The Best Cheap Ellipticals
How We Found the Best Cheap Ellipticals
18 Hours of Exercise
9 Machines Tested
2 Top Picks
The Best Cheap Elliptical
The best cheap elliptical machine retains the smooth ergonomics of its pricier peers, provides challenging levels of intensity, and offers clear programming that doesn’t get tangled up in low-quality tech. Over in our Best Elliptical review, we pursued great ellipticals at a range of price points; here we zoom in on our most affordable favorites.
How We Chose the Best Cheap Ellipticals
The low-price elliptical market can be hit-or-miss, but through our research we landed on two exceptional machines. Like most ellipticals that keep their price beneath $1,000, they utilize front-drive motors (versus rear or center drives) and wheel track pedals (versus the more complex suspension pedals). We understand that $800-$1,000 might not seem cheap to some people, but we've found it's the minimum you can spend on an elliptical with solid construction and useful functionality.
Ride feel comes down to a sturdy frame, a smooth wheel track, and even resistance. The best elliptical should perform under varying levels of stress, staying steady and maintaining your range of motion no matter the program or incline level you use.
Issues in ride feel often present themselves when a machine’s incline is at its maximum. Some may leave your feet pointing down, like training wearing high heels, while others may have your knees banging into the water bottle holder.
The ergonomics of an elliptical largely depend on the placement of the handles, water bottle holder, media shelving, and controls. At minimum, none of these features should disrupt your ride or cause you to stop your workout to utilize them. At their best, they’re bonus features that make your ride more enjoyable.
With low-cost ellipticals, the best console is a simple console. A great-functioning basic system is better than a poorly-functioning deluxe one with unresponsive touchscreens and nonsensical consoles.
The 2 Best Cheap Ellipticals
Why we chose it
Luxurious ride feel
The Horizon’s slim profile had us expecting a shaky, low-intensity workout, but we found it to be incredibly sturdy, smooth, and challenging. The simple glide was even better than the feel we got on some higher-priced models. One contributing factor: The Horizon sets you back farther from the console, which makes the ride feel more spacious. It's a subtle difference that you might not initially notice, but the longer we spent testing machines, the more we appreciated the Horizon's seamless strides.
The small, lime-green screen features just a few essential metrics: time, calories, and progress. The crystal-clear readings give nothing but the information we were looking for. This was a pleasant surprise after seeing so many that are chock-full of scrolling messages, flashing lights, and extraneous info.
A lot of low-cost ellipticals don’t give your heart rate numerically, but instead translate it directly into a bar chart of heart rate zones. That can be helpful in its own way, but we loved that the Horizon serves up the raw data. People bring individualized fitness goals to the table, and to better serve those needs, we much preferred the Horizon’s specific digits over other models’ mysteriously calculated estimations.
With just 10 resistance levels (most ellipticals run up to 25), we jumped on the Horizon for our first workout expecting a max intensity cut in half. In fact, the upper levels on the Horizon are grueling — the same skiing-through-peanut-butter feeling we got on ellipticals that label their resistance with higher numbers. Here again, Horizon may not brag about its power, but it’s there.
Points to consider
No incline or fan
To get the Horizon’s seamless ride feel, you do have to sacrifice incline adjustments and the cooling fans that some ellipticals feature on their consoles. If those tradeoffs make you cringe, check out our other top pick.
Low water bottle holder
We had just one issue with the ergonomics on the Horizon: Its water bottle holder is set bizarrely low, so that you have to bend in half to reach it. The Schwinn and Nautilus do better, with holders that you don’t have to stop moving in order to access. However, we didn’t find it enough of an inconvenience to stop preferring the Horizon’s smooth-as-silk ride.
Why we chose it
Subtle perks like cushioned pedals can be found throughout the machine. To make climbing on board easier, there’s a tiny, tractioned landing pad located behind and between the wheel tracks. The Schwinn also features a small but powerful fan to cool you down and a convenient nook for storing devices or a book.
Another fun feature: When you burn a record amount of calories (more than you have ever done in a previous workout), the Schwinn dings and flashes a star across the console screen — a reward that makes your workout feel more like a video game.
The Schwinn 470 offers a silent ride — the only sounds are the gentle motor hum and the squeak of the rubber pedal cushioning. So if you're watching TV while working out, you won’t need to turn the volume up loud enough to wake the neighbors.
Notably, the Schwinn offers automatic incline. You can raise and lower the pitch of the track 10 degrees, increasing or decreasing the intensity of your workout with the push of a button.
Points to consider
Although the Schwinn’s a bigger machine, the console shivers and shakes slightly while you’re in motion. It’s an inconvenience we didn’t encounter on the more compact Horizon, but we still enjoyed the Schwinn’s ride and additional design features enough to recommend it.
After experiencing the Horizon’s straightforward display, we found the Schwinn adds a confusing array of options that outpace its abilities — like an extra set of arrow buttons just to navigate a basic set of programs. And if you like to keep an eye on your heart rate, know that the Schwinn gives the read-out only as a bar graph, not a concrete number.
How to Find the Right Cheap Elliptical for You
Consider price trade-offs
Ellipticals come with various motor placement, pedal construction, and resistance systems. A lot of these choices affect price. Most ellipticals under $1,000 — including both of our top picks — utilize front-drive motors and wheel track pedals. The design tends to force a shorter stride length and a vertical plane of movement more akin to stair-climbing than running.
Decide which features are essential to you
You’ll have to sacrifice something in order to stay under $1,000; knowing what matters most to you will help when you inevitably have to decide which bullet to bite. Is a fan or adjustable incline a must-have? Or, would you be willing to sacrifice both in lieu of a smoother ride and sharper display? Decide which features you're willing to compromise on, and (more importantly) which ones you aren't.
Now that you know what’s most important to you, you can confidently visit a sporting goods store and try them out for yourself without feeling overwhelmed. Seeing the features in-person is a good way to seal the deal on your priorities or discover new features you didn’t know you cared about.
Cheap Elliptical FAQ
What do I sacrifice when I pay less for an elliptical?
The price difference is in the details: the more expensive the machine, the more likely it is to have fancy upgrades like a touchscreen or the ability to change your stride (circular vs. ellipses vs. jogging motion). To see what lies beyond the $1,000 price range, check out our review of the Best Elliptical Machines for Home Use.
Can I finance an elliptical?
In our experience, it seems financing an elliptical is typically an option — though it works differently depending on the manufacturer. Horizon, for example, only allows financing if you buy in-store. On Amazon, though, we've sometimes seen promotions that allow 12-month financing after signing up for Amazon’s credit car. We just can't guarantee that such promotions will be available when you're buying.
What gives a better workout: an elliptical or a treadmill?
It’s a toss-up: An elliptical causes less stress on your muscles and tendons, so you won’t feel like you’re working so hard and can probably go longer. But, according to Physical therapist Mitch Owens of Seattle’s Union Physical Therapy, “Increase impact, get a better workout.” In other words, ellipticals make your workouts more tolerable; treadmills make them more fruitful.
The Best Cheap Ellipticals: Summed Up
More Home Fitness Reviews
If you’re decking out your home gym, doing your research is key. We’ve dug deeper into different types of ellipticals, along with other home-gym equipment.