Best Ellipticals of 2020
An elliptical provides the lower-body benefits of walking or jogging, as it also targets the upper body muscles. Find the best elliptical to crush your fitness goals.
For a Solid Low-Impact Workout, You Need an Elliptical
Exercising at home has many advantages: no monthly fees, no circling the parking lot hoping for a space, no sharing a locker room with strangers. But equipping your home gym can be a bit of a puzzle, considering the wide array of fitness equipment available to those looking to get in shape. When it comes to cardio, an elliptical is a great way to go.
With an elliptical, you get all the lower-body benefits of walking or jogging, but your upper body also gets in on the action, giving you a full-body workout. Plus, ellipticals are much easier on your joints than treadmills. Choosing the right elliptical machine, however, can be overwhelming. So many choices, so much hype: How do you find the elliptical that's best for your workout needs?
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If you're ready to purchase an elliptical, check out the matrix above for BestReviews' top picks. For all you need to know about choosing an elliptical machine for home use, you've come to the right place.
Why Choose an Elliptical?
You've made the decision to up your home workout game. So why choose an elliptical (sometimes called a cross trainer) for your cardio workouts?
- Ellipticals provide a calorie-crunching workout. Depending on your weight and the intensity of your workout, you can burn several hundred calories in a half-hour session.
- Ellipticals are easy on your joints. Because your feet never leave the pedals, your joints are spared the pounding delivered by jogging on a treadmill or outside.
- You'll increase your endurance. Get in a solid half-hour at least three times per week on an elliptical, and you'll soon notice big improvements in your aerobic capacity and muscle strength.
- You can work your arms and legs at the same time. Why double the length of your exercise session by working your legs and arms separately when you can strengthen them simultaneously on an elliptical?
- Ellipticals generally need less maintenance than treadmills. With fewer moving parts and lower impact, ellipticals generally don't need as much routine maintenance as treadmills.
- The varied programs keep things interesting. Many ellipticals have a variety of presets to keep your workouts fun and challenging.
Different Types of Ellipticals
There are three basic types of ellipticals:
A front-drive elliptical has a large flywheel in the front. These are generally the least expensive type of elliptical and the most compact. Some fold for easy storage. However, front-drive ellipticals also tend to be the noisiest type and the likeliest to feel wobbly during use.
A center-drive elliptical has the flywheel in the center. These ellipticals tend to be compact, though you still have to account for the pedal reach during use. Center-drive ellipticals offer a smooth, gentle workout that's extra-easy on your joints. Some fold up for storage.
A rear-drive elliptical has the flywheel at the back. These ellipticals are long and heavy and can't be folded for storage. Their performance is very smooth, however, and some rear-drive ellipticals let you adjust the slant of the pedals.
Elliptical Features You Need
When buying an elliptical, look for these must-have features.
As you get stronger, you'll want to increase an elliptical's resistance, so you are continually challenged.
You'll be most comfortable on an elliptical that allows you to tailor the stride length to your natural jog. Otherwise, look for an elliptical with a stride length of 18 to 21 inches, which suits most people of average height.
At a minimum, your elliptical's console should show you how long you've been exercising, your speed, and an estimate of calories burned. High-end ellipticals offer much more.
Electromagnetic Braking System
An electromagnetic braking system provides the resistance during your workout on an elliptical. An elliptical's braking system should work smoothly and ideally be adjustable from the console.
Comfortable Hand Grips
You'll feel better with hand grips that are easy to hold. Hand grips should be configured so that you don't need to strain or stretch to reach them through the entire range of your stride.
Heart Rate Monitor
Most ellipticals have a heart rate monitor built into the handlebars. You'll see a readout of your pulse rate on the console, making it easy to monitor your aerobic intensity.
The heavier the flywheel, the more stable the elliptical, generally. A flywheel weighing at least 25 pounds is best.
You can increase the intensity of your workout by increasing the incline.
Elliptical Features You Want
Once you have the basics, there are a few extras that you might find worth the splurge.
It's a lot more fun to exercise when you have some variation. With a variety of presets—such as hills, fat burner, random, and intervals—you can switch things up each exercise session on.
Interactive Heart Rate Monitor
This high-tech feature adjusts your resistance automatically on your elliptical to keep your heart rate in the aerobic zone.
With many high-end ellipticals, you can connect wirelessly to your phone to track your workout statistics and access exercise apps.
It's common to find cup holders, phone holders, and tablet holders on quality ellipticals.
If you are short on space—and ellipticals take up a lot of it—you'll appreciate a model that folds for storage once your workout is done.
Ellipticals are heavy, so if you expect to move the machine frequently, you'll want a model with wheels to make transport easy.
Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Elliptical
- Aim for at least three 30-minute workouts each week.
- Keep your feet flat on the pedals of your elliptical throughout your entire stride.
- Don't use the elliptical's handlebars to support your weight; this reduces your workout.
- Vary your intensity. Start off slow and easy, ramp up to hard and fast, and then ease off again. Repeat this cycle several times during your workout.
- Stand up straight on an elliptical—no slouching, leaning forward, or arching your back.
- Your knees shouldn't lock at full stride. If possible, adjust the pedals on your elliptical so your knees aren't overextended.
- Mix up your workouts to keep things fun. Use a variety of apps, rotate through the presets on your elliptical, listen to your favorite music, or watch a movie while you exercise.
- If your elliptical has a reverse function, use it. This gives your legs and glutes a new, more challenging workout.
- Don't step off your elliptical while it's moving. It's easy to trip.
How Much Should You Spend on an Elliptical?
There's a wide price range for ellipticals, so no matter the size of your budget, there's a machine for you.
- Under $500: These ellipticals are basic machines without much in the way of high-tech features. Look for a well-known brand in this price range, as some lower-price ellipticals can be rickety or wobbly.
- $500 to $1,000: You'll find some nice bonus features in this price range and perhaps a fold-up design. Construction should be sturdy on these ellipticals.
- $1,000 to $2,000: These ellipticals boast desirable high-tech features, durable construction, quiet performance, and lots of adjustability.
- Above $2,000: In the premium price range, you should expect an elliptical comparable to those at the gym.
Q. Am I really burning as many calories as my elliptical claims?
A. Unfortunately, probably not. The calorie count is only a rough estimate, and it's common for these estimates to be way off. Your calories burned on an elliptical depend on your weight, the intensity of your workout, and the length of your exercise session.
Q. Are ellipticals better than treadmills?
A. Both ellipticals and treadmills are excellent home cardio machines, and both have their pros and cons. However, an elliptical is generally easier on your joints, takes up less room than a treadmill, and lets you exercise your upper body at the same time as your legs.
Q. How much room do I need for an elliptical machine?
A. It depends on the specific machine, but as a rough guideline, most ellipticals need a space at least six feet long and three feet wide. You also need clearance around the back of the machine for your stride, and room on each side so you can easily get on and off the elliptical. If you're very tall and your room has low ceilings, you'll also need to consider the height of the pedals at the top of your stride.