Crosstrainer buying guide

Elliptical crosstrainers offer a low-impact, full-body workout at home.
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  • Updated:2 Jul 2010

01.Crosstrainer buying guide

Woman on crosstrainer

In brief

  • Home gym equipment such as a crosstrainer offers lots of pluses over alternatives like a gym. There are no costly membership fees, no queuing for machines or rushing to get there during opening hours.
  • An exercise machine at home offers instant access and convenience; you can work out first thing in the morning, midday or even midnight.
  • Our trials have shown that the choice of a suitable crosstrainer depends a lot on which model best suits your body — be sure to try out a variety of models before you buy.
  • It’s an expensive piece of equipment: make sure you consider the pros and cons of getting one, and buy a model with a decent warranty and good service options.

See our crosstrainers test.

The crosstrainer (also called an elliptical trainer) has been growing in popularity. The smooth-flowing movement has been likened to a mix of cross-country skiing and slow running. The advantage is that it uses both your upper and lower body and is fairly comfortable, unlike exercise bikes and rowing machines where you’re sitting down. While treadmills are also very popular, many people just don’t like to run: they find it jarring or difficult. A crosstrainer is the closest action you can get to running, without the jarring.

  • A crosstrainer is a large and expensive piece of equipment, so make sure you find a model that suits your needs.
  • It’s essential to try out several models in shops to see which work for your body and exercise style, and even whether they’ll fit into the room you have for them.
  • Most sports shops will only have a couple of models on display so it’s worth visiting a few to make sure you get to try out a wide variety of styles.
  • If you’re planning to share the crosstrainer with other people it’s important that all of you try it out, as different models tend to suit different body shapes.
  • Even if you think you’ll get a better deal buying your crosstrainer over the internet, visit a few shops first to find the specific model that suits you.

In the shop

  • Go through all the resistance levels on the machine and make sure they cover a wide range; the higher levels should be very difficult or at least make you struggle. As your fitness increases it’s important the crosstrainer can grow with you.
  • Make sure it has a number of different programs so you can add some variety and interest to your exercise regimen.
  • Check the controls are easy to use. Make sure it’s comfortable to use, that your body stays well clear of any parts such as the bottle holder, that the moving arms don’t bump into you and that you can easily read and adjust the display.
  • Look for a smooth motion and a smooth change between resistance levels.
  • If you’re on the heavy side, check the recommended user weight — some have a limit of only 90–100 kg.
  • Look for a sturdy machine with well-fitting parts. If it’s heavy, it’s probably an indication of more metal than plastic parts.
  • A wider footprint means it’s more likely to be stable when you exercise at a higher intensity (which means there’s more sideways movement of your body.)
  • Look for a pulse sensor on the moving handles, or even better pulse sensors on both the moving and fixed handles, though a good-quality chest-strap monitor was more reliable than any of the pulse sensors tested.
  • Check the stride length when you test the machine. More expensive crosstrainers tend to have a longer stride, which may give you a more effective workout.
  • Check the warranty and service agreement. Crosstrainers are large and although they’re usually not that difficult to put together you wouldn’t want to have to take one apart and transport it for a service. Check whether the supplier or manufacturer provides an at-home service. Some of the models tested had a very short warranty period of 90 days; try to get a model that has at least a year.

Pulse sensor

  • Look for a machine that has a pulse sensor, which allows the user to monitor their heart rate while exercising. This is handy for knowing when you’re in the ‘fat-burning zone’ and also lets you know if you’re overdoing it.
  • Although sensors are pretty accurate when measuring a resting pulse they generally overestimate the heart rate during a low-level workout and underestimate it during a medium-level one. This can be dangerous if you choose to exercise at the upper limit of the recommended heart rate range.
  • If you really want to accurately measure your heart rate when you push your limits during a workout, you’d be better off buying a separate, good-quality heart monitor with a chest strap.

Beat the boredom

Although home gym equipment sounds great in theory, a quick flick through the classified ads is a testimony to good intentions gone awry. You can find plenty of almost new machines that have quickly become expensive dust collectors, thanks to boredom.

Dr Aron Murphy (who has worked with elite athletes across a number of sports as well as consulting for the Sydney Swans and NSW Waratahs) has some tips for home exercisers who want to beat the boredom and see some real results:

  • Choose a machine with lots of different programs to add variety and different levels of intensity to your workout.
  • Don’t be overambitious – trying to work out for an hour every day is a surefire way to overtire and get bored fast.
  • Try short intervals every second day or so and build things up slowly.
  • Mix it up – include other elements in your exercise regimen, such as walking or cycling outdoors.
  • If you want to see results, you’ll need to have a good diet plan too. As Dr Murphy says, “You can’t outrun bad eating habits.”

Video: What to look for - Cross trainers

Jane Flemming talks about cross trainers, and raises some child safety issues.



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