Running is obviously my favorite form of cardio, but every runner can benefit from cross training! Usually my cross training is done on a stationary bike, but unfortunately, I don’t own one and gyms are currently closed. We do however own an elliptical, so I use it once a week. I also rebound a few times a week, which also counts as cross training. Read about why rebounding is great for runners!
If you are thinking of purchasing a new cardio machine, look no further! Here is a list comparing all the various elliptical brands out there!
For an elliptical workout, you need a machine that allows low-impact, high-intensity movements. The best devices have intuitive controls and smooth pedals, eliminating the guesswork. In recent years, the tech behind elliptical design has improved, so there’s something for every budget.
The Best at a Glance
Best Overall — Schwinn 470 Elliptical: With over 20 levels of computer
resistance and different programs, the Schwinn offers plenty of room to improve
Runner-Up — Precor EFX 222 Energy Series: The Precor comes with a touch
display that lets you intuitively switch routines.
Best on a Budget — Horizon EX-59: The Horizon gets rid of the frills and
prioritizes a smooth, stable ride.
Best for an Upgrade — NordicTrack FreeStride Trainer FS9i: If this isn’t your
first elliptical, the NordicTrack provides an excellent upgrade choice for serious use.
Best for Small Apartments — EFITMENT Compact Magnetic: Not only does the EFITMENT fit anywhere in the home, but it’s easily portable, too.
How to Examine an Elliptical Machine
In reviewing, several aspects of an elliptical machine are compared.
Where’s the drive system?
The drive system’s location determines the size and build of the machine. There are three options in all.
Rear drive ellipticals operate from behind the pedals, enabling a more natural stride that feels more like running in the real world. Ergonomically, it helps you sit upright, which is better for your back. These are more expensive machines, and they take up quite a bit of space. Many gyms have these ellipticals in the machine section.
Front drive ellipticals are smaller and feel more like you’re climbing stairs. These compact machines cost less, but they have more moving parts. That means more maintenance because more parts can break down over time. Also, you’ll lean forward instead of sitting upright.
Center drive ellipticals have the broadest range of motion and have a big price tag to prove it. They’re the most luxurious models, loaded up with built-in programming and entertainment options.
As you can see, the placement of the motor tends to dictate the level of price you’ll pay. If all costs were equal, we would disregard all front-drive systems. They offer little movement and sacrifice the comfort of rear and center systems. That said, the price can skyrocket once you look into those machines, and we must consider the budget.
What’s the drive mechanism?
Elliptical machines further divide at the point of engineering. There are two different ways these machines increase pedaling resistance.
Air resistance uses a weighted fan combined with your pedaling speed to increase strength. In other words, the faster you go, the harder it gets. It’s easy to repair this setup, but it’s also more likely to hit a snag over time.
Magnetic resistance is the more advanced of the two. Here, electromagnetics have a current between them, and the machine controls the intensity by manipulating that connection. As the more advanced option, it’s also the more expensive option both initially and for repair. Of course, it also rides smoother and quieter.
How are the pedals designed?
The pedals are responsible for the movement of your stride: They either use a wheel track or hang in suspension.
Wheel ellipticals run on tracks that anchor the pedals along the bottom of the machine. They control how far you can move and along what path. Sometimes, you can adjust the incline and the pedal distance, but they’re generally set in their ways.
Suspension ellipticals keep the foot pedals on jointed limbs above the floor. They don’t have the same friction, so they’re quieter and offer more movement. You’re the one who decides the length of your stride, not the limitations of the machine.
Traditional ellipticals come with wheel tracks and rear or front drives. The more advanced models provide the suspension with the center drive.
How does the ride feel?
Some designs lend themselves to more natural movement than others, but any model worth its price has smooth pedals, a satisfying stride, and arm handles that let you move freely at the speed you’re going. The most advanced machines allow for an experience that almost makes you forget you’re not walking outdoors.
How are the ergonomics of the design?
If you can’t access the machine’s programming while you’re using it, it impacts your experience. Though most elliptical machines have similar programs, placement is an entirely different story. We sought out intuitive consoles that permitted fast access to specific and manual programs.
The best ellipticals have everything in reach while you’re using it. You should be able to access arm handles comfortably, as well as the shelving and the controls at all times. It provides a challenge to your workout without disruption when you need that sip of water.
Best Overall: Schwinn 470 Elliptical Machine
If you use an elliptical every day for months, the same old program gets tedious after a while. But that’s not a problem you’ll face with the Schwinn 470; here, you’ll have access to 29 programs, 25 levels of resistance, and four profiles for settings.
The Schwinn 470 also comes with a port to charge your USB device while you’re pumping the pedals. Listen to music, charge your phone, or plug in a USB fan to help keep the temperature down as resistance goes up. Finally, it even comes with Bluetooth connectivity, allowing you to sync between devices.
Runner-Up: Precor EFX 222 Energy Series Elliptical
It’s not cheap, but the Precor EFX 222 offers the most gym-like experience right inside your own home. It’s a stable, active ride that provides a wide range of options. For instance, three levels let you get a full-body workout while continuing to challenge yourself, especially with the moving handlebars.
The Precor EFX 222 also has a touch display that lets you check progress with seamless interaction. Most ellipticals come with grainy touchscreens with poor functionality, but Precor keeps it simple. The screen is crisp and displays the progress of your workout on a graph. It gives you a number for your heart rate and a bar that compares the value to standard heart rate zones.
Overall, it has a nice, quiet ride. There’s an option to get expert installation with your purchase, or you can spend the four hours doing it yourself.
Best on a Budget: Horizon EX-59
The small Horizon has little beyond the basics of an elliptical, but the minimalist machine has a silent track and offers excellent resistance. Most machines provide 25 resistance levels, and the Horizon has just ten, but each step has a reasonable
increase. That’s an excellent metaphor for the unit itself; it’s smaller but does it bigger.
The Horizon’s MSRP reflects the superior quality of the unit, resulting in a
considerably higher price than the Schwinn. It’s a high-end front-driver, though, so the Horizon doesn’t have the most natural ride. Fortunately, you can often find great deals to save money, making the Horizon ideal on a budget.
Best for an Upgrade: NordicTrack FreeStride Trainer
NordicTrack displays true ingenuity by embedding resistance and incline controls in the unit’s handles. Best of all, they’re accessible right from the natural position of your hands. Rather than having to reach somewhere inconvenient, or anywhere at all, you wrap your fingers a little further around.
The FreeStride is genuinely on a higher level than most ellipticals. In fact, it’s technically an alternative motion trainer, which means it can offer climbing, jogging, and running. The light foot pedals hang in suspension and permit up to 38 inches of stride, meaning there’s lots of room to move. Using the FreeStride feels weightless and slow, much like trying to run in a pool.
Depending on how you like to exercise, you might enjoy the way NordicTrack went off the rails in terms of standard elliptical design, if you wish to focus on your workout. If you prefer to let your mind wander, the machine will only frustrate you.
Best for Small Apartments: EFITMENT Compact
If you need a smaller-than-average machine for your apartment, then the
EFITMENT could be the right call. This model is designed to squeeze into tighter spaces than usual, and you can quickly move it around the home.
Thanks to the unit’s small size, you still sweat easily as you climb all eight levels of magnetic resistance. It comes with an LCD screen that displays all your workout data, like speed, time, and distance. It also has a pulse monitor to read back your vitals to easier tracking.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Are ellipticals better than treadmills?
A: It’s tough to say.
An elliptical machine exercises the legs and heart the same way a treadmill does, but they’re low-impact by design. That means you won’t feel it in the same way as your heels stay in touch with the pedals throughout the movement. Your muscles don’t take on as much stress, which leads to a reduced relative perceived exertion
Q: Do ellipticals give me weight loss exercise or cardio?
A: Both, fortunately!
Ellipticals help you burn calories by way of weight-bearing exercise. But you’re also working out your limbs and keeping your heart rate up, which results in an excellent aerobic workout for your body.
Q: Will an elliptical give me abs?
An elliptical doesn’t tone or sculpt your stomach. In addition to better eating habits, you’ll need to add resistance training, like dumbbells, barbells, or bodyweight exercises. An elliptical machine exercises your limbs, but it doesn’t do much in the way of working your core.
Q: How long will my elliptical last?
A: If they’re properly cared for, most fitness equipment lasts 10 to 20 years.
Proper care means checking the screws, the hand grips, and the foot pedal
regularly, ensuring they’re tightly secured to the unit. Also, make sure you lubricate every moving part regularly, and check for wear and tear on the drive belt. Contact the manufacturer if you notice something seems to stop working.
Buying Your Own Elliptical Machine
Not all ellipticals are equal, but there’s a way to find the right one for you.
Think about the style
Recumbent or reclining ellipticals work well for those brand new to exercising or who can’t stand for long periods. These units come with more comfortable seats and invite the user to come back often. Pedaling doesn’t put much pressure on the ankles or knees.
Unless regular units, elliptical gliders straighten the legs as you swing them. This design engages the arms more in the motion. They’re simple machines and don’t cost very much, making them a reasonable choice on a budget.
Lateral ellipticals let you move from side to side as well as forward and backward.
Athletes in high-movement sports, like basketball, soccer, tennis, or baseball, will make the best use out of these units. However, everyone can benefit from lateral ellipticals, counteracting the pressure from everyday movements.
It helps improve the muscles around the ankles, knees, hips, and pelvis while stabilizing the frontal plane. If you have chronic lower back pain, lateral ellipticals might help relieve it.
Don’t forget about resistance
A good rule of thumb is to increase your elliptical resistance level by 10 percent weekly. That means thinking ahead when you’re making the purchase. The unit you choose should challenge you at about 75 percent of its range, leaving plenty of room to grow.
If you have a routine and already use an elliptical, you might not need any built-in programs for your new unit. If you tend to get bored with your workout, then look for a unit that comes with a range of applications to give you variety.