The 8 Best Elliptical Machines That Will Leave You Winded—but Not Underwhelmed

man-on-an-elliptical


By clicking on the product links in this article, we may receive a commission fee at no cost to you, the reader.

Don't let the term "low impact" trick you into thinking ellipticals are strictly for beginners and hotel gyms; they're great cardio machines for just about everyone. From someone resolving to make their lifestyle a little less sedentary to a marathon runner wanting to get their heart pumping, the best ellipticals help deliver low-impact cardio without the strain running can put on the joints.

The truth is that ellipticals offer many of the same benefits you'll find from using a treadmill, such as improved cardiovascular health and weight loss. But if you're someone who deals with hip and knee pain, an elliptical may be a better fit. This 2014 study highlights just how much elliptical exercise reduces weight-bearing on joints compared to other cardio workouts.

The ACTIVE Reviews Team recently took the most popular elliptical trainers on the market to task. Our goal? To find out which ellipticals deliver consumers the best overall performance, quality and experience for the money. We take a hands-on approach to our evaluations, and we poured lots of time (and yes, sweat) into trying dozens of elliptical machines ourselves. Each elliptical was rated with our in-depth multi-point system, along with input from our expert network.

Here are the eight best elliptical machines we found for the following categories:

Editor's Pick: NordicTrack Commercial 14.9

1-NordicTrack

For anyone looking to "elevate" their elliptical game, the NordicTrack Commercial 14.9 won't disappoint. The NordicTrack Commercial 14.9 includes a one-year iFit membership, so you can stream all kinds of workout videos led by elite personal trainers and take part in live, interactive training all through a 14-inch HD touchscreen. From cardio on your elliptical to yoga classes beside it, iFit is the cherry on top of this commercial-grade elliptical. It gives you control over just about every aspect of your workout. You can take the incline from zero all the way up to 20 degrees and set resistance across 26 digital levels. You also have the option to adjust stride length, so you can switch up which muscle groups you'd like to focus on. It also boasts a workout fan, comfortable grips and one-touch controls designed to make your workout session centered more on exercise and less on fidgeting with the control panel. The NordicTrack Commercial 14.9 might have a relatively steep price tag, but you'll get your money's worth with advanced options typically only found in gym-grade equipment.

BUY: NordicTrack Commercial 14.9, $1,999

Best Elliptical under $1,000: Horizon 7.0 AE

2-Horizon

Want to break a sweat on a budget? The Horizon 7.0 AE elliptical packs a workout punch with quality that's on par with more expensive brands—all for under $1,000. Its frame is built for performance and long-term durability, letting you quickly and smoothly shift your way through 20 levels of resistance and incline. It also features one-touch keys to adjust your resistance in stride. Plus, there are handlebar controls, so you can stream media through the elliptical's Bluetooth speakers instead of reaching for your phone. There's no touchscreen display here like you'll find in some of the other models we've reviewed, but the machine's built-in device holder gives you the perfect space for a smart device you can use for entertainment and instructor-led classes. There's even a USB port that keeps your device fully charged. And if it's metrics you want, you can connect your tablet and Bluetooth heart-rate monitor to a downloadable app that tracks and displays your stats, controls elliptical settings and pushes your workout information to your favorite third-party fitness apps.

BUY: Horizon 7.0 AE, $999

Best for Low-Impact Cardio: Sole E25

3-Sole

If the most appealing aspect of an elliptical machine is its ability to provide a low-impact workout, then the Sole E25 elliptical should jump straight to the top of your list. This machine is designed from the ground up to eliminate all strain on your knee, hip and ankle joints. Its foot pedals were designed by physical therapists to ensure users get a great workout with zero impact to their joints. It includes 20 adjustable incline settings and 10 workout programs. And with its moving handles to help with upper body exercise, you'll get a total body workout as well. There's no touchscreen monitor, but there is a place to hold your smart device, two Bluetooth speakers you can stream audio to and a USB port you can use to keep your device charged. Overall, the Sole E25 can offer a great full-body workout to people of every fitness level.

BUY: Sole E25, $999

Best Elliptical Under $500: Sunny Health Magnetic SF-E3912

4-Sunny-Health-Fitness-Ellipticals

Big value can come with a small price tag—and that's clearly the case with our best budget pick, the Sunny Health Magnetic SF-E3912 elliptical machine. The Sunny Health Magnetic SF-E3912 is an elliptical for those on a tight budget not looking to get stuck with a machine with lackluster quality after a month of use. It contains a super-smooth magnetic resistance system in a sturdy, well-built steel tubing frame. Plus, there are 16 levels of resistance and 24 included workout programs. It does fall a bit short on its stride length at 14 inches, but that shouldn't be a dealbreaker unless you're over 6 feet. Many other models at this price point have a stride as short as 11 inches, so the Sunny Health Magnetic SF-E3912 still comes out on top.

BUY: Sunny Health Magnetic SF-E3912, $498.88

Best Adjustable Elliptical: Nautilus E618

5-Nautilus-elliptical

The Nautilus E618 elliptical machine is an adjustable powerhouse ready for all fitness levels. You can hold its grips in a variety of positions, choose from three footplate angles and set incline levels up to 15% to target different muscle groups. There's a stats tracker app built directly into its console, so you'll get accurate metrics on pace, distance and calories burned. And you can jump straight into your exercise session with 29 different workout programs available, then sync your exercise data to your fitness app of choice using the elliptical's Bluetooth connectivity. While a 22-inch stride might be a bit too much for some of the shorter folks out there, the Nautilus E618 is so versatile that it should comfortably accommodate most users.

BUY: Nautilus E618, $1,399

Best Quiet Elliptical: ProForm Carbon E7

6-Proform-Carbon

If you're looking for a workout that ramps up the intensity while cutting out the noise, the silent resistance technology is what makes the ProForm Carbon E7 a standout. You'll have a smooth and comfortable workout as you adjust your way through various levels of intensity while staying remarkably quiet—perfect for anyone looking to get in a late night or early morning workout, or for anyone simply not wanting to disturb those around them. The real cutting-edge marvel of this elliptical is its 24 adjustable levels of silent magnetic resistance. Couple its quiet performance with the smooth striding of its 25-pound inertia-enhanced flywheel, and you might just feel like you're gliding on air. There is no shortage of features from the ProForm Carbon E7 elliptical machine to appreciate. With its 19-inch adjustable stride and 7-inch high-definition touchscreen, a three-year iFit family membership that's included with purchase and its incline that can be adjusted to 20 degrees, there's a lot packed into this machine. 

BUY: ProForm Carbon E7, $1,403

Best Compact Elliptical: Schwinn 411

7-Scwhinn-elliptical

Tight on space? The small-but-mighty Schwinn 411 ensures you'll get a low-impact workout on par with bigger ellipticals. Most ellipticals can range between 6 to 7 feet long, which takes up a decent amount of space. The Schwinn 411 is about 4.5 feet long. It comes with 16 levels of magnetic resistance and a console that's compatible with Bluetooth and chest strap heart rate monitors. There's also an additional option to sync with a mixed-reality app, "Explore the World," which lets you race through 19 locations and 27 routes with your friends all while tracking pace and distance. And for an elliptical machine hovering just above $500, the fact that it comes with an 18-inch stride is a very big deal. It's hard to find another space saver model at this price with anything above 15 inches. The Schwinn 411 does fall flat on incline function (it offers none), but this is one compact elliptical that more than makes up for that one shortcoming.

BUY: Schwinn 411, $549

Best For HIIT Training: Bowflex Max Trainer M8

8-Bowflex-Max-Trainer

HIIT stands for "high-intensity interval training" and is a popular way to train for cardiovascular endurance. This type of workout entails periods of high exertion followed by a quick rest, before bringing your heart rate back up. The Bowflex Max Trainer M8 incorporates advanced heart rate tracking to help you get the most out of your HIIT workout, showing you your "burn rate" based on how hard your heart is working. There's also Bluetooth compatibility to an integrated heart rate monitor, enhanced dual-mode LED and LCD display screens, plus a monthly subscription to dozens of instructor-led workout videos. It offers up to 20 resistance settings to choose from, so you can get a great workout regardless of your fitness level. From a design standpoint, its compact size makes it suitable for most home gyms. 

BUY: Bowflex Max Trainer M8, $1,899

Will an Elliptical Help My Performance?

Aerobic exercise should be an essential part of your workout regimen, and an elliptical machine can fill that need perfectly by helping you work on endurance and cardio fitness. Another benefit of this exercise machine? A home elliptical lets you cut to the chase and start a workout rather than travel back and forth to the gym. 

Elliptical Factors to Consider

Stability

The design of an elliptical impacts how much it wobbles during your workout. Some of the more budget-friendly models may not have a large enough footprint or feel sturdy enough to remain stable as your weight shifts, especially during rapid strides. A weak frame structure may not tolerate a lot of motion very well. Look for models with frames constructed out of quality materials, like steel. Rear-drive machines (ellipticals with the resistance mechanics located behind the foot pedals) tend to be the most stable options.

Resistance

Elliptical machines made for home workouts often use a weighted flywheel system. The rule of thumb with these systems is that a heavier flywheel means a better performance from your elliptical. That's because they create more momentum as they spin, which makes for a much smoother workout. Plus, heavier flywheels provide greater resistance. Depending on your budget, high-end elliptical machines have flywheels somewhere between 20 to 30 lbs. The more affordable models have flywheels that can be as light as 13 lbs. In every elliptical, the flywheel is paired with some form of magnetic resistance. This means the flywheel turns within a magnetic field. The strength of this magnetic field can be controlled in one of three ways:

  • Pre-installed workout programs
  • Manually
  • Heart rate control

For heart rate control, the elliptical electronically monitors your heart rate to adjust the resistance, and it's not as common as pre-installed programming or manual resistance. For magnetic resistance, the stronger the field, the greater the resistance you experience in the pedals and handlebars. And of course, the more resistance, the more calories you burn in a shorter span of time. Depending on your fitness goals, keep an eye out for an elliptical with a decent range of resistance settings. You're more likely to "outgrow" an elliptical with fewer settings versus one with more.

Incline

There are two main types of elliptical incline: powered and manual. With a powered incline, you can adjust with a button while manual incline is exactly what it sounds like----you have to change the angle of the incline yourself, usually by pulling out and repositioning a pin or using tools to change it. The benefit of an adjustable incline is that it grants you more versatility in your workout. For every increase in the degree of incline, the more you target the back of your legs and the tougher your workout becomes overall. It's important to know that not every elliptical model will have an incline option, so it's something you need keep in mind when researching models.

Stride Length

This is one of the most important factors to consider when shopping for an elliptical. You need a proper stride length proportionate to your height if you want a comfortable and effective workout. But what is the stride length? It's the length between the foot pedals when they're at their farthest possible distance from each other. As we've pointed out in this article, more compact and budget-friendly elliptical machines can have a stride as short as 11 inches. That doesn't make for a great workout per se, especially if you're tall, but is not necessarily a deal-breaker if you're contending with limited space or funds. A general rule of thumb is that users between 5 feet 3 inches and 5 feet 7 inches should aim for an elliptical with a 20-inch stride. If you're over 5 feet 7 inches, look for a model with a stride above 20 inches.

READ THIS NEXT: The Best Treadmills That Deliver the Biggest Bang for Your Buck

Discuss This Article