Top 5 Best Ellipticals - A Quick Comparison
|Model||Rating||List Price||Resistance||Stride Length||Programs||Flywheel||Pricing|
ProForm HIIT Trainer Pro
|$1,599||26 Levels||n/a||50+ iFit||30 Lbs||See Best Price|
|$3,399||ECB||20"||10||27 lbs||See Best Price|
|$259||8 Levels||n/a||No||See Best Price|
|$1,499||16||15"||5 preprogrammed plus JRNY-enabled||n/a||See Best Price|
|$4,799||20 Levels||20"||10||32 lbs||See Best Price|
Best Elliptical Trainers by Category
To ease your search for the right trainer, we organize elliptical reviews into useful categories: price, drive type, size and more. Click a category link for part-by-part reviews of the best ellipticals in the bunch.
Best Ellipticals by Price
What’s your home gym budget? On the dropdown menu up top, our elliptical reviews are divided into several price brackets. Here are summaries of a few popular price ranges:
- The cheapest ellipticals are in the under $500 category: These are entry-level cross trainers with short warranties. You can see our top-rated ellipticals under $500 here. Keep in mind though, a machine over $500 could last much longer. When you move out of the cheapest elliptical category, you get much better value per dollar.
- Most shoppers choose machines sale priced from $999 to $1,999: These tend to be the best ellipticals for the overall value. Read our elliptical reviews for the $1,000 – $1,500 range and the $1,500 – $2,000 range to explore options in these categories.
- Elite home ellipticals cost $2,500 or more: Some are strong enough for light commercial use. See our list of the top-rated high-end ellipticals to browse options in this category.
Best Ellipticals by Drive Type
Elliptical machines are also categorized by where their drives (big metal flywheels) are stored. With a quick glance you can tell whether a trainer is rear drive, front drive or center drive. The drive location can influence machine size, durability, noise level, and your exercise posture.
- The classic elliptical design is the rear drive. The best rear drive ellipticals are quiet and dependable, partly thanks to their suspended pedals. Cheaper rear drive machines have pedals that glide along rails, so they’re more prone to noisiness and wear. A possible drawback of choosing a rear drive is the machine size. Unless you choose a fold-up elliptical, you’ll need to dedicate a good amount of floor space for one of these.
- Front drive ellipticals are sometimes preferred because they cost less than rear drive ellipticals and need less floor space. A possible drawback is that these machines could be noisy in comparison. Also, some front drive ellipticals encourage you to lean into the console, which isn’t your best possible training posture. To get an idea of how your body would be positioned on a trainer, you can see how a model uses the machine on a sale page or in a YouTube demo.
- Center drive ellipticals are the third category. Like rear drive trainers, these promote good posture — and compared with rear drive trainers, these machines have small footprints too. When you actually use one of these machines though, your arms and legs will likely extend far beyond the base of the unit. Despite being compact, these trainers tend to support long strides.
Best Ellipticals for Small Spaces
As just mentioned above, center drive ellipticals require the least floor space. Front drive trainers take a moderate amount of space, and rear drive machines need the most room.
- Folding ellipticals might have shock-assist for very quick folding that requires little upper body strength.
- Bowflex Max Trainers look similar to center drive ellipticals and support especially high intensity exercise. With a Max Trainer you can burn calories at about double the rate compared with using a more traditional elliptical cross-trainer.
Best Club-Quality Ellipticals
Fitness machines are categorized as light commercial, commercial or residential. Light commercial ellipticals are typically under warranty for up to three hours of use per day. Commercial ellipticals are designed for up to six hours of use per day.
Choosing a Home Elliptical Machine
Elliptical trainers are popular for allowing comfortable workouts even when you’re recovering from an injury or have sore joints. The best ellipticals give treadmills a run for their money by eliminating harsh impact and allowing faster calorie burn. Plus, they let you exercise your arms, legs, glutes, abs, shoulder and back — nearly every major muscle group — all in one workout.
But while benefits of elliptical cross training can be beautiful, success depends on choosing a machine that fits your body and workout goals. For example, you’ll need a trainer with ideal choices for strength or resistance. Read on for tips to compare ellipticals and find your best buy.
The best ellipticals are especially adjustable.
When an elliptical trainer is more adjustable, maybe the most obvious benefit is that it can be useful to more people. Besides that, each user can “mix it up” or get more variety in each full-body workout. Here we look at four kinds of adjustability:
- Lower Body: The two main kinds of pedal adjustability are resistance and stride length. Sometimes a third choice is incline.
- Upper Body: Handlebar shape can let you vary an upper-body elliptical workout as explained below.
Adjustable Resistance Level
Understanding resistance is a big key to understanding how elliptical machines work. Your pedaling turns a heavy metal flywheel, and a brake for that wheel controls how difficult the pedaling will be. Nowadays, magnetic resistance is the most common setup; a magnetic brake takes the place of an old-fashioned friction brake. As magnets move closer to the flywheel, the resistance increases. Magnetic resistance is also called eddy current resistance.
How much resistance is available? Except on the cheapest ellipticals, you usually get a choice of about 20 resistance levels. You can change the settings yourself or let resistance be controlled by a workout program. On a cheap machine the lowest and highest settings might not be dramatically different, and they’re probably easy for the average trainee to master. But on a high-quality machine your choices for resistance level will range from very light to very forceful. The best ellipticals can help you attain higher and higher levels of fitness for many years.
Besides controlling the challenge, the resistance system is largely responsible for smooth motion. Smooth motion helps explain various benefits of ellipticals, such as why they let you burn calories especially quickly, and why they cut the chances of next-day muscle soreness. Fitness machine advertisers tend to describe any elliptical as “smooth”, but check the specs list to judge for yourself. Smoother elliptical trainers have heavier flywheels in their resistance systems. If you’re a beginner you might be satisfied with a 20-pound flywheel, but if you want a more club-quality feel you should choose a trainer with a heavier drive.
Adjustable Stride Length
The special appeal of elliptical training is striding naturally but without the harsh impact of “real life” walking or running. The pedals stay in constant contact with your feet to allow low-impact (if not zero-impact) exercise. But to let you stride naturally, of course the pedals need to support the length of your natural stride.
What is elliptical stride length? It’s the distance between the front of the foremost pedal and the heel of the back pedal. Stride length on an elliptical trainer can be fixed (permanent) or adjustable. The most common setting for fixed stride is 20 inches. Adjustable stride is a more expensive feature, but for some home gyms it’s the only choice that makes sense.
- People who are 5’3″ and shorter could feel comfortable with elliptical strides of 18 to 20 inches (twenty inches might feel like a stretch).
- People who are 5’7″ and taller should start with 20-inch elliptical strides. Up to 22-inches might feel most natural if you’re over 6 feet. With shorter strides, the pedaling could feel choppy, more like climbing stairs than gliding flat.
Common choices for adjustable stride are 18″ – 20″ and 18″ – 22″. On high-end ellipticals in particular, the choices can be even more generous. Octane Fitness — which is maybe the most expensive brand on our elliptical review site — has patented SmartStride ergonomics which can automatically adjust to the trainee’s gait.
Some machines are so adjustable that they’re also called hybrid fitness machines. Our favorites can serve as great treadmill alternatives, letting you take extra-long strides without the jarring impact of pounding a track. A high-end example is the Octane XT4700. A low-budget example is the ProForm Hybrid Trainer.
Adjustable incline is a feature on ellipticals in the middle and upper price ranges. With incline training you’ll naturally get a more challenging cardio workout and burn calories at a faster rate. This is because your body works harder to use an elliptical with incline, just as it works harder when you walk or run uphill instead of across flat land. Adding just a few minutes of higher intensity training to a 20-minute elliptical workout can also help keep your energy up for even longer after exercise concludes.
Another big benefit of incline training is using your muscles in different ways. The lower incline settings will especially recruit your calves and quads. The steeper settings will especially focus on your gluteal muscles and hamstrings. NordicTrack, Horizon and other brands build machines that automatically adjust your incline to match interactive videos of landscapes.
Upper-body exercise is an option built into most ellipticals. As your legs pedal away, you can grip moving handlebars to engage your arms, shoulders, chest and back. Usually your arms will swing back and forth as if you were cross-country skiing.
Cheap ellipticals and entry-level ellipticals usually have simple handlebars. They let you hold on with just one form of grip. Ideally the handlebars are slightly angled to suit people with different arm spans.
On better elliptical trainers the moving handlebars curve at the end. This lets you grip in more than one way, so you can adjust your body position to focus on different muscle groups. Multi-grip for the handlebars is akin to incline for the pedals; it helps you sculpt muscle groups in different ways.
The best home ellipticals are easy to live with.
What makes a fitness machine home-friendly? Three features that might matter to your home are quiet operation, compact size, and portability.
Magnetic resistance helps make the best ellipticals virtually silent. As mentioned above, magnetic resistance systems are friction-free unlike the original style of friction-based elliptical braking with felt pads.
But even with magnetic resistance, an elliptical can make a ruckus. Heavier flywheels, and flywheel advertised as spin-balanced, can spin more quietly.
On cheap ellipticals some of the most common culprits are loose bolts. To ensure quiet operation, you might need to tighten the bolts after every few workout sessions. The bolts and other parts of the machine (such as the rollers) might need frequent lubrication to avoid squeaking too.
In any price range, usually the center drive and rear drive ellipticals have especially quiet operation compared with front drive ellipticals.
Of the three kinds of elliptical trainers, center drive machines are the most compact. A center drive elliptical saves space by having you stand over the drive (the big flywheel). In comparison, a front drive or rear drive elliptical trainer has a longer frame because its drive isn’t stored underneath you.
Rear drive machines tend to have the biggest frames. Many are fold-up machines for easy storage in between workouts.
For recommendations see our chart of best compact and folding ellipticals.
Ellipticals advertised as “portable” might not be simple to move across town or up a flight of stairs, but they usually do have transport wheels attached. These wheels might pop out when you slightly tilt the machine. They make it easy to move the unit into a corner, for example, until your next workout session. Attached wheels can make it surprisingly easy to reposition a trainer weighing up to 300 pounds or so.
For the best portability, a folding rear drive trainer with transport wheels could be ideal.
And the best ellipticals have features that fit your style.
Choosing special features is probably the most enjoyable part of elliptical shopping. Here are some options to keep in mind as you browse.
The comfort of low-impact motion is a perk of any good elliptical, but for extra comfort some of the better ellipticals have pedal cushioning. Pedal cushioning can help minimize fatigue, so it might help you train harder and reach fitness goals more quickly.
A bit of “climate control” from a built-in fan can also boost your comfort. Ideally you’ll get more than one choice for fan setting. The best elliptical fan design is on NordicTrack consoles; their AutoBreeze fans can self-adjust to your workout intensity.
Choosing a machine with a water bottle holder is also wise. Ample hydration is of course critical to getting a great elliptical workout.
You can buy an elliptical with a touchscreen that’s WiFi and Bluetooth enabled in just about any price range these days.
But the most cost-effective choice might be a “BYOC” fitness machine; that is, bring your own computer. This allows you to save money on elliptical electronics by docking your own tablet computer to the console. NordicTrack and many other brands let your own tablet serve as a secondary console for workout programming as well as entertainment and multitasking.
Do you use FitBit or a similar mobile app? Many people are using mobile apps to log daily step counts, heart rate and other health/fitness data. Thus it’s becoming more and more common for exercise equipment to be app-friendly. Sole Fitness is one of the leading fitness brands that added Bluetooth connectivity to their ellipticals in recent years. If you use an elliptical with Bluetooth, you can automatically sync your workout stats with FitBit, iHealth, MyFitnessPal and countless other mobile apps.
Many fitness equipment manufacturers have their own mobile apps and wearable trackers too. The most popular example might be the iFit Bluetooth Smart Chest Strap that’s advertised with NordicTrack ellipticals.
Wireless Heart Rate Monitoring
When we say that an elliptical is a “cross trainer” we mean that it delivers both strength and cardio workouts. With cardio in mind we recommend ellipticals that have wireless heart rate receivers. These are common on ellipticals in the middle and high price brackets.
With a constant stream of accurate heart rate data, you can train more efficiently by always staying within your target heart rate zone. Also with good data, you can keep track of your pulse from month to month — and when you see improvement, that’s excellent motivation to keep up your healthy lifestyle.
Contact heart rate monitoring is also an option. This feature is included on most trainers, even very cheap ellipticals, but a common customer complaint about cheap ellipticals is that their heart rate monitors are inaccurate and therefore useless.
Built-in elliptical workout programs automate your trainer, helping you get smartly-designed workout sessions with minimal need for setup. Basically, an elliptical workout program controls the machine’s speed and resistance. If applicable, it can control incline and stride length too.
Programs can be customized in different ways (e.g., time, distance or calories), and on a good elliptical the general selection is varied. For example:
- Common categories on elliptical workout menus are Cardio, Interval, Performance, Strength, and Weight Loss.
- Generic program names are Manual, 5K, Rolling Hills, Interval, and Heart Rate Control.
Besides the above categories, advanced cross training elliptical workout programs are supplied by Octane Fitness, NordicTrack and a few other manufacturers. These prompt you to perform cross-training exercises on and off the machine.
Displays for elliptical workout programs are extremely varied. At one extreme, many brands still use classic dot matrix displays. At the other extreme, various leading brands use full-color touchscreens and can show high-definition workout video programs. With WiFi connections they might allow unlimited new workout downloads too. And in any price range, you can buy an elliptical that has a bracket to hold your tablet computer. For many fitness equipment brands, your tablet can interact with the machine and serve as your control panel.
Take time to read elliptical reviews and compare your workout program options, as these can significantly shape the price and your exercise experience. In our part-by-part reviews you’ll see other popular elliptical features too: USB charging ports, Bluetooth speakers, interactive training and more.