Elliptical machines are great for delivering a full-body workout experience. They'll help you hit upper- and lower-body muscles with minimal impact on your knees, hips, and ankle joints, while also providing a cardio workout nearly on par with a vigorous outdoor run.
Much like indoor exercise bikes or rowing machines, elliptical trainers use a resistance system. This gives you control over how difficult it will feel to move the pedals and handlebars during your workout. Generally, a machine's resistance ranges from 8 to 26 levels. Many ellipticals also let you adjust the incline to add more intensity to your workout.
Elliptical machines can cost anywhere from under $200 to upwards of $2,000. It's probably not surprising that the machines with more features and top brand recognition tend to come with higher prices. Almost all elliptical machines feature a monitor of some type to track your progress, such as speed, distance, heart rate, and calories burned. Some include preset workout programs that you can choose for a more varied exercise routine. Others have high-tech features such as Bluetooth connectivity, speakers, touchscreen monitors, or compatibility with specific training apps.
Elliptical machine buying guide
Cost and size are usually the two factors that immediately come to mind when shopping for an exercise machine. But in order to pick the right elliptical trainer for you, keep in mind the following:
• Flywheel. Most elliptical trainers feature a drive system or flywheel. This mechanism is what allows the pedals and handles to move, and it ultimately controls how smooth the elliptical runs during use.
Broadly speaking, heavier flywheels deliver a smoother and quieter performance than lighter flywheels, because the additional weight allows for a more efficient spin. This, of course, influences cost, and elliptical trainers with heavier flywheels generally retail for a higher price.
A magnetic flywheel uses magnets for resistance instead of friction. This system provides benefits such as better control over intensity, a wider range of resistance, and a quieter workout.
• Stride length. An elliptical machine’s stride length — the measurement between pedals when they’re at their farthest distance from one another — is one of its most important specifications.
Elliptical trainers offer stride lengths from 11” up to 22”. To ensure a comfortable and effective workout, it’s important you pick an elliptical with the stride length that corresponds to your walking stride. Your height will determine the best stride length for you.
One easy way to calculate the ideal stride length, according to EllipticalHub, is to multiply your height in inches by .25. In general, users between 5’4” and 5’10” should choose a stride length of 15” to 18”, while taller users should look for a machine with a stride length of 19” or more to get the most out of workouts.
• Warranty. Many elliptical brands offer warranties — most commonly, a lifetime frame warranty, along with some type of parts and labor coverage. Sometimes they include separate coverage for electronic parts for machines with high-tech features. If they don’t specify it, you can always ask if that’s included with their parts warranty. In general, you should aim for at least a 10-year frame warranty, 3-year warranty for parts, and 1-year warranty for labor.
Best elliptical machines
1. Editor’s pick: Sole Fitness E25 Elliptical Machine
Resistance: 20 levels | Size: 70”L x 24”W x 64”H | Weight Capacity: 350 lbs | Stride Length: 20”
A safe workout is key, and that’s where the Sole E25 stands out. It features a unique two-degree inward foot pedal designed to reduce strains on knee, hip, and ankle joints, as recommended by physical therapists.
However, the Sole E25 offers more than comfort. It features a 20-pound magnetic flywheel that delivers 20 different resistance and incline levels and a stride length of 20”, making it appropriate for a variety of users, including those over 5’10”. It also has four rear wheels that add better stability and reduce side-to-side motion.
Although the E25 only features six preset workouts, it does offer two heart-rate-based programs and two options for custom user-designed routines. Additionally, you can use the E25’s Bluetooth capacity to connect with the Sole Fitness app. This allows users to upload each session’s data and share it with other fitness apps, such as Apple Health or FitBit.
The brand backs its products with a lifetime frame warranty, a 3-year warranty for electronics and parts, and 1-year warranty for labor.
2. Best for low prices: Sunny Health & Fitness SF-E905 Elliptical Machine
Resistance: 8 levels | Size: 28”L x 17”W x 57”H | Weight Capacity: 220 lbs | Stride Length: 11”
There are a few reasons why the Sunny Magnetic Elliptical SF-E905 is one of the best affordable elliptical machine options. First, it’s equipped with a magnetic flywheel, which offers better resistance and a quieter workout experience than air-based models. Second, it features stationary and moving handlebars, an 8-level resistance tension knob, a pulse sensor, and a digital monitor for tracking your workout progress. Third, it’s compact and space-efficient, with built-in wheels that make it easy to move around.
The SF-E905 has two potential drawbacks, however. The first one is its 11” stride length, which may feel uncomfortable for taller users. The second is that it doesn’t have a reversible stride. While you could do without it, going backwards adds more variety to your workout and is great for strengthening hamstrings and calves.
If you’re looking for an alternative that's about $90 cheaper, there’s the Sunny Health & Fitness SF-E902 Air Walk Trainer. Even though this model doesn’t include a flywheel like the SF-E905, it’s foldable, lightweight, and features a digital monitor and a 30” stride length.
3. Best 2-in-1 elliptical machine: ProForm Hybrid Trainer
Resistance: 16 levels | Size: 70.5”L x 24.5”W x 60.5”H | Weight Capacity: 350 lbs | Stride Length: 15”
If what you want is versatility, the ProForm Hybrid Trainer delivers the benefits of an elliptical trainer and a recumbent bike.
Retailing for about $500, the ProForm is equipped with 16 different resistance levels and is easily adjustable for cross-training. It has flippable pedals (which allow you to switch between elliptical and recumbent mode), a sliding seat, and a tablet holder. The ProForm Hybrid is also iFit-enabled and includes a 30-day free membership to the service.
Its 15” stride length, however, is not the best option for people taller than 6’.
4. Best under-desk elliptical: Stamina InMotion E1000 Compact Strider
Size: 24.5”L x 17”W x 11.38”H | Weight Capacity: 250 lbs
If you spend long hours behind a desk or you’d like to do some light cardio while working, watching TV, or playing video games, the Stamina InMotion E1000 might be for you. This compact pedal elliptical is easily stored under your desk and can be used either sitting or standing up. It features a small monitor to track the number of strides, exercise time, and calories burned. It also has a knob for adjusting resistance, though it doesn’t specify the number of levels. Keep in mind, however, that the Stamina InMotion is not a full-body workout machine, but rather a way to stay active while you do something else.
There are a few drawbacks to the Stamina InMotion, though, the first being that it doesn’t include handlebars or provide any upper body workout. The absence of handlebars might feel uncomfortable for some people too. Additionally, while it’s advertised as being quiet, some users have reported it makes a squeaky noise.
A similar alternative is the Stamina InMotion Compact Strider with Cords. What sets this model apart from the E1000 is the addition of two resistance bands, which are great for an upper-body workout.
5. Best folding elliptical: NordicTrack Spacesaver SE7i Elliptical Trainer
Resistance: 22 levels | Size: 67”L x 32”W x 80”H | Weight Capacity: 325 lbs | Stride Length: 18”
If saving space is a major concern, a folding elliptical like the NordicTrack Spacesaver SE7i might be the answer. This mid-range ergonomic elliptical is designed with a small footprint of approximately 32” x 28” when folded.
The SE7i features a rear-magnetic drive that offers 22 different levels of resistance and a 10% adjustable incline, adding more variables to your low-impact workout. The Spacesaver is also equipped with iFit Coach technology and a one-year family subscription to the service (a $396 value) if you purchase directly from NordicTrack. This means that, with a Bluetooth compatible smartphone or tablet, you get access to an extensive library of personalized and interactive workouts for more than just ellipticals.
If you don’t want to keep iFit once the free subscription is over, you can still use any of the SE7i’s 24 built-in preset workouts. NordicTrack also offers a good warranty for the Spacesaver SE7i — 10 years for the frame, two years for parts and one year for labor.
6. Best for outdoors: ElliptiGo’s RSUB
Resistance: 8 levels | Total Length: 74.4″ in. | Operating Height: 43.3-49.6″ in. | Weight Capacity: 300 lbs
The ElliptiGo RSUB is a great option for outdoor enthusiasts. Although not a traditional elliptical trainer, this stand-up bike combines the full-body and quadriceps workout you’d expect from both an elliptical and a traditional bike.
It has an adjustable steering tube and offers 8 different gear/speeds for 8 resistance levels. As expected, it’s extremely portable — weighing a little bit over 30 pounds, it fits easily onto a car rack or the trunk of a compact SUV. This gives you the freedom of burning calories in your favorite places, whether it’s a park, trails, or hilly paved roads.