Are all elliptical trainers created equal? American Council on Exercise Puts Latest Fitness Trend to the Test

Posted: May 21, 1998 in

SAN DIEGO - When it comes to elliptical trainers, you get what you pay for. This was the conclusion drawn by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) on a study of elliptical trainers, the latest breed of fitness machines to hit infomercial airwaves and gyms. ACE’s study also confirms their effectiveness, but uncovers a direct correlation between prices of elliptical trainers designed for home use and their level of quality and comfort.

"The new elliptical trainers enable you to move in a low-impact, oval motion and provide a good workout," said Richard Cotton, ACE exercise physiologist. "But because these machines are fairly complex devices, it appears to be difficult to build an inexpensive quality version."

Reported in the May/June issue of ACE FitnessMatters, ACE’s study was led by Len Kravitz, Ph.D. and a team of researchers at the University of Mississippi. They tested seven men and seven women on four of the top-selling elliptical trainers: Ellipse by NordicTrack ($599.95), HealthRider Elliptical Crosstrainer by ICON Health and Fitness, Inc. ($499.99), Power Train TM by Guthy-Renker ($199.80) and Cyclone Crosstrainer TM by Quantum Television ($399).

Machines were ordered and assembled by one individual, following the directions provided by each manufacturer. There was a great deal of variation in both the quality and quantity of information contained within the assembly descriptions, which can be credited for the wide range of assembly times (30 – 150 minutes).

Oxygen consumption, heart rate, perceived exertion, stride speed and calorie expenditure were also measured during the study.

The four elliptical trainers proved surprisingly similar across all measurements, each providing an effective workout for both men and women. Participants burned approximately 8 to 9 calories per minute -- similar to the calorie expenditures for intense aerobic dancing and running at an 11.5 min/mile pace.

In addition to the quantitative analysis, study subjects rated products for quality, comfort and durability. In order of preference:

  1. Ellipse
  2. Healthrider
  3. Power Train
  4. Cyclone

The two most expensive machines – the Ellipse and the HealthRider – received the highest marks. Both were described as "smooth" and "comfortable" machines that gave the exerciser a good workout and Kravitz declared the Ellipse the most solidly built.

During testing, five of the seven women hit the Cyclone’s center control panel with their knees, of significant concern because the machine is heavily marketed to the female population. Kravitz also noted that the Healthrider appeared to be a product that was launched before it was ready and didn’t seem to be quality tested. The company has since made modifications to improve their product.

Infomercial Claims

In the past, ACE has examined other home exercise infomercials and found that the products often don’t live up to the claims made. Elliptical trainer infomercials proved to be no different.

Kravitz examined infomercials for the Cyclone TM and PowerTrain TM; the other two products’ infomercials were off the air at the time of the study. The Cyclone TM infomercial claims that it burns five times more calories (set at 80 percent resistance) than a treadmill at 2.7 mph (which is slower than the 3 mph pace most people walk). This is like comparing a stroll to running full-speed up a hill.

Though Kravitz found the infomercial for the PowerTrain TM to be more honest than that for the Cyclone TM, he questions the claim that the PowerTrain TM burns 35 percent more calories than a treadmill or stationary bicycle.

As with any piece of exercise equipment, ACE encourages you to try it out before you buy, especially when a significant financial investment is at stake. "Elliptical trainers give us another choice for an effective, challenging workout," explained Cotton, &quoy;but you may not enjoy that particular type of motion or the feel of a given machine so it’s best to try before you buy."

Reponding to consumers’ growing confusion over misleading fitness claims and a surge in home-fitness equipment offerings, ACE continues to be a reliable, unbiased source of credible information that will help people cut through the clutter and enjoy safe and effective physical activity. ACE publishes this information in ACE FitnessMatters available by joining "Friends of ACE," a new public membership program.

For $25 per year, you will receive a one-year subscription to ACE FitnessMatters. The program supports ACE's public service projects including the testing and evaluation of home exercise equipment, expansion of its youth fitness program, Energy2 Burn, and development of senior fitness programs.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the benefits of physical activity and protecting consumers against unsafe and ineffective fitness products and instruction. As the nation’s "workout watchdog," ACE conducts university-based research and testing that targets fitness products and trends. ACE sets standards for fitness professionals and is the world’s largest nonprofit fitness certifying organization. For more information on ACE and its programs, call (800) 825-3636 or log onto the ACE Web site at

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