Elliptical Resistance Systems

Resistance builds endurance, but don't leave it to chance, learn about the different elliptical resistance types.

The Different Elliptical Resistance Systems

The type of resistance system on an elliptical trainer is one of the most important factors to consider before you make a purchase. I remember being slightly confused about the different terminologies used – “magnetic”, “brake system” – what does it all mean? I am NOT a very technical person and I must admit that at first those terms were very intimidating, but once I got to understand what they actually mean I realized that they are not so complicated after all. So just in case you have some questions about the different resistance systems on elliptical machines, this article will explain the differences and hopefully help you to make a decision as to which one would work best for you.

Magnetic Resistance

Virtually all elliptical trainers use magnets to create resistance. There are basically two types of magnetic resistance that you will find on an elliptical machine – standard and electromagnetic. Machines that use standard magnetic resistance typically have a very powerful magnet that creates resistance when it moves away from or towards a flywheel. The amount of current generated increases as the magnet gets closer to the flywheel and this creates resistance. Ellipticals that use electromagnetic resistance have an electromagnet that generates a resistance force as current passes through it. As the amount of current increases so will the level of resistance. One benefit of using this type of resistance is how easy it is to control and adjust. Machines with electromagnetic resistance usually have a wide range of resistance levels and they are also usually more expensive than other models.

Eddy Current Drive/Silent Magnetic Resistance

Most high-end home ellipticals will have an eddy current brake system, sometimes referred to a Silent Magnetic Resistance (SMR). This type of system involves a magnetic field which creates eddy currents and produces friction by pushing against the flywheel. The magnetic field is made stronger when you increase the level of resistance and this requires you to exert more energy in order to push the foot pedals. Elliptical trainers with eddy current brake systems create less noise because they have no touching or moving parts and so they are more quiet than ellipticals that do not have this system. Machines that use this type of system also require very little maintenance.

Self-Generating Induction Brakes

If you want an elliptical that is “green” or doesn’t have much of a carbon footprint, you can look at those that have self-generating induction brakes. This type of elliptical trainer does not use a motor and therefore it also doesn’t use any electricity. How do these ellipticals work? It’s pretty simple really; all you do is jump on the machine and start pedaling. The energy produced by your pedaling motion is what gives the machine the power that it needs to operate. So you become the power source for the motor, console, monitor and any other programs that may be on the elliptical. When you have an elliptical machine with self-generating induction brakes, you won’t have to worry about tripping over cables or increasing your carbon footprint.

Manual Brake System

Elliptical trainers that do not have a motor will have a manual brake system. As the system is manual you will not be able to change the resistance levels by pressing buttons on the console. Instead you will use a knob that connects to a tension cable; when the knob is turned it will move a U-shaped bracket magnet either closer to, or away from, the flywheel, creating more or less resistance as needed.


Hopefully I did a good job of explaining the difference types of resistance that you can find on an elliptical trainer and you now see that it’s not so complicated. They all basically have some form of magnetic resistance and, generally speaking, the more high-tech the system gets the better the elliptical will function and the more expensive it will be. Whatever type of resistance you end up with on your elliptical, you should ensure that it will offer you enough resistance to keep you challenged and help you achieve your fitness goals. Also, if this is the first time you will be using an elliptical trainer, I would recommend that you start working out with low levels of resistance and gradually increase the intensity as you build more endurance and get stronger.

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