If you're shorter than average, you probably already know that not every piece of fitness equipment is ideal for your size. Before you go and spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on something as significant as an elliptical trainer, you'll want to make sure you find one that works for your body. Elliptical brands and models are changing all the time, but look for a few key features when you're conducting your search for the perfect elliptical.
Stride Length Basics
When you exercise on an elliptical, you'll have each foot in a foot well, and you'll move your legs forward and back in an oblong or "elliptical" stride. When the front foot gets to the point where the pedal stops moving forward, you've reached its maximum stride length. At that point, you'll pull back on that front pedal and move it backward until it stops. Meanwhile, the opposite leg is moving in the opposite direction, so that when you reach the back limit with the back foot, the front foot is reaching its front limit. The distance between the two pedals at their maximum "out" point is called the stride length.
Stride Length for Short People
As a shorter person, you'll tend to have shorter legs than taller people -- meaning you won't be able to extend your legs as far forward and backward as a taller person. That's why it's crucial to check the stride length of an elliptical before you buy it. The stride length of elliptical trainers varies widely, from as little as 14 inches to as much as 21 inches. If you're short, you'll want to use an elliptical with a stride length of 14 to 18 inches. If you're taller than 5 foot 7 inches, an elliptical with a stride length of 20 or 21 inches is more ideal.
Proper posture and alignment is important for any type of fitness equipment -- and the elliptical is no exception. When you're standing on the pedals of the elliptical, you should be able to hold onto the hand rails and stand up straight without leaning forward, suggests the American College of Sports Medicine. If you're forced to lean forward or backward or you can't maintain proper posture on one machine, try another model of elliptical. Some machines will have hand rails that are angled, allowing for people of differing heights to hold onto them comfortably; others will have horizontal rails that may make proper posture difficult.
Front vs. Rear Drive
Take a look at the various types of elliptical trainers and you'll probably notice that some have a large, bulky unit at the back of the machine, while others don't. That compartment is where the drive unit is stored. In general, rear-drive units offer a smoother ride, because the pedals ride on a track that allows for a true "elliptical" movement. On front-drive units, the pedals tip forward and backward a bit to mimic an elliptical movement. For some people, front-drive units are more jarring and feel more like you're on a stair climber, suggests the ACSM. If you're already using an elliptical with a stride length that is a little too long, the jarring movement may make a front-drive unit even more difficult for you to manage. In general, you should always test out any machine you're planning on buying, riding it for at least 10 minutes to get a sense of whether it's going to be comfortable for you.