The NordicTrack X7i Incline Trainer represents one of their more affordable, mid-range designs in a collection that also includes the X11i and top-of-the-line X15i.
But can the motor really maintain the same high belt speed as a standard home treadmill once you reach the steeper angles, and do you have a wide enough choice of workouts?
In this review we’ll be taking a look at what it means to be an incline trainer, including the design features, console functions, workout programs, and entertainment options.
We’ll also be including some comparisons with high incline treadmills from other fitness equipment companies to help you decide if this would really be the best choice of machine for your goals and budget.
Design and safety features
There’s one obvious difference between NordicTrack’s incline trainers and their treadmills, and that’s the angle to which the running deck can be adjusted.
Even with the top-of-the-line treadmill in their Commercial collection, you’re looking at a 15% incline and a 3% decline. This tends to be the limit across the industry, and isn’t a limitation of NordicTrack (Sole Fitness also have a 15% maximum incline).
In contrast, the running deck on the NordicTrack X7i can be adjusted from a 6% decline, all the way through to a 40% incline. This is the first incline trainer in the series to offer the decline angles, representing an upgrade over the earlier X5i model (now discontinued).
But how does the steeper incline impact your workouts, and do you even need the decline settings?
In 1996 a study was published in the Journal of Sports Sciences that sought to determine the treadmill grade that most accurately reflected the energy cost of outdoor running.
When you use a treadmill or incline trainer, you’re running indoors, which means you don’t face the same level of air resistance.
Subjects in the study were tested at treadmill inclines ranging from 0% through to 3%, and included one run outdoors for comparison.
The results of the study showed that for the running pace used, it was the 1% treadmill incline that recreated the effect of wind resistance when running outdoors on a level road.
So the wide incline and decline range isn’t to compensate for the change in conditions, but to offer you a more challenging workout experience if you don’t have steep hills you can run up near where you live.
These steeper inclines are more efficient for calorie burning, as well as for switching the focus between different lower body muscle groups.
At the steeper inclines you’re using more of your hamstrings and glutes, while the flat and decline settings would be a better option for your quads and calves.
Although you might not build up to the same full length stride as on a flat run, the NordicTrack X7i still features a full length 60″ (L) x 22″ (W) running area.
Stride cushioning and motor power
Under the belt you also have NordicTrack’s Reflex Cushioning, which provides a firmer surface towards the back of the belt for pushing off from. In contrast, the front of the running deck is well cushioned, creating a softer landing point and reducing the pressure placed on your knee and ankle joints.
To power the belt to its top speed of 12 mph, the X7i features a 2.75 CHP DurX commercial motor, which is cooled by internal fans to reduce the level of ongoing maintenance.
The belt then rotates around the 2.5″ precision balanced rollers, which have been coated for less wear on the drive system and to provide a quieter workout.
As with their treadmills, the NordicTrack Incline Trainers have been fitted with a safety key to help reduce the risk of injury.
This is essentially a short lanyard with a clip at each end. One clip attaches to the console and the other to your clothing, so that if you were to fall, the key would detach and the belt would quickly come to a stop.
NordicTrack X7i – Features Summary
- 10″ Backlit Display
- Up to 40 percent incline with OneTouch™ incline and speed controls
- 2.5″ Precision Machined and Balanced Non-Flex Roller
- 2.75 continuous horsepower DurX™ Commercial Motor
- 22″ x 60″ Tread Belt
- 0 – 12 MPH Speed
- iFit enabled
The console for the NordicTrack X7i is packed with features to make your workouts more exciting and enjoyable, including iPad compatibility.
Most fitness machines offering support for iPads simply meant they have a tablet shelf that can hold your device so you can watch your favourite movies and TV shows while you workout.
But with the X7i Incline Trainer you can actually use the iPad to control the running deck incline and belt speed.
There’s a shelf on the console where you can rest the iPad, and a separate holder slides out from the top of the console to hold it securely in place. As long as you have a wireless network connection, an iFit subscription, and the iFit app on your iPad, you can then use the tablet to adjust the machine’s settings.
Alternatively, OneTouch controls for the incline, decline, and speed are available if you want to limit the time you spend at the console and focus more on your workout.
The 10″ backlit display provides a wider viewing angle than on NordicTrack’s elliptical trainers, and keeps you updated with a variety of different workout stats.
Workout feedback includes:
- Workout intensity level
- Number of calories burned
- Incline level
- Number of vertical feet climbed
- Belt speed
- Heart rate
This is a little different to the full colour touch screen that you get with the NordicTrack X9i, but you still have a set of basic navigation buttons for finding your desired workout quickly.
You’ll also find support for iPods and MP3 players via a socket in the console, which means you can listen to your favourite music while you workout.
Speakers are positioned on either side of the cooling fans, which can be adjusted manually, or set to ‘Auto’ mode if you want their speed to adjust based on your running pace.
Heart rate monitoring and the ‘Pulse’ workout
But one of the real standout features of the NordicTrack X7i is the heart rate monitoring, which is achieved either by holding the CardioGrip touch sensors, or by wearing a telemetry chest strap.
NordicTrack actually include a chest strap for wireless heart rate monitoring that doesn’t interfere with the quality of your workout.
This is actually one of the few NordicTrack fitness machines that includes a ‘Pulse’ program, where the speed and incline will automatically adjust to keep you close to your selected heart rate level.
Visually this isn’t as intuitive as the SmartRate feature on Precor’s Precision and Energy series treadmills, but considering the importance of training in specific heart rate zones, it’s a welcome program to have.
Workout program selection
The highlight of any iFit enabled incline trainer is always going to be the personalized iFit programs that you can download straight to the console.
But if you’re not quite ready to create your iFit profile, you can still choose from 38 different workout apps, based which have been split across four categories: Calorie, Intensity, Incline, and Speed.
Each of these onboard workouts is divided into equal segments, with each segment representing a combination of incline and speed settings.
You can also choose a workout from the ‘Set-A-Goal’ options, or use the ‘Pulse’ program if you prefer to workout at a specific heart rate level.
- Onboard workouts
Choose from 38 apps with different speed and incline profiles, designed to challenge all fitness levels. The upgraded X11i incline trainer has even more to offer, with a total of 44 onboard workouts.
The profile will be displayed on screen, highlighting the segment you’re currently at and giving you an indication of what to expect from the rest of the program.
Speed and incline settings can be overridden using buttons on the console, but will revert back to defaults when you move onto the next segment.
- iFit workouts
Being iFit enabled means you don’t have to purchase the iFit module, and all that’s required to access the programs is a wireless network connection and a subscription.
Not only does iFit allow you to download personalized workouts to the console, but you can also view a history of your performance and store your stats alongside a nutrition log online.
- ‘Set-A-Goal’ workouts
If you’re more motivated by setting and achieving targets than you are by following a set profile, these are the programs for you.
You’re able to set a target for the number of calories burned, distance, and workout duration.
- ‘Pulse’ program
We were surprised to see this wasn’t included on more of NordicTrack’s treadmills and exercise bikes, but it seems to be a standard feature on their incline trainers.
It’s essentially a heart rate control program that automatically adjusts the incline and speed settings to keep you at a target heart rate.
What’s interesting about this program is that the console doesn’t prompt you to enter your age for use in the maximum heart rate calculation. In fact, unlike on the Sole Fitness and Precor treadmills, the heart rate calculation isn’t performed by the console at all.
The user manual recommends consulting your physician to determine your maximum heart rate, which can then be manually entered into the console.
- ‘Manual’ program
A much simpler workout compared to the programs above, ‘Manual’ doesn’t follow any set profile, and instead puts you in complete control of any ramp incline and belt speed changes.
Ease of assembly / maintenance required
The assembly process itself is incredibly simple. In fact, if you have someone to assist you with the heavy lifting, it shouldn’t take much more than 15 minutes to get the X7i ready for your first workout.
The process is similar to the SNAP assembly system we saw when reviewing NordicTrack’s E 11.7 elliptical. This is where the console and upright were already attached to the base frame, and just had to be lifted into place.
With the X7i incline trainer, the console is already built into the upright, with the console wires threaded through.
The running deck also arrives as a single unit, meaning all that’s required is to attach the console assembly to the base frame, connect the wires, and attach the handrails to the console assembly.
It’s not a complicate process, and the base frame does have transport wheels to move the machine if needed.
We recommend assembling the X7i as close as possible to where you intend on using it, but if you do need to switch locations, the NordicTrack recommend having one or two other people assist you.
Assembly instructions are easy enough to follow thanks to the written instructions and diagrams, with the entire process explained in just 7 steps.
What’s covered by the warranty?
- Frame, motor, and running deck: Lifetime
- Parts and electronics: 5 years
- Labor: 2 years