- 1 Top 10 elliptical trainers for home gyms
- 2 What’s the best elliptical for your budget?
- 3 Best elliptical machine under $200 – Gazelle Edge
- 4 Best elliptical machine under $500 – Exerpeutic 5000
- 5 Best elliptical machine under $1000 – Schwinn 470
- 6 Best elliptical machine under $1500 – NordicTrack Elite 12.9
- 7 Best elliptical machine over $1500 – Precor AMT 835
- 8 Brands reviewed by USA Home Gym
- 9 Best elliptical machines by price
- 10 Top 5 benefits of using an elliptical machine
- 11 Top 10 elliptical machine features
- 12 Terminology used in elliptical reviews
But with so many ellipticals now available from big brands like Nautilus, ProForm, Precor, and NordicTrack, buying the right elliptical can be difficult. How do you know which machine has the best features for your personal fitness goals?
To help answer this question we put together a comprehensive buying guide, highlighting the most important information we learned from over 100 in-depth elliptical reviews.
Whether you’re looking for the best elliptical trainer for weight loss, or a machine with state-of-the-art fitness tracking, we’ll walk you through the exact features you need to look for. We’ve also categorized by brand and price to make sure you find the best elliptical for your budget.
Top 10 elliptical trainers for home gyms
The following 10 elliptical trainers have been chosen based on a combination of factors, including cost, stride length, average customer review rating on eCommerce sites, workout program variation, and in many cases due to their unique design features.
In-depth elliptical reviews are available for each machine in the table, each of which has a complete guide to the features, workout programs, console design, and assembly options. We’ve also included some useful comparisons with similarly priced models.
If you would prefer to see the top elliptical machine for each price range, then feel free to jump ahead in the guide.
|Precor 835 Adaptive Motion Trainer With Open Stride||4.5|
|Precor EFX 835 Commercial Series Elliptical Fitness Crosstrainer||5|
|Sole Fitness E95 Elliptical Machine||4.5|
|Schwinn 470 Elliptical Machine||4|
|Sole Fitness E35 Elliptical Machine||4|
|Precor EFX 447 Precision Series Elliptical||4|
|Yowza Fitness Miami Elliptical Trainer||4.5|
|Horizon Fitness EX-69-2 Elliptical Trainer||4|
|Exerpeutic 5000 Magnetic Elliptical Trainer||4.5|
|Gazelle Edge Exercise Glider||4|
What’s the best elliptical for your budget?
Setting a budget and sticking to it can be incredibly difficult, especially if you’re unsure of what your options are.
But what if you already knew the best elliptical machines at each price point and had a quick reference guide to their features?
After writing over 100 elliptical reviews for more than a dozen different brands, we’ve managed to identify what we believe to be the top elliptical in each price range. This is based on their physical design features, range of workout programs, console functions, and the ability to track your fitness goals over time.
Listed below is our unbiased guide to the best elliptical trainer in each price range.
Best elliptical machine under $200 – Gazelle Edge
A quick search on Amazon proves there’s no shortage companies selling elliptical machines under $200, with models from Exerpeutic, Sunny Health and Fitness, Body Max, and ProGear to name a few. But which is the best elliptical for your budget?
The Stamina In-Motion Elliptical offers perhaps the largest collection of reviews (2400+), with a high average rating, and usually retails for less than $100. But the warranty is short (1 year frame, 90 days on parts), with no moveable handles and a limited stride motion. It’s certainly not a good choice if you enjoy your running, and feels more like a stepper.
Then there’s the Gazelle Edge.
This is one of the best elliptical machines in terms of variable stride length, with moveable handles for upper body muscle activation and a 5-function workout computer for tracking your performance.
Although the weight capacity is a little limited at 250 lbs, it’s difficult to find any elliptical at this price range that can offer more.
That’s why we’ve chosen the Gazelle Edge as the best elliptical under $200. The Exerpeutic 1000Xl comes in a close second, with a longer warranty, moveable as well as stationary handles, and a higher weight capacity (300 lbs). Unfortunately the stride length for the 1000Xl is limited to just 13 inches.
If you’re looking for an elliptical machine with multiple resistance levels (Gazelle Edge has no resistance control), we would recommend the Exerpeutic Aero Air.Read the full Gazelle Edge elliptical reviewBuy now
Best elliptical machine under $500 – Exerpeutic 5000
This is the lowest price range to contain ellipticals from companies such as Xterra, Schwinn, ProForm, and Gold’s Gym.
ProForm’s Hybrid is the most popular dual trainer at this price point (combination of elliptical machine and exercise bike), and if you’re looking for variation in your workouts, perhaps combining two pieces of fitness equipment into the same machine makes sense.
However, in terms of choosing the best elliptical trainer, you need to make a comparison between the Xterra FS 3.0, Schwinn A40, and Exerpeutic 5000.
In this case, the Exerpeutic 5000 was our chosen winner in the ‘under $500’ price category.
Although the warranty coverage is half that of the Schwinn, at just 1 year, the weight capacity was almost identical (270 lbs), and the 18 inch stride length is longer than the A40 (17.5″) and the Xterra (16″).
It’s also the only elliptical machine from the three on our shortlist to offer mobile app tracking via Apple and Android smartphones and tablets.
This lets you save any aspect of your workout directly to your device, or even switch between workout data and your favourite movie. It’s considered the best option for if you want access to entertainment features without paying thousands of dollars for one of the higher priced ellipticals.Read the full Exerpeutic 5000 elliptical reviewBuy now
Best elliptical machine under $1000 – Schwinn 470
When ranking the best elliptical machines by price, the Schwinn 470 immediately stood out as a highly rated bestseller. The workout program variation, entertainment options, and personalization options go far beyond what we’ve seen on most machines at this price point.
But ‘under $1000’ is a competitive price range, with no shortage of ellipticals from industry leaders like Schwinn, Nautilus, Horizon Fitness, ProForm, and NordicTrack. So how can you be sure the Schwinn 470 is the best elliptical for your home?
At the right time of year, the Schwinn 470 can often be found for just $800 – a saving of $500 on its recommended list price – which places it well within our price range.
One of the reasons we chose the Exerpeutic model in our previous price category was because it was one of the lowest priced ellipticals to offer workout data transfer. The Schwinn 470 takes this a step further with SchwinnConnect goal tracking, where you can also sync your data to myfitnesspal.com while you complete any of the 29 different workout programs.
The 20-inch elliptical stride length is one of the longest you’ll find at this price range, which is made more challenging with the addition of a 10% motorized incline ramp. Weight capacity is about average at 300 lbs, but you also get an impressive 10 year warranty on the frame and 2 years on mechanical parts.
The Nautilus E616 was another elliptical machine we considered, but at around $100 more than the Schwinn even when it’s on sale, we struggled to validate the extra spend.
Both models have the same number of fitness programs, dual LCD screens, 25 resistance levels, online performance tracking, 300 lb weight capacity, and integration with MyFitnessPal, making them equally well-suited to home elliptical workouts.
Even the warranty coverage is the same. The only differences we noticed were that the Nautilus also offered connectivity to the Nautilus Fitness app, and had an additional 1% incline.Read the full Schwinn 470 elliptical reviewBuy now
Best elliptical machine under $1500 – NordicTrack Elite 12.9
For a number of years this is a price range that has been dominated by the E35 and E55 ellipticals from Sole Fitness.
But recently we’ve seen some innovative new elliptical machines from Yowza Fitness, especially with their CardioCore collection. NordicTrack also has a range of front and rear drive ellipticals under $1500. This includes the SpaceSaver SE9i, Elite 12.9, E 8.9, and even the A.C.T. Commercial 7.
We’re actually going to cheat a little here and select two models as the best ellipticals in this category – the Sole Fitness E35, and the NordicTrack Elite 12.9.
Each machine usually retails for around $1300, has a 375 lb weight capacity, and a stride length of between 20 and 22 inches (21 inches for the NordicTrack). They also have the same warranty coverage, which is lifetime on frame, 5 years on parts, and 2 years on labor.
The reason we couldn’t decide between the two is because they each have their own specialities, and one may be a better fit for your style of training than the other.
But in terms of workout variation, the NordicTrack Elite 12.9 is the best elliptical machine for the home at this price level.
Not only do you have the 35 built-in workout apps, but it’s also iFit enabled, allowing quick access to hundreds of new workout programs and performance tracking features.
This is an area where Sole Fitness tend to lag behind, but still offer 10 challenging options that include intervals, heart rate controlled (HRC), and your own custom profiles.
Where the Sole E35 really stands out is in the incline of the elliptical stride, with a full 30 degrees available compared to the 20 degrees of the NordicTrack.
If we were forced to choose based on the best features, it would have to be the NordicTrack Elite 12.9. In our opinion the increased resistance levels, greater variation in workout programs, and heavier flywheel more than make up for the 10 degrees of lost incline.Read the full NordicTrack Elite 12.9 elliptical reviewBuy now
Best elliptical machine over $1500 – Precor AMT 835
When we put together this elliptical buying guide we had to consider whether $1500 would be a high enough starting point for our top price range.
The problem is that this includes elliptical machines for home gyms as well as high-end commercial ellipticals, such as the AMT 835 from Precor’s Experience Series.
Precor, Life Fitness, True Fitness, Diamondback Fitness, and Sole Fitness are just a few of the companies with models offering unique design features and a large number of highly rated elliptical reviews.
So how can you possibly decide between the hundreds of elliptical machines on offer?
This is where our ten-point feature list gives you an advantage. We recommend you take each point in turn and list what you need from a new elliptical in order to improve your physical fitness, at the same time as keeping the workouts varied and enjoyable.
Rather than add some more price ranges, we’re now going to shortlist 3 models, each of which is ideally suited to specific fitness goals and situations.
- 1. Precor Adaptive Motion Trainer (AMT) 835
- 2. Precor EFX 447
- 3. Sole Fitness E95
Brands reviewed by USA Home Gym
Whenever you buy a new piece of home fitness equipment, it can be useful to find out some information about the different brands in the industry.
Which company has the best track record for customer service? Who has the highest review ratings or the most bestselling ellipticals? Who’s the best at letting you store your fitness data to an online profile for tracking your goal progress?
Unless you’re prepared to list the best ellipticals made by each company, dig into their reviews and analyse customer feedback, then it’s very difficult to tell.
That’s why we’ve done the leg work for you.
Each of our elliptical reviews contains a summary of customer feedback from eCommerce sites and the company’s own website. We combine this with our own comparisons between different brands to clearly identify the best elliptical brand for specific features, such as warranty coverage, home assembly services, and after-sales service.
If you would like to find out more about a specific brand of elliptical trainers, please choose from one of the elliptical guides below.
Best elliptical machines by price
- Sunny Health and Fitness Magnetic Elliptical Trainer – 375+ reviews
- Body Champ BRM3671 Cardio Dual Trainer – 430+ reviews
- Exerpeutic Aero Air Elliptical – 790+ reviews
- Gazelle Edge – 1,250+ reviews
- Body Rider BRD2000 Elliptical Trainer – 550+ reviews
- Exerpeutic 1000XL – 780+ reviews
- ProForm Hybrid Trainer – 675+ reviews
PRICE RANGE: $500-$1000
PRICE RANGE: $2000+
Top 5 benefits of using an elliptical machine
In the 20 years since its inception, the elliptical crosstrainer has gone through a number of important design changes. But do they really provide a more efficient workout than treadmills and rowing machines?
Here are 5 ways elliptical trainers can be beneficial to your health and fitness level when used as part of a regular exercise routine.
- 1. Dual motion available on many machines
If you were to compare an elliptical trainer with a treadmill, one of the most obvious differences would be that you can’t change the treadmill belt to move in the opposite direction. In comparison, many elliptical trainers now include both forward and backward stride motions into some of their workout programs.
But are there any real benefits to what is effectively running in reverse?
Recent studies have found that not only can you burn more calories in reverse, but also that it can lead to increased activation of your quads – a key muscle for increasing your cycling power.
In 2005 the Department of Exercise Science at Williametter University, Oregon, compared muscle activity during forward and backward striding on an elliptical trainer – specifically, the Precor EFX 546.
Four major muscle groups were monitored for activity using a surface EMG (glutes, quads, biceps, and the medial head of the calf muscle).
With the resistance level and stride rate kept constant, participants in the study were then asked to stride for five minutes at each grade and direction setting.
The results showed greater bicep activity during the forward stride, but greater activity in the rectus femoris (one of the four heads that form the quadricep) during backward striding.
Two years after this study was published, the Journal of Undergraduate Kinesiology Research published a paper that compared metabolic responses between the forwards and backwards motion on an elliptical trainer.
Participants in the study were asked to exercise forward and backward motion for a 24-minute test duration, during which time VO2, calories burned, rate of perceived exhaustion (RPE), and heart rate were measured.
Test results showed a higher heart rate at all intensity levels during the reverse motion.
- 2. Increased aerobic capacity
The human body is comprised of two main power systems; anaerobic and aerobic.
Anaerobic usually refers to resistance training, or shorter, higher intensity exercise lasting for up to a minute (such as HIIT / interval training).
In contrast, the aerobic system is used in steady-state cardio, where there is very little variation in intensity and resistance level over the course of the workout.
An increase in aerobic capacity can be seen when the body starts adapting to anaerobic and aerobic exercise. These adaptations include an increase in the quantity of oxygen in the muscles being worked. In the case of an elliptical machine workout, this will often include your entire body.
This causes an increase in oxygen rich blood to the muscles, which in-turn assists with fat oxidation and an increase in the size and/or power of slow twitch muscle fibers.
- 3. Low impact exercise
The motion of an elliptical trainer is designed to follow your natural running stride, with your feet in constant contact with the pedals. This constant contact ensures a low-impact workout even at higher intensity levels.
Striding on an elliptical machine also creates an effective cardio workout for anyone recovering from injury, suffering from low mobility, or looking to protect their joints. Some companies have even developed pivoting foot pedals, or pedals with a two-degree inward tilt to reduce any stress during the ankle flexion.
The limited foot fall also means that elliptical workouts are quieter than treadmill workouts, even when the running deck is cushioned.
- 4. Total body workout
In terms of muscle group activation, an elliptical trainer workout is one of the best cardio machine you can use.
In some cases they offer a higher incline than treadmills, while activating the same muscle groups. You also have the push and pull created by the moveable arms, which can’t be recreated on an exercise bike, treadmill, or even elliptical.
These handles help to activate your biceps, chest, shoulders, and back, creating an effective full body workout.
Although we wouldn’t recommend replacing this with your usual resistance training routine, you’re certainly going to see a higher level of muscle recruitment compared to other forms of cardio.
- 5. Generally lower maintenance
With elliptical machines there’s actually very little maintenance. You don’t have to worry about evenly distributing wear like you do with treadmills, and not having a belt means you don’t need to lubricate or re-center it.
Unlike indoor cycling bikes, you don’t have to worry about switching seats or pedals because the stock design is too uncomfortable. You also don’t have to replace friction pads like you would with some bikes.
Rear-drive ellipticals that have glide rails under the pedals require slightly more maintenance than other models because of how important it is to keep them free of dirt and dust.
In most cases, checking for signs of wear once each month and wiping the equipment down after each workout to prevent corrosion caused by perspiration is all that’s required.
Top 10 elliptical machine features
When you’re buying a new elliptical trainer, it’s important to know what to expect from each price range, and how you can get the most for your budget.
But how do you know whether 10 workout programs is a good selection for a $1000 elliptical, or whether 5 years on a parts warranty is above the industry average?
To help answer these types of questions, we put together a checklist of 10 key features that should be used in your comparisons. These are some of the same factors we take into account when rating the machines in our elliptical reviews.
- 1. Stride length
This is generally thought of as the most important feature to look for when buying a new elliptical trainer.
Stride length is defined as the distance between the front of the rear pedal and the back of the front pedal, at full stride.
If you select a machine with a stride that’s too short, then you won’t be able to reach your natural running stride. The result is less muscle activation and fewer calories burned.
Likewise, if you were to select an elliptical with a stride that was too long, then you would be more prone to injury. This is due to stretching your leg muscles beyond what they’re naturally used to.
Although there’s no set calculation due to variance in user height and leg length, there are a few industry recommendations that you should take into account. This also provides the basis for the recommendations we make in our elliptical reviews.
Firstly, it’s important to know what stride lengths are available so that you can get some sense of scale. While most machines feature a stride length of 16-20 inches, the shortest we’ve come across is 14 inches, and the widest closer to 36 inches.
A quick guide to elliptical stride lengths:
Front driven elliptical
- Under 5’3″ – 14 to 16 inch stride
- 5’3″ to 5’6″ – 16 to 18 inch stride
- 5’6″ to 6’4″ – 18 to 22 inch stride
- Over 6’4″ – 22 to 26 inch stride
Rear driven elliptical
- Under 5’3″ – 12 to 14 inch stride
- 5’3″ to 5’6″ – 14 to 16 inch stride
- 5’6″ to 6’4″ – 16 to 20 inch stride
- Over 6’4″ – 20 to 24 inch stride
You might have noticed there’s a 2-inch difference in stride lengths between the different types of drive system. That’s because the rear drive ellipticals create a flatter range of motion than their front driven counterparts.
The idea is to find a stride length that mimics your natural running motion. So if you’re unable to test different elliptical machines before you buy, we would recommend measuring your running stride at home.
By finding a machine that matches your natural running motion you’ll see a greater benefit from the low impact nature of elliptical workouts. You’ll also place less stress on your joints and lower back, creating a more enjoyable workout experience.
Some elliptical machines take this a step further by minimizing the distance between the pedals. This is designed to eliminate stress on your hips and back, as well as to promote good posture.
That’s why Horizon Fitness developed the SIXstar Certification for their range of elliptical trainers. This resulted in machines having a more natural foot path (FLATellipse), zero distance between pedals (ZEROgap), and handles positioned relative to the pedals in a way that promotes maximum comfort in your posture (StraightUP).
You can read more about this certification in our review of the Horizon Fitness EX-69-2.
Some examples of ellipticals offering shorter stride lengths include the Exerpeutic Aero (12 inches), Body Rider BRD2000 (13 inches), Body Champ BRM3671 (14 inches), and ProForm Hybrid Trainer (15 inches).
Many of the machines that offer the longest stride length are known as ‘variable stride’. This means you can either manually adjust the stride length before you start your workout, or in the case of the AMT and Yowza Fitness ellipticals, make the adjustment mid-workout.
- 2. Drive system
After deciding on which stride length is best suited to your height, the next decision you’ll need to make is the drive system. Options currently available are; front drive ellipticals, rear drive ellipticals, and center drive ellipticals.
Although the overall running motion will be very similar, there are a number of subtle differences that will affect the quality of your workout.
Front drive ellipticals
This is where the flywheel / drive axle is positioned at the front of the machine, which generally results in a greater range of incline options (as seen on the ProForm 510 E). In our Precor elliptical reviews you’ll notice an exception, which is that these are rear-driven, and use a separate incline system known as CrossRamp. This system gives them a steeper incline (to 40%) than most front-drive machines.
Some of the most popular front-drive elliptical machines from each company include:
- Sole Fitness – E25, E35, E95
- Horizon Fitness – EX-57, EX-59-02, EX-69-2
- Schwinn – A40, 430, 460, 470
- ProForm – 510 E, 1110 E
- NordicTrack – E 11.7, Elite 12.9, Elite 16.9
If you’re looking for the most affordable ellipticals, you’ll find most of the options available to you will be front drive machines.
Rear drive ellipticals
Being the opposite of front drive designs, the flywheel / drive axle is located towards the rear of the machine. This generally creates a flatter running motion akin to cross country skiing, and is recommended for low impact workouts, including injury rehabilitation.
The first ever elliptical crosstrainer was actually rear-driven, and created by Precor in 1995.
Popular rear-drive elliptical reviews:
- Precor – Energy Series, Precision Series, EFX 835
- Smooth Fitness – CE 3.6, CE7.4
- Yowza Fitness – Miami, Islamorada, Sanibel i35
Center drive ellipticals
Unfortunately this type of drive system is still relatively new to the market. This means it doesn’t have a proven track record for high performance and low maintenance like its front and rear driven counterparts.
These are machines where your bodyweight is focussed towards the middle of the frame. It’s a design that’s often seen on dual trainers that combine an elliptical trainer with another type of cardio equipment, such as an exercise bike.
Ball bearings vs. Bushings
No matter which drive system you choose, another feature to consider is whether or not the machine you’re interested in uses ball bearings or bushings at the pivot points.
The best option to look for is a machine that uses sealed ball bearings. While standard ball bearings are also desirable, the level of ongoing maintenance tends to be higher, with sealed bearings requiring no lubrication.
- 3. Console functions and custom user profiles
The range of functions and entertainment options available via the console is probably the area that’s most heavily influenced by the price.
In our Exerpeutic 1000XL and Exerpeutic Aero elliptical reviews, we noticed they only offered very simplistic consoles. This is common of lower priced ellipticals, where you often have to rely on a single LCD display, with a button for scanning through the various feedback metrics.
Number of metrics will also be very limited, and may include distance, speed, time, and an inaccurate representation of calories burned.
The fact is that regardless of the price, heart rate feedback will rarely be accurate. That is, unless you’re able to provide basic information about yourself, such as age and weight then the calories burned.
Once you start moving up into the $300-$500 price range, we start to see consoles that offer larger display screens. This means you’re able to see all of the information you’re interested in at a glance, rather than scan through.
Elliptical machine consoles vary from the very basic single-screen designs,
through to fully equipped workout tracking and entertainment centers
The Schwinn A40 is one of the most affordable ellipticals we’ve reviewed to also offer a collection of preset workout programs, with buttons added to the console for easy access.
As we move on to machines in the $500-$1000 range, we start to see consoles with a much closer resemblance to what you might expect from commercial ellipticals. But it’s important to consider which of these features you really need, and which would be more of a ‘nice-to-have’.
Quick-select resistance and workout program buttons, adjustable cooling fans, tablet holders, USB connectivity for charging your smartphone, speakers, MP3 connectivity, and multiple LCD screens are just a few of the features you can find on machines at this price range.
But by the time we reach the $1000+ category, entertainment options are considerably more advanced. Precor have even developed Personal Viewing Systems and Entertainment Caps specifically for their top-of-the-line commercial machines.
You may also want to consider whether virtual route planning is something you’re interested in. The best known service of this type is iFit, which is something we discovered during our ProForm, Reebok, and NordicTrack elliptical reviews. This allows you to use Google Maps to plan a virtual running route in locations around the world.
- 4. Workout program variation
When was the last time you changed your workout routine?
In 1950, Hans Selye, Director of the Institute of Experimental Medicine at Université de Montreal, Canada, wrote a research paper called ‘Stress and the General Adaptation Syndrome’.
Also known as GAS, this is used to describe the body’s short and long term reactions to stress.
Selye outlined three main stages:
- Stage 1: Alarm Reaction (AR)
AR relates to the initial stress you’re placing on your body. In terms of elliptical workouts, this could be anything from increasing the resistance to reversing your stride direction.
- Stage 2: Stage of Resistance (SR)
This is the stage we’re most interested in, and is when the body starts to adapt to the stress you’re placing it under.
For cardio workouts this could mean an increase in heart rate recovery or endurance. You’ll want to stay at this stage as long as possible to reduce the time it takes to lose weight, increase endurance, or increase muscle tone.
- Stage 3: Stage of Exhaustion (SE)
In fitness terms this equates to overtraining, and is something you want to avoid at all costs.
Overtraining is more common amongst weightlifters and bodybuilders, but is essentially caused by too much stress being placed on the body over a longer time period without adequate rest or recovery.
So, if we want to keep our body guessing and looking for new ways to adapt, we’ll need plenty of workout program variation.
Maybe you’ve heard of iFit?
If you’ve read our elliptical reviews for machines from ProForm or NordicTrack, then you may already be aware of its vast collection of workout programs and virtual route planning via Google Maps.
However, many of these ellipticals are classed as iFit compatible, not iFit enabled. This means having to purchase an additional module for $100 if you want to enjoy the full features.
What about if you’re on a tight budget?
As we highlighted earlier in the guide, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to gain access to dozens of elliptical workout options.
The Nautilus E614 and Schwinn 470 each offer 22 preset exercise programs, including high intensity interval training (HIIT), weight loss, and heart rate controlled.
Some elliptical machines – like the Horizon Fitness EX-59-02 or Precor EFX 833 – even offer a program specifically called ‘Random’, which generates a completely randomized training profile each time it starts.
The truth is that if you’re looking for a varied collection of 20+ workout programs, and aren’t too worried about entertainment options or virtual route creation, then you can find plenty of high quality cross trainers for under $1000.
But it’s generally not until you step up to the higher price categories that you start to see integration with fitness apps (Precor and Preva). You can also find iFit enabled consoles, offering goal tracking, logging of historical workout data, and downloading hundreds of workouts from top trainers like Jillian Michaels.
- Stage 1: Alarm Reaction (AR)
- 5. Heart rate monitoring
Despite sounding like a fairly standard piece of feedback, tracking your heart rate via the elliptical console isn’t always accurate.
Depending on your fitness goal, you’ll generally be aiming for a heart rate that’s between 60% and 85% of your maximum (MHR).
Although your heart rate can be transmitted via touch sensors or a telemetry chest strap, unless you’re able to enter your age then the reading probably won’t be all that accurate.
That’s because your heart rate is a key factor in performing the calculation.
The way most companies calculate maximum heart rate is based on one of two calculations:
Formula 1) 207 – (0.67 x Age)
A recent study into the relationship between age and maximal heart rate discovered that this was the most accurate formula, and is the calculation Precor used in their most recent generation of elliptical crosstrainers.
Formula 2) 220 – Age
At time of writing, this is the formula currently being used by the American Heart Association.
You will then maintain a certain percentage of this maximum to achieve specific goals. During our Precor elliptical reviews we noticed them introduce a SmartRate scale on their 2014 collections. This essentially takes the heart rate percentage and translates it into something that’s more visually intuitive.
For example, if your heart rate is at 70% of maximum, SmartRate would illuminate the scale up until the ‘Cardio’ line.
- 6. Warranty and maintenance
The coverage offered by a warranty tends to be influenced more by the company that made it, rather than the price.
For an elliptical trainer warranty, you’ll be looking for a minimum of lifetime cover on the frame, with 5 years on electronics and parts, and one or two years of labour being towards the top end of what’s available.
Schwinn tend to be a little more limited on their warranty cover, with 10 years being the maximum we found on a frame, or as little as 2 years in the case of their A40 elliptical.
Precor ellipticals are amongst the best in the industry, with lifetime on frame, and 10 years on parts for their EFX 835 and 833 models, or 5 years on parts for the Precision and Energy Series models.
Horizon Fitness do offer the lifetime on frame, but just 1 year on parts based on the machines we’ve reviewed.
Maintenance is something that’s fairly standard across all elliptical machines, but bear in mind that any front drive models will generally require slightly more if they rely on the pedals moving over guide rails. This includes certain ellipticals from Sole Fitness (E95), Horizon Fitness (EX-59-09), and NordicTrack (Elite 12.9).
- 7. Weight capacity and safety features
Although the majority of modern elliptical trainers are built with quite a high weight capacity, it’s still something worth checking, regardless of your budget.
That being said, it’s not always best to simply choose the model with the highest weight capacity, as it doesn’t guarantee stability or quality.
Also, we’ve seen a strong correlation between product weight and weight capacity. For example, the Sole E35 offers a 375 lb weight capacity, but also has a product weight of 230 lbs, which can be difficult to move around even with the transport wheels and carry handle.
Taking this a up a level to the Precor 835 AMT, and while this offers the highest weight capacity we’ve seen for any elliptical (514 lbs) it also has the highest product weight (422 lbs).
In comparison, the Exerpeutic 1000XL has a capacity of 300 lbs, yet weighs just 76 lbs, making it considerably easier to move between rooms if needed.
But if you’re looking to buy a new elliptical trainer for home workouts, you may also need to think about safety, particularly around children.
Despite their weight, ellipticals tend to have a very low center of gravity, which means that they’re unlikely to be pulled over. This is something that the wide base stabilizers also assist with.
But Precor have taken this a step further with their recent collections, adding a safety key to prevent the pedals from moving when not in use, and a password key sequence to the console to prevent any functions being operated without permission.
- 8. Resistance levels
When it comes to measuring resistance levels, not all ellipticals are created equal. Just because one machine offers 8 different levels and another offers 24, this doesn’t mean the latter will provide more challenging workouts.
Resistance is simply a scale you can use to measure your perceived level of exertion during workouts, and is something that should only be compared between sessions on the same machine.
If you’re looking to compare resistance levels between machines, then the only way to really do this would be to find two that associate their resistance settings with metabolic equivalents (METs).
METs is an item of feedback on the Precor EFX 833, any machine using Horizon’s new Elegant+ Console (incl. XF40), and the Vision Fitness S7200HRT to name a few.
In most cases, having a wider range of resistance levels simply offers more control over the intensity of your workout.
- 9. Incline range
An adjustable incline isn’t as easy to find on elliptical trainers as it is on treadmills, but it’s something worth bearing in mind if you’re looking for variation beyond resistance settings.
Precor’s CrossRamp is probably the best known incline feature, with models in their Energy and Precision series’ providing both manual and power inclines to a maximum of 40 degrees.
Beyond this you also have the Yowza Fitness collection, with the Islamorada and Miami ellipticals providing an incline grade of up to 60% at the touch of a button.
But just because you’re looking for an elliptical with an incline, doesn’t mean you’re limited to the costlier rear drive machines.
The E35 from Sole Fitness usually retails for around $1300 and provides you with a power incline that can be adjusted from 0 to 30 degrees. While this isn’t quite as impressive as the Yowza or Precor models, it’s certainly worth bearing in mind as a lower priced alternative.
- 10. Handle design (moveable/stationary)
This is something that will vary greatly between different machines, even between models made by the same company.
Starting with machines at the lower price points, the handles on the Aero are much shorter than you would find on commercial machines, which is mostly due to the short stride length.
There’s also just one set, meaning you don’t have the option of isolating your lower body in the same way you could with a Schwinn or NordicTrack model.
On most elliptical trainers, heart rate touch tensors will be integrated into these shorter handles, making it easier to maintain the constant grip that’s required to transmit your heart rate to the receiver in the console.
Sole have also been known to build buttons into the moveable arms for quicker transitions between incline and resistance levels.
If you want to experience the total body workout that’s possible with an elliptical trainer, having two sets of handles – one stationary and one moveable – is a must have.
While the moveable handles will help train your biceps, shoulders, abs, and back, the stride motion will be working your quads, glutes, calves, hamstrings, and hip flexors. Not only does this increase the range of muscles recruited, but also your heart rate and the rate at which you burn calories.
Terminology used in elliptical reviews
- Articulating pedals – Often found on front drive elliptical trainers, these are pedals that pivot with your natural ankle movement to prevent tendon stress and reduce the impact of your stride.
Some companies – including Sole Fitness, Xterra Fitness, and Spirit Fitness – have also designed the pedals with a 2 degree inward slope to further alleviate ankle and knee stress and improve your posture.
- iFit – A fitness platform capable of creating personalized workout programs and tracking improvements in your fitness.
Now supported by a range of personal fitness trackers and with a growing online library of on-demand workout videos in the form of iFit Daily.
In addition to elliptical trainers, iFit can also be found on exercise bikes, treadmills, and incline trainers from ProForm, NordicTrack, and Reebok.
- Self-generating induction brake – This type of braking system is most commonly found on commercial grade elliptical trainers due to the lack of cables required.
Other types of braking system that you’re more likely to find on non-commercial machines include magnetic and electromagnetic.
The fact that this braking system is self-generating means you don’t have to worry about positioning the machine near a power outlet.
- Axle bearings – One of the main components that makes up the drive system, together with the drive axle, drive belt, and generator or alternator.