(Author’s Note: I do not receive compensation from the makers of Precors, Gazelles or any other exercise machine.)
So, which is “better” — an elliptical like a Precor or a Gazelle?
For burning total calories, a traditional elliptical might be better than a Gazelle model without resistance.
However…if you look at all of the other variables, such as muscles used, repetitive stress, muscle-building, variety and full-body workout options, a Gazelle with resistance is probably the smarter choice.
Check Out How They Work
The Gazelle and traditional elliptical machines are similar in that they offer a non-impact workout using foot pedals and arm levers. The Gazelle uses more forward-and-back leg movements than ellipticals, which have more up-and-down movements. You can move elliptical pedals forward and backward on some models. Gazelles require you to go backward-and-forward with your strides each time, except when you stand sideways on the machine for thigh exercise.
Compare the Resistance
Depending on what type of model your elliptical or Gazelle is, you have the option of changing the resistance setting to get a workout that builds more muscle. Many Gazelles models don’t have resistance (the company stopped making models with resistance for several years), so make sure any Gazelle you try or buy has multiple resistance settings if that’s what you want.
Check the Electronic Data
Both types of machines offer electronic feedback on your workout (e.g., calories burned, average heart rate, etc.) Depending on the model, a traditional elliptical might offer you the option of creating programmable, automatic workouts. Gazelle monitors provide workout feedback only, and frequent Internet review feedback is that they are unreliable. While a traditional elliptical might offer a variety of programmable workouts, you can perform the same number and types of workouts on a Gazelle, just without the electronic help.
More expensive ellipticals offer a music station for an iPod, or a TV set or video screen to help you reduce the monotony of the workout.
You will use many more muscles during a Gazelle workout than when you use an elliptical, because of the different positions you can attain on a Gazelle. If your elliptical doesn’t have arm poles, you won’t get an upper-body workout. You can target specific upper-body, lower-body and core muscles on a Gazelle by changing your arm and leg positions. You can stand sideways on a Gazelle and work your thighs, which you can’t do on a traditional elliptical.
Read the Instructions
Read the literature and/or watch any video materials that come with an elliptical you are evaluating. This will allow you to understand the machine’s features and show you how to change any settings to let you gauge how this will affect your workout.
Compare the Stress
Both machines require repetitive movements that you use the entire time you exercise. On an elliptical, you’re basically pedaling the entire time. On a Gazelle, you have more freedom to vary your muscle movements, but you will be striding back-and-forth most of the workout (except when you stand sideways for thigh exercises). You can move a Gazelle with just your upper-body muscles by not using your legs, or move the machine with your legs, taking your hands off the handles.
Some people feel a burning in their shins when they use an elliptical and/or develop hip pain. Changing the stride length on the elliptical can alleviate some problems, but cause others. If you fatigue on a Gazelle and start twisting an turning to help move the machine, you might stress your lower back.
A high-end elliptical can cost thousands of dollars new, while Gazelles without resistance costs as little as $130 new (as of February 2014). You can find them used on Craigslist and eBay, buy them reconditioned at a sporting goods resale store such as Play it Again Sports, or shop online at sites like Amazon, where you can read reviews from people who have purchased and used one of the machines.
In addition to price, compare the warranties of each machine and see if they cover parts, labor and/or shipping, and if an extended warranty is available. Check to see if either machine offers extras, such as a free personal trainer hotline, rebate, money-back guarantee or discounts on other products.