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Best Elliptical Machine Reviews and Comparisons 2017 | Buying Guide

Finding the best elliptical machine for your home isn’t easy. But if you need low impact, high-intensity cardio workouts, it could be the best type of fitness equipment.

With so many machines from big brands like Nautilus, ProForm, Precor, and NordicTrack, buying the right elliptical isn’t easy. How do you know which elliptical trainer has the best features for your personal fitness goals?

To help answer this question, our experts put together a comprehensive buying guide. This highlights the most important design features to look for, based on over 100 elliptical reviews, written by our experts.

So whether you want the best elliptical machine for weight loss, or state-of-the-art fitness tracking, we can help. Our guide is 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 10 elliptical trainers below have been chosen based on a combination of factors. Cost, stride length, and average customer review rating have all been taken into consideration.

We also analyzed the workout programs, warranty, and design features, to shortlist the best elliptical machines on the market.

In-depth elliptical reviews are also available for every machine in the table. Each review has a complete guide to the features, workout programs, console design, and assembly options. We’ve also included some useful comparisons with machines in the same price range.

If you want to see the top elliptical machines by price, then feel free to jump ahead in the guide.

Name More InfoRatingFeatures
1. Precor 835 Adaptive Motion Trainer With Open Stride
Precor 835 Adaptive Motion Trainer With Open Stride
4.5
  • Naturally adapt stride length from 0 to 36 inches.
  • Open Stride technology allows users to adapt stride height from 6.8 inches to 10 inches.
  • 20 resistance levels (20-375 Watts).
  • Dual Action provides both upper and lower body workouts
2. Precor EFX 835 Commercial Series Elliptical Fitness Crosstrainer
Precor EFX 835 Commercial Series Elliptical Fitness Crosstrainer
5
  • Touch and telemetry heart rate monitoring
  • Ergonomic moving handlebars let you tone and condition your entire body
  • Cross-ramp Technology lets you target specific muscles or all major lower-body muscle groups
  • 20 resistance levels
3. Sole Fitness E95 Elliptical Machine
Sole Fitness E95 Elliptical Machine
4.5
  • 20-to-22-inch maximum stride length
  • 6 standard programs, 2 custom programs, 2 heart rate programs
  • Pulse grip and chest strap heart rate monitoring
  • LCD console with nine-inch display
4. Schwinn 470 Elliptical Machine
Schwinn 470 Elliptical Machine
4
  • 13 different display feedbacks
  • 29 programs
  • 4 user settings
  • 25 levels of resistance
  • USB port and data exchange
5. Sole Fitness E35 Elliptical Machine
Sole Fitness E35 Elliptical Machine
4
  • Blue, backlit LCD display
  • Power adjustable stride and incline
  • 20-to-22-inch maximum stride length
  • Six standard programs, two custom programs
6. Precor EFX 447 Precision Series Elliptical
Precor EFX 447 Precision Series Elliptical Cross Trainer
4
  • Preva Workout data tracking
  • CrossRamp Elevation Range: 15° - 40°
  • Number of Workout Metrics: 27
  • Preset Workouts: 25 + 16 exerciser created
7. Yowza Fitness Miami Elliptical Trainer
Yowza Fitness Miami Elliptical Trainer
4.5
  • Long stride adjustable from 18" to 32" in length
  • Electric incline adjusts up to 60% grade
  • Built in wireless Bluetooth Fit sound speaker system streams your music
  • 3 custom apps for IOS or Android
8. Horizon Fitness EX-69-2 Elliptical Trainer
Horizon Fitness EX-69-2 Elliptical Trainer
4
  • SIXstar Certified platform
  • 14.3-pound flywheel
  • 1-20 electronic resistance range
  • 20-inch FLATellipse foot path
  • 10 program options
  • Goal Center workout tracking
9. Exerpeutic 5000 Magnetic Elliptical Trainer
Exerpeutic 5000 Magnetic Elliptical Trainer
4.5
  • 18 inch smooth elliptical stride
  • Mobile App Tracking utilizes built in Bluetooth technology, to allow the user to track workout results anywhere and at any time
  • A strong and durable 3 piece cranking system for high end performance and continuous momentum
10. Gazelle Edge Exercise Glider
Gazelle Edge Exercise Glider
4
  • Easy-to-use computer provides immediate feedback on speed, distance, time and approximate calories burned
  • Extra-wide, non-skid foot platforms for added stability
  • Folds quickly for easy storage so it won't take up space in your home

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 your options.

But what if you knew the best elliptical machines at each price point, and had a 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 design features, workout programs, console technology, 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

The Gazelle Edge is the bestselling design under $200

There’s no shortage of companies selling cheap elliptical machines under $200. Some of the most popular designs are from Exerpeutic, Sunny Health and Fitness, Body Max, and ProGear.

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. It also retails for less than $100.

But the warranty is short (1 year frame, 90 days 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.

Gazelle Edge vs. Exerpeutic 1000Xl

This is one of the best elliptical machines in terms of variable stride length. Moveable handles assist with upper body muscle activation and a 5-function workout computer enables you to track your performance.

At 250 lbs, the weight capacity is a little limited, but very few ellipticals at this price 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, and both static and moveable handles. It also has a higher weight capacity (300 lbs).

Unfortunately the stride length for the 1000Xl is limited to just 13 inches. This means it’s only really suitable for users up to 5’5” tall.

The Gazelle Edge also has no resistance control. If you need an entry level home elliptical machine with multiple resistance levels, we recommend the Exerpeutic Aero Air.

Best elliptical machine under $500 – Exerpeutic 5000

The Exerpeutic 5000 is our top choice of elliptical under $500

This is the lowest price range to contain Xterra, ProForm, Gold’s Gym, and Schwinn ellipticals.

ProForm’s Hybrid is the most popular dual trainer on the market, combining features from elliptical machines and exercise bikes.

If you want variation in your workouts, combining two pieces of home fitness equipment into the same machine makes sense. However, to find the best elliptical trainer, you need to compare the Xterra FS 3.0, Schwinn A40, and Exerpeutic 5000.

In this case, we found the Exerpeutic 5000 to be the best elliptical machine under $500.

Although the warranty is half that of the Schwinn, at just 1 year, weight capacity was almost identical (270 lbs). The 18 inch stride length is also longer than the Schwinn A40 (17.5″) and Xterra (16″) ellipticals.

It’s also the only elliptical machine of the three to offer fitness tracking, via Apple and Android smartphones and tablets.

This lets you save important workout data to your device, or even switch between workout feedback 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.

Best elliptical machine under $1000 – Schwinn 470

The Schwinn 470 is winner of the best elliptical under $1000

When ranking the best elliptical machines by price, the Schwinn 470 immediately stood out as a highly rated bestseller. The workout programs, entertainment options, and personalization options go far beyond what we see on most machines at this price.

But ‘under $1000’ is a competitive price range. There’s 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. That’s a saving of $500 on its recommended list price, which places it well within our price range.

One reason we chose the Exerpeutic 5000 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. This is where you can 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 average at 300 lbs, but you also get a 10-year frame warranty and 2 years on parts.

Schwinn 470 vs. Nautilus E616

The Nautilus E616 was another elliptical machine we considered for the best elliptical under $1000. But at around $100 more than the Schwinn, even when it’s on sale, we struggled to validate the additional spend.

Both ellipticals 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 were that the Nautilus also offered connectivity to the Nautilus Fitness app, and had an additional 1% incline.

Best elliptical machine under $1500 – NordicTrack Elite 12.9

The NordicTrack Elite 12.9 is winner of the best elliptical under $1500

For many years, this price range was dominated by the Sole Fitness E35 and E55 ellipticals.

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 going to cheat a little here and select two models as the best ellipticals under $1500. These are the Sole Fitness E35, and the NordicTrack Elite 12.9.

Each machine retails for around $1300, has a 375 lb weight capacity, and stride length of 20 to 22 inches. They also have the same warranty, 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. 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.

Sole Fitness E35 vs. NordicTrack Elite 12.9

Not only do you have the 35 built-in workout apps, but it’s also iFit enabled. This allows for quick access to hundreds of new workout programs and performance tracking features.

Workout variety is an area where Sole Fitness tend to lag behind. But they still offer 10 challenging options that include intervals, heart rate controlled (HRC), and even your own custom profiles.

The Sole E35 stands out due to the 30-degree maximum incline of the elliptical stride. That’s 10-degrees more than you get with the NordicTrack elliptical.

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.

iFit also has a line of wearable tech. This lets you combine your exercise on and off the elliptical, then track your performance online or via their app.

Best elliptical machine over $1500 – Precor AMT 835

The Precor AMT 835 is winner of the best elliptical over $1500

When we created our elliptical machine guide, we weren’t sure $1500 would be high enough for our top price range.

The problem is that this includes elliptical machines for home gyms as well as high-end commercial ellipticals. One such design is 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 many 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.

Rather than add some more price ranges, we’re now going to shortlist 3 top elliptical trainers. Each of these machines 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

When you’re buying home fitness equipment, it’s useful to find out about the different brands.

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 logging fitness data to an online profile to track your goal progress?

Without ranking the best ellipticals from each company, digging into their reviews and analyzing 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 design features, warranty, workout programs, and console technology.

This helps us identify the best elliptical brand for specific features, such as warranty coverage, home assembly, and after-sales service.

If you would like to find out more about a specific brand of elliptical machines, please choose from one of the buying guides below.

Precor Elliptical Trainer Guide
Yowza Fitness Elliptical Reviews
Sole Fitness Elliptical Reviews
NordicTrack Elliptical Reviews
Schwinn Elliptical Trainer Guide
Bowflex Elliptical Trainer Guide
Nautilus Elliptical Trainer Guide
ProForm Elliptical Trainer Guide
Horizon Fitness Elliptical Trainer Guide
Vision Fitness Elliptical Trainer Guide

Best elliptical machines by price

PRICE RANGE: $0-$500

PRICE RANGE: $500-$1000

Top 5 benefits of using an elliptical machine

In the 20 years since its inception, the elliptical machine has gone through many important design changes.

But do they provide a more efficient workout than treadmills and rowing machines?

    1. Dual elliptical motion on many machines

  • If you compared elliptical trainers to treadmills, 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 running in reverse?

    Recent studies found that you can actually burn more calories in reverse, but also experience increased activation of your quads. This is a key muscle for increasing your cycling power.

    Improve your cycling performance

    In 2005, the Department of Exercise Science at Williametter University, Oregon, compared muscle activity during forward and backward striding. Tests were performed on the Precor EFX 546 elliptical trainer.

    Resistance level and stride rate were kept constant, while four muscle groups were monitored for activity, using a surface EMG. These were the glutes, quads, biceps, and the medial head of the calf muscle.

    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 during backward striding. This is one of the four heads that form the quadricep muscle.

    Burn more calories in less time

    Two years after this study was published, the Journal of Undergraduate Kinesiology Research published a similar paper. This compared the metabolic responses between the forwards and backwards motion on an elliptical machine.

    Participants in the study were asked to exercise forward and backward motion for a 24-minute test duration. During this 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 made up 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. This includes HIIT / interval training.

    In contrast, the aerobic system is used in steady-state cardio, where there’s very little variation in intensity and resistance level.

    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.

    What follows is an increase in oxygen-rich blood to the muscles. This can assist with fat oxidation and lead to an increase in the size and power of slow twitch muscle fibers.

  • 3. Low impact exercise

  • The motion of an elliptical trainer is designed to emulate your natural running stride. Your feet maintain constant contact with the pedals, to create 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 even developed foot pedals that pivot or have a two-degree inward tilt, to reduce stress during ankle flexion.

    The limited foot fall also means 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 is one of the best cardio machines 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 from the moveable arms, which can’t be recreated on exercise bikes or treadmills.

    These handles help to activate your biceps, chest, shoulders, and back, creating an effective full body elliptical workout.

    We wouldn’t suggest replacing your resistance training routine with an elliptical machine. But 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 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 if the stock design is uncomfortable. You also don’t have to replace friction pads like you would with some indoor spin bikes.

    Rear-drive ellipticals with glide rails under the pedals require slightly more maintenance than front and center-drive machines. That’s because it’s important to keep them free from dirt and dust.

    In most cases, all you need to do is check for signs of wear once each month and wipe the equipment down after each workout. This helps to prevent corrosion caused by perspiration.

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? What about if a 5-year parts warranty is above the industry average?

To help answer questions like these, we created a checklist of 10 key features to use in your comparisons. These are some of the same factors we consider when creating the ratings for our own elliptical machine reviews.

    1. Elliptical stride length

  • Stride length is the distance between the pedals at full extension. This is generally considered the most important feature to look for when buying a new elliptical machine.

    If your elliptical stride is too short, you won’t be able to reach your full natural running stride. The result is less muscle activation and fewer calories burned.

    Likewise, if your elliptical has a stride that’s too long, you’re more prone to injury. This is due to stretching your leg muscles beyond what they’re used to or capable of.

    Unfortunately, there’s no set calculation to find your perfect stride length, due to variance in user height and leg length. But there are a few industry recommendations that are worth considering, which are also applied 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 elliptical machines feature a stride length of 16-20 inches, there are some exceptions. The shortest we’ve come across is 14 inches, and the longest closer to 36 inches.

    A quick guide to elliptical stride lengths:
    The NordicTrack Elite 16.9 is a front drive elliptical
    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
    The ProForm 10 CE is a rear drive elliptical
    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.

    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.

    Ergonomic elliptical machine design

    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), and zero distance between pedals (ZEROgap). The handles are also 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.

    Best short and long-stride elliptical trainers

    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).

    We also have elliptical reviews for machines with a longer stride length, such as the Yowza Fitness Miami (18 to 32 inches), Sole E35 (20-22 inches), and the Precor 835 AMT (0 to 36 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. Elliptical 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 FitnessE25, E35, E95
    • Horizon Fitness – EX-57, EX-59-02, EX-69-2
    • Schwinn – A40, 430, 460, 470
    • ProForm510 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:

    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 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.

    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 pressing a button to scan through the metrics.

    Elliptical trainer console designs vary greatly between different price ranges
    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 to also offer a collection of preset workout programs. Quick-select buttons have even been added to the console for easy access.

    As we move on to machines in the $500-$1000 range, we start to see consoles that resemble commercial ellipticals in your local fitness center. But it’s important to consider which of these features you really need, and which would be more of a ‘nice-to-have’.

    Elliptical machine entertainment technology

    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.

    3 Stages of General Adaptation Syndrome:
    • 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?

    iFit personalized home fitness plans

    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.

  • 5. Heart rate monitoring

  • This sounds like a standard piece of workout feedback, but tracking your heart rate using the elliptical console isn’t always accurate.

    Depending on your fitness goal, you’ll generally target a heart rate that’s between 60% and 85% of your maximum (MHR).

    Your heart rate can be transmitted via touch sensors or a telemetry chest strap (depending on the machine). But unless you’re able to enter your age, you might not experience the desired health benefits of each workout program.

    That’s because your age is a key factor in performing the maximum heart rate calculation.

    Calculating your maximum heart rate

    The way most fitness equipment companies calculate maximum heart rate using one of two formulas:

    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. It’s also 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 recommended by the American Heart Association.

    Some elliptical machine workout programs set a percentage of this maximum as a target, to help you 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.

    This is the coverage offered on machines such as the Sole E95, Precor EFX 245, and Yowza Fitness Navarre.

    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, elliptical trainers with high weight capacities, don’t always 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.

    The lightweight frame of the Exerpeutic XI weighs just 76 lbs
    The Precor AMT 835 is one of the heaviest commercial elliptical crosstrainers available
    Elliptical safety for children and home workouts

    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 machines, these are pedals that pivot with your natural ankle movement. This limits the stress on your tendons and reduces the impact of your stride.

    Some companies – including Sole Fitness, Xterra Fitness, and Spirit Fitness – also design pedals with a 2-degree inward slope. This further alleviates ankle and knee stress and improve your posture.

  • iFit – Technology capable of creating personalized workout programs and tracking improvements in your fitness.

    Now supported by a range of personal fitness trackers and online library of on-demand workout videos (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 braking system is commonly found on commercial elliptical trainers, due to the lack of cables. No cables means the elliptical can be positioned away from power outlets.

    Other types of elliptical braking system include magnetic and electromagnetic.

  • Axle bearings – One of the main components that makes up the drive system. These are combined with the drive axle, drive belt, and generator or alternator.