The Best Elliptical Machines for Home Use
How We Found The Best Elliptical Machines
18 hours of exercise
9 machines tested
3 top picks
The Best Elliptical Machines
The best ellipticals for home use provide diverse and challenging workouts without dominating your living room. We surveyed a wide variety of elliptical machine styles for their longevity and power, and tested nine of the best to find which ones offer natural movement, high max intensity, and intuitive controls.
How we chose the best elliptical machines for home use
Drive system location
The source of an elliptical’s resistance — the weighted flywheel that makes every step a pump rather than a flutter — may be housed in three different locations: at the front, at the rear, or divided in the center.
- The first ellipticals utilized rear drive. These elongated machines have a consequently more elongated stride.
- Front drive ellipticals, a more economical redesign, come in a smaller footprint but also constrain every step.
- The newest and most luxurious option, center drive, pulls the motor out of the way and doesn’t limit stride length at either the front or the rear. While center drive takes up the least floor space when idle, those widely swinging limbs require a sizable amount of space while in use.
Like drive system positioning, the two options for elliptical pedals — wheel track and suspension — affect both price and user experience.
- Traditional wheel-track ellipticals, whether front or rear drive, anchor each pedal to a track. The smoothness of the ride depends on the quality and construction of this interlocking system. A wheel-track provides a secure, predictable range of motion.
- Suspension pedals make for a pretty wild ride. This innovative alternative is seen exclusively in center-drive models, and is responsible for those loping strides that double — if not triple — typical elliptical strides (40"-60” vs. the average 20").
If we were seeking out the most ergonomic, state-of-the-art machines with no eye for price, we would focus our attention on center drive, suspension pedal ellipticals. But we wanted to identify great elliptical options for all budgets and movement preferences, knowing that what fits one body and one pocket book doesn’t necessarily fit all. So when we combed the market for highly-rated magnetic ellipticals, we purposely sought out models to reflect the full range of styles and price points.
All of the nine machines we ultimately landed on received commendations from fitness websites and product reviews, as well as long-time, at-home users.
During hands-on testing, we looked for machines that truly excelled in ride feel and ergonomics, as well as manual settings and programmed routines. The best machines are easy to adjust and have consoles that present useful information intuitively.
An at-home elliptical shouldn’t be too intrusive when it’s not in use. What that means for you depends on your available space — we looked at ellipticals of all sizes. Our budget pick is low-profile and would fit in most spaces, while our others aren’t quite as compact, but aren’t eyesores either.
The 3 Best Ellipticals for Home Use
- Precor EFX 222 — Most Intuitive
- Horizon EX-59 — Best Budget
- NordicTrack FreeStride Trainer FS9i — Best Ride
Precor EFX 222
Why we chose it
Smooth glide, quiet motor
This simple, elegant creation seems like a standard elliptical at first blush: an average-sized console, moving handles plus stationary heart rate handles, 25 resistance levels, and a manual lever for changing incline. But in our testing we found that the perfectly executed, classic elliptical functionality elevated it above the rest.
You won’t even notice the Precor’s completely silent motor, and you’ll love how silken the gliding pedals feel. While the max stride length is on par with the majority of ellipticals we tested (20"), the overall ergonomics of the rear-drive design lead to a more pleasant motion overall. The handles also allow for comfortable arm extension that didn’t tug on our shoulders or elbows.
No programming quirks or counterintuitive controls here. The Precor provides all the simple tools you need and omits the features that don’t actually help your workout. It’s easy to get on and just go, and we loved that Precor recognizes some users would rather dive into a workout than spend five minutes punching programming buttons.
Points to consider
At $2,195, the Precor is about twice the cost of our budget pick, the Horizon EX-59. You’ll be getting more functionality (more resistance programs, the ability to incline, etc.) with the Precor, but if your budget overrules those bells and whistles, consider the Horizon instead.
Why we chose it
Smooth, silent ride
The Horizon EX-59, with its miniature dimensions and plain console, doesn’t look like it will bring much to your workout. So we were blown away to find that it was smooth and super convenient to use. The wheel track runs totally smooth and silent, without the motor hum we noted in other low-cost options.
The maximum stride length is on the short side at just 18”, but we found that the placement of the pedals and console make it so you never feel like you are pressed up against the machine. That alone helped give us a greater sense of spaciousness and freedom. The handlebars are also well-placed, standing up at a comfortable height that never crunched or overextended our arms.
One of the Horizon’s best aspects was the clarity of the controls and display — we spent more energy on the actual workout, rather than trying to decipher the controls. Its easy-to-read display is small and contains just a few essential metrics: time, calories, and progress. We preferred it to the cluttered displays of many other budget-friendly machines, which overloaded us with unnecessary information.
And with just a handful of programs and no incline adjustments, your workouts on the Horizon will be simple. The resistance levels stop at 10 (where most go to 25); but, the upper levels are just as grueling on that machine as any other we tested.
When we knocked the intensity up to the highest numbers, we had to exert a lot of energy to power the motion of both pedals and handles. Amazingly, even as we tugged on the arms and stomped down on the pedals, the machine remained sturdy, without any perceptible shaking of the console. And we weren’t too impacted by the loss of incline, since the workout was still challenging without it.
The price of an elliptical is closely tied to its features; so when you buy a machine on the low end of the price range, you’re bound to sacrifice something. But you’ll be hard-pressed to figure out what you’re sacrificing with the Horizon, which gives just as powerful and smooth a ride as machines far above its $599 price point.
If budget is your biggest concern, check out our review of the Best Cheap Ellipticals, where we dive deeper into other budget-friendly options. (Spoiler alert: the Horizon’s our top pick.)
Points to consider
Low water bottle holder
The one design flaw we found on the Horizon: Its water bottle holder is comically low-set. You’ll have to stop pedaling in order to take a sip. An inconvenience, to be sure, but certainly not a dealbreaker in our experience.
NordicTrack FreeStride Trainer FS9i
Why we chose it
Unique, springy ride
With freely swinging, many-jointed pedals, the NordicTrack provides a workout experience that tests the bounds of the elliptical genre. Move your legs in a circular, jogging motion, a classic ellipses shape, or stretch them out long like you’re cross-country skiing. It feels a little like leaping between clouds.
The loping strides are an ergonomic update to the typical elliptical motion that makes for greater muscle engagement and a more entertaining ride. It’s the only elliptical that made us feel like we were running, not pedaling. Keep aware of exerting even effort from every quadrant of your body (the cadence metric helps gauge the power of every stride) and you’re in for an incredibly new-age take on full-body exercise.
Right on par with its deluxe, innovative function, the NordicTrack also features a large touchscreen. Like most NordicTrack products, the FreeStride uses the beautiful imagery on the touchscreen to funnel users incessantly toward subscribing for iFit. Whether or not you choose to invest in the app (which beefs up the machine’s programming), there’s a healthy range of fitness options that come preloaded. In fact, the FreeStride has more programming than any other elliptical we looked at — a whopping 38 workouts.
Points to consider
This is an upgrade pick partly because of its maximum customizability and unique ride feel, but also because of its $2,799 price tag. That’s $600 more than our top pick Precor; while the Precor is certainly more traditional and undeniably simpler, it’s a great option if you’re not ready to spend at the NordicTrack level.
There are a lot of moving parts on the NordicTrack. Because of them, it’ll take a bit before you feel confident and in-control during your ride. And with such a wealth of options, we found the NordicTrack’s large touchscreen a challenge to navigate through at times. That’s especially true if you just want to gear down into manual mode and go.
This difficulty carried over into controls off the touchscreen. Both the console’s toggles and the toggles inlaid in the handles required some serious finger stabbing before they’d respond. After a few uses, we found our rhythm, and most of our testers preferred the unique, springy sensation of the NordicTrack to that of a traditional elliptical.
Guide to Ellipticals for Home Use
How to find the right elliptical for your home
Consider your space
Are you trying to fit this into a one-bedroom apartment, or in a roomy home gym? Is there space on the wall for a TV mount, or does the machine need to hold your tablet in place for entertainment? These sort of considerations will help eliminate several ellipticals right off the bat for their size or features.
Decide on features and budget
Along the same lines, knowing what you’re willing to sacrifice versus what you absolutely need your elliptical to have will help make decisions along the way. Beyond size and physical features (water bottle holders, clips for your tablet, etc.) consider:
- iFit connectivity
The more boxes you check, the more you’ll need to spend to find a good elliptical that contains all those features. Elliptical prices vary widely, and your decision may ultimately come down to what you’re willing to spend. As you move toward the lower end of the pricing spectrum, you’ll have to start making decisions on which features you’re willing to sacrifice; knowing your budget before you purchase — or even test-drive — can set expectations and save you heartbreak later on.
Should I buy an elliptical or a treadmill?
Both have their advantages. An elliptical provides a low-impact workout that you can sustain for long periods of time. A treadmill increases impact, which means more stress on muscles and tendons; but, according to Physical therapist Mitch Owens of Seattle’s Union Physical Therapy, “a better workout.” Knowing your body and habits will help you decide which is best for you.
Why don’t I feel as tired on an elliptical?
Exercise scientists call this phenomenon RPE (relative perceived exertion): how hard you feel you’re working, as opposed to how much energy your body’s actually using. Because ellipticals support body weight and keep impact off tendons and joints, you’re able to work up a sweat, and burn the same calories as a run, without enduring the same mental fatigue.
How long do ellipticals last?
If you take care of it, an elliptical should have a 10- to 20-year lifespan. To make it last:
- Frequently check that foot pedals, hand grips, and screws are tight and functioning
- Regularly lubricate all the moving parts of the elliptical lubricated
- Check the drive belt for wear every six months.
The Best Ellipticals for Home Use: Summed Up
More Home Fitness Reviews
In other reviews, we’ve explored specific subsets of ellipticals, as well as different types of equipment to max out your fitness (and your home gym).