How to Find the Perfect Elliptical Machine for a Safe, Quiet, Low Impact Workout
An elliptical machine provides a workout that resembles a combination of walking (or running) and climbing in place. Ellipticals feature oversized pedals that move with the motion of your legs.
Many people like ellipticals because they are easier on the joints than walking outside on a hard surface or running on a treadmill. You can go as fast or slow as you’d like on an elliptical machine, and in either forward or reverse to vary your workout. In addition to giving you a great cardio workout, most ellipticals have moving handlebars that provide full-body resistance as you pedal in place. One great feature of a home elliptical is that it is very quiet, so you won’t disturb your downstairs neighbor — a big plus for apartment dwellers.
Full-sized ellipticals offer a range of workout options, from intense to easy, as well as the ability to work your upper body and lower body; some even offer the option to isolate the upper body (most allow you to isolate the lower body). Many also feature plenty of nice touches — like LED screens, cup holders, tablet rests, fans and more — to make your exercise session a bit more pleasant. Some even offer Bluetooth connectivity so you can sync your workout with your smartphone and various fitness apps.
Compact and Portable Elliptical Machines
If you simply don’t have the space for a full-sized elliptical, we found a couple of very highly-rated home ellipticals that give you a great workout, but have a relatively small footprint — some are even small enough to tote to the office. One drawback is that these elliptical machines are designed to have one, relatively low-intensity workout level. However, users who are just trying to move more, who describe themselves as “un-athletic” or who simply want an easier workout love them.
To find the best home ellipticals, I looked at a few important factors: Smooth, stable and quiet performance; easy-to-use features and controls; long-term durability and reliability; and a good warranty backed by responsive, helpful customer service. Consumer Reports is the only credible professional organization I spotted that tests and ranks ellipticals, but there are some other good expert sources that review individual ellipticals.
Most importantly, I evaluated hundreds of customer reviews to gauge owners’ satisfaction with the features and usability of their home elliptical machines. This information, along with expert evaluations, led me to finding the best ellipticals for any home fitness regimen.
What You Should Look For in an Elliptical Machine
A heavy flywheel. In general the heavier the flywheel, the smoother the motion. Look for one that weighs 25 pounds or more.
Enough resistance levels. To maximize your training, the elliptical must progress with you as you get more fit. Most ellipticals have at least 16 levels of resistance; higher-end models have 20 or 22 levels to choose from.
Quiet magnetic braking. Almost every full-sized modern elliptical uses magnetic braking for resistance. The mechanism should adjust smoothly and quietly between resistance levels, with no clunking or jerking.
Appropriate stride length. The actual feel of any given stride length can vary between brands and models but, as a general rule, the longer the better, especially if you’re tall.
Adjustable stride length. You can get by without this feature but if several people of different sizes are going to use the elliptical, it can make everyone’s workout more comfortable.
Adjustable incline. Changing the incline serves two purposes at once: altering your stride length and shifting the workout focus to different muscle groups, lending more variety to your workout.
Comfortable handlebars. Make sure the handlebars, moving or stationary, feel comfortable when you hold onto them and pedal; it’s hard to exercise when you feel awkward. This is a common complaint with elliptical users who end up unhappy with their machines.
Easy-to-use controls. Resistance and incline should be easy to control from the center console or moving handlebars. Ideally, you shouldn’t have to stop the workout to make adjustments.
Strong warranty and solid customer service. The warranty should cover parts for at least five years and labor for at least one. The manufacturer should be easy to reach, and quick to respond to consumer complaints.
Things to Consider Before Shopping for Your Elliptical
Does it fit my available space?
A typical full-sized elliptical is about 79 inches long by 30 inches wide by 63 inches tall, and many front-drive ellipticals require additional clearance to the rear when in use. Don’t forget to measure your ceiling height, too; most ellipticals will add an extra 1.5 feet to your own height. If you have less space, you may want to consider a compact or portable elliptical.
Does it fit me?
If you’re especially tall or short, look for an elliptical with a longer or shorter stride length. That said, the only way to know how well any stride length suits you is to get on the machine and exercise for a few minutes. Is the motion comfortable? Do you have plenty of room for your limbs (knees and elbows especially) within the elliptical trainer’s frame? If not, look elsewhere. Comfort is key.
Who will use it?
If more than one person is going to use the elliptical, everybody should try it out. If the users are of very different sizes, you may need an elliptical trainer with an adjustable stride length to comfortably accommodate all of them.
Should I have it delivered or assembled?
When you pick up or receive your elliptical, it will arrive in one or more large, heavy boxes. Often the shippers will deliver boxes to the curb, but won’t bring them into your house unless you pay an extra fee for “inside” delivery. If you’re handy, patient, and able to get the elliptical into your home on your own (even if that means carrying it piece-by-piece), DIY assembly can be a viable, but time-consuming, option. If you don’t have the time or patience to mess with it, consider paying for a professional delivery and assembly service (typically about $100 to $200).
How often will I use the elliptical trainer?
If you’re committed to long, frequent workout sessions, it pays to invest in a machine with the highest build quality and the most durable parts.
Do I want movable handlebars?
Although movable handlebars provide a moderate upper-body cardio workout, many exercisers prefer holding onto the stationary handlebars instead. If you’re in the latter group, you can sometimes save money by opting for an elliptical that comes without moving handlebars.
Elliptical Machine Reviews and Recommendations
Best Home Elliptical Machine
The Sole Fitness E95 Elliptical’s super-smooth ride, sturdy frame, auto-adjust incline ramp and extensive warranty make it hard to beat. It’s also a great value compared to other high-end ellipticals, which typically sell for much more. Its eddy current braking system is quiet and dependable, the heavy flywheel makes for a smooth ride, and owners largely have good things to say about Sole’s customer service.
Of all the ellipticals I evaluated, the front-drive Sole Fitness E95 Elliptical boasts the best combination of stability; durability; useful features; smooth, quiet resistance; and affordability. It’s a top pick at Consumer Reports, with Excellent ratings for ease of use, heart rate features and safety; Very Good ratings for ergonomics, exercise range and construction. AT Fitness Equipment Source it gets 4.5 stars out of 5, with the experts there calling it “Sold, Stable & Rugged – A Winning Combination.” Users agree, saying it feels very solid, like a gym-quality elliptical. Many say that they, and sometimes other members of their family, use it every day, multiple times a day.
The Sole E95 offers 20 levels of eddy current braking — the gold standard for quiet operation and reliability — and is backed by a solid warranty: Lifetime frame coverage, five years on parts, and two years of labor coverage. Sole Fitness has an excellent reputation for customer service; owners say they’re prompt, efficient, and honor their warranty with no hassles.
The Sole E95 also has a plethora of useful features, including an incline ramp that power-adjusts between 0 and 40 degrees (adjusting the stride length between 20 and 22 inches); 10 workout programs, including two custom workouts and two heart rate control workouts; cushioned, adjustable foot pedals that angle slightly inward to reduce stress on your joints; a 9-inch LCD console that tilts for easier viewing; and handgrip controls for easy adjustments to both incline and resistance. Users say the built-in sound system and fan are just adequate — but we see similar feedback for those features on almost every elliptical — indeed, on almost every piece of home exercise equipment we review. The Sole 95 is also Bluetooth-enabled, so you can wirelessly sync your exercise stats with your smartphone and a variety of fitness apps.
Best Mid-Priced Elliptical Machine
It’s a bit lighter than its big sibling, the Sole E95, but the less-expensive Sole Fitness E35 Elliptical is equally praised by reviewers for its quality build and durable components. It has a slightly smaller LCD screen, but its 30-degree incline and a plethora of adjustments and programs earn a lot of praise. Owners love the great value this machine represents, saying it’s a club-quality elliptical at a price that’s very reasonable.
The Sole Fitness E35 Elliptical shares the same excellent build quality and warranty, and almost all of the same features — including the 2017 Bluetooth upgrade. The LCD screen is a little smaller (7.5 inches), the max incline is a little lower (30 degrees), and the flywheel is a little lighter (29 pounds instead of 34). It’s also got just a bit smaller footprint and a lower upper weight limit — 375 pounds to the E95’s 400 pounds. However, the E35 gets just as good of reviews from experts and owners for performance and features.
At Fitness Equipment Source the Sole 35 earns a 4.5-star rating, as well as a Best Buy designation. They note that it’s one of the lowest- maintenance machines you can get at any price range. John Carlzon at Top Ten Reviews puts the Sole 35 at number four on his top ten list after research and testing, saying it, “gives a smooth and substantial workout.” The only con he notes is that there are only 10 preset workouts. Owners agree with Carlsen, giving the Sole 35 above-average ratings and saying they’re very pleased with the build quality and the various workout options.
That’s not to say that the Sole E95 and Sole E35 are perfect. The most common complaint we found for both was occasional squeaking or clicking noises from the foot rails. Most users say lubricating the foot rails will resolve this, while others simply let Sole’s excellent service department take care of it. These ellipticals also require assembly — unless you pay for assembly on delivery. While assembly is not necessarily super difficult, it is time-consuming and there are lots of parts to keep track of — some of which are rather heavy. Assembly is much easier, users say, if you get organized first, take your time, and enlist the help of a friend.
Best Inexpensive Home Elliptical Machine
For most people, the Schwinn 470 elliptical will be a good fit for their exercise room without making their wallet lose too much weight. Reviewers say it’s stable and quiet, with 25 levels of eddy current braking. Included in its impressive array of features are 29 programs, including options for beginners to advanced users and a customizable setting. The 470’s 20-inch stride length, smooth operation and a decent warranty combine to make the Schwinn 470 an excellent value if you’re on a budget.
Bargain-priced ellipticals tend to have short, choppy strides, but the front-drive Schwinn’s 20-inch stride length is the equal of many high-end home ellipticals. It has 25 levels of eddy current resistance (another great feature for the price), and users say the motion is smooth and stable, even for larger users — its maximum weight capacity is 300 pounds. You can also create up to four user programs, something that impresses the folks at Top Ten Reviews.
At Consumer Reports the Schwinn 470 earns ratings of Very Good across the board for ergonomics, exercise range, ease of use, construction, heart rate features and user safety. It’s also named a Best Buy there. It’s the number five pick (out of 10) and Top Ten Reviews, but their review is disappointingly devoid of testing notes, even though they say they tested for this roundup. Rather, they call out the 470’s features for praise, and there are plenty of those.
That includes 29 preset workout programs, with custom programs available as well. The display is fairly small, but still a nice touch at this price point. It displays time, distance, speed, calories burned, resistance level and more.
There are 29 preset programs, as well as the ability to design four custom programs. The automated inclined adjusts up to 10 degrees. A three-speed fan is also a nice touch to keep the user comfortable.
The Schwinn 470 also has a USB port for data export to Schwinn Connect and MyFitnessPal.com — online tools to help users upload and track their workout data and fitness goals; the USB port can also be used for charging your portable gadgets.
Best Compact Elliptical Machine
The Sunny Air Walk Trainer is as highly rated as ellipticals costing much more, but is lighter and much more compact. It does not have the bells and whistles of a full sized, high-end exercise machine, but most say that it provides all you need if you just want an effective, low-impact exercise option. Owners note that it’s very quiet and is uncommonly comfortable to use.
Best Portable Elliptical Machine
Reviewers say the Stamina In-Motion Elliptical may take some getting used to, but once you do, you’ll love it. It’s little more than a set of wheels you pedal, but it’s extremely portable and many dedicated exercisers take it to work, on trips, or keep it in their dorm rooms.
You can adjust the tension to control workout intensity, and use it standing or sitting, in forward or reverse to add variety. The Stamina In-Motion also has an electronic fitness monitor which displays the number of strides per minute, total number of strides, exercise time, and calories burned.
Elliptical training combines the best of stair climbing, cross country skiing and running in a low impact, variety rich workout. Runners will benefit from the non-impact movement as a complement to their running and older users will appreciate the fluidity and ease of the motion. It is a highly effective cross training activity that is viable for anyone from beginning exercisers to elite athletes.
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