Elliptical trainers became popular in the fitness world in the early 90s and have since rivaled treadmills in sales. Not long ago, you would see a long line of treadmills in a health club, and just a couple of ellipticals in the corner. Now there are typically equal numbers. There are two major factors that have made elliptical trainers so popular:
Low Impact Workout: When you exercise on an elliptical trainer your foot never leaves the pedal because your lower body moves in an elliptical motion. It's almost like running in the air. There is no reverse motion and minimal impact and shock to your body.
This is in contrast to a treadmill, where your body impacts the surface with every step. In fact, for runners, your body can impact the surface at 2.5 times your weight. That shock to your body is felt not only through your lower joints, but also in your back.
The low-impact workout of an elliptical trainer is particularly appealing to individuals with injuries. It's also attractive to older individuals who want to avoid future injuries from high-impact exercises.
Dual Workout: An elliptical trainer is one of the few workout machines that allows you to simultaneously exercise both your upper and lower body. You will find that most people tend to exercise only their lower half and neglect the rest. The dual-action workout of an elliptical is not only beneficial for trimming fat, it also helps to efficiently burn more calories in less time.
What to Consider in an Elliptical Trainer
Rear vs. Front Drive: The majority of elliptical trainers are either front or rear drive. This means the flywheel is located in the front or the rear of the machine.
The original cross-trainers were rear drive, and companies started designing front-drive models to get around the patents.
Which one is preferable? There are benefits to each. The rear-drive design tends to have some ergonomic benefits. For example, your body is better centered over the machine. With front-drive ellipticals there is a tendency to lean forward. In addition, rear-drive ellipticals often have a more natural elliptical motion. The motion tends to be truer to form.
A front-drive model can be compact and take up less space than a rear-drive elliptical. For example, the front-drive NordicTrack E 9.9 has a length of 68 inches, while the NordicTrack AudioStrider 990 Pro is 81 inches in length. Furthermore, the front-drive models can be considerably easier to mount and dismount. Some people find getting on a rear-drive model to be awkward.
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