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Invented back in the 1990's by Precor, the elliptical trainer (or cross trainer as it is also known) allows your foot to roll from heel to toe using the pedal to create a smooth, non-impact, elliptical movement. The non-impact nature of the design means very little muscle and tendon stress making this piece of gym equipment perfect for rehabilitation.
Ultimately if you're buying a cross trainer, you need to ensure it has the features you want and that it will fit in your house/gym. They are not as easy to store as say a rower or free weights, so think about that from a practical point of view. Secondly from a practical point of view, go for the magnetic resistance models if noise will be an isse, or you live in a flat. They run much more quietly than other models.
On the features side, most new models now come with an electronic user panel, but if you want to monitor your heart rate, then make sure it comes with (or is compatible with) a heart rate monitor. Likewise, if you want to put it somewhere where there's no electricity, make sure you get one that is self-powering.
The more you spend, the more features you normally get or the better the build quality. You can get both if you look around (or ask us).
The latest models give you, the user, increasing amounts of control over the elliptical movement; the option to add some incline; and the chance to vary the length of the stride pattern. This means just about anyone can use the machine comfortably and for a range of different training options. You also need to ensure that you get one with an electronic monitor as that will hepl you to see the distance you are covering, the expected calories you are burning and the time elapsed since you got on the machine!
As you would expect, the workout is a cardiovascular one. As you become more comfortable with the machine you can vary the intensity as well as introducing inclines and also more resistance.
A cross trainer is driven predominantly by your legs, although you have the arm handles there providing you with some upper body workout also. A good machine should marry the leg and arm movement exactly as you would if running. This gives the user a harmonious arm and leg workout, rather than the arms coming along for the ride!
Being able to burn 200 calories in 30 minutes on a relatively low intensity, this can rise to over 1000 calories for advanced users on the highest resistance settings. This makes this piece of equipment incredibly versatile and valuable for runners, fitness enthusiasts and those with knee or back problems where jarring can increase your your pain.
If you are trying to decide between a treadmill, cross trainer or exercise bike, then there's a few very basic things you must think about before you then look at what each of these pieces of equipment suits the best.