The NordicTrack FS7i FreeStride Trainer is one of two models in the center drive series of FreeStride Trainers from NordicTrack.
Although it’s the most affordable model in the collection, you’re essentially getting the benefits of a stepper, treadmill, and elliptical all in the one machine.
But NordicTrack aren’t the only company to offer this kind of variable stride technology, and we wanted to find out how it compares to machines like the Precor AMT, and the CardioCore ellipticals from Yowza Fitness.
In this review we’ll be making comparisons between these different machines, while taking a closer look at the design features, workout programs, entertainment options, and what it is that makes NordicTrack’s FreeStride Trainers so popular.
Treadmills and ellipticals are both usually designed with a specific height range in mind. For ellipticals this means the length of the stride can be anything from 14″ to 38″+, but the path is often fixed, which can limit your options.
That’s why ellipticals started to be made with adjustable stride lengths, but changing the stride is often a manual process, or offers you a relatively short range. e.g. 20″ to 22″.
This is why the NordicTrack FS7i was developed. To provide a variable motion that closely matches your natural running stride, and isn’t limited to a fixed path.
To maintain the same smooth running motion as a traditional front or rear drive elliptical, NordicTrack use a floating suspension design that uses belts instead of rails.
Not only does this provide a smoother and quieter workout, but it also reduces the amount of maintenance, and is a similar system to the one used on Precor’s Adaptive Motion Trainer (AMT).
With a stride that electronically adjusts between 19″ and 32″, the Miami represents the top-of-the-line elliptical in Yowza’s CardioCore range. This is the longest stride path we’ve seen on any rear drive elliptical, and like the FS7i and AMT, doesn’t rely on fixed rails.
However, because it doesn’t use a center drive system, you’re not able to recreate the same stepping motion that you can with NordicTrack’s FreeStride Trainers.
Power incline for increased workout intensity
Ergonomically designed to adapt to the way you move, the FS7i also offers a power adjustable incline to 10 degrees, allowing you to effectively target specific muscle groups.
In seconds you can switch from a 10 degree incline and long stride that focusses on your glutes and hamstrings, to a short stride and stepping motion that targets more of your quads and calves.
The extra wide pedals have been fitted with grooved cushioning to help improve traction and stability during your workout, while at the same time providing a number of different options for foot positioning.
Conveniently placed controls built into the handles control how much resistance is applied to the 20 lb inertia-enhanced flywheel, with 24 levels to choose from.
These controls can also adjust the incline, and having them within reach of your grip is hugely important on a machine that only has the one set of handles.
Heart rate monitoring
On traditional elliptical trainers you would have two sets: one moving set to train upper body muscle groups, and a static set for isolating your lower body and for the built-in heart rate touch sensors.
Unfortunately this is something the NordicTrack FS7i is missing, but you can still transmit your heart rate to the console via a telemetry chest strap. This is actually our preferred method, as it provides continuous feedback and doesn’t rely on specific grip positions.
Another benefit of the variable motion is how quickly you can switch from taking short up-and-down steps, to smooth elliptical-like strides.
It’s this constant variation that helps to prevent muscle adaptation, which means that muscles take longer to adjust to a set workout. As a result you can reach your fitness goals in a shorter time, and aren’t as likely to hit a plateau in your training.
Unfortunately you can’t adjust the angle of the pedals, but the center drive design does have improved ergonomics that create a more natural running posture compared to many of the front and rear drive machines.
One final feature worth mentioning before we take a look at the console is the water bottle holder.
It may not seem like much, but keeping a bottle of water within easy reach during a high intensity workout helps you stay hydrated, which can lead to an increase in endurance and performance.
NordicTrack FS7i – Features Summary
- 7″ Web-Enabled Color Touchscreen
- 38″ Auto Adjustable Stride
- Oversized Cushion Pedals
- 20 lb. Inertia Enhanced Flywheel
- 24 Digital resistance levels
- iFit Enabled
- Integrated Handle Controls
- Power Adjustable Incline from 0 to 10 degrees
- Wireless Chest Strap Included
- SNAP Assembly process takes less than half the assembly time of a traditional elliptical
When you’re working out, whether it’s on an elliptical, treadmill, or exercise bike, you really want to be spending as little time as possible at the console.
Constantly having to make adjustments to the incline or resistance only detracts from the quality of your workout, which is why NordicTrack developed OneTouch™ controls.
This is something that features on both the FS7i and FS9i FreeStride Trainers, and allows you to quickly switch between preset incline and resistance settings at the touch of a button. You also have a wide range of onboard workouts where you can follow a predefined incline and resistance profile. This is something we’ll look at in more detail in the next section of our review.
Internet browsing and virtual running routes
The 7-inch web-enabled, full colour touch screen is a feature we first saw when reviewing NordicTrack’s Commercial treadmills, and provides a more immersive fitness experience during iFit workouts.
Not only can you download personalized workouts, but in some cases you can also view your progress along the route via Google Maps and StreetView technology. However, unlike NordicTrack’s Commercial Series treadmills and the Precor AMT, you don’t have a second screen.
For the AMT you had a Personal Viewing Screen (PVS) attachment option, and treadmills like the NordicTrack 2950 included a 15″ HDTV that connected to the top of the console.
Having one screen does take some of the entertainment features away, as you can’t watch your favourite TV shows or DVDs. But it doesn’t take anything away from the quality of the workout from a health and fitness perspective.
Being web-enabled means you can switch between tracking your workout feedback and reading your emails, browsing the internet, or even checking social media profiles. The internet browser can also be disabled if you want to remove distractions.
Workout feedback includes:
- Resistance level
- Heart rate
- Current workout program
Although you don’t have the second screen, the NordicTrack FS7i does have some entertainment options.
We’ve already mentioned the internet browsing, but you can also connect your iPod or MP3 player to the console, then listen to your favourite workout music via the speakers built into the console.
Volume controls are also available, positioned alongside fan controls which can be used to adjust the power of the integrated cooling fan.
As with their treadmills, if you don’t want to make manual adjustments using the controls, you can set it to ‘Auto’ mode. This will automatically increase or decrease the fan speed based on your power output (how hard you’re working).
One last feature we wanted to mention before moving onto the workout programs is the heart rate monitoring.
Unfortunately you don’t have any CargioGrip touch sensors built into the handles on the FS7i, but you can still monitor your heart rate via a chest strap (telemetry).
A NordicTrack® wireless chest strap is actually included with the FreeStride Trainer, which provides a continuous reading to the console.
Workout program selection
We already mentioned that you can use the touch screen display to browse the web and view running routes via Google Maps. But it also allows for quicker workout program selection, particularly when compared with consoles like the one on their GX 5.0 Recumbent bike.
Using the GX 5.0 as an example, although you have 30 onboard workouts to choose from, actually selecting the one you want isn’t as easy as it could be. You have to repeatedly press either the ‘Calorie Workout’ or ‘Performance Workout’ button until you find the desired program.
The NordicTrack FS7i actually uses a menu system, where you can touch the screen to select a workout category, then touch again for selecting a specific workout.
- Onboard workouts
Although the onboard workouts follow a similar pattern to the ones we’ve seen on other NordicTrack fitness equipment, their profiles actually combine three different factors into each segment instead of two.
On their recumbent bikes you had two factors: resistance level and speed, whereas their treadmill programs factored in speed and incline.
NordicTrack’s FreeStride Trainers factor in all three. This means the resistance level, incline level, and target cadence (speed) are all automatically adjusted for each workout segment, as part of their onboard programs.
If the workout you choose proves too easy or too challenging, you can override the resistance level or incline for the current segment.
- ‘Set-A-Goal’ workouts
After reviewing NordicTrack’s treadmills and exercise bikes, this is a category that we’re very familiar with.
The ‘goals’ that you have available are the same as on their other machines, allowing you to set a target for workout duration, number of calories burned, and distance.
Unfortunately target heart rate isn’t a goal option, which may have been useful for ensuring you stay within a certain range.
If this is something that’s important to you then you can still keep track of your pulse on the screen, but in our opinion this is something that Precor do much better.
They use a system called ‘SmartRate’, backed by a maximum heart rate calculation that’s proven to be more accurate than the conventional 220 – Age.
- iFit workouts
To access these programs you’ll need to connect the FS7i to a wireless network and have an active iFit subscription.
Once you do, you can download personalized workouts from a much wider selection than the onboard programs can offer.
You can even take part in races with their competition workouts, and view a history of which workouts you’ve followed directly on the screen.
- Manual mode
Onboard workouts are great if you want to follow a set profile and have the settings change automatically. But if you want complete control over incline level, speed, and resistance, the manual program will be your best option.
Ease of assembly / maintenance required
With NordicTrack’s exercise bikes you can usually complete the assembly without the need for a second person due to the lack of heavy lifting. But because the NordicTrack FS7i arrives mostly pre-assembled, it’s pretty much unavoidable.
Although you have a carry handle attached to the base frame and a set of front-mounted transport wheels, we would recommend finding a space that you can permanently allocate to the FS7i. This is made easier by the fact that it’s a center drive design, which reduces the footprint to about half that of a traditional rear or front driven elliptical.
Once you have the main frame in its upright position you can build the remaining parts around it, with no need for any more heavy lifting.
The user manual does an excellent job of explaining all the steps involved, providing you with written explanations and diagrams showing how everything fits together.
There’s also no need for any complicated threading of cables to get the console connected to the base unit, which helps to cuts down on the assembly time.
The entire process is covered in just 9 steps, but it might have been useful to have a few more diagrams showing different angles of how the pedal arms fit together.
With the FreeStride Trainer fully assembled, you’ll also need to allow some time to get connected to a wireless network and get used to connecting the wireless heart rate monitor.
In terms of maintenance, NordicTrack recommend the same routine as on their treadmills and bikes, which is to wipe down the outer covers with a damp cloth and mild soap solution, avoiding the console.
Top 3 closest competitors
This is the section of our review where we take a look at potential upgrades and similarly priced ellipticals from NordicTrack, Yowza Fitness, Sole, and and other leading brands. The goal is to highlight other high quality ellipticals that may better suit your fitness goals.
- Larger color touch screen (+3″)
- More resistance levels (+2)
- Supports decline and incline (-10% to +10%)
- Higher weight capacity (+25 lbs)
- 18″-30″ Electronic Adjustable Stride
- 0-60% Electronic Adjustable Incline
- 21 preset, 9 custom workout
- IWM Weight management software
- CrossRamp Elevation Range: 15°, 20°, 25°
- Built-in Work Out Accelerators
- 10 preset workouts
- SmartRate Heart Rate Tracking
What’s covered by the warranty?
- Frame and motor: Lifetime
- Parts: 5 years
- Labor: 2 years