart rate control and feedback, metric feedback, memory features such as user profiles and workout calendars, USB and/or Bluetooth connectivity, speakers, touchscreens, cross training options and personalized coaching. Fair enough! However, when you say to me that you don't need any “bells and whistles,” and you are referring to the console options, what I am actually hearing – as YOUR fitness consultant – is that you have not put any detailed thought into the path to your fitness goals!

Hear me out. What I am saying is this: if you have a specific goal to drop your pace so you can achieve a better result at your next 5k, and you put some logical thought into accomplishing that goal and formulate a plan of action, you might say to me, “I really need something with a pacer function so I can monitor where I am at all times.” Or, if you are trying to lose a pound a week and keep it off, and you know how you are going to accomplish that goal, you might say, “I really need something that has a calorie goal program.” What if you are trying to lower your resting heart rate? You would say, “I really need to monitor my heart rate and do intelligent workouts designed to strengthen my heart.”

Point being, all of the options that are integrated into an elliptical's console are not fluff; each program and feature has a specific purpose designed around your specific goals, and to also motivate you.

Commodity shoppers will commonly look at these console features as the first expendable option when the cost of the machine is their primary focus. When my client starts to dismiss the console as a pretext to get the best value for their money, it is very important to me that I ask them follow-up questions to make sure that they aren't falling into the stigmatized “bells and whistles” trap and that they are not sabotaging their own goals before they even get started. Some of the most common feedback statements I receive when I ask for their thoughts are:

  • I don't use any of that stuff, I just get on it and go

  • I don't need to monitor my heart rate, I've never done it

  • It's just me using the machine, I don't need any user profiles or anything like that

These are not made up statements to fit the agenda of my argument, these are actual deflections from clients that I hear all of the time. And believe me when I say I know they aren't being unreasonable. I empathize with my clients. I want them to use their machines and get the most out of them. I want the machines to improve their lives and their health. I'd never argue with a client about their objections. All I try to do, really, is to fit them with a machine that best fits their needs before they automatically dismiss anything for the wrong reasons. And most of the time, I can help by asking one very simple question:

How valuable is your time?

I am just as busy as anyone and I can tell you with honesty that I wouldn't be able to get through the day if I did not optimize my time. A common reason (but not the only reason) why our clients are shopping for equipment for their home is because they don't have time to go to the gym. If this is also the case for you, and you told me this when I asked why you are shopping for an elliptical, I already know your time is valuable before I even ask!

It's fairly easy to overcome all of the objections stated above with just talking about how the elliptical can optimize your workout efficiency in the shortest time possible:

  • You told me you want to burn 500 calories five days per week to lose a pound per week and keep it off. Instead of hitting Quick Start and working out for one hour, what if you tried this comprehensive interval program instead and finished in 30 minutes? Would an extra 30 minutes a day to get some other stuff done help you out?”

  • I know you said you don't monitor your heart rate, but by doing this target heart rate program, you could really focus on torching fat first and foremost, and by staying in that zone the entire time, you could shave a few minutes off that traditional steady state workout in which it sounds like you have conditioned yourself.”

  • I know you said it's just you using the machine and you don't need any user profiles, however if you save your information into a profile, you won't have to type in your age and weight every single time you start to exercise, which will save you lots of time.”

My contention really, is that the more options you have at your disposal, the more likely you will be to hit your goals, and the more you will use your elliptical for years to come. A fitness goal is a journey, and it's going to have ups and downs, and anything that will help you use the machine more frequently, and go longer, faster and harder . . . will shorten that journey.
The best advice I can give you is to reach out to your local dealer and speak with a fitness consultant. Trust me, they want to hear from you and they want to talk about you and your fitness goals. Tell them what you are trying to achieve and let them work with you to create a plan of action to get you there. Fitness consultants are exceptional at gathering information about you, your career, your lifestyle, your family, your habits and your strengths and weaknesses and designing an optimal plan that is realistic and one that you will enjoy doing. And sometimes, that plan relies on specific and comprehensive workout programs that are integrated on the machine. Programs designed to optimize the benefits of using the elliptical. Programs designed to save you time. Not a bell. Not a whistle.

Movable Arms & Non-Movable Arms

The majority of ellipticals out there have moveable arms that are inter-connected to the pedals and resistance system to provide a fluid, dual-action workout. There are two main types of arms: those which are considered to be standard, which protrude straight ahead of the body when pushed and/or pulled. Non-standard converging arms, which converge toward the center of the body, tend to mimic a more natural walking or running motion.
Fixed arm elliptical trainers have no moving arms at all, and are a little less common nowadays. They are primarily lower-body workouts, and people who don't like to use the arms regularly and have them move back and forth tend to gravitate toward fixed-arm machines.

Hybrid armed elliptical trainers are the least common. These ellipticals are optimal for workout variety because the arms can be docked in place so they do not automatically move back and forth if you don't want to use them.

Linkages

The linkages, where two pieces of steel are joined, make up a considerable amount of integrity of the machine. More cost-effective machines will use bushings, which use two pieces of material (typically brass, steel or plastic) which pivot on each other. Bushings wear over time, and will increase in noise and friction with more and more use.

Bearings are significantly smoother and require very little maintenance. You will usually find bearings on ellipticals in specialty stores, as opposed to department stores. Instead of having two flat pieces rub against one another, rounded bearings reduce the coefficient of friction, which results in less heat, noise and wear.

Wheel-on-Ramp vs. Suspension Systems

Some elliptical manufacturers utilize wheels that are directly connected to the pedals, which roll up and down a grooved track. Sometimes, these wheels are curved and other times they are not. Also, some companies use a single track for each pedal, and others use a dual track for curved wheels. For the most part, the idea is centrally the same: for the machine to provide the elliptical motion, it is dependent on the wheels moving back and forth, up and down the track(s).

Suspension ellipticals have no wheels. Instead, The pedals have their own independent pivot points (some also independently articulate) which are connected directly to linkages, which in turn are directly connected to the flywheel. They are called suspension systems because you are “suspended” in the air as you pedal the machine. Manufacturers design machines this way because they want the machine to have less maintenance required, and have them be significantly quieter than a wheel-on-ramp design.

I am an advocate that whatever machine is most comfortable and fits you best is likely to be the machine you will get the most benefits from, and that biomechanics and ergonomics trump mostly everything else. Still, there are a couple significant differences between the two types of systems that you should consider, and while I don't think one is “better” than the other, I think that by taking these things into consideration, it will help make you decision making process a bit less convoluted. 

  • A wheel-on-ramp system is going to be noisier, as you will hear the wheels “whooshing” up and down the tracks. 

  • A wheel-on-ramp system is going to require more preventative maintenance from you, because you are going to have to keep the tracks clean and free of debris. In addition, the wheels are a wear item. 

  • A suspension system is quieter than a wheel-on-ramp system and does not have the wear items or require the preventative maintenance. However, the catch is that now regarding energy displacement, the machine is being stressed more. When you use an elliptical that has wheels moving back and forth on a track, you are evenly distributing the energy you are outputting along the entire track and/or ramp. However on a suspension elliptical, all of that energy has nowhere to go except for the linkages, so there is more stress being applied to those pivot points. Also, because most ellipticals use bolts to connect the arm masts, there is additional pressure being applied, and the bolts will likely loosen over time and need tightened again.

To help you understand this better, a good analogy would be if you were standing in the middle of a frozen lake, and the ice starts to crack under your feet. If you want to avoid falling through the ice, you should lay down and spread out your arms and legs, making yourself take up as much surface area as possible. This way, you are spreading your weight and energy out as far away from the fracture as you possibly can, which will minimize the pressure required for the crack to spread. This is similar to the energy displacement of a wheel-on-ramp elliptical: you aren't focusing all of that kinetic energy on a single point or points. With a suspension system however, that force is being directed to the linkages that suspend you up in the air to give you that quieter, smoother experience.
That's all folks! Hopefully this has been informative in your search for the elliptical that fits you best and meets your needs. Now it is up to you!

 

Questions? Feel free use the button below to chat with us! Or you can email me at bshutts@livefit.com
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