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For a great cardio workout that’s easy on the joints, the elliptical machine tops the list. Running on pavement or even the best treadmill can be problematic for many people because of the pounding it creates on knees and hips. Using an elliptical trainer forces the body into more of a gliding pattern as opposed to picking up the feet and putting them down on a hard surface.
I personally tested some of the best ellipticals on the market to determine which could work best for you, based on your needs. While these are often large and expensive machines, they do offer significant benefits for those looking for a low-impact workout at home.
My Top Pick: Bowflex Max Trainer M6
Best Elliptical Under $1,000: Schwinn 470 Elliptical
Best Elliptical With Interactive Programming: NordicTrack Commercial 14.9
Best Elliptical Under $500: Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Elliptical Machine
Best Hybrid Elliptical and Bike: ProForm Hybrid Trainer
Best Value Elliptical: Horizon 7.0 AE Elliptical
Best Elliptical for Beginners: Nautilus E618 Elliptical
Best Elliptical for Small Spaces: NordicTrack SpaceSaver SE9i
Good for: Someone looking for a quality machine with guided programming
My Favorite Things:
Over the years, Bowflex has put out a number of Max Trainer ellipticals, each one building on the last. Today, they have the M6, the M9 and the Max Total. The biggest difference, other than a jump in price, is that the M9 and the Total have a large, 10-inch color touchscreen, and a few additional resistance levels.
I recommend the M6 because I like the price point at under $1,700, and you still get nearly all the benefits as the more expensive machines. You have to use your own tablet or phone to sync your workout with the JRNY app, which gives you endless options for workouts. JRNY actually customizes your workouts based on your performance, so the fitter you get, the more advanced the workouts become.
The M6 has many of the conveniences you want: water bottle holder, Bluetooth capability for a heart rate monitor, and even a USB charging port so if you use your own smart device, you don’t have to worry about it dying. From a footprint perspective, the M6 is only 46 inches long, which is nearly half the size of many other ellipticals.
If you’re looking for a full gliding machine, this isn’t it. The entire Max Trainer line is more of a stair stepper with just a small stride. It will still make your quads burn and leave you breathless, make no mistake about that. But it won’t simulate running the way some ellipticals do. I’m also disappointed that the warranty on this machine is just two years. Most machines have at least a five to 10-year warranty.
Good for: People who want a lot of conveniences for less than $1,000
My Favorite Things:
I’m a big fan of Schwinn products, probably because the Schwinn Airdyne bike kicked my butt quite a few times and it’s always on my list of the best exercise bikes. I’m not surprised that the brand’s ellipticals are also pretty good quality. Schwinn has three in its lineup: the 411, the 430 and the 470. All of them are under $1,000, with the 470 being the top of the line.
On the 470 are 25 levels of magnetic resistance and 10 incline levels. I love seeing ellipticals with incline levels because you can really target the lower body muscle groups, like quads and glutes. The machine also has quick keys – keys with numbers on them – to automatically take you to a certain resistance or incline level.
For your $1,000, you get 29 workout programs, which is a really good number for a home exercise machine. Schwinn also makes the 470 compatible with the free Explore the World app. The app features 27 running routes through 19 different locations. The 470 has a cooling fan and USB charging port for your smart device. You can also set up four different user profiles to track your activity.
The downsides: In-home assembly is an extra $250. To me, that’s a lot of money, and I’m just going to put it together myself even if it takes a few hours. But elliptical machines are notoriously some of the most cumbersome to piece together. Also, having the incline on the machine means you have a motor, which ultimately could mean more parts that break or need maintenance. Be sure to check out my ultimate $1,000 budget home gym here.
Good for: Those looking for personalized workout options on a commercial-grade machine
My Favorite Things:
The iFit programming on the NordicTrack Commercial 14.9 is the selling point of this elliptical. iFit is interactive, and it plays out on a 14-inch, full-color HD touchscreen. You can pick on-demand, HIIT, or live classes, or go exploring all over the world with runs through countrysides, mountains, and beaches. What I really like is the personal training aspect of iFit, which can cater workouts to help you meet your specific fitness goals.
When you buy this machine, you get an iFit family membership free for a year. This means you and up to four other people can access your own profiles on the machine. After a year, if you want to keep iFit, you’ll have to fork over about $39/month to keep that family member. Without the iFit subscription, you can still access a few free workouts, but honestly, I would just point you to a more affordable machine at that point.
Priced around $2,000, this is definitely on the higher end when it comes to this type of exercise machine. However, NordicTrack pretty much throws everything at you with this one: Bluetooth speakers, cooling fan, heart rate monitoring, and cushioned foot pedals. One unique aspect of the 14.9 that you don’t find on many ellipticals is the adjustable stride length. You can set the stride to either 18 or 20 inches. An 18-inch stride is great for people who are shorter than 5’5”, and 20 inches accommodate people up to 6’5”.
I did put the Commercial 14.9 together by myself, and it took a few hours. You have to do the wiring and lift some fairly heavy pieces, so if you can afford expert assembly, take that route. Also, it weighs 210 pounds and isn’t easy to move, so assembles it where you plan to keep it. Also, check out the NordicTrack Commercial 1750 Treadmill review.
Good for: People on a budget who don’t want a machine that feels cheap
My Favorite Things:
It can be hard to build the best budget home gym equipment that still is of great quality. I have been on cheap cardio machines, and it’s awful. They don’t feel sturdy and they break down easily. The Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Elliptical Machine surprised me with how smooth the workout was. It’s a rear-drive elliptical, which means the wheel is in the back of the machine as opposed to the front. Rear-drive machines tend to have a more natural feel than front-drive machines, but most people barely notice a difference.
Of all the ellipticals on the market in this price range, I like this one the best because it has 24 built-in workouts, which is a lot for a machine that doesn’t have an accompanying app. Also, it’s lightweight at 105 pounds but still has a weight capacity of 330 pounds. However, this is a motorized elliptical, as opposed to having a flywheel. The issue here is that a motor may be more susceptible to breakdown or require more maintenance. But, you get what you pay for.
I put this machine together myself, and the instructions weren’t the greatest. This is one of those companies that tries to put three assembly steps into one, so you really have to pay attention to the drawings to make sure you go in order. It took me a little over an hour to do on my own. Doable, but again, not the easiest process.
Good for: People who want a 2-in-one machine
My Favorite Things:
You can really get a lot of bang for your buck when you look at hybrid cardio machines. The Proform Hybrid Trainer combines a recumbent exercise bike with an elliptical. Recumbent bikes are great for people who need an ergonomic seat and the ability to get their legs moving. They won’t give you much of a cardio workout. But, on this hybrid trainer, that’s what the elliptical is for.
The console on this machine is a very basic LCD display. And there is no media shelf where you can put a phone or a tablet to watch a show, no cooling fans, no Bluetooth speakers. However, the LCD display does rotate down for easy access when you’re biking, and up for when you’re using the elliptical.
Also, there are 14 preset workouts – 7 elliptical, 7 bike – you can access. Proform is also in the ICON Fitness family, so you get a 30-day free trial of iFit with your purchase of the Hybrid Trainer. When you connect your own smart device to the Hybrid Trainer with Bluetooth Connectivity, iFit will actually automatically adjust resistance settings for you.
This is still a very basic machine. The assembly gave me no issues, as Proform has clear instructions. All in, it only took me an hour to put together this machine. Although the footprint itself is big (70.5 inches long and 24.5 inches wide), the Hybrid Trainer features transport wheels on the front that made it very easy to move.
Good for: Someone looking to get the most out of an elliptical at a reasonable price
My Favorite Things:
Horizon Fitness does a great job of giving you a lot of features at an affordable price. I see this especially in their treadmills and their ellipticals. The 7.0 AE is my favorite in their line because it costs less than $1,000 but still has the feel of more expensive machines, both in workout performance and in the conveniences it offers.
With a 23-pound flywheel, the workout on the 7.0 is pretty smooth. This isn’t the heaviest flywheel you’ll find on a cross trainer, but it does provide enough stability that you don’t feel like the boat is rocking while you’re exercising. I also really like that the machine has a 20-inch stride length because that’s the sweet spot for most people being able to comfortably use it.
Horizon machines can connect with a free app called Pro, which not only automatically adjusts things like resistance, but it will also send your workout data to other apps like Fitbit. I’ll be the first to say that Pro isn’t anything like the Peloton or iFit apps, but it does still give you guided workouts, if that’s all you need. To use Pro on the 7.0, you’ll have to connect the elliptical to your own smart device via Bluetooth. I like the “bring your own” technology machines because you save money but can still get the perks.
At almost 200 pounds, this is a heavier elliptical that isn’t as easy to move around as other machines might be. It’s also 76 inches long, so you really need to make sure you have the space for it.
Good for: People new to fitness looking for guided workouts
My Favorite Things:
One of the hardest things about starting an exercise program is knowing where to start. If you’re new to the scene, then buying fitness equipment with built-in exercises is a must. The Nautilus E618 has 29 workout programs to choose from, such as heart rate training, interval training and programs that you can customize on your own, if you want to. Nautilus machines come with free access to the Explore the World app, which has additional workouts you can stream from your own device.
I also like that in addition to 25 magnetic resistance levels, you can also adjust the incline of the machine to add intensity and recruit different muscle groups as you exercise. The E618 is great for beginners because it features easy-to-use buttons to adjust incline and resistance. The bright console is simple to navigate and tells you when a hill is coming up or the machine is going to adjust. Fans cool you if you get overheated, and Nautilus throws in a Bluetooth-enabled chest strap for heart rate monitoring.
At under $1,400, this is the higher-end elliptical from Nautilus. What sets it apart from the E616 is that the E618 has a long, 22-inch stride length, which is great for taller people. The E618 also has cushioned foot pedals and a longer warranty period – 15 years – than the E616.
This is a big, heavy machine with a complicated assembly. It’s like what you might find in a commercial gym. I recommend having experts put it together where you want to use it, because it’s 210 pounds and, despite the transportation wheels on the front, it’s not easy to move.
Good for: People living in small spaces who want a compact elliptical
My Favorite Things:
Ellipticals take up a lot of space. They mimic running, so the stride length of the pedals alone will take up a few feet. This could limit people who live in small spaces to getting compact stair steppers. However, with the NordicTrack SpaceSaver SE9i, you get the perks of a large-sized machine with the ability to fold up to half its size.
Unfolded, the SE9i is nearly 80 inches long. However, with the push of a button, it folds to be about half that and is easily stored upright. The folding mechanism takes the SE9i down to what other compact ellipticals are in the first place, but you don’t have to sacrifice much with this machine. Here are some inspirations for the 10 best budget home gym setups, for large or small spaces.
NordicTrack offers one year of iFit programming for free on top of the 30 preset workouts that already come on the machine. If you choose not to renew iFit, you can still use the SE9i and all its benefits (this is rare, as other pieces of NordicTrack exercise equipment aren’t really worth it without iFit).
I don’t like that the stride on this elliptical is just 18 inches. That still fits most people, but really tall people, like those over 6’3”, would need a 20-inch stride to be more comfortable. Also, this is a pricey machine at just under $1,700. You could find a very compact elliptical for far less than that, but you wouldn’t get all the perks this one has.
There are countless ellipticals on the market that could be great for your home workout routine. However, an elliptical is really only good if you’re actually going to use it. Make sure you spend your money wisely by considering the following:
There is a big price range on ellipticals, because you can go for cheap and basic, or expensive and overdone. The most affordable ellipticals are just a few hundred dollars on Amazon, but they are often cheaply made and break down easy. Stay away from those.
I find that the best ellipticals tend to sit somewhere between $700 and $2,000, just depending on what you really want out of your machine. The big companies, like NordicTrack and Bowflex, offer financing on their products, which make the big-ticket items a little easier to swallow.
There are basically two adjustable workout factors on ellipticals, with the first being resistance. Resistance levels make pedaling harder, hence giving you a more intense workout. The more levels there are, the more variety you might have in your exercise. Typically, most machines have at least 12-15 resistance levels.
Incline levels are a bonus feature found on maybe just 20 to 30 percent of the machines out there. Pedaling on an incline is great because it recruits more muscle groups in your legs. Keep in mind that an incline usually indicates a separate motor in the machine, which could, in turn, require more maintenance.
Yes, you can just hop on a machine and get going, adjusting the resistance on your own. However, there are experts who put together workout modes that help you reach your fitness goals, such as fat burning programs that have you exercising at about 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. Quality ellipticals will come with at least a few built-in programs, ranging from interval programs to hill workouts to heart rate-based exercise.
You can find machines that go the extra mile with interactive programming through apps, like NordicTrack’s iFit membership or the Bowflex Explore the World app. These are almost like having a personal trainer in your home because the app can automatically adjust the machine for you and customize workouts to your fitness level.
If you’re going to make a sizable investment in an elliptical, then that machine should be built to last. Look for a heavy flywheel, at about 20 pounds or more. Heavy flywheels help keep the machine from rocking all over the place. Also consider the weight capacity of a machine. Cheap cardio equipment sometimes can’t even accommodate a full-grown adult. Make sure the equipment you’re buying can hold your weight.
The price tag goes up with the more you add on, but some conveniences almost feel necessary. For example, having a water bottle holder and a console that shows workout metrics should be the bare minimum. On the higher end, you’ll find 14-inch HD touchscreens and cooling fans. There are also machines that have:
You don’t really ever want to be comfortable in a workout, right? You should be at least a little outside your comfort zone. However, you also don’t want a machine that puts your body in ergonomically unsound positions. On an elliptical, make sure that the stride length matches your height. Generally speaking, a 20-inch stride accommodates people between 5’3” and 6’5”. If you fall outside this range on either end, you might look for either an adjustable stride or a different size.
Other ergonomic considerations:
What is the best elliptical for home use?
Plainly speaking, the best elliptical is the one you’re going to use. I really like the Bowflex Max Trainer M6, but you have to consider your needs. Find a machine that is going to help you reach your fitness goals, either through having guided programming, or being in your price range, or offering the conveniences that make your workout enjoyable.
Are ellipticals bad for you?
Ellipticals are great for low-impact cardio exercise. They get your heart pumping, burn calories and work your muscle groups. What they won’t do is build muscle. In order to build muscle, you need to be lifting weights. However, ellipticals can be a great cardio complement to your strength training routine.
Is it OK to do the elliptical every day?
Because they are lower-impact, being on the elliptical might be just fine for you. Ultimately, you should discuss any workout regimen with your physician or physical therapist. As long as you aren’t keeping the intensity high, and you work in some moderate or easy days, you could do an elliptical workout just about every day.
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