Elliptical Trainers: Our Buying Guide
Along with treadmills, elliptical trainers provide an optimal setting for superior cardio exercising, engaging multiple groups of muscles in the back, arms, lower body, but putting the main focus on the legs and buttocks. Actually, an elliptical workout session, especially if the machine is set on a higher resistance and/or incline setting, promotes a physiological response and a number of calories burned, pretty close to a treadmill.
On the other hand, elliptical machines are known to provide a non-impact cardiovascular workout, which comes with specific benefits. So, determine whether or not an elliptical trainer is the exact exercising machine that you need, first let’s have a look at the whole range of benefits they can provide.
Table of Contents
- 1 Benefits of Elliptical Trainers
- 2 Features To Look For In An Elliptical Trainer
- 3 Other Aspects To Consider Before Buying An Elliptical Machine
- 4 A Few Of The Top Brands And Recommendations
- 5 Our Best Recommendations by Price
- 6 Final Pick: The Best Elliptical Trainer for Home Use
- 7 Final Thoughts
Benefits of Elliptical Trainers
To begin with, ellipticals simulate walking, running or stair climbing, but since there isn’t any direct foot strike involved, the impact on the joints is extremely low, or actually non-existent. Thus, if you recover from an injury, or simply have bad knees for example, an elliptical is the best choice for an exercising machine.
Many people have the wrong idea that elliptical training machines are just for women, or that they only promote light exercising. That’s quite a misconception, as they can provide highly challenging workouts. Just as treadmills, they are a great choice for improving stamina. On top of that, since the workout impact is alleviated, you can undertake longer sessions.
Elliptical trainers are great calorie burners. You can actually burn up to 1000 calories per hour, depending on the training programs used, intensity and incline. This being said, ellipticals are great for losing weight. Also, due to their low impact, they may be even more appropriate for heavier users. All that weight puts a lot of pressure on the joints and spine, and even if you don’t have any problems of the sort, the risk of an injury is increased if running on a treadmill or outdoors. Ellipticals eliminate this risk.
Ellipticals promote a correct exercising posture. They actually force you a little bit in adopting the right posture for your workout, preventing slouching. When running on a treadmill, for example, you can easily neglect your posture without even noticing, which can lead to all kinds of strains.
Running for at least 30 minutes a day, or at least walking a minimum of 7-8,000 steps, not only that it keeps you in shape or helps you lose weight, it promotes a whole series of other health benefits. For example, it keeps various detrimental health conditions or diseases at bay, such as diabetes, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and triglycerides levels, stroke etc. After a several hours working session at a desk, a running or walking session is very important, as it reestablishes the electric activity of muscles, promoting the correct muscle tone. Also, your lungs and heart are put to work, which leads to the proper oxygenation of the blood.
Along with the health and fitness oriented benefits, ellipticals do offer several other advantages. First of all, investing in one can help you save money on expensive gym fees or any other related costs to attending a gym. Second of all, you will be working out from the comfort of your home, while watching your favorite shows on TV, or your favorite streams online. On top of that, just by having the machine in your home can play the role of a motivation factor. You simply see it there and remember that you have to workout and stay healthy.
An elliptical machine is considerably quiet when compared to a treadmill for example since the thumping sound generated by each foot strike is inexistent. And lastly, an elliptical or treadmill can be a great alternative to running outside, in case it is winter, or simply the weather conditions aren’t exactly the most appropriate for jogging or walking.
Features To Look For In An Elliptical Trainer
Based on the location of the motor (or drive system), there are three types of elliptical trainers: front-driven, rear-driven and center-driven. The first models of ellipticals were actually rear-driven. As terminology suggests, for rear-driven ellipticals, the motor and the drive wheel are
located at the back of the machine, while the footplates are situated slightly forward. Rear-driven ellipticals, tend to be bulkier, heavier, and more costly. But they also feature fewer mobile parts and joints, which may result in less maintenance.
Front-driven ellipticals are the second generation design. They have the drive wheel and the whole drive mechanism at the front, directly connected with the handlebar and console. At the moment these are the most widespread elliptical trainers. Some of the most advanced ones may still be cheaper than similar models with rear-drive. As opposed to center and rear drive models, the front-driven ones enable the user to lean forward slightly as they step. In some models, the motion is more similar to climbing stairs than walking, without any incline being involved.
When it comes to center-driven ellipticals, there are two distinctive types: one with the motor between the footplates, and one with each footplate having its own smaller motor on its side. The first category of machines tends to be more compact, less sophisticated, less bulky and typically cheaper. The second category of center-driven trainers are built to distribute the weight of the user on a superior level. They’re also quieter, and pedaling is very smooth. Also, they typically provide stride adjustability, and in general they’re pretty costly.
Now, regardless of its drive system, a quality elliptical should fulfill its purpose accordingly, providing the specific walking/running motion, with the lowest impact possible. However, there are several other, more important factors than the location of the drive system to consider.
This is actually one of the most important aspects to look out for when buying an elliptical machine. That’s because it’s strictly related to the comfort that the machine can provide to you, and also reflects the diversity of workout possibilities. Your average elliptical offers a stride between 14″ and 17″, which promotes an optimal workout for just about any user. However, in case you want to increase the intensity of the workout, you won’t be able to benefit from an ampler motion. On the other hand, elliptical trainers which provide a longer stride, cca 21″-22″, can cover the whole spectrum of motion, from walking to running.
Stride adjustability is a great feature to have in an elliptical. However, most models that boast such a feature aren’t exactly the cheapest. So, if your budget doesn’t fit to one of the models with an adjustable stride that you want, at least opt for one that offers a longer stride.
Another aspect strictly connected to the stride of a trainer is the distance between the footplates. They should be as close together as possible, in order to supply a natural walking or running motion. If they are too far apart, they will cause unnecessary stress on ankles, knees or hip joints, which can result in soreness, pain or even injury.
Not all ellipticals feature an incline system. In general, it’s a feature found only with the more expensive units. There are two types of incline: manual and automatic. For manual incline, the
machine usually doesn’t offer more than 1-4 levels, and the adjusting of the slope is done manually, by typically moving a lever and securing the incline parts in place for the desired angle. Also, in order to adjust the incline, you must interrupt your workout and step off the machine. A good example of elliptical with a manual incline is the ProForm Endurance 520 E.
On the other hand, ellipticals with an automatic incline feature an additional motor that controls the slope. The incline levels advance from degree to degree, the machine supplying multiple levels of incline, in some cases up to 30. The incline is done from the console, and it can be done while you’re actively working out on the machine. Evidently, models with automatic incline are more expensive.
In terms of ergonomics, there are several aspects to look at when it comes to ellipticals. The first ones refer to the footplates. As I mentioned above, they should have an adequate distance between them, and not be too far apart from one another. Second of all, especially if you recover from an injury, it’s best to look for ellipticals with articulating footplates. These adjust slightly with each step, making the motion more comfortable. A ribbed design of the footplate is also a plus, as it improves adherence of the foot during the workout. And finally, even though most ellipticals offer footplates spacious enough, it’s important not to overlook this aspect, to make sure your feet will have enough room.
The hand grips of an elliptical have a lot to say about its ergonomics. In general, the more grips they offer, the better. This gives you the possibility to change the position of your grip and the placement of your hand, and evidently adjust the workout. Not only it improves comfort, it also enriches the spectrum of workout possibilities.
There are elliptical machines which have a fixed handlebar as well, along with the moving hand grips. This particular feature gives you the possibility to exercise while focusing only on your legs. It may also be quite useful to users who require a rehabilitation training program.
Many ellipticals feature pulse sensors incorporated within the fixed handlebar or mobile hand grips (or both). These don’t necessarily increase the price of the machine by a lot. Actually, there are quite affordable models which offer this feature, such as the Exerpeutic 1000XL. Even though a feature of this nature isn’t exactly an ergonomic factor, it sure is useful, especially for elderly users, or users who require monitoring their heart rate as they exercise.
Other factors that fall into the ergonomics category, refer to various amenities, such as sound systems, cooling fans, tablet or phone holders, bottle holders etc. Most of these amenities are incorporated in the machine’s console.
Depending on elliptical, the progress tracking consoles may be more or less sophisticated. The most affordable ellipticals come with a basic progress tracking console. These usually track speed,
distance, calories burned, and time spent exercising. Some of them also have an odometer function, which indicates the complete distance traveled beginning with the first use of the elliptical. Evidently, if the elliptical has pulse sensors, the console will also indicate pulse.
Most of the more advanced elliptical machines offer a variety of preset workout programs, which automatically adjust the resistance and incline. They also have features such as goal setting and tracking, race track function, step counter, various motivational alarms and others. Along with these features, there are elliptical exercisers which offer you the possibility to import/export your workout data, and upload/download from various sites, in order to analyze your progress better. Of course, each and every additional function of this sort will add up to the final price of the machine. Some of them may not seem really necessary to you, but they’re all meant to render your workout experience more enjoyable, and may also serve as motivating factors.
Other Aspects To Consider Before Buying An Elliptical Machine
If the elliptical training machine you have under your scope has wheels and rails involved with the drive system, keep an eye out for bigger wheels, or double rail/wheel systems. These increase the steadiness of the stepping and the smoothness of the ride.
Evidently, each elliptical machine has its share of ball bearings, locked out of sight, as components of the main mobile parts of the drive system. But most of the top-quality models incorporate bearings in the joints of the arms and lateral leg-arms of the machine. Presence of bearings reflects a smoother motion, and quieter as well, since parts including ball bearings are less prone to squeak.
Like most exercising machines, ellipticals come in different shapes and sizes. Some of them have a relatively small footprint, around 38″ (L) x 26″ (W). Usually, this small footprint is characteristic to some of the most affordable models, with a center drive system, such as the Sunny SF-E905, for example. On the other hand, there are ellipticals which can take quite some space, such as the SOLE E35, which has a length of 83″. Along with these dimensions, the machines also require some clearance on the sides and at the back, for safety reasons. Therefore, prior to purchasing a trainer for your home, it’s a good idea to double check your available space.
The elevation is another important aspect to consider here. Some of the ellipticals, especially the ones with an incline, can render an elevation of the user, of up to 25″. Therefore, especially if you’re a taller user, ceiling height in the room you want to use the machine, may be an issue. Have that checked and double checked as well.
Maximum user weight
Almost every exercising machine available on the market has its supported weight specified. Needless to say, it’s important to choose one that covers your own weight. Even if the elliptical you’re looking at has a very sturdy design, and you’ll find user comments on various sites stating that it can hold more than it’s specified for, it’s still a bad idea to invest in a machine which isn’t listed to support your weight. In this case, if the machine breaks, you won’t benefit from your warranty.
Warranty is usually a quality indicator for many products. This stands for elliptical trainers as well. To be sure you are investing in a quality elliptical, you should be looking for at least 10 years warranty on frame, and 2 years on parts.
Budget and pricing
In regards to trainers, prices can range between $200 and $5,000, or even more. The truth is, there are plenty of decent models, between $250 and $700. Even the most basic models, offering few amenities and workout programs, can still provide the optimal setting for a daily elliptical workout. But on the other hand, the most advanced units, not only that cover all the comfort features, they’re also longer-lasting.
A Few Of The Top Brands And Recommendations
Schwinn is actually a brand well-known for they bicycles. They offer quite a range of outdoor bikes, but they also sell several home and commercial fitness equipment. They currently provide five models of elliptical machines, with prices ranging between $399 and $999. One of their main focus is to combine the best price and quality with their trainers, and so far they’ve done a great job at this.
The Schwinn MY17 470 is one of the newest ellipticals from Schwinn, released at the beginning of 2017. So far, it is one of the best Schwinn ellipticals, offering an exceptional price/value ratio. To begin with, it has an eddy current resistance system with 25 tension levels, automatic incline, and offers a weight capacity of 300 lbs. Its console not only that is equipped with amenities such as a sound system, cooling fan, and a tablet holder, it also offers 29 workout programs, and is Bluetooth enabled… Read Full Review.
Nautilus is a marketer, developer, and manufacturer for different fitness equipment brands, such as Schwinn Fitness, Bowflex or Universal, but nonetheless, they have their own line of fitness equipment. The company has been an American Heart Association Fit-Friendly company beginning with 2010, and so far, there are several elliptical trainer models under this brand name.
The Nautilus E614 is one of their best trainers at the moment. Although it’s an older model (2013) it’s still available today and still continues to benefit from a positive feedback from all users. It features a motor-assisted magnetic resistance system with 20 tension levels. It has a manual incline that offers 6 ramp levels. Its console offers 22 workout programs, also being equipped with a sound system, cooling fan, and other amenities, plus, it has a USB port so you can transfer your workout data to NautilusConnect or MyFitnessPal… Read Full Review.
ProForm is one of the most popular brands, known especially for their indoor exercise bikes, treadmills and ellipticals. It’s part of Icon Health & Fitness which is the world’s largest manufacturer of fitness and exercising equipment at the moment. Even though the company started with products designed exclusively for home use, nowadays they sell gym-rated equipment, designed for commercial use.
At the moment, ProForm offers quite an array of ellipticals, with prices ranging from $349 and up to $1,999, with strides ranging from 13″ to 21″.
The ProForm Endurance 520 E, is one of their top-rated elliptical exercising machines. Even though it’s not one of the top-dollar models, and only has a manual incline, this particular elliptical benefits from a lot of positivity from the wide majority of home users. It’s a front-drive machine, very solidly built, with a pretty advanced console for the price, offering an impressive pack of preset programs…Read Full Review.
Amongst the other types of exercising equipment they provide, SOLE Fitness simply excels when it comes to elliptical trainers. They currently offer 6 models, ranging from $799 and up to $1,999. Their trainers cover the whole spectrum of training that can be achieved on a machine of this sort. All their models offer dual motion, forward and in reverse, power incline, and strides between 18″ and 22″.
The SOLE E95 is currently one of the best-rated ellipticals from this brand, an absolute “Best Buy” and awarded as “Best Elliptical” even if classified with various other $2,000 other models. This is most definitely a heavy-duty machine, rated for users up to 400 lbs. It has one of the heaviest flywheels for an elliptical, with a weight of 34 lbs, offering plenty of resistance and one of the smoothest rides. It covers a wide selection of fitness-oriented features and amenities. Has an adjustable stride, of 20″-22″, and power incline… Read Full Review.
Our Best Recommendations by Price
For the final part of this page, we’re going to put into view some recommendations by price. And when it comes to price, elliptical trainers can actually be divided into four major categories:
- under $200 – basic machines and gliders, made for home use;
- between $200 and $500 – also trainers for home use, but with a sturdier build and more workout applications;
- between $500 and $1,000 – trainers within the light-commercial range of specs or pretty close to it;
- over $1,000 – elliptical trainers featuring a very sturdy construction and a wide array of training applications.
Therefore, here are 3 recommendations for each price interval:
Price: Under $200
Most of the Efitment equipment is relatively new, dating from 2017, so many of the items of fitness equipment available under this brand name don’t have a wide array of user reviews. However, the Efitment E005 elliptical trainer is one of the machines that has gathered an impressive amount of 5-star user reviews, and therefore it simply has to be on our recommendation list.
To begin with, the Efitment 005 is a light-capacity trainer, made for users only up to 220 lbs. It features a rear drive and a manual magnetic resistance system. It offers 8 resistance settings and is equipped with a console which is a bit above the basic models as it can track your pulse. The console unit is not telemetric, though, so it can only track your pulse via the sensors in the machine’s handlebars… Read Full Review.
The ProGear 360 is an “air walker” elliptical trainer which means that it doesn’t have any resistance system. However, as opposed to conventional elliptical trainers it allows you to vary your stride as much as you like. Therefore, you can exercise at a small pace or push your stride to the limits in order to obtain a more consistent workout. Also, it allows you to extend your legs sideways, a feature that many standard ellipticals don’t have.
This ProGear elliptical trainer is a light capacity model; it can support users only up to 225 lbs. However, it features a folding frame, while its fixed handlebars integrate pulse sensors. It’s equipped with a small fitness meter which doesn’t have any preset workout programs but monitors your distance, calories, time, step count, and pulse… Read Full Review.
Although the extended title of this particular elliptical machine suggests that it’s a “heavy-duty” one, it’s far from the sturdiness of gym-class models. It also supplies a rather short stride, of 13″, which it’s not adjustable, these aspects placing it into the category of models that can only offer a “stroll ride” at a small pace, in other words, a light workout. On the other hand, it can support users up to 300 lbs and has quite a decent construction.
It’s a machine with manual magnetic resistance, pretty quiet and easy to use. Like most other models in this price interval, it comes with a basic console, for tracking speed, time, scan, calories, and pulse. It has two sets of bars, for mobile action and for fixed action, the fixed ones featuring built-in pulse sensors… Read Full Review.
Price: $200 – $500
The Gazelle Supreme is also an air-walker type of elliptical, similar to the ProGear 360. However, this model doesn’t allow you to extend your legs to the side, but when it comes to stride there are no limits; you should be able to maximize the length of your pace during your workout.
The Gazelle Supreme offers a weight capacity of 300 lbs, which is rather impressive for an exerciser of this type. It also has a resistance system. It comes with two hydraulic cylinders which you can attach to the mobile arms of the machine to add tension to the workout. The cylinders don’t have adjustments or “clicks”. You simply can exercise with them attached for more resistance, or disconnected, for a lighter workout. This being said, the trainer offers two levels of resistance. There’s also an exercise meter included with this Gazelle trainer; this unit tracks speed, distance, time, pulse, and calories… Read Full Review.
The Body Power BFX8000 is a friction resistance elliptical trainer, similar to the Sunny SF-E2310. It’s equipped with a large flywheel which is considerably heavy for an elliptical trainer. The flywheel precision balanced, steel-made wheel, which delivers a steady and consistent momentum. The machine’s resistance functions in a similar way to most spin bikes. It consists of a felt pad attached to the tension dial on top of the frame. As you tighten the dial, the pad applies more friction to the flywheel.
Despite its sturdy aspect and steel construction, the Body Power BFX8000 only has a weight capacity of 250 lbs. It delivers a maximum stride length of 13″. It’s equipped with an exercise meter that can track time, speed, distance, and calories, but also gives you the possibility to select countdown target goals for time, distance, and calories… Read Full Review.
The ASUNA 4300 elliptical trainer is made by Sunny Health & Fitness. Just as the other ASUNA products, it’s a machine that offers a heavier construction than the other Sunny models in this price range, and also comes with a 5-year warranty for the frame.
The Sunny ASUNA 4300 is one of the most affordable trainers with a motorized magnetic resistance system. It offers 16 tension levels. The lower resistance settings are fairly light, great for recovery training or for elderly users, while the top levels do offer the possibilities of more intense workouts. The machine is equipped with a mid-range console which offers 5 preset workouts, a Recovery function, and a BMI… Read Full Review.
Price: $200 – $500
In general, Schwinn offers only top-quality fitness equipment, and when it comes to ellipticals, there’s no exception. The best price/quality ratio is offered by the Schwinn MY16 430, as its price is only a little above $500, but offers almost as many features as the commercial, gym models. Also, this model is one of the newest from Schwinn, released in the second part of 2016.
The Schwinn MY16 430 is a trainer with automatic magnetic resistance, featuring 20 tension levels and 22 onboard programs. Needless to say, it’s quite a sturdy machine, being able to support users up to 300 lbs. Pedals feature cushioning, while the fixed handlebars incorporate sensors for pulse reading. This model is also equipped with an incline system, but just as for the ProForm 520, its incline system is manual. It has a standard 20″ stride… Read Full Review.
The MY17 470 is one of the newest ellipticals from Schwinn, released at the beginning of 2017. It’s a more inclusive version of the MY16 430. So far, it actually stands better than the 430 model as it benefits from more positive reviews than it.
As opposed to the 430 model, the Schwinn MY17 470 offers an automatic incline system, 25 levels of eddy current resistance, and a more performant console, which has 29 workout application, plus, it’s Bluetooth enabled. The Bluetooth feature allows you to sync the machine with your smartphone or tablet, in order to directly stream your workout data to the Schwinn Trainer app or to Schwinn Connect, MyFitnessPal, and Under Armour Connected Fitness… Read Full Review.
The Nautilus E614 is a model similar in design and specs to the Schwinn 430. In fact, they’re almost the same machine. It costs a little more than the Schwinn model though, but pretty much the only difference is the construction of the front base. This model features a front base consisting of a triangular tube with rubber feet, while the Schwinn has a cylindrical tube base, with caps on the ends, rather than feet.
Nonetheless, the Nautilus E614 is also an excellent fitness machine, with a solid build, and quiet, eddy current brake, with 20 levels of resistance. The onboard programs are 22 in number, also offering 2 user profiles for multiple users. The console on this machine is quite a multifunctional unit, including 3-speed fan, sound system, tablet rack, and a dual LCD monitor combo… Read Full Review.
Price: Over $1000
Although the XTERRA Fitness FS5.9e doesn’t have any online connectivity features, it does have the construction and range of features of a light-commercial model. To begin with, it offers an impressive weight capacity of 400 lbs. It’s equipped with a motorized incline system which offers 20 levels of incline. It uses a motorized resistance system which also makes available 20 distinct levels of resistance, delivering light to intense workout possibilities.
In terms of console, the one included with this XTERRA elliptical trainer can be considered a mid-range one. It features a 7.5″ diagonal LCD display, with blue LED backlight. It shows RPM, speed, time, distance, laps, calories, heart rate, the current resistance level, and the current incline level. It has 20 workout programs including 15 preset, 2 custom, 2 heart rate, and the manual mode… Read Full Review.
The Horizon Fitness Evolve 3 benefits so far from a decent amount of 5-star reviews on various retailer and fitness websites, despite the fact that it doesn’t have an incline system. However, it still is a heavy-duty machine with a maximum user weight capacity of 300 lbs. The length of its stride is 20″ (51 cm), which means that the machine can accommodate comfortably users between 5’2″ (152 cm) and 6’2″ (190 cm).
The main advantages of the Evolve 3 elliptical are its ViaFit™ and Passport™ capabilities. It has Wi-Fi connectivity and allows you to stream your workout data directly into your ViaFit account for better tracking. Passport is a Virtual Active technology which can make your workout more enjoyable, providing high-definition footage from various places around the world, with coordinated ambient sounds. However, even if you won’t be using ViaFit or Passport, the machine still offers 32 pre-set workouts… Read Full Review.
Just about any elliptical trainer over the mark of $1000 should offer a solid construction, at least a fair amount of onboard workout apps, shock-absorbing pedals, power incline, and of course, a higher user capacity. The Sole Fitness E35 is actually one of the most affordable ellipticals that fit this category. It’s a model with a front drive system, and the incline situated at the rear. It actually offers an incline up to 30°, which also adjusts the stride between 20″ and 22″.
One of the best aspects with regards to this Sole trainer is that it has a double gliding rail on each side, supplying a much smoother and stable feel during workouts. Needless to say, this machine comes with a multifunction console, with a built-in cooling fan, sound system, and other comfort factors… Read Full Review.
Final Pick: The Best Elliptical Trainer for Home Use
Although the Schwinn MY17 470 doesn’t have a clean 5-star rating sheet (it currently stands at an average rating of 4-4.5-stars on most retailers and fitness websites), it still remains our top selection for 2018. That’s because it offers an exceptional price/value ratio, and a construction and weight capacity pretty close to light-commercial models. It’s also one of the newest fitness machines from Schwinn; it was released at the beginning of 2017.
As opposed to the older Schwinn 470 (which is still available, by the way), it features a console with an interface that is more user-friendly and also has Bluetooth connectivity, being compatible with the “Schwinn Trainer” app. This trainer has an eddy current resistance system, offering 25 resistance levels and 29 workout programs. It also has an automatic incline system, offering a ramp up to 10°.
There are actually very few aspects that keep this trainer out of the commercial category. These are its 300 lbs weight capacity (while commercial trainers offer a greater capacity) and its non-adjustable stride. However, it offers a stride of 20″ which can accommodate users up to 6’3″… Read Full Review.
Choosing a fitness machine to use in the comfort of your home may not be quite an easy task, as there are many types out there, which can supply a similar training setting. But if you’re looking for one that can supply a great aerobic training and help you lose weight with a minimal impact on the joints, an elliptical trainer is an excellent choice. Therefore, if you’ve decided upon this type of exercising machine, the selection of models we’ve pointed out in this post should help serve you as a starting point for choosing the model that fits perfectly to your needs and budget.