Elliptical machines have become the go-to substitute for those who need a joint-friendly alternative to running. These low-impact marvels rival treadmills for intensity and offer versatile cross-training. High-end models can connect via Bluetooth to your phone to download and track workouts as well as monitor your heart rate, speed, and distance. However, an elliptical machine is a pricey addition to your home gym. There's a lot you need to consider before you invest. Our buying guide has all the details you need. Our top pick, the Precor AMT 835 Commercial Adaptive Motion Trainer, works as an elliptical, exercise bike, or stair climber and is loaded with extras to rival any machine at the gym.
Considerations when choosing elliptical machines
Elliptical machines are defined by the location of the flywheel: front, rear, center, or hybrid. The flywheel's location affects size, smoothness, and adjustability.
The flywheel on a front-drive elliptical is located at the front of the machine, underneath the console. These machines are the most compact, but they do create an up-and-down motion like a stair climber. Models with articulating pedals can counteract this motion with a more natural stride.
With the flywheel at the rear, these elliptical machines create a natural, even stride that most closely mimics walking or running. They're also relatively low-maintenance, making them a favorite for commercial use. However, they're large and expensive.
Center-drive ellipticals place the flywheel to the side of the machine. They provide a good range of motion and excellent stability. Unfortunately, these models tend to be pricey and lack incline adjustment options.
Hybrids combine an elliptical machine and an exercise bike, with an adjustable seat and a flywheel that's toward the front but closer to the pedals. A hybrid machine is a good choice if you want extra cardio options.
Ellipticals are large machines. Before you buy, carefully measure your available space. Your height will also come into play. The taller you are, the longer your stride. There are foldable and compact models available if you have limited space. However, these space-savers often lack key features like incline and stride adjustment and durable construction.
Stride length is the distance from the toe of the front pedal to the heel of the back pedal when the elliptical machine is fully extended. Based on height you'll need:
A stride length of 16 to 18 inches if you're under 5'3"
A stride length of 18 to 20 inches if you're 5'3" to 5'7"
A stride length of 20 to 22 inches if you're over 5'7"
If multiple users will use the machine, look for a model with an adjustable stride length.
All ellipticals have at least a few resistance levels, although foldable and compact models may not give you many options. Incline adjustability, however, is not found on every model. Incline adjustments allow you to target different muscle groups based on the pedal height. While it's not absolutely necessary, incline adjustability gives you more options and control over the intensity of your workout.
Budget-friendly elliptical machines usually come in under $500. They may lack incline adjustability and have limited features, but they're typically compact, foldable, and affordable. Models between $500 and $1,000 have extra features like Bluetooth, built-in speakers, and multiple workout options. For $1,000 to $3,000, you'll get an excellent elliptical that's loaded with features and may have adjustable stride lengths. Commercial-grade ellipticals cost over $3,000. These behemoths offer the smoothest motion and the highest-quality construction.
Q. Can I put an elliptical directly on my wood floor or carpet?
A. Elliptical machines drive a lot of force into the floor. Even models that have rubber feet and padding can leave indentations in carpet and scuff wood floors. An exercise floor or mat can protect your floor and help keep the elliptical in place while in use.
Q. How does flywheel weight affect performance?
A. Smooth, steady motion requires a heavy flywheel. Generally, any elliptical machine with a flywheel over 20 pounds will provide good stability and smoothness. Flywheels under 20 pounds may be jerky and erratic, making it hard to develop a rhythmic stride.
Elliptical machines we recommend
Best of the best: Precor AMT 835 Commercial Adaptive Motion Trainer
Our take: When they say adaptive, they mean it. This elliptical machine fits almost any user and provides a smooth ride for the entirety of your workout.
What we like: It adjusts to your stride so you're never over or under reaching. Incredible display and great preset programs make this an excellent machine that will rival anything at the gym.
What we dislike: It's got everything and a matching price.
Best bang for your buck: Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Elliptical Trainer
Our take: Save space and dollars with an elliptical machine that combines a compact design with a hard workout.
What we like: We love the tracking features, like the heart rate monitor, calories burned, and distance displays. It's also sturdy and quiet, especially for a model at this price.
What we dislike: Setup can be tricky. While the maximum weight limit is 285 pounds, heavier users may need a model with more durable construction.
Our take: If you like a lot of variety and you're on a budget, this might be the elliptical machine for you.
What we like: This dual machine provides more than one aerobic option with an exercise bike and an elliptical. It doesn't take up much space.
What we dislike: It's a basic machine that won't fit tall users. Quality control isn't the best as some arrive without all the right parts.
Stacey L. Nash is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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