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Some days, you want to work out—but you don’t want to work out too hard. You’re not in the mood to lift weights or tackle a HIIT class. You just want to work up a sweat—ideally, somewhat comfortably (and probably while catching up on your favorite TV show). In these moments, there is no greater gift than the elliptical. Lower-impact than a treadmill, but still challenging enough to make you feel like you're working out, the elliptical really is the best of both worlds. And the fact that you’re in control of the machine’s resistance and speed? That’s just icing on the cake.
Emily Hutchins, Certified Personal Trainer with RSP Nutrition, says ellipticals can be a great way to log a cardio session without putting too much pressure on your joints. And as far as workouts go, she recommends working your way up to higher resistance levels and more intense routines. “I always suggest starting on the conservative side so you can warm up to a higher level as time goes by,” she says. And when you’re ready to change things up a bit, you can combine your elliptical workouts with a little upper-body strength-training. (She recommends classic exercises like push-ups, bicep curls, and back rows.) “Vary up your workouts,” Hutchins says. “Don’t settle for the same routine each time.”
The point? Ellipticals are a great starting point for a range of exercises. And there are lots of high-quality options that are worth investing in.
Read on for the best ellipticals.
Best Overall: Schwinn Compact Elliptical Machine
The Schwinn 470 Compact Elliptical is a classic elliptical that boasts tons of different settings. This is great news for anyone who gets bored doing the same workout every day—and it puts you in total control every time you hop on the machine. Start by playing around with one of the elliptical’s 29 workout modes. You can tackle challenges, complete fitness tests, or even virtually travel to the mountains. (And if you don’t feel like thinking, you can always hit the handy-dandy “quick start” button.) You can also scale up your workouts with 25 different resistance modes and a 10-degree incline.
Best Budget: Sunny Health & Fitness SF-E905 Elliptical
This elliptical may not be as bulky as other, more classic models, but it still gets the job done. The compact machine boasts eight different resistance levels, which you can access by turning the dial just below the monitor. And if you want to check your heart rate, you can simply place your hands on the pulse sensors that are built into the handlebars. It’s rare to find this many features at such a budget-friendly price point—and since the machine is pretty compact, it won’t hog a ton of space in your home gym, either.
Best Luxury: NordicTrack FS7i FreeStride Trainer
The NordicTrack FS7i FreeStride Trainer may look like a standard elliptical. But step onto it, and you’ll quickly realize how high-tech it is. As you pedal, the machine will automatically adjust to your stride, giving you a comfortable experience without asking you to do anything extra. If you activate NordicTrack’s live interactive training mode, you’ll give a remote personal trainer control over your workout, so they can push you by adjusting your resistance level and incline as you stride. A home machine with a built-in personal trainer? Yes, please.
Best for Small Spaces: Bowflex M3 Max Trainer
Small but mighty, the Bowflex M3 Max Trainer promises a killer workout. The elliptical doubles as a stair stepper, helping you build strength while you work up a sweat. This two-in-one design is also what makes the machine so compact. At only 4 feet long by 2.5 feet wide, this machine is one of the smallest ellipticals you can find—but you’ll still feel like you’re getting a gym-worthy workout every time you step onto it.
Best for Comfort: Sole E35 Elliptical
Sole’s ellipticals were designed with comfort in mind—and it shows. The machine offers a smooth, natural feel and is easy on joints. And even better: Its pedals were designed by physical therapists to cut down on knee, hip, and ankle strain. (You’ll notice the pedals slope slightly inward—and that’s why.) Of course, you can still use the Sole E35 Elliptical to get a solid workout. The machine boasts 10 workout modes and 20 resistance and incline levels, giving you all the customization you could ask for. Plus, the elliptical comes with a built-in fan, so you can reliably cool off any time you need a breather.
Best Adjustable: Nautilus E616 Elliptical Trainer
Many ellipticals let you adjust things like resistance and incline. And some even come with fitness modes you can use to vary your workouts. True to form, the Nautilus E616 Elliptical Trainer offers all of this—but it doesn’t stop there. The machine also syncs with Bowflex’s Explore the World app, which lets you choose where in the world you want to (virtually) run, and what route you want to take when you do. This extra customization may seem unnecessary, but when you’re hitting the elliptical every day, any chance to shake things up goes a long way.
Best Gym-Like Option: Precor EFX 833 Commercial Series Elliptical
The Precor EFX 833 Commercial Series Elliptical is exactly what it sounds like: a commercial elliptical—the kind of thing you might find at your local gym. The elliptical boasts 20 different resistance levels, all of which promise to be incredibly smooth. And its adjustable ramp lets you access inclines between 10 degrees and 35 degrees. (For context, that’s a much wider range than you’ll find on most non-commercial options). Take advantage of its range of settings, its easy-to-use controls, and its smooth feel, and get ready to use this machine for years to come.
Best Folding: Hammacher Schlemmer Low-Impact Foldaway Strider
The Low-Impact Foldaway Strider is small space-friendly in more ways than one. When fully extended, the elliptical is 20.5 inches wide and 26.5 inches long. That’s smaller than most standard ellipticals, but the machine is still sturdy enough to give you a solid workout. The coolest thing about this machine is that when you’re done using it, you can simply fold it in half, making it 16.5 inches wide and 17 inches long. And since it only weighs 44 pounds, you’ll have no trouble carrying it to your closet—or wherever else you want to store it.
Best Under-Desk: Cubii JR1 Under-Desk Elliptical
Cubii’s JR1 Under-Desk Elliptical is proof that an elliptical doesn’t have to be a huge machine. In fact, all you need to get some strides in is a couple of pedals—and enough commitment to using them. Simply place your feet on the pedals while sitting on the couch or at your desk, and start striding the way you would on a standard elliptical. If you want an extra challenge, play around with one of the elliptical’s eight resistance modes. And use the machine’s built-in screen to track your strides, your distance traveled, and more.
Best Glider: Gazelle Edge Machine
No power? No problem. The Gazelle Edge Machine is an elliptical that works without any electricity at all. Simply hop on and start striding. No, the machine won’t automatically up your resistance or incline at the touch of a button. But you can manually change those things by shifting your body in different directions. Lean forward to work your upper body, lean backward to challenge your lower body, and bend your knees to up the intensity in your glutes. And no matter which way you’re leaning, your core will be engaged as it works to keep you balanced.
Best 3-in-1 Machine: Body Rider Trio Trainer Machine
The Body Rider Trio Trainer Machine is an elliptical that can be changed into either an upright bike or a recumbent bike. In other words, this trio trainer is basically three different cardio machines in one. Step onto the pedals and grab the handles to use the machine like a classic elliptical. Then, sit back and grab the stationary handles to get a little recumbent bike action. (You’ll use the same pedals for both.) If you’re looking for a more active cycling experience, simply shift the seat into its upright position, and get moving. This kind of versatility might not be right for everyone. But if you’re looking to save space, scoring a machine that acts like an entire home gym is a pretty great way to do it.
Best for Outdoors: ElliptiGO Outdoor Stand-Up Bike
Most ellipticals are stationary, electrical, and designed to be used indoors. The ElliptiGO Outdoor Stand-Up Bike is the exact opposite. It’s an elliptical-bike hybrid that moves forward every time you stride. (Naturally, an elliptical that moves is designed to be used outdoors.) Unlike classic bikes, the ElliptiGO has no seat. Instead, you stand to stride—the same way you would on an elliptical. Simply adjust the handlebars to meet your height, hop on the machine, and get moving. And if the weather is bad, you can always use ElliptiGO’s Fluid 365 Stationary Trainer to convert your ElliptiGO into a more standard elliptical.
If you’re looking for a lower-impact way to work up a sweat, the elliptical deserves a spot in your fitness routine. If you’re a first-timer elliptical shopper, the Schwinn 470 Compact Elliptical (see at Schwinn) is a classic option that will cover all your bases. If you don't have a ton of room, go with a smalls-space friendly model like the Bowflex M3 Max Trainer (see at Amazon). And if you crave a higher-tech workout, the NordicTrack FS7i FreeStride Trainer (see at NordicTrack) will work wonders.