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Best elliptical machines: top home elliptical trainers

Best elliptical machines: top home elliptical trainers
(Image credit: Getty)

We’ve been reviewing elliptical machines since 2011 and spent hundreds of hours evaluating the best equipment on the market. During our research and testing, we’ve learned what matters most when you’re looking for a sturdy, durable elliptical machine. 

We also understand the features and technology that make working out most effective and enjoyable. Among elliptical machines of 2018, we chose the NordicTrack C12.9 as our top pick because you can customize it for up to four users and it has 35 on-board workouts. 

It also comes with a one-year membership to iFit, a program designed to give you access to professional fitness trainers, dietitians and sleep experts who can help you define and achieve your personal fitness goals.

1. NordicTrack C12.9: best elliptical machine overall

Best elliptical machines: NordicTrack C12.9 home elliptical trainer

NordicTrack C12.9 Home Elliptical Trainer

35 workout presets
Adjustable pedals and stride length
Smart HD touchscreen
iFit membership must be renewed annually
Has a longer than average footprint

The NordicTrack C12.9 has a heavy flywheel, adjustable pedals and a smooth stride. Its options for customization make it the best elliptical we’ve reviewed, and it accommodates up to four users.

The C12.9 is our top pick because it has all the features experts recommend to help you achieve optimal fitness results. From its 32-pound flywheel to its 20-inch power adjustable stride, this elliptical machine is designed for performance. It has 26 digital resistance levels and a 0 to 20 percent power-adjustable incline. It also has one-touch controls to make it easy to use and adapts for multiple users.

An elliptical with oversized, cushioned pedals can improve your comfort level during workouts. The C12.9’s pedals have these features, and they are also adjustable, as are the machine's upper body grips. Also, its stationary handles have pulse grips, and it comes with a Bluetooth-enabled chest strap. This helps you monitor your heart rate as you work toward achieving your goals.

NordicTrack is an Icon Fitness brand and is known for its iFit technology. This gives you access to personal trainers from around the world who provide coaching on fitness, nutrition and sleep. It’s accessible via the C12.9’s console and also on a mobile app you can download.

The C12.9 has a 7-inch touchscreen, digitally amplified speakers and a workout fan. It weighs 205 pounds, and transport wheels make it easier to move.

2. Schwinn 470: best elliptical machine for small budgets

Best elliptical machines: Schwinn 470 home elliptical trainer

Schwinn 470 Home Elliptical Trainer

Syncs with seven apps
Frame warranty is below average

The Schwinn 470 is the most affordable elliptical we reviewed and is the only machine we recommended with an MSRP below $1,000. It has a 20-pound flywheel, a 20-inch stride length and large, cushioned footplates.

It features 25 levels of resistance and a 10-degree incline ramp to make your workout more challenging. It has pulse grips to monitor your heartrate and is compatible with telemetry monitoring, but you must purchase a chest strap separately. The 470 is programmed with 29 workout presets and stores up to four user profiles. 

It syncs with seven fitness apps, including Schwinn Trainer, My Fitness Pal, Apple Health and RunSocial. It weighs 164 pounds, with a footprint of 70.1 x 28.2 x 63.2 inches (length, width, height). While the best ellipticals have lifetime frame warranties, Schwinn guarantees the 470’s frame for just 10 years. Customer service is available by phone, email and on Facebook.

3. Nautilus E618 Elliptical: best elliptical machine for guided workouts

Best elliptical machines: Nautilus E618 home elliptical trainer

Nautilus E618 Home Elliptical Trainer

29 workout presets
22-inch stride length
Connects with five fitness apps
Smaller-than-average screen
No lifetime warranty on frame

The E618 is new in the Nautilus Performance Series. While it isn’t the least expensive elliptical machine in our lineup, we consider it an exceptional value because it competes well with higher-priced machines.

It has a 30-pound flywheel and is pre-programmed with 29 workouts. While its stride length isn’t adjustable, it can accommodate very tall users. At 22 inches in length, it’s two inches longer than average. Because it has adjustable pedals, you can customize your heel support and engage different muscle groups to enhance your workout experience.
Although the E618’s display is only five inches wide, it has dual backlit screens. Its console is adjustable and provides Bluetooth connectivity to sync with five apps, including the free Nautilus Trainer 2.

This elliptical machine has 25 resistance levels and a motorized 0 to 10-degree incline, and its handlebars have integrated controls. It can store profiles for up to four users and accommodates a maximum weight of 350 pounds. Each machine we reviewed comes with pulse grips, and the best ones also have wireless chest straps. The E618 lets you monitor your heart rate using both technologies and gives you detailed workout feedback.

4. Bowflex BXE216: best elliptical machine for multiple users

Best elliptical machines: Bowflex BXE216 home elliptical trainer

Bowflex BXE216 Elliptical Machine

Stores up to four user profiles
Provides detailed workout feedback
Heavy and hard to assemble
Stride length isn’t adjustable

The BXE216 is Bowflex’s flagship elliptical machine. While it’s built with commercial-quality specs, such as a heavy 35-pound flywheel, it is designed for use in your home.

When it comes to its size, stride length and resistance levels, the BXE216 goes big. Weighing 263 pounds, it’s by far the heftiest machine in our lineup and weighs 99 pounds more than the lightest. The 22-inch stride length is useful for taller users, but it adds to the machine’s bulk. The best ellipticals have adjustable stride lengths, but less than 14 inches is usually too short.

The BXE216 only has 11 workout presets, but it gives you extensive feedback on your progress. It tracks 15 workout metrics, including a by-the-minute calorie burn rate. Its readouts include time, distance, speed and heart rate, along with sprints, intervals and resistance. The console has a large 9-inch display, but it’s not a touchscreen.

This elliptical machine has 25 resistance levels and 15 incline levels. You can easily adjust them on the console and using controls in the handrails. The BXE216 can accommodate users weighing up to 400 pounds. Bowflex offers free delivery of this elliptical right inside your front door. This is one of the best shipping offers we’ve seen. Professional assembly costs $249, but it's worth considering if you don’t want to deal with some complex assembly.

5. Horizon Evolve 5: the best elliptical machine for tracking workouts

Best elliptical machines: Horizon Evolve 5 home elliptical trainer

The Horizon Evolve 5 is a sturdy, stable elliptical that folds for compact storage. It has 39 workout presets, which is the most of any machine we reviewed. Its user interface is easy to use, and it tracks workout distances up to 1/100 of a mile.

The Evolve 5 has ViaFit connectivity and is Passport ready for Virtual Active workouts. It has a 23-pound flywheel and a 20-inch stride length. It weighs 181 pounds, with a smaller than average footprint of 69 x 28 x 69 inches (length, width and height). 

The Evolve 5 has 20 levels of resistance, but it doesn’t have an incline ramp. It has a step-on height of 10 inches and can accommodate users weighing up to 300 pounds. Horizon Fitness offers free shipping, with delivery inside your front door. The Evolve 5 has a lifetime warranty on its frame, with three years on parts and one year of labor coverage.

Best elliptical machines: two women exercise using elliptical machines at a gym

(Image credit: Getty)

How we tested the best elliptical machines

We evaluated elliptical machines based on comparing product specifications and analyzing user experiences. As we tested equipment in our lab, we asked our testing panel for perspective in six categories – console, pedals, handrails, stride, stability and price. We also asked our reviewers to evaluate preset workouts, resistance, incline, fans and displays.

We quickly learned elliptical users feel most confident if a machine is sturdy. Also, convenience is critical. As we identified what makes an elliptical work well, we considered the weight of each machine’s flywheel, the variety of its workout programs and its user interface. We compared LCD screens with touchscreens, and we looked at programming, customization of user profiles and workout feedback. 

We also learned how to level and transport machines, and we recorded each machine’s dimensions. Finally, we evaluated product warranties and explored options for consumer support. These experiences helped us created detailed reviews and provide solid recommendations.

Best elliptical machines: what to look for

Before you buy any type of exercise equipment, such as elliptical machines, or the best treadmills, the best exercise bikes or the best home gyms, fitness experts recommend first thinking about what you hope to accomplish.

“Is your goal to build muscle? Lose weight? Prepare for a specific sport? Rehabilitate an injury? The machine you choose,” said exercise physiologist Tom Holland, “should reflect your goals.” Holland, author of Beat the Gym, is a nationally-acclaimed lifestyle and fitness expert, chief fitness advisor for Nautilus.

Elliptical machines provide a great aerobic workout without stressing your joints. All the ellipticals we reviewed have the most important features we identified – heavy flywheels for smooth momentum, cushioned pedals, moving handlebars, interactive consoles and built-in speakers. 

The best elliptical machines have adjustable stride lengths, adjustable pedals and heart rate monitoring straps. They also have connected consoles that sync with popular fitness apps like iFitViafit and MapMyRun. You’ll also want to think about incline and resistance. 

Multiple levels of resistance add variety and intensity to your workouts and can help you stay focused and motivated. Varied incline levels target the muscles in your calves, quads and glutes and provide a more realistic trail training experience.

Benefits of elliptical machine exercise

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends participating in moderate-intensity aerobic activity for a minimum of 30 minutes, five days per week. Treadmills and elliptical machines both offer a safe and easy way to raise your heart rate in the comfort of your home, but elliptical machines have a few significant benefits, especially for beginning-level runners.

Low-Impact Exercise Because your feet are constantly connected to the pedals on an elliptical machine, there's not as much stress on joints, ligaments and bones as running on a treadmill. Elliptical machines also remove issues with posture associated with running on a treadmill with a belt thinner than your natural gait.

Full-Body Workout All the elliptical machines we tested have arm handles in addition to pedals. Pushing and pulling on the arm handles provides a challenging workout for core muscles and your upper body. Any added movement in the upper body and core increases your ability to burn more calories and fat.

Reverse Pedaling Running backward is not a natural motion, so we recommend trying reverse strides at a slow pace to start. Pedaling in reverse is an effective way to put more emphasis on the rarely-used parts of the quads and hamstrings, and when you ratchet up the incline setting, it targets the glutes.

Best elliptical machine training apps

The best elliptical machines we tested have more than 30 built-in workout programs. However, if you get bored with those programs or want a change of scenery while you work out, you can use mobile apps with interactive personal trainers. Here are some of our favorite training apps with specific workouts for elliptical machines:

Motion Traxx This cardio training app uses the popular HIIT (high-intensity interval training) program delivered by fitness experts with a wide range of professional accomplishments. One unique aspect of Motion Traxx is the Action Sync feature, which pairs a music soundtrack with a workout to create the perfect pace and flow. The music is curated by Deekron, a fitness DJ and endurance athlete. You can get Motion Traxx for Android or iOS devices for $10 per month or try five sessions for free.

BitGym BitGym uses the front-facing camera on your phone or tablet to sync your pace and intensity with the visually stunning interface. This app has more than 100 tours that are designed to make you feel like you are running on a mountain trail network, secluded beach or other scenic location. The high-definition video has accompanying audio motivation from virtual trainers. There’s a free trial for iOS, Android and Amazon devices, and a subscription costs $8 per month.