The Best Elliptical Machines for Home Use
The best ellipticals for home use provide diverse and challenging workouts, and are designed to not dominate 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 offer natural movement, high max intensity, and intuitive controls.
The Precor ($2,495) offered the best all-around elliptical experience. This classic elliptical offers an exceptionally smooth ride, with pedal motion that we found uniquely satisfying. And the refreshingly streamlined console offers the choice of programming your workout or jumping straight in.
If budget is your primary concern and you're less worried about detailed programs or stride length, we recommend the Horizon. An understated design hides impressive power in this no-nonsense but good-quality pick. The Horizon offers a smoother ride than its cheap competition, and its console is much less cluttered. One side-effect of its compact build: a short stride length.
NordicTrack FreeStride Trainer FS9i
For those who want a great workout above all else, the FreeStride lets you free your movements with springy, super flexible engineering. The superior range of motion lets you challenge your muscles more than you can on smaller, more confined machines. It offers a high-quality touch screen, but we found its other buttons unresponsive..
The Best Elliptical Machines for Home Use
- Precor EFX 222 -
- Horizon EX-59 -
- NordicTrack FreeStride Trainer FS9i -
Ellipticals make for a fun yet challenging total-body workout - exactly the experience you need to keep motivated in your at-home workouts. One of ellipticals' biggest draws: How they feel less exhausting than working out on other exercise equipment, treadmills for example. 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.
We set out to find the best ellipticals on the market, and that meant bringing in an array to test ourselves, diverse in terms of design, features, and price. We found three outstanding models for different budgets and preferences. Each succeeds in making the total workout experience smooth, challenging, and intuitive.
The best of the bunch: Precor EFX 222. 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, a manual lever for changing incline. But in our testing we found that what elevates this mid-range Precor model ($2,495) above the rest is how well it executes classic elliptical functionality. From the easy-to-use console to the silently gliding track, it gets all the essential elliptical characteristics just right, making it simple to start your workout and enjoyable enough to keep it going.
If you’re looking for something a little more affordable, we were also pretty enamored with the Horizon EX-59 ($999, though we located it at retailers like Amazon for $650). A minimalist’s dream, this diminutive model pares it down to basics with a super compact console, no incline, and just 10 levels of resistance. We found that despite the Horizon’s slim stats, it offers a workout experience on par with much more expensive, much more decked-out ellipticals. Seamless ride quality plus exceptional usability helped us focus on the important part: Accomplishing a good workout.
Most ellipticals provide the same type of workout, with roughly similar stride length and motion. With freely swinging, many-jointed pedals, the NordicTrack FreeStride Trainer FS9i 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. Right on theme with the NordicTrack’s plush design features: Its impressive touchscreen console. Use the high-def screen to stream scenic runs or monitor your workout progress. It also has a pretty plush price ($2,999), but you can see and feel that quality with every step.
How We Found the Best Elliptical Machines for Home Use
As we researched the engineering and design features behind ellipticals, we realized we were looking at a pretty diverse category of exercise equipment. Ellipticals’ complex design opens up a lot of potential for technical variation, and those variations strongly influence ride feel.
A couple of the most impactful: The three possible drive system locations and the two pedal design options. There are also two common resistance types — air fan and magnetic — but we opted to consider only magnetic. It alone provides the even, steady intensity that most elliptical users are looking for.
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, the economical redesign, comes in a smaller footprint but also constrains 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.
Pedal design: Like drive system positioning, the two options for elliptical pedals — wheel track and suspension — impact 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, on the other hand, 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 does not fit all. So when we culled the market for highly-rated magnetic ellipticals, we purposefully 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 earned their stars from long-time, at-home users.
We brought those nine in for hands-on testing. To find which excelled, we exercised. We tried out their manual settings and programmed routines. We compared notes on the comfort and challenge levels of each. We ranked each according to ride feel, console and programming, ergonomics, and adjustability. Throughout our exercise equipment reviews, we’ve found that these considerations have most impact on the overall workout experience. Ultimately, our findings pointed us to three top picks that stood out from similarly designed and similarly priced models.
For all the details of our testing process, check out our review of The Best Elliptical Machine.
Our Picks for Best Elliptical Machines for Home Use
The perfect low-key, high-performance elliptical. Its completely silent motor, smooth track motion, and simple, smart functionality make this elliptical a stand-out no matter what models you stack it up against. While most of the machines we tested have programming quirks or non-intuitive controls that make just getting your workout started a frustrating experience, 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.
If you like the programming on fitness equipment, though, we still recommend the Precor. This machine allows you to switch between programs while retaining your workout stats like calories burned and elapsed time. Every other machine we tested forced us to stop our workout and reset our stats if we wanted to change tactics mid-workout.
We also loved 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.
The real knockout is the well-designed console. More and more exercise machines are integrating touchscreens into their design, but we’ve found most of them to be frustratingly unresponsive. Precor sidesteps the touchscreen fad, but still keeps its console relevant to modern tech: Above the small, crisp screen that shows metrics and workout progress, there’s a set of soft pincers to hold your own device. Smart and simple design choices like this one make the Precor EFX 222 a solid elliptical pick.
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. While the resistance levels stop at 10 (where most go to 25), the upper levels are just as grueling on that machine as any other we tested. Plus, the wheel track runs totally smooth and silent, without the motor hum we noted in other low-cost options.
The max 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.
With just a handful of programs and no incline adjustments, your workouts on the Horizon will be simple, but they can still be challenging. 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.
We weren’t too impacted by the loss of incline, since the workout was still be challenging without it. The one design misstep we took note of: The comically low-set water bottle holder, which was impossible to reach while pedaling.
Apart from that frustration, our experiences on the Horizon were overwhelmingly positive. One of the 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.
There are a lot of moving parts on the NordicTrack FreeStride Trainer FS9i. And because of them, there’s actually a learning curve before feeling confident and in control during your ride. 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. If you aren’t interested in relearning how to elliptical, and would prefer a predictable workout that takes on most of the responsibility for symmetrical body movement, we would direct you back to the Precor. But if you love the idea of a workout that feels like springing through the air, this machine is a game-changer.
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 out 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.
One thing we didn’t like: Despite the large touchscreen, it was a challenge just to navigate through the wealth of options. 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.
Aside from that usability quirk, we were blown away by the user experience on the NordicTrack. The loping strides are an ergonomic update to the typical elliptical motion that makes for greater muscle engagement and a more entertaining ride. 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.