questionswhat should i look for in an elliptical trainer…

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The ability to time travel. wham.

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My first thought would be to try it, and make sure that the motion and your body get along. I'm on the taller side, and don't really fit on all ellipticals. Same deal height wise - a tall elliptical + a regular height/slightly low ceiling = no good for me, as well.

Second, I would look for a wide range of resistances, a variety of programs, compatibility with various heart rate monitors, and both moving arms and static handles. You may also wish to consider footprint.

When you're trying out the machines, run as fast as you can on it - even at the gym, I've noticed some ellipticals are much louder than others - not sure why, but I'd prefer a quieter one any day of the week, of course.

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Hypothetically, I'd suggest you consider two alternatives:

See if a local fitness center is still running their New Year special, or you know someone who can get you in for a free trial of a day or two. A gym membership could be significantly cheaper than buying your own equipment, especially if you're the type to stop exercising after you've achieved your goals (or abandoned hope of achieving your goals).

If you know you don't want to go the gym membership route, pick up a copy of this month's (Feb 2011) Consumer Reports magazine. On page 32 they have an excellent guide on what to look for and how to choose your implement of torture, and they stack rack 35 different treadmills and 31 ellipticals.

Personally, I never did find an elliptical that felt right for me at a store. Either the rhythm wasn't right, or the stride was too long or too short, or the price was insane. The top ranked elliptical goes for $2,200 - that's several years of gym fees right there.

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@durkzilla: Oooh, didn't know CR did equipment this issue. @shawnmiller - I can extend online access to CR to you, if you would like.

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I would also advise to look at sears/dicks or whatever local retail outlet you have. They may move out some after christmas returns or last years models on clearance. I got my eliptical from dicks at about 50% off of regular price as it was on closeout.

If you buy anything on closeout, try to ensure you run it through all of it's paces before purchasing. Second, try to see if there is any warranty left on it and if it counts on clearance items. Third, make sure you get a manual or get them to steal one from another unit.

I got a very good eliptical for about $735 after taxes, not top end, but very good quality. I used the dick's reward point system, and reward points from my grocery store for buying dick's merchandise cards from them.

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@durkzilla: where did they rate the sole F80?

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@ecriscit: The F80 wasn't included in their list. They did test the F63, and it came in #7 in the "Folding" category.

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I am also in the market for one--I've been shopping around a while, and there are some definite points that are at the top of my list. Stride length--I have had a hard time finding one that feels like a natural stride for me in the past. My inseam is 36 inches, the first ones that came out had a pretty crappy short stride. Trainers are now saying that less than an 18 inch stride is worthless, so the manufacturers have taken notice and now make much longer strides, some up to 22 inches. You have to watch the cheap ones, though--I saw some 12-14 inch stride lengths. Another thing I have been looking at is weight capacity. Whether you need high weight capacity or not, the higher weight capacity machines are going to be sturdier and will prevent rocking when you are using the elliptical at high speeds. Something with a 350 lb weight limit is going to be much sturdier and stabler than a 225 lb limit. Also, some offer iPod docking with built in speakers, which is important to me.

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One word: Craigslist. I bought an earlier version of the $1800 model linked below, barely used, for $800. I just checked my local CL, and spotted 2 high-rated machines, a Sole and a Schwinn, in almost-new condition and steeply discounted to get them the heck out of their owners' bedrooms!

http://home.visionfitness.com/elliptical-trainers/x6200/deluxe/

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@dcalotta: Is it too late to take a look at CR?