Runners can gain huge fitness benefits from using elliptical machines, particularly on rest days or while recovering from injuries. The steady resistance you get from an elliptical machine’s pedals puts less strain on your muscles and joints, providing a lower-impact way of maintaining your cardio fitness. And the moving handles on most models allow you to engage your upper body and core, so you can get a full-body workout. Running on an elliptical might not be quite the same as treadmill running—with a static pedal pattern, you won’t be able to work on your running form, and your speed and mileage won’t correlate exactly—but introducing some variety and active recovery to your training can help more than just sticking to running alone. Plus, even the non-runners in your family can enjoy an elliptical machine—with an array of resistance settings, ellipticals provide a great workout for fitness rookies and advanced athletes alike.
What to Consider When Shopping for an Elliptical Machine
Like most home fitness equipment, ellipticals are available in a wide range of designs and uses, from the most basic models to commercial-grade, gym-quality machines. Some are more upright and compact enough to fit into a four-foot space in your house, with a front-drive or center-drive unit that tends to provide a lighter workout. Others have center-drive or rear-drive units that take up more space but have an extended track-and-roller design for a more ergonomic, full-body workout. The former tend to be less expensive and easier to store. The latter often include more features and customizability, such as an adjustable incline, adjustable stride length, and more levels of resistance.
Carbon HIIT H7 Elliptical Trainerreadmills, to some extent you get what you pay for with elliptical machines. Although you can get a good workout from lower-priced models with fewer settings, having more options will keep your workout interesting and challenging. The top machines offer a broad range of adjustable resistance—often with 20+ levels. They also include more adjustability in general, including auto-controlled incline height and stride length. How much stride length you need is largely dependent on your size, but it’s likely you should look for at least 20 inches of length. Other factors you’ll want to consider are whether or not the machine has moving arms for a full-body workout, or other bells and whistles, such as heart-rate monitors and Bluetooth connectivity to connect you to interactive workouts.
Although some models cost as little as $200, those machines tend to be more difficult to assemble and will break down more quickly. A higher-quality elliptical will provide a quieter, smoother ride that will hold up longer and give you more workout customization. Just be sure to consider your space and budget when shopping; if you’re looking to replicate the quiet, smooth experience of a gym elliptical, try a commercial-grade, rear-drive machine. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, try visiting a fitness retailer to test-run a few different models. And if you’re not sure an elliptical machine is even a workout you’ll stick with, consider getting a cheap resale model to see if it’s something you enjoy before springing for a new one. Also make sure to check out the warranty before buying—mechanical issues can strike even the higher-end models.
How We Chose
Every elliptical machine here has been thoroughly evaluated and vetted by our team of test editors. We research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers, and use our own experience working out on these machines to determine the best options. Most models have been tested by our staff, and those that haven’t have been carefully chosen based on their price, durability, smoothness, adjustability, and features. Here are the best elliptical machines for a low-impact workout.
Bowflex M8 Max Trainer
If you can’t decide between a stair climber and an elliptical machine, check out this compact hybrid with the functionality and benefits of both. The M8 is Bowflex’s midrange model and gives you interactive workout programs and Bluetooth connectivity, as well as 20 resistance levels. It has seven guided workouts to run through—some of which are only 14 minutes long so you can maximize your time. For a more budget-friendly machine, check out the M5 or M3. The M8’s included warranty covers just three years for frame and parts and only 90 days labor, though you can pay more to add a more generous plan.
Schwinn 470 Elliptical Machine
Schwinn’s premium elliptical is a smooth and solid machine for the price—particularly if you catch it on sale. It won’t give you quite the longevity and smooth, stable feel of a higher-end elliptical, but it packs in a lot of features that similarly priced ellipticals don’t. The 470 has 25 levels of resistance to dial in your ideal workout intensity, a power-adjustable incline, a 20-inch stride length for good range of motion, a 20-pound flywheel, and a three-speed fan to keep you cooler and more comfortable. It connects by Bluetooth to sync with most major fitness tracking apps, so you can use it to track your mileage and run virtual races all over the world. Just be warned that the warranty falls a little short: It covers 10 years for the frame, two years on the parts, but only 90 days labor.
ProForm Carbon HIIT H7
Don’t write off ellipticals as easy just because they’re low-impact—you can get a hardcore HIIT workout on this surprisingly compact machine. A combination stair climber and elliptical, the Carbon HIIT H7 has a 10-inch vertical by 5-inch horizontal stride path, a 30-pound flywheel, and 24 levels of resistance so you can customize your effort. Just use the iFit-enabled touchscreen to select a pre-programmed workout and let the machine control your intense spurts and recovery periods—the H7 comes with a three-year iFit subscription. The warranty covers 10 years for the frame, two years on the parts, and one year labor.
NordicTrack bills this elliptical as part of its “Spacesaver” series because the console collapses down for easier storage. But despite its foldability and fairly compact footprint when set up for use, it has a rear-drive unit that feels sturdy and stable in motion. This is NordicTrack’s entry-level model in the Spacesaver series, and most of its features are a compromise between performance and budget—evidenced by the fact that the machine has only an 18-inch stride path and 18-pound flywheel. It also lacks a touchscreen (you have to upgrade to the SE9i for that). But in the “pros” column, it includes a power-adjustable incline that rises to 10 percent and 24 built-in workout programs, plus a 5-inch LCD screen that’s iFit-enabled and comes with a 1-year subscription. You’ll just have to use a tablet for clearer video. The warrant is a fairly standard 10 years for the frame, two year for parts, one year for labor.
Precor EFX 222
For those who want to bring the smooth experience of a gym elliptical to their home, the Precor EFX 222 is a nice middle ground between budget and premium. It has an ergonomic feel that better replicates a natural running stride than most other ellipticals, 10 built-in workouts, 16 resistance levels, and an overall sturdy, high-quality, rear-drive build. In some senses it feels like a bit of a throwback, particularly in terms of the old-school display and lack of digital adjustability. However, if you’re more interested in a sturdy, stable build than electronic features, it’s a great option. The ramp can be adjusted to three different angles; however, it has to be set manually. A generous warranty covers the frame and welds for a lifetime, the console for three years, and one year of labor.
Sole E25 Elliptical
As Sole’s entry-level and most affordable elliptical, the E25 is a hit for its integration of high-end features at a price below $1,500. It shares a number of the hallmarks of the brand’s higher-end models, like 20 power-adjusted incline settings, 20 levels of resistance, wireless heart rate monitoring, and a Bluetooth-enabled LCD screen with 10 workout programs. It does have a slightly smaller elliptical path—20 inches to the higher-end models’ 22 inches—and a lighter, 20-pound flywheel. But for the cost, it’s a solid, stable machine with a 350-pound weight capacity, a few bonus features, and a natural-feeling footpath. If you’re on the fence, know that it also comes with one of the most generous warranty packages out there: A lifetime for the frame, three years for the parts and electronics, and one year labor. If you want to upgrade, try the E95.
The FS10i is a midrange elliptical in NordicTrack’s Freestrider line, which allows you to adjust the stride length up to 32 inches for a more freeing range of motion that supports more users of different heights. If you’re looking for a natural, run-like feeling from your elliptical, this is likely your best bet. The machine lets you set its movement pattern to replicate the functionality of a stair climber, standard elliptical, or treadmill. The 10 has everything you need for an engaging workout: a 10-inch HD touchscreen which can stream iFit workouts (a free one-year membership is included), a 10 percent auto-adjustable incline, a 20-pound flywheel, and 24 resistance levels. It also has all the bells and whistles, like an integrated fan, in-handle controls, and a cup holder. The machine comes with a pretty standard warranty: 10 years for the frame, two years for the parts, and one year of labor.