The Best Elliptical Machine
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10 Best Elliptical Machines in 2023
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Elliptical Machines Buying Guide
If you’re not a fan of the treadmill or exercise bike, an elliptical or cross trainer is the right choice of equipment to improve your health either at your commercial site or your home gym.
We’ve put together a comprehensive guide on the different types of ellipticals on the market, and the key features you may want to consider, before making your purchase.
Many people call elliptical machines that have movable arms cross trainers, as they provide an upper and lower body workout.
These days the majority of elliptical machines have movable arms and some brands refer to them interchangeably as cross-trainers.
Benefits of Elliptical Machines
Elliptical machines provide a range of health benefits, from cardio, head-to-toe physical training sessions to strength training for the upper body, to toning the legs to improve your overall fitness levels.
Ellipticals are great in providing low-impact exercise through steady and continuous contact with the pedals.
Workouts are enabled as nearly every major muscle group is moving from glutes and quads to delts, chest, and abs.
Ellipticals allow you to vary your workouts with bursts of intense exertion through interval training and then exercise for a defined period and a low steady pace.
They are ideal for all types of exercises, irrespective of your physical training level, and are an excellent way to improve your health.
Features of a Best Elliptical Machine
The main differentiation in the drive system is the position of the flywheel in relation to the footpads, which is the core component that enables the elliptical motion.
Broadly speaking there are 4 different types of drive systems: the type you opt for can impact the cost of the elliptical.
Front Drive Ellipticals
The flywheel in these ellipticals is located at the front of the machine. This can make users lean slightly forward when exercising, as though climbing stairs.
Front-drive ellipticals are simple and budget-friendly.
Rear Drive Ellipticals
As the name suggests rear-drive systems place the flywheel behind the exercise machine. With the wheel behind you, you are pulling it to make it turn, driving force through your feet.
Rear-drive ellipticals ensure that a user maintains an upright position at all times, which minimizes strain on your lower back and keeps good posture during the workout.
Overall a rear-drive system is smooth, entails a circular pedal movement, which mimics the motion of running on a treadmill.
Rear-drive systems are more expensive models.
Center Drive Ellipticals
The flywheel is at the center of the elliptical, resulting in compact designs and space-saving.
Many center-drive systems can mimic the feeling of walking or jogging as though on a treadmill, which many users find very therapeutic and less aggressive.
Center-drive systems are a somewhat new design as a drive system.
Hybrid machines combine several functions and typically they incorporate features of a stationary bike.
Hybrid machines combine several functions and hybrid ellipticals typically incorporate features of a stationary recumbent bike.
This is a good option if you like the idea of sitting in a seat. Alternatively, some users may find this harder on their posture if exercising for extended periods of time.
Types of Elliptical Resistance Systems
Manual Friction Brake
Manual magnetic brake systems use a magnet when friction is applied.
When a user pulls a handlebar or knob, a bracket with a magnet attached to it moves closer or further away from the flywheel. The resistance is greatest the closer the magnet is to the flywheel.
Some magnets are more powerful than others. Try out whether a resistance system that is magnetic provides a sufficient level of intensity for you in the long run.
Eddy current systems are similar to manual magnetic systems, except the magnet moves via the push of a button.
The system is controlled electronically and any additional magnets will enable greater resistance than you would get in a manual system.
Eddy current systems are durable, good quality, and relatively quiet.
If you are looking for power and elegant resistance systems available on the market then it has to be the electromagnetic induction brake systems.
There are no moving parts as the magnets are fixed in place with the flywheel spinning between them.
When resistance is increased by a user, the wheel is harder to turn due to the higher electrical current emitted to the magnet. You get more powerful resistance with an electromagnetic system.
Any changes in resistance intensity are done instantaneously.
If you're planning on doing intense workouts, the elliptical you choose needs to be able to withstand high levels of intensity and be able to support and absorb that force.
The general weight of the frame is a good reference point to how well the elliptical is constructed and how robust it is. What kind of steel is used for frame construction?
Whilst foldable models may be great space savers and built to be compact, they may not be the best choice if you intend to increase the intensity to various levels.
When looking at various ellipticals look at whether the elliptical has an adjustable ramp.
If the elliptical does have an adjustable ramp, the stride length will change automatically based on the ramp angle. An elliptical with an adjustable stride allows you to achieve comfort at a given pace.
If an elliptical does not have an adjustable ramp, the motion is fixed and the stride length will not change.
Which is best for you depends on your personal preference.
Stationary or Movable Arms
The lion’s share of ellipticals has moveable arms that allow a user to get lower and upper body exercise all at the same time.
There are 2 two types of arms, the first is standard arms. These are fixed straight ahead of the body when a user pushes and/or pulls.
The second type of arms are converging arms, towards the center of the body, and impersonate the motion of walking or running.
Whilst there are elliptical machines that have no moving arms and are essentially pure lower-body workouts. These are quite rare nowadays.
If you want to work your whole body, burn more calories, and want to get some strength training in, you want an elliptical with moving arms.
Adjusting the incline varies the focus on which muscle groups are being worked and mixes up your workout. A great way to avoid plateauing.
Good-quality ellipticals allow a wide range of resistance levels that can be adjusted electronically and with ease.
Adjustable resistance makes your workouts challenging, and fun and allows you to incorporate interval training into your fitness regime.
Forward and Reverse Motions
Moving forwards or backward mixes up your workouts and works for different muscle groups. For many people doing reverse motions is not automatic, they have to concentrate a lot more.
You want an elliptical that provides a smooth experience. Many machines have a so-called “kick” in the motion where a user’s heel comes off the platform.
Ideally, you don’t want to have any “kick” in your motion. You want a seamless motion experience whether you are moving forwards or in reverse.
Heart Rate Control
You want an elliptical that monitors your heart rate, allowing you to focus on working out within your optimal range.
The higher-end ellipticals have heart rate control programs that adjust your workout variables whilst measuring your heart rate, to ensure you stay within your optimal zone.
This is a great feature and means you don’t have to do anything; the elliptical machine makes all the modifications for you.
Preset and Custom Programs
Everyone starts exercising on an exercise machine full of enthusiasm and very quickly boredom can set in from doing the same workout over and over again.
An elliptical machine that has the ability to customize programs tailored to your needs is invaluable.
Having several programs such as manual, random, interval, hill climb, target heart rate are just a few examples of the type of preset programs that many ellipticals come equipped with.
What kind of electronic features is important for you to have and will motivate you? Do you want to see the number of calories burned? The distance traveled? Strides per minute?
Do you want Bluetooth and wireless connectivity that connects to apps or you can connect to your own device?
If you have children in the house, you might want to consider safety features, when not using the elliptical machine.
Is it important for you to have locking features on the pedals, prohibiting them from moving, even if your young child gets on and tries to pedal?
Whilst there is an abundance of choice in the realm of treadmills and rowing machines, the concept of foldable ellipticals is a somewhat novel concept.
Think carefully if you want a folding machine. The majority of ellipticals are not foldable. The few models that do allow this feature, will be built for lighter, less intense workouts and will most likely not be the most robust or durable elliptical out there.
All elliptical machines make some form of noise, however, you want an elliptical machine that is relatively quiet when being operated. The last thing you want is to annoy your neighbors with unwelcome noise.
You don’t want to compromise on the intensity of your workout if the elliptical machine gets progressively louder the greater the intensity of your workout.
Screen for an elliptical that is smooth and quiet when operated, this also indicates the quality of the engineering.
You may also look at buying and putting a mat underneath the elliptical, which will help to absorb noise and protect your floor.
The majority of ellipticals require a fixed spot in your home/gym. They are quite long ranging from 50 to 84 inches in length and during operation, the pedals may extend beyond that length.
Ensure you have free space on the sides and there is no obstruction at the front or the rear of the elliptical.
How much are you able and willing to spend?
An average elliptical machine can cost as little as $200 and go as high as $5,000.
You can definitely find cheaper models, but they often don’t last that long, and may not offer a smooth experience.
It's better to save up and buy a mid-range elliptical to ensure you get a robust trainer that is durable.
Is the cost of delivery included? Elliptical machines are heavy and most likely entail the delivery and assembly of a two-person job.
Will the delivery be curbside? In your home? If you wanted an in-home assembly, how much would this cost?
Return Policy and Warranties
Is there a trial period? If you are unsatisfied with the elliptical, are you permitted to return it and get a full refund?
What is the process for a return/refund and would you have to bear the cost of the return along with a restocking fee?
On average most manufacturers provide a warranty in the range of 3 to 7 years on parts and at least a 1-year warranty on labor. The high-quality models often offer a lifetime warranty on the elliptical frame.
What components are covered by the warranty? The cheaper the elliptical, the shorter the warranty periods often are.
Elliptical Machines FAQ
What kind of Drive System should you go for?
Rear-drive systems have the flywheel located at the rear of the elliptical and they provide a smooth experience. They are usually on the more expensive end of the spectrum.
Front-drive systems in comparison can feel rougher and not as smooth as a rear-drive system. Price-wise they are more affordable.
Which option you go for depends on your budget and preference.
What is the best type of resistance system?
This very much depends on your budget and fitness goals.
Having said that, the eddy current resistance system is a standout for being relatively silent. The elliptical machines that have this resistance system are expensive.
The system is controlled electronically and any additional magnets will enable greater resistance than you would get in a manual system.
Is an elliptical good for the knees?
Elliptical trainers are ideal for avoiding stress on the knees for the simple reason they remove contact with the ground.
Do ellipticals work your arms?
Elliptical trainers that have movable arms work the shoulders, the biceps, the triceps, and all the other major muscle groups in the arms.
To acquire the best results vary between pulling and pushing the arms levers and varying the resistance from low to high.
Elliptical Machines Sources
- Comparison of Muscle Activation During Elliptical Trainer, Treadmill and Bike Exercise – ResearchGate
- Muscular Activation Patterns During Exercise on the Treadmill, Stepper, and Elliptical Trainer – PubMed
- How do Elliptical Machines Differ from Walking: A Study of Torso Motion and Muscle Activity – PubMed
- Tips for Choosing the Right Exercise Equipment – Harvard Health Publishing
- Feasibility of Using A Compact Elliptical Device to Increase Energy Expenditure During Sedentary Activities – NCBI