The History of the EFX® Elliptical Fitness Crosstrainer™

Commercial Fitness

The History of the EFX® Elliptical Fitness Crosstrainer™

Since its release in 1995, the Precor Elliptical Fitness Crosstrainer™, or EFX® for short, has been a staple in gyms, fitness centers, and homes around the world. Compared to its predecessors in the fitness realm – treadmills, rowers, and steppers, for the most part – the elliptical really stood out. As the first of its kind, its unique stride path, the natural motions, and its innovative workout abilities contributed to the Precor EFX gaining a loyal following in no time.

Over twenty years after our first elliptical was unveiled, people still love their elliptical workouts. While some covet it for its cross-training capabilities, others prefer the elliptical for its ease of use and the zero-impact exercise. The elliptical’s vast popularity has made it the second largest category in the fitness industry, and we are happy to have introduced this category that has been a part of so many peoples’ fitness stories.

This brings us to the question: What sparked the idea for the elliptical?

The answer is quite simple, really – let’s go back in time and find out.

In the Beginning

Our story begins with Larry Miller, an inventor, whose daughter was a star tennis player in high school. Larry wanted to help his daughter improve her fitness level without exposing her to the impact that is associated with running. After watching his daughter run and observing the path that her feet traveled in, Larry developed a very basic prototype that became the first crude version of an elliptical.

Assembled out of some 4x4s, plumbing pipes, and tricycle parts, it looked nothing like the elliptical you know and love today. But this first prototype proved an important concept, and that’s what caught the eye of Precor.

Initial Testing of the Elliptical

We worked with Dr. Barry Bates of Human Performance & Wellness Inc., in association with the University of Oregon, to determine how our elliptical machine was going to benefit exercisers by indeed helping, not hurting, them.  In this research, we also wanted to understand how this product compared biomechanically to other pieces of cardiovascular equipment at the time, and how it would be perceived by users.

We put our “mule” to the test – a prototype that had many moveable parts, allowing us to adjust the stride length, to alter the attitude of the ellipse footpath, to move the foot pedals back and forth, and to figure out what angle we should put the ramp at. Through this testing, one of our biggest takeaways was, by moving the ramp through a variety of inclines, the cross-training aspects of a given workout were dramatically enhanced. This led us to put a motor in the ramp, similar to our treadmills, which would let exercisers work a variety of leg muscles in one workout, all on one machine.

Our testing included students and subjects of varying fitness levels, who ranged from the 95th percentile male (around 6’2”) to the 5th percentile female (4’11”), and everyone in between. We used electromyography and tested joint deflection: how far did the ankle, knee, and hip bend in motion?  We also tested for relative perceived exertion (RPE) – how hard did exercisers feel they were working out on a treadmill versus on an elliptical?

The not-so-surprising discovery was that people found their RPE lower on the elliptical, due to the zero-impact factor and its fluid, natural motion, but the test data confirmed that they were still getting an equivalent workout. This low RPE was key in the making of the elliptical, as it meant that the machine was easy to use and didn’t leave exercisers aching or with joint pain the next day. The elliptical allowed people of all fitness backgrounds to adhere to a fitness lifestyle.

Getting Even Better with Time

Our investments of time and money into our elliptical research have paid off since the start, and have continued throughout each generation of Precor elliptical to ensure that the next one is even better than before. Take a trip down memory lane with us as we look at some of our EFX of days past; perhaps you may recognize a few of them!

EFX 544

Our very first Elliptical Fitness Crosstrainer was a breakthrough concept. Released in 1995, its clever design led to superior muscle involvement, with the gluteal muscles, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, and calves getting an exceptional workout. This elliptical boasted extensive joint movement in regards to hip flexion and extension and knee range of motion. Its elements of variety and fun made it the ideal workout for all types of users, from moderate exercisers, those new to a fitness routine, rehab patients, or athletes.

The EFX 544 had gym operators and exercisers raving from the very get go: Gilbert Ruiz, president of Better Bodies Gym, Inc. at the time, noted “I haven’t had one person who doesn’t like it better than any other machine on the floor.” Jeff Dilts, the former fitness manager at The Sports Club of Irvine, called the EFX “a unique, innovative product… You get the benefits of the treadmill, stair climber, bike, and cross-country ski motion all in one.”  

Fun fact: Gym staff had to put up sign-up sheets near their ellipticals, limiting exercisers’ sessions to 30 minutes since the new machines were in such high demand. Do you remember writing your name down for a time slot?

EFX 556

This was the third generation of our elliptical, introduced in 2001 as the first elliptical with moving arms. The moving handlebars on this product meant that it was able to provide a total-body workout. The CrossRamp® incline on the EFX 556 was fixed, meaning the ramp was optimally set at 20 degrees, ready to deliver a wide range of movement to the lower body. This elliptical was also our first self-powered elliptical, setting the standard for future generations of Precor ellipticals.

EFX 576i/EFX 800 line

2005 was a huge year for us and the fitness industry as a whole – we released the fourth generation of our elliptical, which featured both a moving CrossRamp (with a range of 13 – 40 degrees) and moving handlebars. The powerful combination of these two features meant the EFX 576i and EFX 800 line allowed for a true total-body workout.

These ellipticals have also held strong through console changes – it is able to connect to the P80, our networked fitness console, as well as our other consoles that hook up to the Personal Viewing System (PVS). Entertainment options on this generation of elliptical are as broad as the kind of workout you can achieve on it!

This model would prove to be the most successful product in Precor history, with 11 years on the market. We are proud to have created one of the most innovative cardio machines of all time.

EFX with Converging CrossRamp®

There is always room for innovation and at Precor the workout is never over – this brings us to our newest elliptical, the Experience™ Series 800 Line EFX with Converging CrossRamp. We’ve taken valuable feedback from gym operators and exercisers and applied it to the design and development of this fifth generation Precor elliptical. As its name suggests, this EFX features a Converging CrossRamp, which crosses the footpath over the midline of our bodies, more closely mimicking the natural running motion. See it in action:



We hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the history of one of our best-known products. With over 300,000 ellipticals installed over the past 21 years, we know we’re on to something good. Learn more about our new elliptical and how we are redefining our cardio blueprint.


View all Precor Ellipticals

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Katie Dobbs
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Katie is a self-proclaimed food connoisseur who loves playing in the great outdoors, traveling, and learning new things.

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