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Shopping Guide for Best Elliptical Machines

Busy schedules, family obligations, and simple lack of motivation are among the most frequent self-improvement saboteurs. Owning a good piece of gym equipment can significantly increase your odds of staying on track and reaching your personal fitness goals, whatever they may be.

Offering a well-balanced, low impact workout, elliptical machines are the perfect solution for anyone who's interested in improving their fitness levels, and overall well being, in the comfort of their own home. If you've made the decision to invest in your health by purchasing an elliptical machine, but have no idea where to start, we're here to help.

At BestReviews, our goal is to help consumers find the best products available on the market by providing the most accurate, informative, and objective product reviews around. We also consult with specialists, such as our fitness expert, Denise, for product and use advice.

Elliptical machines stand out for their ability to provide a total body workout.

Our rigorous selection process involves a combination of thorough research, expert guidance, consumer feedback and lab testing. We never accept free manufacturer samples, so you can have complete confidence that our reviews are 100% free from bias.

To help take the guesswork out of choosing the best elliptical machine for your needs, we’ve identified the qualities that matter most, and chosen our top five accordingly.

In our guide below, we’ve mapped out every step needed to find the perfect elliptical machine to help speed you along on your journey of self-improvement.

In a hurry? Jump straight to our top five contenders above to make your selection — we've already broken down the key points of each for your convenience.

Denise
EXPERT CONSULTANT

Denise has a background in healthcare and physical therapy. She also has the unique experience of raising three boys. Through the years, she has coached her sons and many of their friends through their share of childhood health problems and accidents. When not helping others recover from their injuries, you may find Denise working in her garden or reading.


Denise  |  Health Care Professional

Why Choose An Elliptical Machine?

When purchasing a piece of fitness equipment for your home, one of the biggest challenges can be figuring out which one to choose. Treadmills, exercise bikes, rowing machines, home gyms, elliptical machines, and weight lifting equipment are just a handful of options — and none of them are cheap. Whether due to budgetary constraints or limited space, for many, it’s necessary to stick with a single piece of equipment.

Unfortunately, most exercise machines are designed for a specific purposes; usually categorized by cardiovascular conditioning or muscle building and strength training, and don't generally offer a comprehensive fitness solution. Moreover, many of these options aren't suitable for those with joint or back problems, and may end up doing more harm than good if used incorrectly.

Elliptical machines, also known as cross-trainers, are one of the few pieces of gym equipment that just about anyone can use safely. Not only that, but in terms of a well-balanced workout, elliptical machines offer more than most.

If you're still on the fence about which exercise machine best suits your needs, taking a quick look at various benefits of using an elliptical machine may add a bit of clarity.

Product in Depth

Product in Depth

Precor Commercial Series Adaptive w/Open Stride Tech

Adaptive and Comfortable

A person weighing up to 500 pounds can safely use the Precor AMT 835 while taking advantage of any of 20 resistance levels and three handlebar positions. Our consumer research reveals no problems with stride or resistance. Owners love the way this machine feels on the body! For some, it’s akin to “walking on the moon.”

Elliptical Machine Benefits

  • Anyone can use one. Elliptical machines are suitable for just about any age and fitness level.

  • They offer low impact exercise for joint health. Whether you suffer from arthritis, have osteoporosis, are recovering from knee surgery, or otherwise need to avoid impact, elliptical machines allow you to stay fit without risking injury caused by excessive joint strain.

  • Workouts are quick and effective. With a combination of moving handles and pedals, elliptical machines provide a total body workout by working the upper and lower body simultaneously. The legs, chest, shoulders, arms, and back muscles are all recruited to some degree, making it possible to squeeze in a full workout in as little as 20 minutes.

  • Benefits include cardiovascular health and weight loss. By increasing your heart rate, working out on an elliptical machine effectively burns calories, and by using your entire body you'll burn more calories in less time, potentially resulting in accelerated weight loss.

  • You can sculpt and strengthen muscles. Using an elliptical machine works a large variety of muscles, and you can increase resistance, adjust incline, or customize workouts for added intensity.

The reduced impact and pressure placed on the knees during exercise make elliptical machines a superior choice for those with joint issues. Remember to always consult with your doctor regarding safe practices when undertaking a new fitness regime.

Staff
BestReviews

Types Of Elliptical Machines

Elliptical cross-trainers are categorized by the placement of the flywheel. The flywheel acts as the drive system, providing movement in response to the pressure placed on the pedals, and may be located in the front, back, or center of the machine.

Types

Front Drive

With the flywheel positioned at the front of the machine, usually beneath the console, this design is generally more compact than other models. Not only that, they tend to be more affordable too, making them one of the most popular choices for home use. Using one of these may require a slight forward slant when working out, and the front-drive design produces an up and down pedaling motion similar to that of a stair climber. For a more natural motion, we recommend using a model with articulating pedals that move with your feet.

EXPERT TIP

When choosing an elliptical, keep in mind where in your house the machine will go. Even models with rubber padded legs will leave an indentation on your carpet, or scratch your hardwood floor. If you plan to place your elliptical on a bare floor, use an equipment mat.


Denise  | Health Care Professional
Types

Rear Drive

In this traditional design, the flywheel can be found at the back of the elliptical machine. These types are most favored for commercial use thanks to their even stride and low maintenance requirements. Rear-drive elliptical machines offer a balanced and natural walking or running motion. However, they also tend to be the most expensive, and take up considerably more space as well.

Types

Center Drive

The most recent addition to elliptical machine drive types, center drive ellipticals have a flywheel located on either side of the machine. While this drive type offers additional stability and a natural range of motion, they generally don't feature an incline option, and are often much pricier than other types.

DID YOU KNOW?

Many elliptical machines allow you to track the number of calories burned during each workout. Ensure that you enter your correct weight and height for accurate readings.

Types

Hybrid

The perfect solution for those who find themselves torn between an exercise bike and an elliptical machine, hybrid models have a seat, and may be used both sitting or standing.

While many hybrid elliptical machines feature a front drive configuration, the flywheel is usually situated closer to the pedals for added stability.

At the end of the day, everyone has their own configuration preferences, and it's impossible to say which is “best”.

A great elliptical machine is often one that meets your personal fitness, space, and budgetary needs, without sacrificing quality or safety.

EXPERT TIP

As with all workout equipment, be sure to stretch before and after in order to prevent injury.


Denise  | Health Care Professional

Factors to Consider When Choosing an Elliptical Machine

Elliptical machines can be found in a variety of designs, ranging from models that offer basic fitness functionality, to technologically advanced options with every imaginable convenience. Sometimes it's all too easy to lose sight of the qualities that matter most. Keeping the following points in mind when shopping for an elliptical machine can help you stay on track.

Considerations

Size

First and foremost, consider the size of your available space. To use your elliptical machine comfortably, you'll have to choose one that fits your designated area with room to spare. If you have limited space, a compact front or center drive elliptical machine may be your best bet. For those who simply can't afford to permanently sacrifice floor space, foldable elliptical machines are available. However, to improve their space-saving capability, these often drastically cut back on important features, stride length, and quality of construction materials.

Remember that your height will likely have an impact on the size as well. While the average elliptical machine measures around 6 feet long and 2.5 feet wide, if you're taller than most, a larger machine may be more suitable. Whatever the size, you'll need a minimum of 25 inches of unobstructed space on all sides for safe use.

Compact or folding elliptical machines are excellent space savers, but may not hold up to rigorous daily training.

Staff
BestReviews
Considerations

Flywheel Weight

For smooth, comfortable pedaling, a hefty flywheel is essential. Lighter flyweights are likely to produce erratic, jerky pedaling at any pace, making it impossible to reach a rhythmic stride. Not surprisingly, lighter flywheels offer little resistance, and require minimal effort to reach higher speeds, which certainly won't bring you any closer to reaching fitness goals. For the most comfortable and effective workouts, aim for flywheels weighing no less than 20 pounds.

Considerations

Ergonomics

While it's alway advisable to try an elliptical machine out before you buy, sometimes this just isn't possible. To ensure optimal comfort and productivity, look for features such as articulating pedals, adjustable stride length, easy to grip handles, and a reasonably weighted flywheel for smoother motion. Also, pedals with a narrower stance often feel more natural, and if you're taller than average don't forget to factor your height in when considering size.

EXPERT TIP

Make sure that your elliptical machine is sitting on top of a gym mat so that it does not slip and tip over when you are using it.


Denise  | Health Care Professional
Considerations

Stride Length

Frequently overlooked, the correct stride length is essential to a comfortable and effective workout.

Measured as the distance from the heel of the back pedal to the toe of the front pedal when fully extended, your optimal stride length will be determined by your height:

  • 16” to 18” will accommodate users of a height up to 5’3”.

  • 18” to 20” generally suits those measuring between 5’3” to 5’7”.

  • 20” to 22” or greater is required for taller individuals.
     

If you're purchasing an elliptical machine for multiple users of varying heights, either choose an elliptical machine with variable stride length, or aim for the highest fixed stride length possible. While you may pay more for adjustable stride length, it's well worth the added versatility.

DID YOU KNOW?

Increasing the resistance and incline levels on your elliptical machine will help tighten and tone lower body muscles.

Considerations

Workout Customization and Adjustable Settings

Every elliptical machine features adjustable resistance, but not all have customizable incline. The ability to adjust your workout intensity will not only keep things fresh and interesting, but also also ensure that your fitness levels are continuously improving. The best elliptical machines will allow you to adjust intensity levels directly from the console, without having to stop your workout to manually change settings.

Considerations

High-Tech Features and Convenience

Many modern elliptical machines have a range of desirable technological features. USB ports and built-in speakers can make exercising more enjoyable, while wireless connectivity and compatibility with your favorite fitness apps will help keep track of your workouts, and monitor your progress. Just remember that while extra features and shiny bells and whistles are enticing, these should always serve to optimize your workout, rather than act as a distraction.

EXPERT TIP

Be sure to stand up straight while using the elliptical machine, in order to protect your back from strain, as well as to improve your calorie burn.


Denise  | Health Care Professional

Price

The cost of an elliptical machine is influenced by several factors including size, features, brand, and overall quality.

  • $100 to $500: This price range generally offers basic models with sparse features and lower weight limits. To help ensure decent quality and durability, it's advisable to opt for a budget model from a reputable manufacturer.

  • $500 to $1,500: A number of decent options for home use may be found within this price bracket. These should include all the most essential features, and sometimes a few extras.

  • $1,500 to $3,000: For home use, most ellipticals in this price range offer an excellent balance of quality and convenient features.

  • $3,000 and higher: When it comes to commercial-grade elliptical machines, there are no budget shortcuts to high-quality, durable materials. An elliptical machine that costs upwards of $3,000 will not only be the most durable, but will undoubtedly have the most features and versatile user application as well.

Product in Depth

Product in Depth

NordicTrack C 7.5

Ergonomically Sound

Historically speaking, NordicTrack is a reputable manufacturer of exercise equipment. The C 7.5 is yet another example of the company's quality workmanship. This particular model offers 22 resistance levels that can be controlled with the touch of a button. We’ve heard from people over six feet tall who find this unit extremely comfortable, as well as those who are of a more average height. The maximum weight capacity is quoted by the manufacturer at 325 pounds.

Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Elliptical Machine

When using an elliptical machine, there are a few handy techniques that can be used to maximize your workout potential.

  • Consciously tightening your abdominal muscles will help strengthen your core, and ensure you maintain proper form.

  • Many models have stationary handles situated between the moving handles. Forget these exist! Opt for a total body workout instead by using the moving handles.

  • Challenge yourself by increasing resistance levels. Weight loss as well as fitness gains will stall as your body adapts.

  • Mix it up! Alternating between shorter, more intense bursts of pedaling for around 60 seconds, followed by a slower steady pace for 90 seconds has been shown burn more calories.

If you're a beginner, it may be a good idea to start with a more affordable model. You can always upgrade to a more comprehensive option once you're confident that you'll be putting it to good use.

FAQ

Q: Are elliptical machines better than treadmills?

A: This is a common question, and one that means different things to different people. For those who seek joint friendly exercise, elliptical machines are better than treadmills. If you're a runner in need of realistic indoor training conditions, a treadmill is by far the most suitable option. In terms of energy output and calorie burn, the results are almost identical, with treadmills having a very slight edge over elliptical machines.

Q: Why is the heart rate monitor giving me inconsistent readings?

A: When using touch-sensitive handle grips, ensure that you grasp them firmly for an accurate heart rate reading. In some cases, using a chest strap may be more effective. If you're already using one of these and getting erratic readings, check that the chest strap is centered and  in direct contact with your skin. Applying a little water to your chest can provide better contact with the transmitter. If this doesn't work, or your display is blank, your the heart rate receiver may be incorrectly installed or disconnected. We recommend referring to the user manual or contacting the manufacturer for product specific assistance.

Q: How can I better target my glutes when working out on an elliptical machine?

A: If you want to focus on your glutes while getting your cardio out of the way at the same time, choose an option with adjustable incline levels, or increase resistance. Your pace may slow a little, but your glutes and legs will be working harder.

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