Working out at home has its perks — no crowded parking lots, no membership fees and, especially important during Covid, no crowds. And it’s more than possible to achieve cardio fitness at home. But with so many options available for at-home gym equipment, how do you choose the right one for you? We’ve consulted experts on the best treadmills, stationary bikes and indoor rowers, to name a few, but if you’re looking for at-home cardio and aren’t sure which machine to buy, an elliptical is also a great option to keep on your shopping list. Ellipticals are a staple in any gym worth its mettle, and provide a great workout without too much stress on your joints, noted Brad McLam, the director of business development at exercise equipment retailer Gym Source.
SKIP AHEAD How to buy an elliptical, according to experts
And these days, you can find ellipticals with just about any feature, from live classes to fitness tracking. Of course, you don’t have to go to a gym to enjoy an elliptical workout — nor necessarily have to spend a lot for an at-home unit (though you can, of course, with models climbing in price given extra bells and whistles). We’ve consulted fitness experts on tips for finding the best elliptical and which are the best models available now, many with free shipping.
Best ellipticals in 2021
1. Sole E25 Elliptical
This affordable model is one of the best the best elliptical models under $1,000. The front-drive model comes with a 20-pound flywheel, Bluetooth audio speakers, a USB port and 20 resistance and incline levels to help you build up endurance over time. Users can attach their own tablet or smartwatch to watch shows, follow their own routine as they work out or follow along a workout on one of the six preset programs. The E25 sports a screen that tracks basic metrics including distance, heart rate and time. It also has heart rate monitors in both handles, a cooling fan and water bottle holder. Sole offers a free 30-day trial on the elliptical, to boot, with free returns.
2. NordicTrack FS10i Elliptical
If you’re looking for workout classes, this might be the right model for you. Though pricier than other models, this front-drive, elliptical comes stacked with tons of features.You get a 20-pound flywheel and can toggle the machine to act as both a stepper and elliptical, allowing you to diversify you training and maintain low impact. The FS10i comes with a 32-inch stride, 24 resistance levels, up to a 10-percent incline, Bluetooth-enabled audio speakers and a water bottle holder. Users will also receive a free one-year membership to NordicTrack’s iFit membership, a platform providing live classes, varied workouts and personalized coaching, after which membership will run you $180 annually — you’ll also get free shipping on their order.
3. Proform Hybrid Trainer
You won’t have to choose between a stationary bike and an elliptical with Proform’s Hybrid Trainer, which doubles as both. The Hybrid is also extremely affordable, but doesn’t sport as many features as other models. This front-drive model comes with a 15-inch stride and 12.6-pound flywheel, shorter and lighter than other models, and has easily adjustable pedals and console whether you’re biking or using the elliptical. There are 16 resistance levels, heart rate monitoring and a large LCD display. Users will also get access to iFit, though this model doesn’t come with a free one-year membership.
This mid-priced elliptical from the Max Trainer series offers a wide range of lower and upper body training with 16 resistance levels and two workout programs. The screen shows your time, calories, heart rate, resistance and workout program — it comes with workout programs via Bowflex’s JRNY app, which costs $19.99 per month or $149 annually. The app also comes with cross-functional workouts that also connect to Boflex’s other products, including bikes and treadmills, and it tracks your progress over time via virtual coaching.
Precor was the original inventor of the elliptical in the 1990s, McLam explains, so it’s safe to say they know a thing or two about them. This top-of-the-line, commercial-grade elliptical is equivalent to what you’ll find in a gym, with 20 resistance levels, 18 tracking metrics and 15 pre-programed workouts. While it’s the most expensive on the list, this model, which is a rear-drive model, is extremely durable, so you can expect to use it for years to come (to that end, it includes a 10-year warranty if the unexpected happens). Unlike most models, the 835 is self-powered, meaning you can place it anywhere in your home. Precor offers free shipping on your order.
This elliptical is one of the most affordable at-home machines we found and is highly-rated on Amazon. The rear-drive model comes with eight levels of resistance and a pulse monitor to track things like heart rate, time and calories burned. The machine is very compact — perfect for apartments or small spaces — and has wheels on the bottom for easier transportation.
Is an elliptical right for you?
Ellipticals give you all the lower-body benefits of running while the handles allow you to work your upper body at the same time, explained Clair Mason, owner of elliptica, a boutique gym offering group elliptical classes. You can also go forwards and backwards, each motion targeting a different muscle group. These machines are notably low-impact, and can be less stressful on your knees and back than running on a treadmill. Some doctors may recommend patients use ellipticals to rehabilitate after injuries, said Michael Goulet, sales manager at Gym Source. Ellipticals can help you build your aerobic endurance, which over time might help reduce conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure.
Despite being low-impact, ellipticals workouts are far from low-intensity, Mason said. Depending on how much you exert yourself, you can easily burn a few hundred calories in a 30-minute workout. Ellipticals also typically have fewer parts than treadmills and bikes, meaning less routine maintenance (and lower costs) over time, said McLam.
The best elliptical for you
Here’s what experts recommend you consider as you’re shopping for an elliptical:
- Similar to other cardio machines, “smart” ellipticals with live workouts and calorie tracking will cost more money but allow much more functionality, said Marcus Rein, physical therapist at Back in Motion Physical Therapy.
- Pay attention to the flywheel weight. The heavier the flywheel, the more stable the machine, said Rein. If the machine wobbles or rocks from side to side in any way, it’s likely that model will break down or have structural issues later on, he explained.
- Different types of ellipticals come in different sizes. Front-drive ellipticals have a flywheel in the front of the machine. They are typically the most affordable model and most compact, making them easy to store and keep in smaller spaces, said Goulet. The downside? Front-drive ellipticals tend to be noisier, so you may not want to get one of these if you live in an apartment.
- Rear-drive ellipticals have a flywheel in the back, and are longer, heavier and much more expensive than front-drive ellipticals. They are typically harder to store, but have a much quieter and smoother workout. If you have the space (and budget) to accommodate a rear-drive elliptical, Goulet recommended them. Other space considerations include access to a power outlet, which most ellipticals require, said Mason.
- Lastly, consider your fitness goals, said Rein. An elliptical with different workout options and multiple settings — like incline or resistance level — lets you add variety to your workouts, allowing your body to be consistently challenged and adapt quicker, he said. Some exercisers may also benefit from an elliptical that can track progress over time.
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