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If you’re browsing deals for fitness equipment this year and only have room for one exercise machine, you may want to consider the elliptical. This piece of cardio equipment is low-impact but provides an efficient workout for your upper and lower body. Its mechanical features lessen the impact on your joints, which makes it ideal for a full-body workout. It’s also a reliable machine to use whether you’re getting started on your fitness journey or are rehabilitating an injury. An elliptical also takes up less space than other bigger pieces of fitness equipment, like treadmills. Many popular brands like Bowflex and Nautilus have their own versions of ellipticals, so we tested out different ones to determine which are the best on the market. Check out our list below to learn about our favorites. If you’re new to using an elliptical, we’ve provided some helpful tips to get you started.
We tested various elliptical models to help you decide which is the best fit for your lifestyle and space. This was a collaborative effort from the team at CNET to determine our top picks for the best elliptical machines. If you’re looking for more budget-friendly ellipticals, these are some of our favorites. Keep reading to learn more about our favorites and why you’ll also approve of them in your home.
Read more: 6 Best Peloton Alternatives: Great Indoor Exercise Bikes That Cost Less
The NordicTrack Commercial 14.9 really has it all — an adjustable stride length, a 14-inch color touchscreen, oversize cushioned pedals, auto-adjustment capabilities and Bluetooth connectivity. At 32 pounds, this elliptical machine also has one of the heaviest flywheels on the market. When you combine that with magnetic resistance, the end result is an impressively quiet machine with smooth movement.
One thing that makes this machine stand out is that it’s fully integrated with iFit, an immersive training experience that gives you access to elite personal trainers and structured, guided workouts to help you achieve your fitness goal.
When you choose a workout through iFit, you’re taken through terrain in places like Chile and the Canary Islands as an elliptical trainer guides you through a simulated workout that automatically adjusts both incline and resistance on your machine as you go. And the 14-inch touchscreen made it that much better and more realistic.
You get one month of iFit family membership for free with the NordicTrack Commercial 14.9, and then it’s $39 a month. You also have the option to skip iFit altogether and run the machine manually, but the iFit experience takes this elliptical trainer machine from good to great.
The only real negative of this fitness equipment is that it’s big. Because this elliptical exercise machine was technically designed for commercial gym equipment use, it takes up a lot of space in a home gym, both horizontally and vertically.
It’s not only the largest horizontally, it’s also the tallest machine of the bunch, so when I was standing on it, I felt like my head was pretty close to the ceiling, even at average height. If you like all of the features of the 14.9, but want something that’s just a little bit smaller (and a little bit less expensive) the NordicTrack Commercial 12.9 is almost the same thing — it does have a smaller screen and a lighter flywheel — in a more compact size.
- Modern design
- Smooth stride
- Has an iFit program option
- It’s big
- The iFit membership comes at additional cost
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Heart rate, speed, time, distance, calories burned, and incline/decline stats.
29.25″ W x 52″ D x 66.7″ H
10-year frame and 2-year parts warranty
10” Vertical, 5” Horizontal
One of the biggest hesitations in purchasing a traditional elliptical machine is the size. There are a lot of compact ellipticals out there, but as a general rule, you have to sacrifice performance for space. That’s not true of the ProForm Carbon HIIT H7, though. Unlike other ellipticals that take up a lot of horizontal space in your home gym, the Carbon HIIT H7 has a vertical design that makes this home elliptical more reminiscent of a stair stepper machine, rather than an elliptical.
Because of the way it’s designed, it takes up about half the space of a regular elliptical. It’s not just about gym equipment space, though. The 10-inch vertical and 5-inch horizontal elliptical path were intentionally combined to give you a better workout intensity and a higher calorie burn.
The stride definitely felt different than a traditional elliptical machine, but when using the machine, my legs were on fire, in all the best ways. I especially felt it on my glutes and the backs of my thighs, similar to the places a stair climber targets. However, since your foot never leaves the foot pedal, it’s still a zero-impact workout that puts less stress on your body than stair climbing or other cardio workout options.
Another thing that made this ProForm elliptical machine stand out is that it’s quiet. When compared to some of the other higher-end ellipticals, this one was considerably less noisy. That’s because instead of air resistance, it uses Silent Magnetic Resistance, or SMR, a trademarked form of resistance that’s smoother and quieter. It was also stable, without any rocking or shaking at all, even at high speeds on the cardio machine.
Because ProForm is owned by Icon Health & Fitness, like the NordicTrack, this machine comes equipped with iFit, which is another huge check in the pro column, offering the option to be guided through your workout by a professional elliptical trainer. And the 7-inch HD touchscreen on the console made the iFit experience hyper-realistic and easy to navigate.
One thing that bothered me about the ProForm Carbon HIIT H7 was that there’s no place to put a tablet. This isn’t a major deal, especially if you’re using iFit, since you likely wouldn’t be paying attention to your tablet anyway, but I thought it would be a nice additional touch for those who have other fitness memberships. I also didn’t like the fact that there’s no power button. The manual says the machine has auto shut-off, but it never kicked in for me. I had to unplug it to turn it off when I wasn’t using it — something that was inconvenient for a high-end machine.
- Ideal for small spaces
- Has iFit membership option
- Turning it off can be a challenge
- Lacks space for a tablet or other streaming device
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Tracks time, distance, speed, and calorie-burn
55.25” L x 38.0” W x 52.5” in H
Patented Stride Technology uses a unique stepping motion to create a stress-free workout.
While ellipticals are categorized as one of the lowest-impact cardio machines, they can still be too much for anyone with joint pain, healing injuries or mobility issues. That’s where the Teeter FreeStep LT3 Recumbent Cross Trainer and Elliptical comes in. Similar to a recumbent bike, because of its recumbent — or reclined and seated — position, the Teeter FreeStep eliminates stress on your joints and takes the load off your back, so you can get a great workout in without premature body fatigue.
In addition to being easy on the joints, this elliptical cross machine is also simple to use. The console is the most straightforward of the bunch, so you don’t need to be tech-savvy to get it going. It has one button you can press to toggle between time, distance, speed and calories. There’s also an adjustable knob right under the seat that you can use to change your sitting position and you can move the angle of the seat for a more customized position.
One warning: It’s easier to phone it in when using this machine compared to others. Because you’re sitting back, instead of standing up, it’s tempting to lean back and give the minimal effort required to check “work out” off your to-do list, but if you stay mindful of that and keep the adjustable resistance as high as you can, you’ll get a great workout with almost zero impact.
- Easy on the joints
- Good for those with limitations
- Easy to be lazy on the machine because you can sit back
- Less challenging than other elliptical options
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Gianmarco Chumbe/ CNET
Time, distance, calories and transfer metrics via Bluetooth to Explore the World app
70.1 L x 28.2” W x 63.2” H
Frame: 10 years, Parts: 2 Years
20” precision path stride
The Schwinn 470 is the elliptical for you if you’re looking for a comfortable yet intuitive machine. Upon first look you can tell it’s a step up from the Schwinn 411, which we previously recommended. The Schwinn 470 has a more modern aesthetic. This was one of the easier machines to assemble on our own because the manual provided clear instructions with illustrations. The design on this machine is also less bulky than expected, even though it’s larger than the Schwinn 411.
When in use, the machine is sturdy and doesn’t wobble, which indicates that it can support people of different weights and heights. The pedals have large footplates and are smooth and comfortable with each stride. This machine’s stride length is 20 inches, therefore it should be suitable for people over 6 feet tall. I’m short, so it didn’t affect me, but if you’re on the taller side make sure to have enough room between the machine and the ceiling otherwise it may feel a little cramped.
Given its simplicity, I was not expecting the machine to be as smooth and comfortable as it was. The pedaling was quiet, which isn’t always to be expected when it comes to exercise equipment. The digital monitor is nothing novel and has a simple display like most elliptical machines.
This is where I wish Schwinn would’ve challenged their designs and experimented with a touchscreen. The display looks outdated because it only uses letters and numbers and can be difficult to read due to the blue light background. Despite not having a more modern take, the Schwinn 470 makes up for it by offering 25 levels of resistance, 29 workout programs and the option to set up a profile for up to four family members.
Even though this machine doesn’t have Wi-Fi, it does have Bluetooth and lets you connect to your favorite apps such as MyFitnessPal, Apple Health and MapMyRun/Ride. If you simply want a machine that feels comfortable and gets the job done, then you’ll like the Schwinn 470.
- Comfortable and intuitive to use
- Ideal for people of all heights and weights
- Lacks modern touch screen
- No Wi-Fi connection
- Not good for small spaces
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Syncs workout stats via Bluetooth to the Explore the World app
73″L x 27″W x 67″H
Frame: 15 years, Parts: 5 years
22″ dual stride rails
If you want an elliptical that reminds you of the classic ones you find in the gym, then you’ll like the Nautilus E618. This machine offers a smooth ride and the footplate uses a suspension-adjust performance-cushioning system, which lets you adjust the angle from zero to 10 degrees for customized heel support. The stride rails are also designed to create a balanced and stable experience. Assembling this machine took longer than expected because the instructions on the manual were not clear. I’d recommend purchasing the in-home assembly option or having someone assist you if you plan on putting this machine together yourself. During testing, the stride felt natural and effortless. It was even mostly quiet with the exception of a couple of squeaks here and there.
This elliptical can hold up to 350 pounds, which makes it versatile for people of different weights and heights. Although the interface looks like a standard elliptical, it offers 29 different training programs that you can follow. If you want a change of scenery you can download the Nautilus Explore the World app which lets you exercise virtually in 19 different locations. You have the option to sign up for $10 a month or $60 for the year, and you can cancel your subscription at any time. The machine can be paired with your phone or tablet via Bluetooth, so you can see, save and share your fitness journey. Unfortunately, the Bluetooth technology is not multifunctional so you wouldn’t be able to connect a heart rate monitor or another device to the machine.
The multiposition handlebars are also a nice touch because you can control the incline and resistance with the click of a button, and you have the option of different hand grips. Similar to the Schwinn 470, the Nautilus E618 has a blue display screen that seems outdated for 2022. This isn’t a big deal if all you’re looking for is a dependable and durable elliptical that lets you use it as a standalone device.
- Smooth stride
- Mostly quiet
- Outdated display screen
- Bluetooth technology is limited
- No Wi-Fi
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Time, heart rate, calories, burn rate, interval
49.3″ L x 30.8″ W x 65.7″ H
The Bowflex Max Total 16 is the only elliptical on the list with all the bells and whistles. We previously recommended its predecessor, the Bowflex Max M9 and this is a slightly improved version. The at-home assembly was simple and easy to follow – you may need an extra person to help you unload the machine from the delivery box, but it’s possible for one person to put it together.
The machine is sturdy and still has the same stepper motion as the Bowflex Max M9, though it requires a little breaking in at first. The handlebars on the Bowflex Max Total 16 have six grips instead of the original four, making it easier to change up hand positioning. The resistance dial is still conveniently placed in the center and it has over 20 resistance levels.
Compared to the Bowflex Max M9, the touchscreen is bigger this time, measuring 16 inches instead of 10 inches. It’s still Bluetooth compatible, so you can connect your heart rate band or other compatible device, and it requires a Wi-Fi connection as well as a membership with the Bowflex program, JRNY. The good thing is you’ll get a free year of JRNY so you can take full advantage of the elliptical. After your trial is over, it’s $149 for the year or $20 a month.
All things considered, the price is reasonable compared to other memberships that only give you a free month trial and can cost well over $30 a month. What’s also a great feature is that you can personalize your fitness experience through real-time coaching that automatically adjusts the intensity of your workouts as you get stronger — so there’s no chance of you cheating yourself.
The other feature that made us fall in love with the Bowflex Max M9 in the first place was the ability to connect to your favorite streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, Disney Plus and more. This feature was still included in the Bowflex Max Total 16 and is a nice option for when you just want to binge your favorite show and get a quick workout in.
So if you’re looking for an elliptical that can fit in a small or big space and has modernized high-tech features, the Bowflex Max Total 16 is a solid pick. If the Bowflex Max Total 16 price is a bit steep for your taste, the Bowflex Max M9 is still a good pick since you get all the same features for at least $500 cheaper.
- Fits in most spaces
- Has a big HD touchscreen
- Lets you stream Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services
- Personalizes your workout experience
- Heavier than Bowflex Max M9, which can be a hassle to move
- Can’t use without a JRNY membership
Other ellipticals we tested
Cubii Total Body: Smart Seated Elliptical: I had a pleasant experience using this mini elliptical and could see it being used by those recovering from an injury, the elderly or those with certain physical limitations. It’s not heavy and it’s easy to move around on its wheels. I definitely broke a sweat, which I didn’t expect from a low-impact workout you can do while sitting down. It also included resistance handles so you can include upper body workouts. The reason it didn’t make our list is because it’s a newer version that was sold out on Indiegogo, but there are older versions on the Cubii website if you want to get a similar experience. This mini elliptical is one of many that exist on the market and would make a good candidate for a future mini elliptical best list.
How we picked
We understand that purchasing an elliptical is an investment and we narrowed it down to these important factors to make our picks.
Price: We made an effort to include ellipticals of various price points to fit your budget.
Functionality: An elliptical has one fluid motion, but there are different designs, including standing or sitting options. We also observed how easy the machine was to use once it was set up.
Comfort: Besides ease of use and functionality, we also looked at how comfortable it was to use the machine according to stride and user experience.
Features: Some elliptical brands have improved the technology on its consoles, so we looked at how that adds to the user experience.
Factors to consider when choosing an elliptical
- Browse around to get an idea of how much an elliptical may cost you and then budget accordingly. Machines range from $500 to over $2,000.
- Consider the space you have in your home to fit one and make sure you account for those measurements when purchasing an elliptical.
- Decide if you want a machine with all the bells and whistles (like streaming TV or guided workouts) or if you’d be content with a standard machine.
- Determine whether you’d be willing to assemble the machine or if you’d prefer white-glove service. If it’s the latter, find out if that’s included in your order for free or at an additional cost.
Are home ellipticals worth it?
Whether having an elliptical machine at home is worth it or not depends on a few factors. If you’re looking for a low-impact exercise machine that provides a full-body workout, an elliptical is a great option. Also weigh how often you expect to use it versus other types of exercise.
Price is also a significant element. Elliptical machines can run in the hundreds or thousands of dollars, so make sure you consider the overall value of the purchase before you buy.
What muscles do ellipticals work?
Exercising on an elliptical machine can work a number of muscle areas, including the chest, back, biceps, triceps, core muscles, glutes and hamstrings, according to CNET’s sister site Healthline. Ellipticals offer a low-impact alternative to running, while still providing a full-body workout.
How many calories do you burn on an elliptical?
How many calories you burn on an elliptical will vary depending on your weight and the intensity and duration of the workout. According to Harvard, 30 minutes of exercise on an elliptical can burn an average of 270 calories for a 125-pound person, 324 calories for a 155-pound person and 378 calories for a 185-pound person.
Is the elliptical good cardio?
The elliptical is a good cardio workout because it works your heart and lungs. It can be performed as a steady-state workout or as a high intensity interval training workout. As a result, it helps you build up your endurance.
CNET writers Lindsay Boyers and Megan Wollerton also contributed to this story.
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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.