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Finding which cross-trainer is the best for you is often difficult, with so much choice available, even at the premium end of the market. This short buyer’s guide helps you to understand more about buying a high-end cross-trainer for your home, and what you should consider before making any purchase.

Why buy a high-end cross-trainer?

Cross-trainers are one of the fastest growing fitness categories, combining the best of stair climbing, cross country skiing and running in a low impact, variety rich workout. It is a highly effective cross training activity that is viable for anyone, from beginning exercisers to elite athletes.  In buying a premium, or ‘high-end’ cross-trainer you are much more likely to enjoy a more comfortable and biomechanically correct workout experience.

How much should I spend?

This depends upon your budget, but generally speaking the more you spend the better your workout experience will be, and the more similar it will be to the experience you would have in a gym environment.  The high-end price range of the home cross-trainer market generally spans from approximately £1,000 to £5,000.  Generally speaking, beyond this price point you are in to the realms of commercial machines.

So am I best to choose a home machine or commercial machine?

Many of the best cross-trainer brands manufacture both home and commercial equipment.  The benefit of choosing one of these brands is that the technology and design experience garnered from making equipment for commercial gym environments is usually also employed in ‘home’ versions of the equipment.
Whilst a commercial machine is undoubtedly the most robust option, these cross-trainers are designed for heavy use in a club environment and so, in mostly all domestic circumstances, a high-end home cross-trainer will suffice.

What are some of the key features I should be looking for?

Adjustable resistance – Good units will have a broad range of resistance, which is adjusted electronically.  
Adjustable incline - This is a feature that makes the product a true cross-trainer.  Adjusting the incline varies the focus on muscle groups and provides a great way to add variety to the routine.
Smooth elliptical motion - The elliptical motion provides a close simulation to walking and running, without the impact.  An important factor to look for here is the feel of the motion. Some machines have a ‘kick’ in their motion, where the heel comes up off of the platform.  You don't want to feel any ‘kick’ or ‘bounce’ in your motion.
Dependent upper body motion - Some machines have upper body levers to add an upper body workout element.  If you are not strength training separately, having upper body movement can help accomplish some upper-body strengthening.  
Quiet operation - Look (and listen) for a product that feels smooth and is quiet in operation.  A truly well designed elliptical cross-trainer should be relatively silent at all intensity levels.

What should I look for in terms of motivational features?

When deciding which cross-trainer to buy, the basics from a fitness point of view are elapsed time, stride, and incline. Having a measure of calories burned can also be very motivating. Some of the most useful added features include:

Heart Rate interactivity - Measuring your heart rate (HR) is the surest indicator of progress and intensity.  The best elliptical cross-trainers have heart rate control programs that will actually adjust your workout variables while measuring your heart rate to make sure that you stay within this range.
Pre-set and custom programs - One of the biggest reasons people quit a program is boredom. Having a product that provides a myriad of programs will help keep a program fresh and full of variety. The ability to customise a program for your specific needs is also a great feature.
Custom Courses - The best products will ‘remember’ your favourite workouts or allow you to create your own custom course.  
Ease of Use – Many users are intimidated or simply frustrated with the amount of features and buttons on electronic equipment.  The best products keep it simple.

What practicalities should I consider before deciding which cross-trainer to buy?

Maintenance - Look for a product that is maintenance-free. A well-designed unit takes normal wear and tear into account, so you don't have to.
Warranty - An elliptical cross-trainer is an electronic piece of equipment.  Look for a warranty that provides for at least 1 year of labour and a minimum of 1-3 years coverage on parts.  Be sure your warranty includes electronics and other key components.
Space, environment and aesthetics – Obviously ensure that you have enough space.  Naturally this will vary dependent on the dimensions of the particular machine that you choose, but in general, remember to consider headroom, as cross-trainers will elevate your height by 30cm or more.  A space-planner can help you to plan – after all, you don’t want to invest several thousand pounds to discover that your new machine doesn’t fit!
It’s also important to think about the environment your machine is going to be in.  It’s a piece of electrical equipment, so it must be kept in a cool, dry environment, which of course will also be conducive to a good workout for you.
Finally, this new machine is going to be part of your home and so ensure you’re happy with the look and design.  Choosing a machine which is best for you biomechanically is the most important factor, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be happy with how the exercise machine looks in your home.
In compiling this buyer’s guide, grateful acknowledgement is made of the contribution from Gregory Florez, founder and CEO of First Fitness Inc.  Gregory is one of the United States’ leading experts in several health and fitness categories, including personal coaching and training, product trends, and fitness technology.
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