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Cardio Machine Buying Tips
Treadmills and Ellipticals

This is the time of year when cardio machine sales really pick up. Some want the equipment in their home for the holidays, others to burn off fat after the holidays. If you're thinking about buying one, I've got a few tips to save you money and aggravation. This week I'll cover treadmills and ellipticals.


There are three types of treadmills to consider.

Standard deck is what we call typical treadmills. That's a treadmill with an electric motor that runs a moving belt. Beneath the belt is a solid surface or "deck" that absorbs the impact as you run.

Deckless treadmills have slats suspended across where the deck would normally go. The slats are attached to a chain and spin just like a moving belt. Deckless treadmills tend to be a little easier on the knees because the slats "give" each time you land on them. 

A third and completely new type of treadmill is sold by Woodway and it's called the curve. Instead of a flat deck, there is no deck and the slats are on a U-shaped surface. It has no motor, it's powered completely by the runner. This design is currently patented by Woodway but we expect companies to copy it as soon as the patent expires. 

Measure the deck of the treadmill. If you have a long stride, a machine with a compact deck might not be comfortable. Choose a model where the belt or slats are at least 20 inches wide and 50 inches long.

The space on either side of the belt or slats is called the foot rails. Check that they have enough room for your feet, so you can safely step onto them if you're feeling faint, dizzy or need to slow down during intervals.

Swing your arms when you make a test run. They shouldn't hit the safety rails on either side. If the safety rails are in your way and can't be adjusted, consider another machine.

Check for maximum weight loads. If you weigh over 300 pounds, some treadmills might not work properly.

Look for machines that have welded joints, they tend to be sturdier.

In homes with children, treadmills should have their safety key removed and securely stored away when not in use. If a small person falls at the end of a treadmill, the running tread or belt can "climb up and over" the child just like the tread on a tank. (The safety key automatically turns the machine off if disconnected. It's typically something you clip to your clothing when running as a precaution in case you fall.)

Elliptical from Sci Fit


Ellipticals work muscles almost the same way as a treadmill, but they remove the impact. That makes them easier on the joints and more appropriate for people who are injured or extremely overweight. Ellipticals also often have moving poles to work the arms as well.

Check the feel of the foot pads. Some are simply rigid plastic while others offer padding. If your feet go numb easily, you might want padded or cushioned foot pads. Choose models that have a rim around the sides of the foot pads so your feet don't slip off.

Test your stride. You want each movement to be smooth, similar to running. If it's jerky or you bump into things like the console with your knees, you need to consider another option. Some models allow you to adjust the stride length, make sure it's appropriate for you.

Measure the width of the pedals. Models vary in how far apart they position your feet. If yours is too wide, you'll put undue stress on your joints and lower back.

Test your reach on the moving poles. You shouldn't be forced to lean forward and they shouldn't block the display when they're in the front. If you're holding onto stationary handles, the moving poles shouldn't be so close together that they hit you.

Because ellipticals raise you up and work with you standing tall, measure your ceiling height. Some models are so elevated, a tall person might hit their head on a low ceiling.

To make them more challenging, some ellipticals have an incline option. If that's something you want, find out if it adjusts automatically or manually. For variable workouts, a manual incline option may not be appropriate.

Use these tips to get the best fitting machine for your needs. For information on bikes and rowing machines, read part two.

Part 1 2

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