update: Jan. 8th, 2009 — I just wanted to make a note that it has been a year and we both still use this machine on a regular basis. I still love it and it hasn’t developed any problems. My new years resolution is to get in more calorie burning exercise time and I’m actually looking forward to using the elliptical to watch tv, I mean, do more cardio.
I know two things for sure: I need to exercise more often and I’m not a people person. Gyms are a strong demotivating factor for me. I’m also not a jog in the rain person, or a get up early to jog so I don’t have to do it in the post-4 pm complete darkness person. Or, let’s face it, a leave the house to exercise type of person. And that’s why last year we got an elliptical trainer, which, shocking to everybody, we continue to use on an almost regular basis. I love it, no seriously I do. And I’ve never once been tempted to use it to hang wet laundry on to dry.
We did a little research, got advice from friends who had done a lot of research, made special trips to sporting goods stores to try out certain models and decided to buy the Schwinn 430 even though we hadn’t found one to try out in person. We would have liked to buy it from a store but none anywhere near us had it, so we bought it from Amazon, and it’s a happy ending.
Before I go into more details, here is the one thing I love about the 430 that I had not found mentioned anywhere else: the foot pads on the Schwinn 430 are slightly closer together than other Schwinn models (and other ellipticals we tested) and it feels like a much more natural stance for me. I’m a few inches over five feet and have short legs. A friend with a similar height has mentioned that she has some trouble with her ellipticals foot pads being just slightly too wide apart. Scott is of a normal height and the footpads are situated just fine for him as well.
We decided on an elliptical because it was low-impact, after we moved our exercise space became part of a room with concrete floors and general aerobics started to remind me I was old via pain in my knees (lovely). Below are some points about how we chose the Schwinn 430.
Research. When researching elliptical machines I got some advice from a friend to look into the Schwinn 418, which had been mentioned as a best buy in Consumer Reports in 2005. (Note: I have not peeked at CR since, so they might have an updated list.) I turned up lots of advice that only the expensive machines are really worth it, but I simply didn’t have a few thousand dollars to spend. Consumer Reports listed the Schwinn as a sturdy, inexpensive elliptical trainer. We tried both the 418 and the 438 models in sporting goods stores and liked them. The 438 has the added advantage of running off of battery power instead of needing an outlet, and having a plug in for a chest strap heart rate monitor as well as a few other fancy things. You can compare Schwinn models in the table in the product description over at Amazon.
The Schwinn 431 is a new model for this year, and I cannot say how it compares to the 430, but oh look, the 431 has a place to hold an MP3 player and cuts 3 inches off the footprint. (What do the model numbers mean relative to what features they offer? I have no idea.)
[update: As of late February 2009 Amazon is showing that the 418 and the 438 models are no longer available. I was able to try the Schwinn 431 in a sporting goods store and found the foot pads to be a comfortable stance, closer together than other brands and the same width as my 430. The 431 has a fan, which I certainly wouldn't mind. Schwinn has released a new model, the Schwinn 460, which includes a fan placed beneath the LCD screen (so you can still watch television from over top the screen?), a chest strap heart rate monitor, and variable stride lengths.]
Space. After looking online we found the Schwinn 430 on Amazon as being slightly less expensive than the 418, but what caught my attention was the smaller footprint. It is only four inches shorter than the other models, but it’s four inches that don’t stick in front of a door frame.
Height. We were a little concerned about the 8-foot ceilings in our basement being too low, but we have plenty of space above our heads. We’re both under six feet tall. I don’t remember it being lower than the 418, but a friend with that model says it looks like the pedals are lower to the ground, and therefore allow it to be in a lower-ceilinged room, than hers.
Price. What can I say? The 430 is the least expensive of the Schwinn ellipticals. It wasn’t hard to decide we could live without the backlit display and the built in fan. The 430 has been known to go on sale at Amazon. We got it when it was about $100 less than it’s selling for now, and the sale price was our the motivating factor to go ahead and order it. And right now it’s Free Shipping! (Though, this one usually has free shipping, at least when I’ve checked.) I think the Schwinn 418 Elliptical Trainer has dropped in price since we last looked at it (perhaps to make way for the 431?) so if when comparing it to the 430 the additional $50 price might be worth it.
Reviews. Reading through the comments at Amazon I found that most complaints had to do with missing parts in the boxes customers received, but nearly everybody liked the elliptical machine itself. We unpacked our boxes and checked everything against the parts list carefully before we began assembly. Everything went together as expected, and our box came with a note about a misprint in one of the steps so Schwinn seems to have gotten the message that there was a problem in the assembly directions. Other people at Amazon talked about the machine developing squeaks, something we’ve encountered as well but we’ve always fixed with a fairly effortless loosening or tightening of bolts.
Amazon. Amazon’s free shipping included two guys carrying the box to the landing inside my front door. From there we opened the boxes and took the pieces into the room to be assembled. Customer reviews indicated that if there were any missing parts, Amazon was good for the replacement.
In general. It acts the way an elliptical should. It’s quiet enough to watch television while using it. It has a hand grip heart rate monitor so you can see how you’re doing. It has a few workout programs that vary — one that goes up and down plateaus, one that climbs and drops, etc. You choose your program and how long you want to work out when you start, and it displays your progress. You can adjust the resistance level at any time while you’re working out. It keeps track of speed, distance, heart rate and calories while you’re working, and displays them when you’re finished as well. It doesn’t store this information past the current session. And if you’re driven crazy by watching a timer count down, you can choose to burn a certain number of calories instead, this is one I’ve found to be a great motivating factor to work harder and be done faster. (Though, this isn’t necessarily the best way to fat calories and calorie estimates on equipment are never accurate, something to keep in mind.) Also, if you’re dedicated to doing 30 minutes but still hate watching a clock tick down, there is a toggle button that will display interval instead, enough to keep me from obsessing over how much time has passed. The stride is a good shape, and the handles allow you to grip at different places, it has a cup holder and a place to hold a book open.
Anything else? The Schwinn 430 isn’t as sleek looking as the 418 or 438, but it’s proved to be great for us. I do the old trick of only watching certain dvds (Gilmore Girls) when I’m on the elliptical so I’ve actually started looking forward to working out. Despite my love for the Schwinn 430, it’s not pretty and it does take up a lot of space in our small house. Still, it’s a trade off I’m willing to make. And I have plans to use some hospital track to shield it away when not in use. The machine has wheels at one end so I can move it around if I need to. It feels perfectly steady while in use.
One thing that is a little silly – the console appears to be brought over from an exercise bike. One of it’s programs is called “A Ride in the Park”. And while you’re moving a little man on a bicycle appears on the display (you can see him in the lower right hand corner above). Despite this, I like the various programs and the bicycle guy has never bothered me, he’s quite cheerful actually.