What is the ideal elliptical stride length for me?

There are many factors to consider when purchasing an elliptical machine, including programs offered, the footprint of the machine, the resistance levels it affords and of course the price. However, arguably the most important factor of all is the one that most people tend to overlook and that’s stride length. Getting a proper workout from your elliptical machine depends largely on ensuring that you are using the right stride length for your height.

Stride length is defined as the distance from the toe of the front pedal to the heel of the back pedal when they are at their widest separation. This should correlate to a natural walking stride for a person of a given height. The taller you are, the larger your natural stride length will be. Likewise, the taller you are, the larger you’ll need the stride length on your elliptical to be.elliptical-stride

Generally speaking, if you are about 5′ 3″ or shorter will need a stride length of about 16″ to 18″, those between 5’3″ and 5’7″ will need a stride length of about 18″ to 20″ and individuals over 5’7″ tall will need a stride length of 20″ or more. Extremely tall individuals will want to find a machine with a stride length of 22″ or better.

Some machines have a fixed stride length while others are adjustable, allowing for use by multiple individuals of varying sizes. This is the type of elliptical most frequently used in commercial gyms, to accommodate a wide range of users. But you can certainly get an adjustable stride elliptical for home use as well.

So why is there so much emphasis put on stride length? It’s this simple…the more natural the stride, the more comfortable the workout and more importantly, the safer the workout. Elliptical machines are designed to work various muscle groups throughout the upper and lower body, but the biggest focus is on the legs. And the size of the stride can determine which part of the legs gets the most work. A shorter stride will work the muscles of the calves and thighs while a longer stride will target the hamstrings and glutes.

Not only will using the proper stride length help to work your leg muscles better, it can also help to avoid injury. If you are cutting your stride too short you run the risk of putting excess strain on the feet and ankles while a stride that is too long could adversely affect the knees and hips. In order to avoid this kind of injury, you need to make sure that your elliptical is set to the proper stride.

Before purchasing an elliptical machine, you should always consult the manufacturer’s specifications to see what the stride length is for a fixed machine or the range of strides for an adjustable machine. Generally speaking, the more expensive machines will have longer strides but it is certainly possible to find a great machine with a shorter stride if that is what you require. It’s always a good idea to try out different machines before purchasing to determine if a given machine is truly comfortable for you.

Finding the right elliptical should never be something you take lightly. Be sure to do your homework before making a purchase and take all of the features of each machine into consideration. And remember that the effectiveness of your workout will depend heavily on having the proper stride length. Never take stride length for granted as it can make all the difference to a safe and healthy workout.

So do all of major brands offer a long enough stride for most people? Generally, yes. NordicTrack, ProForm, Sole, Smooth, Precor, Schwinn and most of the other big players in the industry offer a 20″ or more stride length. Some of their lower end models might have an 18″ stride but for the most part you’ll find 20″ or more.

You’ll almost always find a very short elliptical stride on very cheap ellipticals. For example, Weslo ellipticals, which are very popular and sell for around $200, top out at a paltry 12″ stride, which is extremely short. Taller users will not be able to use these machines. Merit Fitness is another fairly popular brand. These are a little better, but still not ideal for taller users. Merit ellipticals offer a 16″ stride.

So what’s the bottom line?

If you can, try to test out different stride lengths before you buy your elliptical to see what the ideal length is for you. Try to test out an elliptical machine at a local retail store, specialty home fitness outlet or even your local gym. If you’re going to be the only one using it, then a fixed stride is fine.

If it is for more than one user or a family, then an adjustable stride is the best option to accommodate everyone. Look for adjustable pedals as well.

If you aren’t able to test out the elliptical before you buy, it’s not the end of the world. Unless the stride is extremely short, which is only the case on very inexpensive models, you should be fine. If it is slightly shorter or longer than ideal, you can still get a good workout and you’ll get used to the motion over time.