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This compact elliptical is my secret weapon for staying in shape

I tested NordicTrack’s FreeStride Trainer equipped with a screen that lets you work out in remote corners of the world.

This compact elliptical is my secret weapon for staying in shape
[Photo: courtesy NordicTrack]
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This week, I’ve visited a shrine in Kyoto, the Parthenon in Athens, and a seaside village in Croatia—all while getting a great workout. I’ve been testing NordicTrack’s FreeStride trainer, which is equipped with a screen that streams workouts. There’s plenty of in-studio classes, but as a travel junkie, I’m addicted to the global content. The coaches serve as tour guys and the machine automatically adjusts the incline based on the terrain.

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[Photo: courtesy NordicTrack]
When the pandemic struck and gyms closed, consumers scrambled to find new ways to work out at home, leading to a spike in fitness equipment. Machines that seemed expensive before the crisis suddenly felt like a good investment, particularly when you were no longer paying your gym fees. Startups such as Peloton, Tempo, and Mirror have been thriving during this period, but so have more established companies, such as NordicTrack, which was founded in 1975. And during a period when it’s hard to leave our houses, much less travel to far-off places, NordicTrack’s extensive library of workout videos around the world—part of its iFit platform—have been a big draw.

There are some advantages to being in the space for a long time, says Colleen Logan, who has led NordicTrack’s marketing for 24 years at its parent company, Icon. Consumers are familiar with the brand, and it’s been relatively easy to accommodate the sudden spike in demand for equipment. NordicTrack sells a wide range of equipment—from treadmills to bikes to rowers to strength training machines—at a wide range of price points. For each category of product, you can get an entry-level machine with prices starting at $799, or pay more for bells and whistles.

I was particularly drawn to the elliptical machines because I have knee issues and need low-impact cardio. NordicTrack recently launched a new machine called the FreeStride trainer that adapts to your body’s movements to create a running, stepping, or elliptical motion. This means you can exercise different muscle groups simply by changing how you move your body. The profile of this machine is also much slimmer than a typical gym’s elliptical machine—meaning it can slip into a bedroom, basement, or rec room without crowding the space. There are three options in the FreeStride series, priced at $2,499, $2,999, and $3,999.

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[Photo: courtesy NordicTrack]
After five years of using a normal elliptical, this machine felt a bit strange. The right and left sides are not connected to each other, so I immediately noticed that my more dominant right leg was doing much wider and more powerful strides than my left leg, creating a weird feeling of being off-kilter. But that is actually one of the most valuable parts of the machine. It allows you to observe where there may be imbalances in your body, so you can work on correcting them. “You might feel like a fish out of water when you first try it, especially if you’re used to something else,” Logan says. “On a standard elliptical, if your right side is dominant, it will drive the motion, and your left side will just go along for the ride. The FreeStride doesn’t let you do this.”

I quickly got into the rhythm of the machine, but each time I work out I have to tune into what my body is doing. At first, I had to focus on putting more strength and power into the left side of my body, so that my strides would even out. As time went on, I found that it was easier to automatically adjust and ensure that both sides of my body were working equally. “This is not a machine where you can go on autopilot,” says Natalie Vetica, the director of merchandising at NordicTrack’s parent company, who was involved in creating the FreeStride. “Your mind and body need to be working together every step of the way, and that’s a good thing because research suggests this is the way to get the most out of your workout.”

I’ve never been able to run before, because it has caused too much pain in my knees and shins, but this machine has allowed me to mimic a running motion, without impact. For the first time, I’ve been able to join virtual classes that prepare you for races or endurance runs. Other times, I’ve taken hikes or walks, slowing my pace but increasing my incline and resistance. Throughout, the thing that keeps me engaged is the travel content. On a run today, I went on an evening tour of Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, where the coach explained the architecture, taught Japanese greetings, and even explained how local gangs operate. It was so immersive, I forgot I hadn’t left the house in days.

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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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