Elliptical trainers have long been a hum-drum staple at your local gym, but the NordicTrack FS14i FreeStride Trainer is looking to break the mould with an auto-adjusting stride, and beautiful 14-inch touchscreen display built right in. The result? A futuristic cardio machine that’s as fun to use as it is effective. At least that’s the idea.
Even the best ellipticals can be mildly intimidating pieces of equipment for the uninitiated, but they needn’t be. Once you climb aboard, the mechanics do the heavy lifting – so to speak – in terms of maintaining your form with every firm-footed stride, creating a comprehensive sweat session that’s way easier on your joints than any treadmill yet more dynamic than any stationary bike.
Crossfit-style workouts are more popular than ever, and elliptical machines are a perfect addition to any HIIT-heavy program, especially if you’re looking to drop a few pounds and tighten up your core. Is the NordicTrack FS14i FreeStride Trainer worth the hefty price tag? Read on to find out.
NordicTrack FS14i FreeStride Trainer Review: Price and availability
Take note: While the FS14i does come with a complimentary month of iFit, you’ll need to renew that subscription every month in order to take advantage of live classes, on-demand workouts, and other iFit extras.
NordicTrack FS14i FreeStride Trainer Review: Design and build
As a child of the 80s, one of my favourite things to do is toss the phrase “Meh, it was the 90s” into a casual present-day conversation, and few fitness relics encapsulate that decade more than the absolutely legendary collection of VHS workout videos left in its wake. This is right around the same time elliptical machines started to edge their way into the public gym space; coincidentally, NordicTrack started making them for fitness centers in the early 90s to complement their already-popular line of ski machines.
I remember spotting an elliptical for the first time at my local YMCA, and it was easily the least popular piece of cardio equipment in the whole place. (For high school kids, anyway.) I tried using them a handful of times but found the whole ordeal to be rather boring, and not much of a workout overall – at least, not compared to a game of pickup basketball with my friends.
Flash-forward twenty years, and I’ve developed a new appreciation for this unique piece of gym gear, especially after undergoing a couple of knee surgeries; ellipticals are at least partially responsible for getting me back on my feet during the tenuous PT process since I could use them to ease back into a cardio routine without pounding my joints.
Plus, NordicTrack has taken care of the “boring” part for me – and how. As mentioned above (and implied in the name), the FS14i has a 14-inch Smart HD touchscreen built right into the console, giving you access to iFit’s ever-growing library of live classes and prerecorded workouts, not to mention all your favorite stats. (More on that below.)
There are a few different styles of elliptical, and the FS14i is a center drive trainer that feels like a hybrid of cross-trainer and glider; by switching up the natural motion of your gait, you can achieve a (mostly) full-body workout that mimics the movements of stair-stepper, elliptical, and treadmill. When grasping the handlebars, it feels like you’re cross-country skiing or stair-stepping, depending on your stride.
Situated on top of the machine you’ll find two stereo speakers, a Bluetooth button, and an AUX jack for connecting your own wired headphones. Underneath the console you’ll find dedicated buttons for incline/decline, resistance levels, volume controls, and a built-in fan – another nifty feature that adds some extra atmosphere as you chug along. There’s an accessory tray, too, and additional incline/decline/resistance controls on either handlebar.
NordicTrack FS14i FreeStride Trainer Review: Setting up
Clocking in at 74 x 58.5 x 29.5 inches and 287 pounds, the FS14i is a pretty bulky apparatus, so take some measurements before you buy; it might not fit through any surrounding doorways once you assemble it. My review unit came with iFit’s Threshold Delivery service, which includes professional setup. The delivery guys were prompt, COVID-responsible, and a pleasure to interact with as they assembled the machine.
When you turn on the FS14i for the first time, you’re prompted to connect to WiFi and sign in to your preexisting iFit account, or create a new one. (As mentioned above, the FS14i comes with a 30-day trial membership.) Then it’s just a matter of checking for firmware updates, calibrating the incline system, and putting your game face on.
Note: There's a handle on the front of the frame to let you tip the machine backward and move it around, but this might be a two-person job, depending on your upper-body strength.
NordicTrack FS14i FreeStride Trainer Review: Performance
To provide some extra context for this review, here’s the deal: I’m a lanky 37-year-old man with a dodgy knee, and running on the regular used to be a real challenge. That being said, I underwent a 70-pound weight-loss transformation in 2011, and owe much of my success to HIIT running workouts in Central Park.
Now that I’ve lost the weight, my 6-foot-3-inch body has evolved into a runner’s frame, and I genuinely enjoy the sport since shin splints are finally out of the equation. Over the past decade my cardio routine has evolved into an eclectic combination of running, cycling, and elliptical training, depending on the time of the year.
Let’s talk about that 14-inch touchscreen, which is as functional as it is gorgeous. Screen selections were mostly lag-free over my apartment’s Gigabit internet connection, and once each workout got started, I never experienced any buffering problems.
The elliptical trainers of yesteryear were somewhat awkward to use, from what I remember, until you got the hang of them. But NordicTrack has done wonders with design enhancements of late, and the FS14i has an excellent springiness to it when you hop aboard (Kind of like the suspension system of a snowmobile. Or, you know, cross-country skis). In fact, the pedals were comfortable enough for me to use barefoot, which I did on several occasions.
So, what does it feel like to use the NordicTrack FS14i? That all depends on how you use it. Your feet remain stationary on each pedal as you move forward (or backward), creating a midair oval that puts your lower body to work. The handlebars move with every stride, and you can adjust the resistance and incline/decline on the fly with the buttons on top.
You can mix up your leg/arm movements to emulate a stair-stepper, elliptical trainer, or treadmill – without even breaking your stride. For example, if you hold the handlebars in place instead of swinging them with each stride, the pedals naturally transition to a stair-stepping motion. It’s a little tricky to describe, so I’ll let the video below do it for me.
Overall, it’s a buttery smooth experience that’s fun to execute, and it was hard to get bored as I adjusted my stride style throughout each workout, all the while fiddling with the resistance and incline controls. Make no mistake: when utilized properly the FS14i delivers a full-body burn that’s as challenging as you want it to be, since it inevitably incorporates upper-body movements into every workout. (If you let go of the handlebars entirely, the resulting balancing act forces you to work on core stability; you can also reverse your stride to target subsidiary muscle groups.)
The built-in fan was great for keeping cool as I chugged along, and while the dual speakers are loud enough for most indoor environments, I appreciated using my Bluetooth headphones instead to stay in my own workout bubble.
NordicTrack FS14i FreeStride Trainer Review: Stay fit with iFit
To put the NordicTrack FS14i through its paces, I fired up my iFit account, put on some sports shorts, and climbed on up. NordicTrack and iFit have been bedfellows for a while now, and this unique personal training ecosystem is growing more dynamic every month. In short, your iFit subscription is a virtual gateway to dozens of world-class personal trainers, accessible right from your smart TV, smartphone, or any iFit-equipped piece of gym equipment.
You can use your tech of choice to access top-notch fitness classes and unique outdoor experiences from around the world. iFit does a superb job of onboarding some genuinely awesome talent, and they employ dozens of trainers for their elliptical, running, rowing, and cycling classes. Here are the iFit features I like best:
Automatic Trainer Control – This lets your machine adjust the incline, decline, and resistance automatically in real-time, based on the terrain and type of workout you’re doing. It really does help create an immersive experience that adapts to what you’re seeing on screen.
Live Classes – New iFit classes are added every day, and each instructor brings their own flavor to the mix. A few minutes before each class, a barcode appears for you to scan with your smartphone; you can text your trainer throughout the class, and they respond in real-time once things get moving. It’s definitely a cool layer of interactivity, and I appreciated Jesse Corbin’s shout-outs as I dropped in on one of his jogging classes. For anyone who has a tough time getting motivated to exercise, these classes are a great way to garner motivation through osmosis.
Note: Treadmill and elliptical owners have access to the same live classes, though most of these classes seem to be tailored for runners. Elliptical owners will likely lean on prerecorded classes that are filmed outdoors.
Leaderboards - This became an unexpected perk for me, since it brought out some of my (mildly) competitive nature. Interacting with a miniature community is pretty cool, and the more classes you take, the more usernames you start to recognize.
Ted Talks – As I explored the iFit menus, I was delighted to find that you can sweat it out while watching a whole library of Ted Talks. (As of this writing, there are about 60 in total.) I tuned in to “3 secrets of resilient people” to exercise my body and mind simultaneously. Whoever’s idea this was, give that person a raise.
Mindful Workouts – On a related note, iFit has a whole subcategory of relaxing workouts hosted by a diverse crew of certified mental health and fitness professionals. Basically, you do the walking, they do the talking. By the end of each workout, you’ll have lost a few calories and gained new perspectives on such topics as releasing self-doubt, learning to listen, relieving stress, managing anxiety, and many others.
Hiking, Walking Tours, and Outdoor Elliptical Series – Ever feel like trekking through the Alps, Mount Fuji, Egypt, or the Grand Canyon? The FS14i is perfect for simulating outdoor hikes in high-res, and it’s a great way to travel the world without ever leaving your garage. Honestly, these hikes are the best solution I’ve found so far for combating the occasional cabin fever. Who said you need to actually wander to sate your wanderlust?
Skiing Workouts – If you’re an avid cross-country skier, these workouts let you train your muscles for the slopes without ever getting on them. In fact, this series might represent the strongest argument for purchasing an FS14i, since those longer strides really do feel like you’re cross-country skiing. It’s not the same as the real thing, of course, but it’ll keep you busy between ski trips.
Challenges – These cardio sessions are grouped together with a common theme. For example, the Coast-to-Coast Elliptical Challenge consists of 15 interconnected workouts led by 11 different trainers, filmed in picturesque locations across the United States. It’s a great way to gamify your fitness goals.
NordicTrack FS14i FreeStride Trainer Review: Verdict
When it comes to virtually exploring this planet, few cardio machines compare to the NordicTrack FS14i FreeStride Trainer, which brings the great outdoors right to your doorstep. This elliptical is just as easy on your joints as the previously reviewed NordicTrack E11.5 Elliptical Trainer, but its adjustable stride is far more dynamic, and the eye-catching 14-inch screen is tough to beat. The real selling point, though, is what iFit has to offer through that screen.
If you spring for a pair of NordicTrack’s Select-A-Weight 55 Lb. Dumbbell Set, you can also take advantage of iFit’s ever-expanding selection of weight-training classes. (Hint: unless you also own a NordicTrack Vault, you might want to view these classes from your smart TV for the best workout experience.)
Overall, the NordicTrack FS14i FreeStride Trainer is a splurge for any home gym, but one that may be worth it in the long run – err, stride. The machine itself is top-notch when it comes to low-impact cardio, but if you can afford the monthly iFit membership to boot, there’s an awful lot to like about this premium elliptical. Your inner child will never get bored, and your inner gazelle will thank you later.