When it comes to ellipticals, nothing gets more attention than stride length. And for good reason- it’s the single most important factor in determining how comfortable your workouts are going to be. But what’s the best elliptical stride length? Is it the same for everyone? How can you tell what stride length you need before you purchase?
I hope to answer all these questions and more by the time we’re done here. But first, I want to make sure we are all talking about the same thing.
What Is Stride Length?
On an elliptical machine, stride length is defined as how far the pedals separate from each other (at their farthest point) during use. This is really step length, but in the elliptical world step length and stride length are the same thing. As a physical therapist, our terminology is a little different.
For us, step length is the distance from one heel (or toe) to the next for one step. Stride length for us is defined as the measurement from one heel to the same heel on the second step. So stride length is 2 step lengths in terms of gait analysis, fyi.
But for ellipticals, stride length and step length are the same thing. It’s just how far the machine allows you to step out when you’re exercising.
Buy why is that so important?
Because stride length is what dictates the entire “feel” of your workout! If you have ever used an elliptical with a really short stride length, you probably felt cramped and uncomfortable. You probably felt like you were jogging in place or using a step machine instead of being able to stretch out to your normal, comfortable gait pattern.
And that is what most ellipticals are shooting for- giving you a comfortable experience that resembles walking. A great perk of using an elliptical is that they are very low impact. Lower than a treadmill even. But in order for that elliptical to feel like walking, the stride length has to fit the user appropriately.
What Is The Best Elliptical Stride Length?
As you may have guessed, there is no universal, “best” stride length for everyone. There is no one-size-fits-all option, unfortunately. That sure would make things a lot easier though. No, finding the correct stride length is really based on your height.
Well, I take that back. It’s really based on your leg length. We are all built differently. Some tall people have long torsos and some shorter people may have longer legs. While height is often used to determine the correct stride length, leg length is actually the most accurate manner.
Height normally correlates with leg length, but not always.
Although there is no “universal” stride length that fits everyone perfectly, there is one stride length that has become the gold standard for home fitness trainers and most commercial ellipticals alike: 20 inches.
A 20 inch stride length has been shown to fit most users comfortably. And what that really means, is that 20 inches is the stride length that people of most heights can use fairly comfortably.
Most elliptical manufacturers report that folks between 5’3″ and 6′ can use an elliptical with a 20 inch stride length. Would you agree this includes most folks! Sure it does.
And that’s why most ellipticals you see at the local gyms have a 20 inch stride length. It’s a safe bet to fit MOST users pretty well. Won’t be perfect for everyone, but at the gym it’s all about pleasing the masses.
But what about your home gym?
How To Find The Best Elliptical Stride Length For You
When looking for an elliptical for your home, you have the benefit of being able to choose a machine that you know should fit you well. And we are going to make this decision based on YOUR height.
The stride lengths for home ellipticals vary. And they usually vary based on price range. Cheaper ellipticals have significantly shorter stride lengths, ranging between 11 – 14 inches.
If you click the link above you will see the best cheap ellipticals I could find and they all have 13 – 14 in stride lengths. You should know that a stride length of 14 inches is too small for most people with a normal stride.
Unless you are under 5′ tall, 14 inches will be too short for you to stretch out to a normal gait pattern.
Ellipticals with stride lengths in the 16-18 inch range should be ok for you if you are between 5’3″ and 5’7″.
If you are over 5’7″, you should look for an elliptical with an 18-20 inch stride length. 20 inch would be preferred.
If you are 6′ tall or taller, you shouldn’t consider anything with a stride length under 20 inches, unless you are prepared and have accepted the fact that you won’t be able to stretch out. I understand that budget is the bottom line for us when purchasing new fitness equipment. Ultimately, you have to find something you can afford.
There are ellipticals with stride lengths as long as 22 inches that would work well for folks over 6′. There are also some ellipticals that have adjustable stride lengths that would work well if you have multiple family members using the same machine who are of differing heights.
You also need to make sure the stride length isn’t too long. I know I’ve been focusing on taller folks being stuck on an elliptical that is too small, but the opposite can happen too. If you are 5’2″ and using an elliptical with a 20 inch stride length, you are probably going to feel like you have to stretch out too far to return the pedals.
This is equally as uncomfortable.
The key to finding the right stride length is knowing how tall you are and selecting a machine with a stride length that should match your height.
|Your Height||Optimal Stride Length|
|Under 5'||14-16 inches|
|5' 3" - 5' 7"||16 - 20 inches|
|5' 7" - 6'||20 inches|
|Over 6'||20 - 22 inches|
One last thing to consider, is that different stride lengths activate muscles in your legs differently. Research has shown that glute activation can be altered by changing up the stride length. So going with an elliptical with a longer stride length might actually help you tone up your legs better and burn a few more calories.
An ellipticals stride length is paramount to how comfortable you are going to feel while using it. Stride length isn’t the only thing to consider obviously (features, warrant, weight capacity, etc), but in my book it’s definitely one of the most important.
I always read user reviews that complain about how small or cramped the elliptical feels when they start using it. I always wonder to myself: “did they even check the stride length before purchasing?”.
In order to find the best elliptical stride length for yourself, use your height. When in doubt, go for the longer stride length. Remember, a 20 inch stride length should fit most people between 5’3″ and 6′ tall fairly well.
If you are looking for a new elliptical, do yourself a favor and start comparing the stride lengths. In the long run, it’s going to make your life a lot easier.
It could save you from having to send your new elliptical right back because it doesn’t fit you correctly.