According to researchers at the University of Washington, the human body’s metabolism outputs about 80 watts of energy on average. In other words, all the metabolic processes that your body performs on your behalf consume less energy than an 100-watt light bulb! This amazing energy efficiency probably played a huge part in helping our ancestors survive famines, climate changes and other events that caused food scarcity throughout the ages.
On the other hand, there’s a significant downside to having such an economical metabolism. When food is plentiful, weight gain can become a health issue. According to the CDC, obesity increases the likelihood of hypertension, diabetes, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, cancer– and that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Psychological issues that are linked to obesity include depression, anxiety and even reduced job opportunities.
Obesity is basically a math problem. If you reduce the amount of energy you consume and increase the amount of energy you use, you’ll lose weight. However, it isn’t always easy to jump right into a new exercise routine. Joint pain and other similar issues may prevent you from going on a morning run around the block. Elliptical machines provide a potential workaround for this, since they provide a low-stress workout alternative.
Here are the best elliptical machines you can buy:
- The Schwinn 430 is a sub-$1000 name brand elliptical that sports a competitive mix of features.
- Rugged enough to handle 375 pounds, the Bowflex Results E116 is the ideal choice if you’re in the market for a tougher-than-average elliptical.
- The Teeter FreeStep is an ultra low-impact elliptical that’s equipped with a seat.
- If avoiding the health issues associated with sitting down all day at work is your main goal, you may want to give the Cubii Pro a hard look.
- The Gazelle Edge is a lightweight, foldable elliptical that’s thin enough to slide behind a couch or under your bed.
The best value elliptical machine for the money
The Schwinn 430 has a surprisingly robust combination of features, especially when you consider its reasonable price tag. The heart rate sensors on the handlebars provide a ballpark estimate of how hard your heart is working, while its Bluetooth transmitter allows you to use it with a wide range of popular fitness apps and devices.
- Space-saving design. It’s only 59 inches long and 23 inches wide, which is compact for a motorized elliptical machine.
- 20-inch stride length. Even though it’s relatively small-sized, its stride length is standard.
- Intuitive, sweat-resistant interface. The large buttons give you an easy way to change modes and track your stats.
- Syncs with popular fitness apps. The 430 is compatible with Strava, MapMyRun and others.
- Reasonably priced. The 430 offers a good mix of features, given its cost.
- Built-in USB charger. The convenient USB port lets you charge your phone and other USB devices as you exercise.
- Good warranty. Schwinn offers a 1-year warranty on the parts, a 60-day labor cost warranty and a 3-year warranty on the frame.
- You’ll need to set aside about two hours to assemble it. You don’t need any tools other than the ones you get in the box, but there are many parts to put together.
- 300-pound weight limit. If you weigh near or above 300 pounds, you’ll be better off with a higher capacity elliptical.
In a nutshell
This compact exercise machine from Schwinn is one of the most full-featured ellipticals you’ll find for less than $1000. One of its best features is its compact design. It’s about 10 inches shorter than the typical elliptical machine that you might find in a gym.
The best high-capacity elliptical for overcoming obesity
Bowflex Results E116 Elliptical
The best thing about the Bowflex Results E116 is its heavy-duty capacity. Typical elliptical machines can only support around 300 pounds, but this one is built to handle up to 375 pounds. Another nice feature is the extended 22-inch stride, which will give your legs some extra room to extend during your exercise sessions.
- 375-pound capacity. The frame supports more weight than many competing ellipticals.
- 22-inch stride length. Because the stride length is long compared to other elliptical machines, you’ll be able to get a more intense leg workout.
- Free Explore the World app. The fact that you can virtually explore various terrains as you workout might have some appeal if you often get bored during your workouts.
- Bluetooth connectivity. You don’t need a cord to send the E116’s data to your phone if your phone supports Bluetooth.
- Full color display. Many ellipticals have a simple monochrome interface, but this one has a modern-looking 7.5 inch color LCD screen.
- Adjustable incline angle. The maximum incline angle is 11 degrees, and handy buttons on the handles provide an easy way to make adjustments on the fly.
- Accurate heart rate monitoring. It comes with a heart rate chest sensor, which makes it more accurate compared to ellipticals with handlebar-style heart rate sensors.
- Takes up a significant amount of room space. It’s only 31 inches wide, which is manageable. However, it’s also 77 inches long.
In a nutshell
If you’re in the market for a durable elliptical machine with a strong frame that can handle over 300 pounds, the Bowflex Results E116 may be your best option. The fact that it comes with a chest-style heart rate sensor is a nice bonus feature.
The best low-impact elliptical for people with joint problems
Standard elliptical machines are not very rough on the joints, but they still force you to carry the full weight of your body when you exercise. This can pose a problem for people with weak knees, backs or hips. The Teeter FreeStep addresses this with its bicycle-like design, which allows you to sit down while you work out your legs and arms. Another benefit is that unlike a standard elliptical, you can focus totally on your legs or your arms if you want to focus on either of those muscle groups.
- Gentle on the joints. The cradle-like design of this elliptical is designed to take the pressure off your knees, hips and ankles.
- Focus on specific muscle groups. You can opt to pedal when you want to exercise your legs and switch to the handles when you want to target your back and arms, or do both for a full body workout.
- Budget-friendly price. FreeSteps typically sell for less than $1000.
- No wires or cords needed. The console sports a simple LCD display, but it runs on batteries so you don’t have to worry about finding a wall socket for it.
- Smooth, fluid motion. A patented design feature stops the handles from popping.
- Quiet operation. Teeter advertises that the FreeStep is “whisper quiet” when in use.
- 13-inch stride limit. You won’t get the same range of motion as you would with an 20-inch or 22-inch stride elliptical.
- 300-pound weight limit. Other ellipticals have higher weight capacities.
In a nutshell
The unique design of this elliptical lets you sit down when you exercise. Even though you’ll burn less calories this way, the reduced joint stress can be a major health benefit. It may be worth a closer look, especially if you suffer from joint diseases or injuries.
The best portable elliptical for office use
People with desk jobs often develop health problems because they don’t move enough at work. That’s where the Cubii Pro comes in. It’s a portable elliptical exercise machine that’s small enough to fit under a desk. The makers of the Cubii say that it’s” whisper silent” and quiet enough to use discreetly, without disturbing your coworkers.
- Fits under any standard office desk. Once you set it up, all you have to do is slide your Cubii under your desk and start pedaling.
- Small, quiet and discreet. Cubii claims that the only noise your coworkers will hear is a fan-like sound, which is about as quiet as a whisper.
- Smartphone connectivity via Bluetooth. The Cubii’s Bluetooth chip lets it send data to and from your devices without the aid of a cord.
- Works with many wellness apps and devices. Cubii supports Fitbit devices, Apple Health apps and more.
- Easy to transport. Since it only weighs about 25 pounds, you can take it home with you if you want to exercise while you watch TV.
- Smooth operation. The resistance that the Cubii provides is even throughout each stroke, which makes it easier to get into the flow of pedaling.
- You have to remember to keep its batteries charged. Unfortunately, the Cubii doesn’t convert the energy you expend into electricity and as a result you have to charge it up every few weeks or so.
- Tends to slide away as you pedal on some surfaces. The makers of Cubii sell a non-slip mat, which can be used as a workaround for this problem.
In a nutshell
Cubii obviously can’t provide as many health benefits as a standard elliptical, since sitting down when you exercise dramatically reduces the amount of energy you burn. On the other hand, keeping your feet moving when you’re on the job is a very sensible way to stay active at work.
The best elliptical for small apartments
Gazelle Edge by Tony Little
Not every homeowner has space for a 70-inch-long exercise machine in their home. Moreover, some apartment dwellers have another set of problems to deal with: thin walls and noise-sensitive neighbors. The Gazelle Edge caters to both demographics. It’s a lightweight, portable and totally silent elliptical that you can fold up after every workout.
- You can fold it up and slide it behind a sofa. One of the Gazelle Edge’s best features is that it doesn’t take up much space when it’s not in use.
- Much cheaper than a motorized elliptical machine. Even the cheapest motorized elliptical machines are several times more expensive.
- Digital statistics tracker. The built-in computer tracks your speed, distance, time and other similar statistics.
- Totally quiet. As long as you keep its joints lubricated, it won’t make any noise at all.
- Lightweight. It only weighs 45 pounds, which is extremely light compared to a motorized elliptical machine.
- 90-day satisfaction guarantee. If you don’t like the Gazelle Edge or if it breaks, you can send it back for a refund.
- Limited durability. If you’re at or near the Gazelle Edge’s 250-pound weight limit, you’ll run the risk of damaging the frame each time you use it. The warranty expires after just 90 days.
- No mechanical resistance. Since it isn’t capable of making your workout harder, you may have to pedal very quickly to keep your heart rate up.
In a nutshell
The Gazelle Edge won’t last as long as a typical full-sized elliptical machine. On the other hand, you can purchase one for a fraction of the cost. Its other core benefits– quiet operation and excellent portability– will make it the logical choice for some.
Buying guide for elliptical machines
Dimensions and storage features
Be sure you have enough room to install and use your prospective elliptical before you buy it. Full-size elliptical machines can be 70 or more inches long, while more compact ellipticals can be as small as 55 inches. You may need a few inches of extra room in front of or behind the elliptical, as well.
Small-sized ellipticals typically don’t let you stretch out your legs as much. The average stride length is 18 to 20 inches, but some ellipticals support 22-inch strides. If you get a compact elliptical with a 13-inch stride length, you can still get decent workouts in, but your posture may suffer and you won’t exercise as many leg muscles.
Motorized operation vs. body weight resistance
Body weight ellipticals– also known as “gliders”– don’t have any motorized parts. This makes them much cheaper. However, the fact that you can’t increase your resistance when you use a body weight elliptical means that you may have to workout at a fast clip to get your blood pumping.
Stability, weight and durability
An ellipitical’s frame and motors contribute to its overall mass. Typical ellipticals weigh anywhere from 100 to 150 pounds, but some models can weigh as much as 250 pounds or more. It may be worth it to invest in a bulkier elliptical if you’re heavyset, since they tend to have higher weight capacities. Heavy duty ellipticals with thick frames tend to have longer lifespans, as well.
Smart device integration
Modern ellipticals are equipped with sensors that let you track your workout statistics. Most are equipped with Bluetooth chips, which allow you to send this data to workout devices and smartphones. Some types of fitness devices– like heart rate monitors, for example– only support ANT+. If you intend to use such a device with your elliptical, make sure that it supports the proper communications protocol before you commit.
Special design ergonomics
If you have joint issues, you may want to consider investing in a bike-style elliptical that allows you to sit down when you workout. These types of ellipticals can help reduce wear and tear in your knees, hips and ankles.
Magnetic ellipticals tend to be the most silent. Ellipticals that rely on air for resistance are slightly noisier.
Some elliptical manufacturers assemble their products’ core components at the factory, so all you’ll have to do is attach those components together. However, the setup process can be complex if there are many pieces involved.
Make sure that you buy an elliptical that’s sturdy enough to handle the weight of your body. If your weight is at or near the limit, you’ll put yourself and your elliptical in harm’s way each time you exercise.
Portable ellipticals are your cheapest option. Besides the fact that they cost much less than full-sized elliptical machines, the best feature they bring to the table is portability and easy storage. For example, you can fold down an elliptical glider and slide it under your bed when you’re not using it. Likewise, portable elliptical machines are small enough to fit under an office desk. Expect to spend around $300.
For about $700, you can get a full-sized elliptical machine that will let you extend your leg out all the way when you use it. They tend to take up much more room compared to elliptical gliders and portable elliptical machines, though.
If you’re willing to spend around $1500, you can get a name brand elliptical machine that’s equipped with cutting edge smart features. These ellipticals work with smartphones and a wide range of popular fitness devices.
Frequently asked questions
Q: I only have room for a short stride elliptical. Will I still be able to benefit from using it?
A: Yes, you can still lose weight and burn calories with a short stride elliptical. However, an elliptical that supports longer strides will help you tone a wider range of muscle groups. The feel of the exercise will be totally different, as well.
Q: What’s the best posture to assume while using an elliptical?
A: Keep your back straight and try to avoid leaning on your elliptical machine’s handles. Don’t use the dashboard for support, either. Let your legs do most of the work and don’t grip the handles too firmly. If strengthening your core is your main goal, you can let go of the handles altogether. The act of balancing on the foot pedals will help tone your stomach.
Q: What’s the point of going in reverse?
A: Reverse mode forces you to use your calf muscles and hamstrings in a totally different way. Your hip extensors get more use when you go backwards, too.
- For best results, mix things up as much as you can when doing your elliptical workouts. If your elliptical lets you adjust your incline, change the incline every few minutes. You can also increase the intensity for short periods of time to enter into HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training).
- Keeping your elliptical clean and well-maintained will improve its life span. Tighten all its bolts periodically, wipe your sweat off after each workout and use rubbing alcohol to remove fingerprints and oils from the handlebar sensors.
- If you experience numbness while using your elliptical, that may be because you’re using an improper foot position. Make sure that the weight of your body is evenly distributed across your foot and try to avoid leaning into the front of your foot.