The ProForm 520 E Elliptical Trainer is the entry level machine in their Endurance collection, which also features the mid-range 720 E model and top-of-the-line 920 E.
But with a list price that’s often higher than the 720 E on Amazon and the official ProForm website, is it really still worth considering or should you choose one of the later models?
In our ProForm 520 E review we’ll be taking a closer look at the workout programs, design features, warranty, entertainment features and much more, to help you decide if this is the best front drive elliptical for your fitness goals and budget.
Note: At time of writing, the 520 E is listed on the ProForm website as out of stock, and the later 720 E model listed as being closeout stock. ProForm and NordicTrack are two companies that regularly release new models and eventually discontinue their older designs, so it’s always worth taking a look at the latest model in their collection (ProForm 920 E). It often represents the best value for money due to being fitted with the latest technology and design features.
Design and safety features
Although the console functions and workout programs on the 520 E are a long way from the top-of-the-line 920 E in terms of variation and quality of experience (920 E features a touchscreen color display), the overall design is still very impressive for the price.
The adjustable 18″ to 20″ stride length is long enough to cater for users to 6ft+ in height, and offers the same range as on the 720 E and 920 E. The only difference is that ProForm lists the stride on the 520 E as being Adjustable, rather than ‘Power Adjustable’, as it is for the two later models.
It’s a similar story with the incline, which can be adjusted through the same gradient as the other Endurance series ellipticals (0° to 20°), but can only be adjusted manually. This means that you have to decide on an incline range at the start of your workout and stick with it throughout, unless you’re happy to take a break mid-workout to step off the machine and change the ramp incline.
But changing the incline is only one of the ways to increase the intensity of your workout. You can also take advantage of 18 levels of Silent Magnetic Resistance (SMR) using the quick-select buttons on the display console. This SMR system combined with a 20 lb flywheel helps create a smoother running motion at the footplates, as well as when switching between resistance levels.
If you’re looking for a wider range of resistance levels you can always upgrade to the 720 E (20 levels) or 920 E (24 levels) ellipticals, but in terms of physical design features there really isn’t much of a difference between machines. The main two differences are the convenience offered by a power adjustable incline and a wider choice of resistance levels. Stride length, incline gradient and the front drive design remain the same throughout all ProForm Endurance ellipticals.
As for weight capacity, the ProForm 520 E is at a slight disadvantage compared to the later models, supporting just 300 lbs compared to their 325 lbs. In our opinion this isn’t too much to be concerned about unless you need the extra capacity. The frame is still built using commercial-gauge solid steel (used on the 720 E and 920 E), so doesn’t indicate a weakness in materials.
To help improve stability and create a more natural running experience, ProForm have used oversized foot pedals with a textured surface for improved traction control and greater choice for foot placement. Although the angle of the pedals is still adjustable, you don’t have the added layer of cushioning that you get with a 720 E or 920 E, resulting in a slightly greater impact on your knees and ankles.
One final feature we wanted to highlight was the handles. With the ProForm 520 E you have two sets to choose from; one static with integrated EKG touch sensors, and the other set moveable for recruiting upper body muscle groups. By holding the stationary handles you can isolate lower body muscle groups such as hamstrings, quads and calves, while the upper-body soft touch workout arms add resistance to your biceps, chest, shoulders, back, core and forearms.
ProForm 520 E Elliptical – Features Summary
- 18 Workout Apps
- 18 SMR Silent Magnetic Resistance Levels
- EKG Grip Pulse
- 15 Lb. Inertia-Enhanced Flywheel
- Soft Touch Upper-Body Grips
- Water Bottle Holder
- 20″ Adjustable Stride
- 20 Degree Adjustable Incline
- 5″ Backlit Display
- Integrated Tablet Holder
- iFit Compatible – Requires iFit wireless module, sold separately
- iPod Compatible Audio + USB Charging Station
Display console design
As the entry level elliptical in ProForm’s Endurance series, you have to expect a certain amount of compromise in terms of entertainment features and console functions.
Because this elliptical is available at a much lower price than the top-of-the-line 920 E, you’re not getting the same 7″ full-color touchscreen or even the CoolAire workout fan that they included on the 720 E. There’s no workout fan at all on this model and the display screen is limited to 5″ in size, but it is backlit to make the feedback easier to read.
As an alternative, to help keep the price more affordable, ProForm have fitted the 520 E with an integrated tablet holder. This can be used to securely hold a tablet while you workout, allowing you to watch movies/TV shows and even browse the internet.
Unfortunately there’s also no power incline, meaning that the quick-select incline settings we saw on the 720 E and 920 E ellipticals are no longer visible on the console. However you do still have the quick-select resistance buttons, as well as shortcuts to the different workout app categories and iFit training programs.
But another of the compromises is the fact that the ProForm 520 E is classed as iFit compatible, not iFit enabled. This means that to access the full library of iFit workouts and experience the full benefits of the service, you need to purchase the module and a subscription at an additional cost.
In terms of entertainment options, due to the price range this elliptical is targeted at, you are somewhat limited in your options. You don’t have a 15″ HDTV or web-enabled console like you do on some of the high-end NordicTrack ellipticals, but you do have an iPod compatible audio system and USB charging station. This allows you to listen to your favorite motivational music and control the volume directly through the console.
Heart rate monitoring
If you’re interested in measuring your heart rate, either for health reasons or to stay within your own target range, the ProForm 520 E has been fitted with EKG Grip Pulse sensors. Integrated into the static handles, these can be used to display your heart rate reading on the console, if held for 15 seconds or more.
The only downside is that this is the only method of monitoring your heart rate with this elliptical. There’s no option to transmit your heart rate using a Bluetooth connection and wireless chest strap like you can on the 720 E and 920 models. This puts you at a disadvantage if you need to monitor your heart rate but also want to train upper body muscle groups, as you’re unable to use the soft touch upper body grips at the same time.
It’s also worth mentioning that the 520 E console is fitted with a water bottle holder, which helps keep you hydrated and can increase your endurance during both high and low intensity workouts.
Workout programs and user profiles
Despite being the entry level model, the ProForm 520 E still offers 4 different types of workout program; Manual, Onboard, iFit and Set-A-Goal.
The simplest of the workout programs, Manual doesn’t actually follow any preset profile at all. Instead you’re free to step on the pedals and complete a workout at your own pace, with your feedback displayed live on the 5″ screen. This includes your speed, distance, time, heart rate (if holding the touch sensors) and number of calories burned.
A collection of 18 workout apps are available with the 520 E, each of which has been designed by a certified personal trainer. The only difference between these workouts and the ones you find on the later 720 E and 920 E ellipticals is that incline adjustments aren’t factored into the profile segments.
Each of the 18 onboard workouts is divided into one-minute segments, with each segment storing information about the resistance level and target RPM (running speed). This isn’t to say that you can’t combine these workouts with an incline level, but you do have to manually set the gradient before starting the program. Prompts will then be displayed on the screen to help you maintain your target RPM, with the resistance being adjusted automatically.
Although it offers a significant advantage over other ellipticals at the same price range, iFit is a service that does require a small amount of setup before it can be used.
Firstly, you need to purchase the iFit module and subscription, as the ProForm 520 E is not iFit enabled (ProForm 920 E is iFit enabled). Then you need access to a computer with internet access and a USB port, as well as access to a wireless network you can connect the wireless iFit module to.
If all of the above steps have been followed, this gives you access to different user profiles, the iFit online workout library and a whole host of advantages that can help you achieve new fitness goals. Workout programs can be navigated using the quick-select buttons on the console and you can monitor your performance via your online profile.
If you already have a goal in mind but don’t want to follow one of the workout apps, you can always use one of the 3 Set-A-Goal programs. These can be used to set a target for workout duration, distance, or number of calories burned.
After setting your target, you’re free to adjust the resistance level whenever you want to, and the workout continues until your goal is achieved. It’s worth bearing in mind that the number of calories burned is always going to be an estimation, but is made much more accurate if you input your body weight via one of the iFit user profiles.
Ease of assembly and maintenance
The amount of time taken to assemble the ProForm 520 E will vary from person to person, but thanks to the clarity of the assembly instructions in the user manual, the whole process is actually fairly straightforward.
Although there’s no SNAP Assembly system or folding design like we’ve seen on some of NordicTrack’s ellipticals, the majority of the resistance system and base frame has already been pre-assembled before being packaged. This means that after you attach the front and rear base stabilizers, there’s really no more heavy lifting required.
All that’s required then is to construct and attach the console upright, assemble the moveable arms, attach the footplates and connect up the console. Each step walks you through everything you need to know using a combination of clear parts references, inset drawings, tips and diagrams.
If you do run into any issues, ProForm have a customer service department that you can call, or if you’re willing to pay extra, you can hire one of their authorized service technicians to assemble the elliptical for you. Prices tend to vary depending on the equipment, and it’s not a service that’s available in all regions. If this is a service you’re interested in, we recommend checking the price and if the area in which you live is eligible using the ProForm website.
Alternatively, Amazon is also now offering an in-home assembly service for elliptical trainers (check your zip code using the form above).
One of the reasons we include the maintenance routine with many of our elliptical reviews is to give you all the information you need to make the best decision about which elliptical to buy.
How frequently you need to clean the machine, whether parts need to be disassembled and whether you are obligated to call out a technician at any time to keep your warranty valid are all important questions.
Fortunately the ProForm 520 E has a very simple maintenance routine, and doesn’t require different tasks to be carried out at weekly, monthly, or yearly intervals. Instead ProForm simply suggest inspecting and tightening all parts regularly and cleaning the elliptical with a damp cloth using a mild soap solution. That’s about as simple as it gets for elliptical trainers.
The user manual does include more in-depth steps for adjusting the reed switch, greasing the rollers and adjusting the drive belt, but these are really only steps to follow if you notice a problem with pedals slipping or rollers squeaking along the tracks.
What’s covered by the warranty?
- Frame: Lifetime
- Parts: 1 year
- Labor: 1 year