The NordicTrack FS9i FreeStride Trainer is an upgrade over the earlier FS7i model, with a longer stride path, larger console, and heavier flywheel amongst the improvements.
Although it’s not the only machine of its type on the market, it’s certainly one of the most affordable, which is why we want to find out how it compares to equipment like the Precor AMT and other center drive elliptical trainers.
In this review we’ll be taking a look at everything from the web-enabled console through to the workout programs and warranty coverage to help you decide if this is the best equipment to help you achieve your own fitness goals.
The goal with any elliptical trainer is to create a range of motion that emulates your natural walking, jogging, and running stride.
Unfortunately most ellipticals are bound by a fixed stride path, which is usually anywhere from 14″ to 36″ in length, depending on your budget.
By making the stride length variable, you’re able to use the NordicTrack FS9i to quickly switch between walking and running, and even change exercises entirely and opt for a stepper style workout.
The floating stride mechanism relies on belts instead of rails, which combines with the center drive design to create a maximum stride length of 38″. This is the same as the earlier FS7i, but an improvement over Precor’s AMT machines (36″ stride).
One of the features that has been upgraded is the incline range.
The FS9i is fitted with a power adjustable incline that can be adjusted from -10 degrees through to +10 degrees. These decline settings weren’t available at all on the FS7i, and allow you to place a greater emphasis on your quads and calves.
The higher inclines switch the focus to a different set of muscles, with more of an emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes. Using the moveable handles at the same time also recruits a range of upper body muscle groups, including your biceps, shoulders, and back.
Having such a wide stride range means the FS9i can be used as either a stepper, elliptical, or treadmill. This also means it’s not designed around a specific user height, making it ideal for family environments.
Under the covers you have a 20 lb inertia-enhanced flywheel to provide a smoother, more natural ride.
Unfortunately the angle of the pedals isn’t adjustable, but their oversized design and grooved cushioning helps to improve traction and stability during high intensity workouts.
NordicTrack FS9i vs. Yowza Miami elliptical
To save you having to reach for the console, these handles have been fitted with controls that let you make adjustments to the resistance and incline settings.
In our review of the FS7i, we compared NordicTrack’s FreeStride Trainers with the CardioCore ellipticals from Yowza Fitness.
Both sets of machines have avoided using rails to support the pedals, and both offer a maximum stride length in excess of 30″, but it’s the NordicTrack FS9i that comes out on top overall.
Although Yowza’s top-of-the-line Miami elliptical offers an unbeatable 60% incline, you’re looking at fewer resistance levels (16 instead of 26), a shorter maximum stride (32″ compared to 38″), and a console that isn’t touch screen or web-enabled.
We’ve seen each machine available for around the $2900 mark, so there isn’t a great deal of difference in terms of price.
Yowza do offer a slightly longer parts warranty (7 years instead of 5), but in our opinion this isn’t enough to outweigh the additional entertainment options, wider stride variation, increased resistance levels, and all of the fitness benefits that come with iFit.
NordicTrack FS9i – Features Summary
- Power Adjustable Incline -10% to 10%
- 38″ Auto Adjustable Stride
- 10″ Web-Enabled Color touch screen
- 20 lb. Effective Inertia Enhanced Flywheel
- 26 Digital resistance levels
- iFit Enabled
- Oversized Cushion Pedals
- Soft Touch Upper Body Grips
- Integrated Quick Touch Handle Controls for Ramp and Resistance
- NordicTrack® Wireless Chest Strap Included
- SNAP Assembly takes less than half the assembly time of regular ellipticals
If you’re short on time but still want an effective cardio workout, having a console that’s intuitive to use can make all the difference.
The 10″ full colour touch screen makes this much easier, as you can navigate through a simple menu system to a workout category, where you can select your desired workout.
This isn’t a feature that all NordicTrack fitness equipment has, and some of their recumbent bikes only have two buttons to scan through the 30 onboard workout programs.
Being web-enabled also means you can browse the internet while you walk, jog, step, or run. The larger screen size (upgraded from a 7″ display on the NordicTrack FS7i), makes it easier to check your email, watch sports, and even check the latest updates on your social media profiles.
Although you don’t have an HDTV screen (available on NordicTrack’s Commercial treadmills), the entertainment features do extend to iPod and MP3 compatibility.
This means you can listen to your favourite music via the dual speaker system, with volume controls on the console within easy reach.
Alongside the volume controls you also have the option to adjust the fan power, which is designed to keep you cool during your workout. If you don’t want to keep making manual adjustments, you can set the fan to ‘Auto’ mode, which automatically adjusts the fan speed based on your pace.
We just talked about how the touch screen makes it quicker to select an onboard workout program, but NordicTrack have also added OneTouch™ controls to make quick adjustments to the incline and resistance settings.
As with the earlier FS7i model, the NordicTrack FS9i doesn’t include CardioGrip touch sensors, but you can still keep track of your heart rate using the NordicTrack® Wireless Chest Strap (included).
This is actually a more reliable way to measure your heart rate, as it transmits a continuous signal to the display, and doesn’t require you to maintain a specific grip position.
Workout program selection
If you want to achieve your health and fitness goals in the shortest possible timeframe, nutrition will certainly play a part. But there are many other factors to bear in mind, with two of the most important being workout variation and motivation.
With over 30 years experience in the fitness equipment industry, this is something NordicTrack are well aware of, which is why their FS9i FreeStride Trainer has so many workout programs to choose from.
- Manual program
Unlike the onboard workouts, this program puts you in complete control of the resistance and incline settings.
This is a great way to get used to the variable stride if you haven’t used a FreeStride Trainer before, with resistance and incline settings adjustable via the handle controls.
- Onboard workouts
Most of your workouts will probably be spent between these programs and iFit, due to how easy they are to access and how well suited they are to a variety of fitness levels.
Each onboard program is split into segments, which follow a set profile of resistance, incline, and speed settings.
While the incline and resistance levels increase automatically, the cadence (speed) is more of a prompt on the screen, which indicates whether you need to be running faster or slower.
- iFit workouts
Although these require a certain amount of additional setup, not to mention a subscription and iFit profile, we feel it’s time and money well spent.
This is partly because the NordicTrack FS9i has a large, full colour display screen, which can help create a more immersive fitness experience.
Some programs even let you view your progress around a route using Google Maps and StreetView.
- ‘Set-A-Goal’ workouts
These programs are ideal for if your approach to fitness is very much target driven.
The incline and resistance settings remain under your control, but before the workout starts you can select a goal for the distance, workout duration, or number of calories burned.
Ease of assembly / maintenance required
There’s no getting away from the fact that the NordicTrack FS9i looks like a complex piece of equipment. But the good news is most of the unit arrives pre-assembled, cutting down on the number of steps you need to follow.
You will need a second person to help you lift the main unit into its upright position, but after that there’s no more heavy lifting.
Although the steps are very straightforward, NordicTrack do mention an in-home assembly service if it’s not something you want to do yourself.
Unfortunately while curb side delivery is standard, the in-home service carries an additional cost, isn’t available for all equipment, and doesn’t serve all regions. It’s best to visit their website or give them a call to see if they have an assembly service for the FS9i FreeStride Trainer in your area. Alternatively, Amazon also offer a home assembly service for ellipticals. (Check if your zip code is included using the form below)
Honestly the instructions are pretty thorough, using concise written explanations alongside clear diagrams showing the parts references and how they fit together.
Perhaps some of the steps could do with a couple more angles, or even a YouTube video showing the entire process, but this doesn’t seem to be something that’s available on their channel.
View the NordicTrack FS9i user manual
As with most of their equipment, the level of ongoing maintenance has been kept to a minimum.
This is helped by the fact that the pedals glide on belts instead of rails, but also that according to the manual, a damp cloth and mild soap solution is all you need to clean the outer covers.
You also get a troubleshooting guide that walks you through any minor issues, such as adjusting the reed switch (controls console feedback) or calibrating the incline.
If you need anything more, you can always visit www.nordictrackservice.com.
Apart from the benefits to your posture, the center drive design means the footprint is about half that of a traditional elliptical trainer.
If you need to move the FS9i at all after assembly, there is a set of front-mounted transport wheels and a carry handle, but it’s still going to be quite bulky and heavy.
What’s covered by the warranty?
- Frame and motor: Lifetime
- Parts: 5 years
- Labor: 2 years
Overall Review Rating
5 / 5
So if you're interested in buying a new FreeStride Trainer based on their entertainment options, wide range of workouts, and high quality build design, should you choose the FS7i or the FS9i?
There is a bit of a price difference, which is usually around $1000 based on previous sale prices and their list price, so budget may be the deciding factor.
However, if both machines are in your price range, then we need to start weighing up the price difference against the upgraded features.
The NordicTrack FS9i has a full 10% decline range that the FS7i didn't have, as well as a larger console screen. But both machines are iFit enabled, with the web-enabled color screens and same 38" adjustable stride path.
Weight capacity increases from 375 lbs to 400 lbs, and you do get a couple of extra resistance levels, but there's no difference in the level of warranty.
We're actually very impressed with the range of upgrades across the board, but not sure if this justifies paying the extra $1000.
Our advice would be to check the price of the two machines at the time you're ready to buy. The -10% decline of the FS9i is the biggest attraction for us, as it allows you shift the focus onto different muscle groups and enjoy more varied workouts. The wider screen is a bonus, but it's the web browsing and color that are the real benefits, and those are things you get on both machines.
If you have the space and are really looking to increase the variation in your workouts, you can often buy the FS7i FreeStride Trainer and their top-of-the-line GX 4.6 Pro upright bike for the same total price as the FS9i.
Price aside, the NordicTrack FS9i is still our top choice of center drive elliptical. This is based on workout variation, entertainment options, build quality, warranty, stride length, and resistance levels.
Product dimensions: 68.4" (L) x 28.5" (W) x 62.0" (H) Weight capacity: 400 lbs