The Best Elliptical Machine
The best ellipticals provide high-intensity, low-impact workouts with smooth gliding pedals and intuitive controls, requiring no guesswork. To find them, we consulted physical therapists and everyday buyers before testing the most promising models ourselves. Elliptical design has evolved in recent years from exercise chopsticks to complex machines, and we’ve found the best for a range of budgets.
Simple and smart, the Precor EFX 222 combines a silent motor, smooth motion, and streamlined functionality for $2,495. Together, these features make for a truly superior ride. It also lets you go from powering on to starting a workout in record time, and we found its range of motion to be more satisfying than other, more restrictive machines.
Compact and affordable, this machine is minimalist in design but packs a workout punch. We found it sturdy, smooth-riding, and challenging for its price ($999). The relatively constrained up-and-down leg movement isn't as pleasant as what you'll find on more expensive machines like the Precor, but it's a big step up from anything else in the Horizon's price range.
A cutting-edge machine featuring springy, suspended pedals that allow for more human movement. If you want maximum freedom on your elliptical, the FreeStride ($2,999) was the best we found, allowing the user to march, run, or leap at will. However, its advanced design comes with a learning curve, and at times we struggled to navigate the extensive programming. The Precor offers a more traditional workout experience, but the NordicTrack is worth the money if you're looking for an elliptical, deconstructed and unbound.
The Best Elliptical Machine
A whole-body elliptical workout keeps your joints happy and your cardio health high. All our top picks offer ergonomic movement and positioning, with a wide range of resistance levels and workout programs. If you can afford to go big, opt for a machine with training perks, suspended pedals, and high adjustability, all of which bring comfort and motivation to your daily workouts. Looking to save? You’ll sacrifice some customization, but you can pick up extra portability.
For an overall smooth ride and easy programming, we love the Precor EFX 222. Its silky gliding motion and well-placed handles make the machine feel spacious and solidly constructed. Precor invented ellipticals back in 1995, and the company is still getting it right. Other ellipticals have programming quirks or non-intuitive controls that prove frustrating, but the Precor excels at providing the functional tools you need and omitting the features you don’t. In other words, we were able to put more attention into getting a good workout, and less into wondering how to trick the machine into behaving. With a retail price of $2,495, the EFX 222 is in the midrange of the ellipticals we tested, and we think it fits the bill for most people.
If you want a low-cost elliptical that won’t set you back several grand, look no further than the Horizon EX-59 ($999, though we found it for $650). Its spindly-looking frame had us expecting a jolting, low-intensity workout — instead, we were blown away by a velvet smooth ride capable of supplying impressive resistance. We also appreciated the ability to jump on, press “Go,” and immediately start our workouts — a blissful level of simplicity that most budget-priced equipment won't provide. The flipside: It doesn’t boast much in the way of extras, and has no incline at all.
Looking to break the elliptical mold? The innovative NordicTrack FreeStride Trainer FS9i ($2,999) features high-quality suspension pedals that double the stride length of traditional models. You have the option to move your legs in the ellipses shape that gives ellipticals their name, pump your knees up and down like you are climbing stairs, or stretch your legs out long, imitating a running stride. All three movements offer a smooth, bounding sensation like springing between clouds. Elongated motions are great for muscle development, so if you're looking to get the best possible elliptical workout, the FreeStride is in a league of its own.
How We Found the Best Elliptical
Ellipticals involve more complex engineering than most exercise equipment, and that leads to a lot of diversity in their design. When we set out to find the best ellipticals, we were immediately faced with a lot of disparate options. From the start, we knew we wanted to focus on machines that allow for the classic elliptical motion, moving your feet in ellipses (elongated ovals) with every stride. Reclining or recumbent styles, as well as elliptical gliders, result in a workout style distinct enough to merit their own category, so we excluded them from this review.
But even within the pure elliptical category, there are plenty of choices to make. The three major differences between ellipticals are drive system location, drive mechanism, and pedal design. While it may seem like technical hairsplitting, all three directly contribute to your ride experience.
Drive System Location
The location of the drive impacts machine size and ergonomics.
Rear drive ellipticals place the motor behind the pedals. This was the first elliptical style, pioneered by Precor in 1995. (NordicTrack bought rights to the Precor rear drive design, but other companies innovated around the patent.) Precor chose the rear drive configuration because it offers a natural-feeling stride comparable to jogging or running, and allows the user to maintain upright posture. Rear drive ellipticals tend to be more expensive, and take up the most space. This is the elliptical style typically found in fitness clubs.
Front drive ellipticals tend to be more compact. They encourage a stair-stepping motion and a forward-pitched posture. While front drive models are cheaper than rear drive, they also have more moving parts, which means more maintenance in the long term.
Center Drive is the newest and most complex drive system option. Center drive ellipticals tend to be quite luxurious, offering an exceptional range of motion. With their steep asking price, they typically come decked out with onboard entertainment and a wealth of fitness programming.
These drive placements generally align with three levels of price: mid-range, cheap, and deluxe. If costs were equal, we would say don’t bother with front drive. Its constrained movements don’t have the same comfort or fitness benefits as rear or center. But because price balloons so dramatically with each design upgrade, we decided to bring in all three styles in order to find the best for every budget.
The engineering behind resistance — what happens mechanically to increase the difficulty of pedaling — makes for two more elliptical camps.
Air Resistance utilizes your pedaling speed to increase resistance. Each rotation turns a weighted fan, pushing air through its blades. The faster you pedal, the greater the intensity. This simple design is by far the easiest to repair, plus it generates fresh air with each pump — you can work up a sweat and cool off at the same time - but it's generally dinkier than option No. 2.
Magnetic Resistance is a more mechanically advanced way to control intensity, and operates by moving or manipulating the current of electromagnets inside the flywheel. While magnetic resistance is expensive and requires professional repair, it also provides a smooth, quiet ride.
We decided to only consider ellipticals with magnetic resistance. Air resistance may be cheap (and generate a breeze), but the inconsistent and limited resistance doesn’t make for a great workout. High-quality ellipticals exclusively use magnets and as a result boast even resistance that makes the difficulty of every stride uniform.
The motion of your stride depends on the movement of the pedals: either sliding along a wheel-track or hanging in suspension.
Wheel-track ellipticals have tracks that run along the bottom of the machine and anchor the foot pedals. These tracks control the length and path of your movement, and while you sometimes can adjust stride length and incline height, they are overall more restrictive and less ergonomic.
Suspension ellipticals have no wheel track; instead, the foot pedals are suspended above the floor on jointed limbs. These machines tend to be quieter (no friction) and offer more freedom of movement. The stride length isn't decided by the machine, but by you.
Like drive position, pedal design aligns with price. Less costly, more traditional ellipticals that have front or rear drives also have wheel tracks. Advanced center-drive models offer suspension. The same models we brought in to represent the different price ranges and drive positions also represent the different pedal formats.
Through our research into elliptical design, we found that ergonomics align pretty closely with price: The most expensive machine styles give you the best ride. That said, well-made ellipticals, regardless of technical construction, should accommodate good posture and encourage an effective range of motion. We identified nine popular ellipticals, highly rated in consumer and professional reviews, that met our standards and mapped to the range of elliptical designs we were looking to consider. Then we brought them in for testing.
We tested for ride feel, programming, ergonomics, and adjustability.
We spent quality time with each machine: exploring programs, sampling max inclines and high intensities, debating ergonomics. We crushed ourselves with interval courses and mountain climbs. We found tiny muscles in our shoulders we didn’t know we had. Through it all, we judged every model on two primary considerations: 1) The smoothness and naturalness of the ride and 2) the clarity of the console and its programming. These two factors are critical for a quality workout, and any elliptical that fails one or both just isn’t worth the money.
Beyond that, we considered the overall ergonomics of the machine’s design and the ease of making adjustments. Both affect your workout experience and we looked at them closely, though they carried slightly less weight in our overall consideration than the first two items.
- Diamondback 1260 Ef Elliptical Trainer (front, track)
- Horizon Fitness EX-59 (front, track)
- Nautilus E614 Elliptical (front, track)
- NordicTrack FreeStride Trainer FS9i (center, suspension)
- NordicTrack SpaceSaver SE9i (rear, track)
- Precor EFX 222 Elliptical Fitness Crosstrainer (rear, track)
- Schwinn 470 Elliptical (front, track)
- Sole E95 Elliptical (front, track)
- Zero Runner ZR7 (center, suspension)
All three design factors (drive system location, drive mechanism, and pedal style) contribute to ride feel. While some design choices will always provide for more natural movement (i.e., suspension feels more free than wheel track), we expected that any worthy model would offer a satisfying stride length, smooth-sliding pedals, and arm handles that swung in comfortable unison with pedal speed.
Not surprisingly, our two deluxe, center-drive models, the NordicTrack FreeStride Trainer FS9i and the Octane Zero Runner ZR7, scored high with their free-wheeling, body-powered motion. Riding them, we found that every stride has the potential to be unique. Deciding which of the two offers the best ride feel, our testers were divided. Both provide a level of user-directed motion totally unavailable on any of our other models. Where the Octane feels like striding around in muscular leg braces, the NordicTrack feels like cross-country skiing in zero gravity. Their drawbacks are also on-theme: The Octane made a distinctive clank with every right-footed stride; the NordicTrack had us initially feeling out-of-control.
Ranking ride feel between our two rear drive contenders was easier. The NordicTrack SpaceSaver SE9i and the Precor EFX 222 seem identical, and yet on the NordicTrack we felt, if possible, even more constrained than we did on the tiny front-drive units (one hand is forced against the chest with every step). Meanwhile, the Precor’s well-balanced architecture allowed us to naturally extend our arms and legs, adding up to a truly enjoyable elliptical experience.
The Sole E95 and the Precor competed for the best-riding, midrange elliptical. The front-drive Sole utilizes two wheels on each track, making for a seamless, super silent stride. That ride quality remained constant at any incline, but we noted that on the higher settings, our toes pointed beneath our heels. The machine lost a couple comfort points on that score.
Compact, front-drive ellipticals are not cut out for lengthy strides (maxing out at 20”), and none of the five models we looked at allowed our feet to extend farther than our knees. Apart from the spendy Sole, one other front-drive model was noticeably better than the others we tested.
The Horizon Fitness EX-59, despite being the smallest of the bunch, impressed us. Its design doesn’t plant the user as close to the console as the other front-drive models, giving us some much-needed breathing room. Even better, the wheels roll without any of the gravelly sound or feel that plagued the Nautilus E614, Schwinn 470, and Diamondback 1260 Ef. One tester went so far as it call the surprisingly deluxe ride feel on the Horizon “velvety smooth.” The bulky Diamondback forced the most staccato motion, which felt unpleasantly like stair climbing.
Console and Programming
Exercise programming, and your ability to access it, makes a big impact on user experience. While the workouts most ellipticals offer are pretty similar (fat burn and hill climb are a couple of timeless favorites), the process of locating and switching between them varies enormously. We looked for consoles that were immediately understandable and allowed for quick access to both manual start and specific programs: We wanted to be able to go from powering on to powering through a workout with minimal button pushing.
Precor EFX 222 again earned its stripes, this time by making it possible to just jump on and hit “Go” — no need to negotiate manual programming, type in weight and age, or set a workout duration. You can also switch between programs without pausing the present one or resetting your workout stats. Two simple but smart improvements that Precor gets right and, for whatever reason, every other model gets wrong. As one Precor tester put it, “I never had to push more than one button to get the machine to do what I expected and wanted.”
The Sole E95 also allowed for pretty straightforward workout starts, though it initially juked us into thinking the screen was a touchscreen — its size, location, and visuals all suggest it would be. One tester complained that they spent a good minute attempting to tap the screen just right, before realizing that the understated buttons beneath the screen were the actual controls. Unlike the Precor, it demands user metrics before you can get started. Worse, in order to make weight and age adjustments, you can’t just hold down the arrow button down and scroll through numbers: You have to tap up or down one integer at time. We wanted a cardio workout, not a test of our patience.
On the far end of the usability spectrum, the Diamondback consoles contains a multitude of brightly colored, finicky buttons. One for every single function. However, none of them work unless you first hit the “parent” button awakening that row of controls. We found that models that load up on buttons, like the Diamondback and, to a lesser extent, the Nautilus and Schwinn, were more aggravating to use. The clean simplicity of Precor and Horizon consoles made programming intuitive and speedy.
Of course, beyond pared-down buttons, there’s the option of no buttons at all. The two NordicTrack ellipticals feature the highest level of console tech: touchscreens. However, the discrepancy in touchscreen quality between the more accessibly priced SpaceSaver SE9i and the deluxe FreeStride Trainer FS9i tells you everything you need to know about onboard screens. While the fitness and entertainment features that live inside the two are essentially the same, the experience of using them is enormously different. The small, largely unresponsive touchscreen on the lesser model made just starting a workout a pain. A more spacious, sensitive touchscreen, with room for your fingers to hit the right buttons, is an improvement, but we still felt hamstrung by the necessity of connecting to internet.
NordicTrack incessantly attempts to funnel users online and into iFit, which reduces the equipments’ overall usability. If you can’t connect to internet, or just aren’t interested in subscribing to iFit (a monthly fee for truly decadent programming), you have to back out of advanced options before you’re able to start a manual session. Complexity shouldn't be a default setting.
Surprisingly, the most futuristic elliptical of all, the Octane Zero Runner ZR7, not only doesn’t offer a touchscreen, but has the most mysteriously understated control panel we’ve seen: a transparent plastic screen and six unlabeled buttons. When testers jumped on cold, they couldn’t get pretty much any programming to work. However, it was easy enough to operate after scanning through the manual (which we recommend for any elliptical, no matter how intuitive it looks). Even still, the programming options are lacking compared to other machines: minimal intensity levels (you swivel a pair of cuffs to go between just two) and no incline options.
A good elliptical should keep everything in reach during your workout. We wanted to be able to comfortably access arm handles, controls, and shelving at any point during our workout.
Here’s the deal with elliptical handles: Using them doesn’t feel that great and isn’t that great for you. We heard a lot of noise about how pumping your arms means you’re increasing heart rate and getting a full-body workout, but we talked to a physical therapist who told us otherwise. Mitch Owens of Seattle’s Union Physical Therapy points out that the unnatural position of arms while using elliptical handles doesn’t jive with our biomechanics. It also doesn’t make for a very effective arm workout — unless you’re actively recruiting your arms, they’re just along for the ride. One of our testers mentioned that he vastly preferred keeping his hands and arms on the stationary heart monitor, finding that the moving handles “had a confusing motion and distracted from my workout.”
The best handles of the lineup simply make the best of a bad situation. Sole’s unique, looped design allows for multiple arm positions; Precor’s handles are convenient and reachable; the bigger NordicTrack, which hoists you up higher in the air, lets your arms move closer to chest height. The Octane Zero Runner eschews the typical long bar handles in favor of two short, inward-curving grips, an update we appreciated. Arms move as they would while running, rather than shadow-boxing the ceiling.
Unfortunately, one of the first things to interfere with ergonomics is upping the incline. When the Nautilus and Schwinn are set to max incline, their water bottle holders are comically far away. So are the stationary heart rate handles. Anyone taller than about 5’2” will have to bend down in order to reach them. Meanwhile, when you are at a mid to low incline, the media tray is too far up the console to hold reading material.
Other machines had uncomfortable water bottle and handle positioning no matter the incline. The Horizon’s bottle holder is placed super low regardless of incline — it sits just a couple feet off the floor. You have to stop all motion and lean forward, ducking your head between the heart monitor handles to reach it. Meanwhile, the Diamondback’s moving handles are placed far away from the user, causing our arms to shoot and our elbows to be pulled taut. The NordicTrack SpaceSaver had a similar problem, though the worst part is how it punched our hands back in against our chests while we were running.
Most ellipticals offer the ability to adjust incline. We looked for ellipticals that could achieve a challenging tilt without disrupting our workout momentum.
What about resistance levels?If you’re wondering about adjusting resistance levels, that’s the same on most machines, regardless of price or design — use the arrow toggles on the console or punch one of the quick-access numerical buttons. Incline has a lot more diversity.
The Nautilus E614 makes it easy to locate the proper levers with a vibrant blue catch and clear instructions. The Precor EFX 222 is less apparent. The small, dark gray latch has just a small safety warning that clued us into its purpose. Neither requires much arm strength. We were a little annoyed to have to clamber on and off these machines every time we wanted to test a different pitch, but ultimately found that different inclines didn’t affect our effort level nearly as much as intensity. Very likely, you’ll just set incline once before you start your workout.
Our two NordicTrack models, the mid-range SpaceSaver SE9i and high-end FreeStride Trainer FS9i, both offer speedy, silent auto adjustments. The Diamondback wheezes laboriously when you ask it to raise or lower, and, surprisingly, the higher incline you select, the more constrained your movements. We had a similar experience with the Nautilus and Schwinn twins. If you go to max incline (the typical 10 degrees), your stride feels short and your feet point downhill.
In our line-up, a couple models don’t offer incline at all. Either because their range of motion wouldn’t be served by it (Octane Zero Runner ZR7) or because the manufacturer is keeping down costs (Horizon Fitness EX-59). Of the remainder, two require manual incline adjustments.
The moral of the story: We appreciated when incline adjustments were quick and painless, but found that incline itself did not strongly impact our workout.
What we found:
Our favorite machines were quiet and smooth, lent themselves to natural movements, and made it easy to push our limits. Our least favorite machines had laborious movements, confining designs, and non-intuitive controls. We compared ellipticals to their equals in design and price, and came up with a winner for each of our three categories.
Our Picks for the Best Elliptical
Our testers unanimously loved this machine. Smooth and silent, the Precor EFX 222’s streamlined design makes for easy riding and easy adjustments. What's more, testers of various heights all found the spacing to be ideal - the handles allow for a comfortable reach that doesn’t force the arm to become hyperextended on the push or compacted on the pull. While the pedals are confined to a track, we didn’t feel restricted like we did on the similar, rear-drive NordicTrack SpaceSaver SE9i.
Most of the ellipticals we tested either forced us to toy with a small, grainy touchscreen that functions half the time, or experiment with a keyboard of mysteriously labeled buttons. Precor pares it down to a refreshingly simple console. Its crisp digital screen shows all the usual calorie, distance, and heart rate metrics, plus your workout progress on a blinking graph. It was the only elliptical we looked at that gives heart rate both numerically and as a bar that charts against heart rate zones (warm-up, fat burn, cardio, high). Just one of Precor’s many simple-yet-genius features.
Apart from a couple of resistence toggles, the only other thing on the console is a set of soft, sliding pincers that adjust to hold your device at face-height. This is such a brilliant no-brainer, we were stunned. Because why would anyone want to use an outdated touchscreen, if that’s all the price bracket offers? As one tester put it, “Unless it’s a screen that competes in size and clarity with my laptop, I don’t want it." Just about everyone has a state-of-the-art smartphone or tablet that can be put to work, if a virtual tour of Hawaii or a tv bingefest is what keeps you going.
We appreciated Precor’s intelligent, low-key design choices in everything from the device holder to the foot pedals (long instead of wide, with a raised lip on all sides). One complaint: It’s not immediately obvious how you make the manual incline adjustments. There’s no color coding — everything’s in undifferentiated grey — and there isn’t much in the way of markings to tell you where to press, tug, or give up. Once you do locate the correct panel, however, it’s an easy chore. And don’t let the fact that it’s manual rather than automatic deter you — you may have to DIY, but its 25-degree max incline is second only to the 28-degree Diamondback.
If no automatic incline is a dealbreaker for you, we recommend the Sole E95 — but only if you can find it at a discount price. The Sole’s MSRP is even higher than our super-deluxe, suspension-pedal contenders at $3,400. However, you can find it on Amazon and elsewhere for $1,800, and at that price it beats the Precor by $700.
Minimalist by nature, this pint-sized Horizon might not boast anything beyond the basics, but what it does provide, it aces - like a silent gliding track and powerful resistance. Its intensity levels number just 1-10, while most others offer 1-25, but we found we had to pump just as hard to gain every step. The resistance numbering turns out to be the perfect metaphor for the Horizon: It can do everything bigger and flashier ellipticals can do, but doesn’t brag about it.
The tiny console is about half the size of a typical elliptical's, and we appreciated its pared-down simplicity. In our experience, more buttons and more options don’t substantially improve a workout, they just add complication. A small, lime-green screen gives clear indications of the essentials: progress, time, calories burned, and heart rate. It also presents your heart rate numerically rather than as a bar on an intensity graph, which is all that’s available on the similarly priced Nautilus and Schwinn models.
When we compared all three three front-drive ellipticals around $600, we were impressed that the Horizon’s diminutive size offered more solid construction and more intelligent controls. The taller options were both guilty of substantial shaking, especially when we upped the intensity and our effort. The gritty, rolling sensation of pedaling on them prompted one tester to describe it as “like riding a skateboard over a ridged surface.” The Horizon, on the other hand, remained sturdy and exceptionally smooth, no matter how much power we exerted.
The greater quality of the Horizon is reflected in its MSRP, which is almost double that of the Nautilus and Schwinn. However, retailers like Amazon cut it down to size — from $999 to $650.
The NordicTrack FreeStride Trainer FS9i is a next-level machine. An evolved elliptical, it falls into the alternative motion trainer (AMT) category and, once again, followed Precor into the genre. Precor produces only commercial-grade AMTs that cost $10,000-plus; NordicTrack and a few other manufacturers have repackaged the idea for home use. AMTs offer the motion of jogging, running, and climbing all in one superiorly ergonomic machine. The prices may hurt your eyes, but these ellipticals are certainly easy on the joints.
Springy, suspension foot pedals allow for an incredible range of motion (not to mention a stride of up to 38”), from loping strides to concentrated jogs. Moving on the NordicTrack FreeStride felt a bit like like running through water, weighted down yet paradoxically weightless.
Perhaps not surprisingly, some of our testers struggled to get the hang of it. With so many moving joints, there’s the potential for each step to be different. But with practice, it becomes an excitingly freestyle ride, and the effort needed to keep your strides equal becomes part of your mental engagement with your workout. Depending on your preferred workout style, you might find this to be pleasant (if you like the concentrated focus of yoga), or frustrating (if you prefer to let your mind wander during workouts). It helps to keep an eye on the cadence (number of pedal revolutions per minute) to make sure you’re evenly working out every quadrant of your body.
Like the lesser NordicTrack SpaceSaver, the FreeStride embeds incline and resistance controls in the handles. The FreeStride’s are even better, however, because they’re conveniently set where your palms naturally fall. Instead of reaching up to the crown of the handle, you can just wrap your fingers forward a couple inches.
Another upgrade from its SpaceSaver counterpart: the incredibly high-definition touchscreen. Its precise image quality made the same features we found in the SpaceSaver seem like an entirely new system. We ended up having trouble with the console buttons — we had to press them very hard, which isn’t always practical mid-workout — so we appreciated the extra usability of the touchscreen. That said, NordicTrack’s tendency to put iFit front and center continued to detract from our workout experience.
While the NordicTrack FreeStride reimagines the elliptical, the other AMT we considered, the Zero Runner, throws away the whole blueprint. Its unharnessed pedals stretch to an incredible 58” max stride length and allow for jogging, running, and strait-legged leaping. This is a wholly user-powered make, without any workout programming and hardly any resistance levels to speak of. If you like the sounds of a truly experimental piece of exercise equipment that will make you ask yourself “How do I run without a surface?” “What is running?” and “What are glutes?” then you may find yourself as enamored with this machine as some of our testers (especially the taller, more experienced runners).
The FreeStride Trainer offers a happy medium between the traditional elliptical and the workout of the future. We loved its springy, bounding sensation and the extensive line-up of workout programming (a lot is available even without shelling out for an iFit subscription).
There is also price consideration between the two models. The Octane Zero Runner carries an MSRP $300 above the NordicTrack FreeStride — $3,299 vs. $2,999. But while we didn’t find any retailers beating NordicTrack’s MSRP, we did find the Zero Runner for just $2,475. We liked elements of each, but for overall experience and ease-of-use, we believe the NordicTrack is the better buy.
Elliptical vs. Treadmill
It’s a question as old as time: Are elliptical workouts as effective as running? The answer is… almost.
An elliptical can exert the heart and leg muscles in a manner similar to a treadmill, but the low impact design means you won’t feel like it. Your heels remain in contact with the pedals as you move, placing less stress on muscles and tendons and consequently giving you a lower RPE (Relative Perceived Exertion.) “People actually work harder than they perceive when training on a elliptical,” says strength and conditioning coach Derek Zahler, author of The Tactical Fitness Manifesto. “Particularly where interval training is involved, athletes underestimate their output and heart rate zone. And since you’re typically using different muscle groups in concert on an elliptical than you would on another piece of equipment, and because you don’t feel overworked, you’re likely to continue to work harder, or exercise longer, to burn more calories and have faster weight-loss results.”
Physical therapist Mitch Owens describes low-impact vs. high-impact exercise as a trade-off: “Increase impact, get a better workout.” If you want to make your low-impact elliptical workout compete with running, Owens said, you have to “go crazy turbo on it.” Set the resistance to high and elongate your strides to maximize muscle engagement and calorie burn. Let go of the handles to focus on core stabilization.
Owens acknowledged that the constricted motion of on an elliptical isn’t exceptionally beneficial for muscle development, or that natural for the body. In fact, “Your hips go through a greater range just walking around, running, or climbing stairs.” Still, Owens was quick to point out that the movements we are built for — walking and running — aren’t necessarily the best calorie-burners. The very unnaturalness of the elliptical movement may be what makes it a surprising and therefore effective workout. Exercise variety is a benefit specific to ellipticals — change it up with pre-programmed routines, utilize forward and backward pedal movement, and vary hand positioning. Workout diversity is known to promote peak physical health.
Did You Know?
There’s more than one style of elliptical to love.
Reclining or Recumbent Ellipticals are great for overweight or novice exercisers, says Todd Olson of Boulder's Healthstyles Exercise Equipment. “The seats on recumbent machines are usually a lot more comfortable and inviting for consistent use: There is very little pressure on the knees and ankles as you pedal."
Elliptical Gliders, unlike typical elliptical machines, keep your legs straight as you swing them back and forth. Your arms also tend to be more engaged in powering the glider’s motion, as their movement ratio is more or less equal. Gliders or gazelles are simple machines (like a pair of skis with attached poles) and come pretty cheap -- typically less than $200.
Lateral-movement ellipticals let users move both forward and backward and side to side. This offers big benefits for athletes in sports with a lot of lateral movement (tennis, soccer, basketball) but it's good for everyone “to counterbalance all the movement we typically do in the sagittal plane: forward and backward, but mostly forward,” says Olson. “Working our muscles in the frontal plane (side to side) helps stabilize and balance the musculature around our hips, pelvis, knees, and ankles. This can have the added benefit of easing any low-back issues.”
Vive La Résistance.
Gym Source advises upping the set resistance level on your elliptical by 10 percent each week. Make sure there’s plenty of overhead to do so when buying: The available resistance levels on your elliptical of choice should start challenging you at about 75% their max. You want a healthy margin for growth.
Isn’t impact good for bone health?
Scientific advisor to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, Dr. Robert Recker told The Washington Post that many people overemphasize the importance of weight-bearing exercise in improving bone health. “Anything you do is good for the skeleton,” he affirms, and that includes even extremely non-weight-bearing exercises like swimming. While the bones of an athlete who frequently experiences impact may be denser, the difference in bone density between average exercisers is minimal. The benefits of an elliptical machine workout in terms of bone density is comparable to a run.
Give your elliptical some love.
Most fitness equipment — ellipticals included — have a 10- to 20-year lifespan if well cared for. Frequently check that foot pedals, hand grips, and screws are tight and functioning. Wipe the machine after each use with a non-toxic cleanser to keep bacteria at bay. And help your elliptical’s joints stay as healthy as they do yours: all moving parts of exercise equipment should be regularly lubricated. On a less-frequent basis, check the power cord for fraying. Bi-annually, unplug the machine and open the cover to check the drive belt for wear. If any of these parts seem to be functioning less than optimally, contact your manufacturer.
The Best Elliptical Machine: Summed Up
More Elliptical Machine Reviews
We've been digging deep into Elliptical Machines for several years now, and have published additional reviews for specific needs. Check them out below: