Best elliptical 2020: best cross trainer machines for a full body workout

Nordic fitness without leaving the house, with the best in limb-twitching, cardio-pumping elliptical machines

Best elliptical aka cross trainer
(Image credit: Getty Images/Gpointstudio)

Embarking on any January fitness regime is tough - what with all the booze and turkey that has been consumed over recent weeks - but opting to head out and pound the pavements can prove even tougher on the joints.

The best elliptical machines are perfect for getting fit without the pain as they provide more of a full-body workout than the best treadmills and best exercise bikes but are less demanding in terms of technique than the best rowing machines. Sure, the humble elliptical – or cross trainer as it used to be known before 'cross training' came to mean something else – is probably the least elegant piece of home gym equipment but it can be highly effective. 

Yes, it does look a bit peculiar when you see someone embroiled in a sort of imaginary cross-country skiing event, arms and legs flailing in harmony, face twisted as it desperately gulps oxygen. But it is precisely this impact-free, gliding movement that users can easily and quickly increase their aerobic fitness without putting strain on sensitive joints, while the upper body receives a solid workout in the meantime. 

This multi-muscle training also makes an elliptical ideal for those who want to get fit but lack a lot of space at home.

What is the best elliptical trainer?

NordicTrack is King of the Elliptical hot steppers (murderer), and its E11.5 Elliptical Cross Trainer, under £700 at Amazon, offers a staggering amount of bang for your buck. It has a large, 18-inch stride length and its rear-drive system offers an elliptical path that closely matches natural stride ergonomics.

Couple this with the adjustable pedals, extra tall workout arms and the 22 digital levels offered by the Silent Magnetic Resistance flywheel, and you have an extremely adjustable home system.

It also cleverly folds flat for storage and is priced so it doesn't break the bank, yet manages to crush the more budget offerings in terms of features.

How to buy the best elliptical trainer

Although broadly similar in design (two platforms for your feet and a couple of handles to grab), elliptical trainers differ greatly in terms of features, build quality and the level of resistance offered.

Similar to an exercise bike, most elliptical trainers use a flywheel to create resistance and it is the weight and design of this wheel that will determine how buttery smooth the workout feels, as well as the amount of resistance one can pile on.

In general, the cheaper units will use a much lighter flywheel, which may not offer the sort of resistance true fitness freaks need to break a sweat, while shorter stride lengths and stubby handles can limit the muscle groups worked.

Similarly, the more expensive and complex units can combine elements of an elliptical with things like a stepper or climber, which reduces the amount of floor space required but still delivers a solid, all-over workout.

Beware, the really cheap stuff does away with the magnetic motors entirely, which is great for electricity bills but terrible for anyone who actually wants to increase their heart rate.  

Naturally, space and budgets will be an important factor and in general terms, the more expensive you go, the larger and heavier the device becomes as manufacturers launch gizmos, gadgets and chunkier build quality at their models.

It's worth looking out for adjustable platforms, a multitude of grab handles, a decent spread of resistance and the more powerful drive systems if you want a trainer that's good enough to warrant ripping up the gym memberships.

As such, we've highlighted electrically assisted elliptical trainers from £400 to nearly £4k – a broad sweet spot, to be sure – which offer a good range of features to suit most budgets and needs.

The best elliptical trainers, in order

Best Elliptical trainer: Nordictrack E11.5

(Image credit: Nordictrack)

1. NordicTrack E11.5

Best elliptical trainer pound for pound, with a superb array of features for the price

Dimensions: H166 W67 L204 cm
Foldable: Yes
Flywheel weight: 9kg
Resistance levels: 20
Stride length: 20-22-inch
Reasons to buy
+Powerful rear-drive system+Adjustable platforms+Foldable for storage
Reasons to avoid
-Data screen looks a bit naff

Proof that a gym-worthy product need not cost the earth comes in the form of market leader NordicTrack's epic E11.5 machine.

With an improved 20-22-inch stride length, the powerful rear-driven unit works greater muscle groups thanks to the more natural movement, while adjustable heel/toe angles of the extra wide footplates allow the user to target specific body parts.

The NordicTrack E11.5 offers 20 digital levels of resistance, while a 10° to 30° digital quick incline offers a more intense workout for those who find even the hefty 9kg flywheel weight too easy.

Overall build quality is high and NordicTrack has considered a number of factors to ensure the E11.5 performs, such as the CardioGrab handles and centre grips, which allow for numerous holding positions to work a number of upper body muscle groups.

Said handles also include heart rate monitoring technology, and keen fitness fans will likely to rejoice to learn that the E11.5 now sports chest-strap compatibility (it needs to be purchased separately, though).

Granted, the digital display isn't as sexy as some of the touchscreen numbers found on more expensive models but it is simple and the important data, such as the ability to adjust resistance level and incline, is easily accessible.

The 5-inch display also offers 30 individual personal trainer workouts (10 calorie, 10 performance and 10 intensity), that automatically adjust incline and resistance, as well as revolutions per minute prompts to help users achieve a variety of goals, from losing excess flab to properly toning up.

As with many NordicTrack products, the E11.5 is compatible with a separate iFit module, which is designed to launch exercise into the digital age with interactive workouts, maps and more.

Another handy features of the E11.5 is the built-in CoolAireT oversized fan, which sits above the screen and keeps you cool during your training sessions. Listening to your best tracks is not only easy but also convenient too, due to the iPod/MP3 compatibility and the Intermix Acoustics 2.0 sound system.

Finally, while the 87kg E11.5 isn't exactly the most portable machine around, it has been designed to fold almost in half, so it can be lifted, wheeled away and stored in a cupboard when not in use.

best elliptical trainer: Bowflex MAX Trainer M8

(Image credit: Bowflex)

2. Bowflex MAX Trainer M8

A reassuringly expensive piece of kit

Dimensions: H165 W78 L121 cm
Foldable: No
Flywheel weight: N/A
Built-in speakers: No
Stride length: N/A
Reasons to buy
+Lots of features+Great screen+Compact design
Reasons to avoid
-Premium end of the price range-Limited stride

Bowflex claims its M8 trainer is one of the fastest ways to torch fat, without the high impact of running and other bodyweight programmes. We aren't going to disagree, because this unit incorporates the best elements of a stepper with the fat-torching upper body workout of an elliptical trainer.

It's much more compact for it, so looks a better fit in a home gym environment, while seven built-in workouts have been designed with a huge array of fitness goals in mind.

There is also a companion Max Intelligence App (subscription required), which offers  personalised, guided workouts, access to a library of trainer-led videos and the logging of milestones and achievements with in-depth training analysis. 

An oversized screen with crystal clear display screams of a premium build quality and the overall aesthetic of the M8 is chunky and bullet-proof. This is an expensive home unit, but one that's built to last.

best elliptical trainer: ProForm 450 LE

3. ProForm 450 LE

Best space-saving elliptical trainer

Dimensions: H157 W69 L142 cm
Foldable: Yes
Flywheel weight: 6kg
Built-in speakers: Yes
Stride length: 18-inch
Reasons to buy
+Folds up small+Good stride length
Reasons to avoid
-Light flywheel-Limited number of programmes

It may not look as professional as some of the other trainers here but the little ProForm 450 LE's main party trick is that it folds three ways so it can easily be stored in the corner of a room when not in use.

Despite that, the oversized EasyTone pedals offer a nice amount of foot adjustability and the rear-driven unit does its best to deliver a natural stride motion, despite the compact proportions.

The lower price is reflected in light, 6kg flywheel, which may feel slightly weedy for those who really like to bump up the resistance, while the very basic digital readout only delivers headline figures.

Regardless, there is a choice of 18 pre-programmed workouts, which isn't bad for the price, and the ergonomically designed handles feature built-in heart rate monitoring, with Bluetooth on hand if you want to bring your own chest strap.

The unit may not be the last word in sturdiness, but it offers a solid workout for the price, without taking up valuable abode floor space.

best elliptical trainer: Marcy Azure

(Image credit: Marcy)

4. Marcy Azure

Best entry level elliptical for tight budgets

Dimensions: H164cm W62cm D135cm
Foldable: No
Flywheel weight: 4kg
Built-in speakers: No
Stride length: 14in
Reasons to buy
+Affordable price+8 levels of resistance+Transportation wheels
Reasons to avoid
-Not foldable-Limited programmes-Lightweight construction

Those dipping a toe into the elliptical waters will likely wish to conserve a bit of cash until they feel they are well and truly bitten by the sweaty bug, which is where something like the Marcy Azure comes in nicely.

Sure, it lacks the multiple resistance levels and clever HIIT or Tabata style workout programmes, but it offers a decent stride length and enough resistance to get the blood pumping.

On the plus side, it is very light and the built-in transportation wheels make it easy to tuck into a corner when it is not in use. A lack of built-in Bluetooth and sensors means you'll have to bring your own headphones and heart rate monitor to the party, though.

best elliptical trainer: Cardiostrong EX80

5. Cardiostrong EX80

Size-adjustable trainer

Dimensions: H162.5 W81 L129 cm
Foldable: No
Flywheel weight: 12kg
Built-in speakers: No
Stride length: 45-65cm
Reasons to buy
+Adjustable stride lengths+Lots of workouts+Heart rate monitoring
Reasons to avoid
-It's LARGE-Poor display quality

Boasting similar stats and systems to many of the other elliptical trainers on this list, the Cardiostrong EX80 attempts to separate itself from the competition with an electronically adjustable function.

This allows users to swap between five levels, varying from 45.7cm to 65cm in length, which not only caters for a variety of body shapes and sizes, it also targets different muscle groups in the legs.

There are also 19 different programmes, including four heart rate-controlled options, which allows users to hit a variety of targets, from busting fat to improving cardiovascular threshold.

best elliptical trainer: Life Fitness E1

6. Life Fitness E1

High quality, very quiet cross trainer

Dimensions: 150x77x209 cm
Foldable: No
Flywheel weight: N/A
Built-in speakers: No
Stride length: 20-inch
Reasons to buy
+Whisper-quiet operation+Swanky data screen+Heart rate monitoring
Reasons to avoid
-Premium product, premium pricingEmpty List

With an impressive 20 punishing resistance levels to work with, this gym-grade elliptical machine has been designed to emit as little noise as possible, meaning housemates don't have to put up with the unbearable whooshing of a flywheel. Although there may still be a certain amount of human grunting to endure.

The LCD data screen is crisp, clear and packed with numerous built-in workouts, not to mention bespoke profiles for multiple users.

Heart-rate monitoring is provided by a free Polar chest strap, as well as palm-based readings from the ergonomic 'ErgoGrip' handles, while a large, fixed 20-inch stride length and oversized pedals keep workouts feeling natural and free-flowing.

The price may be enough to have many Nordic-walking for the hills, admittedly, but Life Fitness has invested a wealth of gym knowledge into its range of home-friendly trainers, thus justifying the asking price somewhat.

best elliptical trainer: Sole Fitness E25

7. Sole Fitness E25

A robust machine guaranteed to last a lifetime

Dimensions: H176 W61 L163 cm
Foldable: No
Flywheel weight: 11kg
Built-in speakers: Yes
Stride length: 20-inch
Reasons to buy
+Lifetime guarantee+Gym-like spec
Reasons to avoid
-More expensive

If you're after a cross trainer that's big, chunky and manly looking, look no further than the beastly Sole Fitness E25, which boasts an 11kg flywheel and impressive 20-inch stride length.

A long stride is nothing unless you know what to do with it, but this dual wheel unit makes the most of its notable stats with a comfortable and balanced elliptical movement.

So confident is Sole Fitness that you won't shake its rugged E25 apart with a rowdy workout, it offers a lifetime guarantee on the parts, motor and frame. 

All that's left to do is strap on your heart rate monitor, plug in some tunes and do your very worst, sirs.

best elliptical trainer: Technogym Synchro Forma

8. Technogym Synchro Forma

Professional grade cross trainer

Dimensions: H164cm, W79cm, L204cm
Foldable: No
Flywheel weight: Not quoted
Built-in speakers: Yes
Stride length: Not quoted
Reasons to buy
+Gives strenuous workout
Reasons to avoid
-Has strenuous price

There is a reason why TechnoGym kit can be found in esteemed fitness establishments around the globe and that is because it is generally bloody excellent.

The Synchro Forma doesn't let the side down and its professional biomechanics make for one of the smoothest, most fluid workouts on this list.

Throw in the lush digital display, handle-mounted controls and TechnoGym's suite of excellent data tracking apps and you have a mean machine that will deliver serious results.

Unfortunately, you pay strong money for such performance and the machine is likely overkill for most households. For those with wild man-cave dreams, however, this is the stuff those dreams are made of.

best elliptical trainer: ProForm Cardio HIIT Elliptical Cross Trainer

9. ProForm Cardio HIIT Elliptical Cross Trainer

A different take on the elliptical

Dimensions: 132x74x170 cm
Foldable: No
Flywheel weight: 13kg
Built-in speakers: Yes
Stride length: 20-inch
Reasons to buy
+Complete body workout with 32 presets+Small footprint
Reasons to avoid
-Awkward workout motion

And now for something a little different... the ProForm Cardio unit combines the cardio intensity of boxing and stair climbing with a little dash of elliptical training thrown in for good measure.

Unlike the other trainers on this, the elliptical stepping path is only five inches (as opposed to 20-odd inches) but it includes a 10-inch vertical motion that activates a clutch of other muscle groups.

In fact, couple the unique motion with a high intensity interval workout and you have a machine that trains more muscle groups faster than others mentioned here, ensuring maximum workout efficiency.

That said, some may find the whole climbing/striding/arm-pumping motion a little awkward, especially at first, preferring a more familiar-feeling elliptical motion instead.

Those taking the plunge get 32 preset workouts, pretty fair built-in audio speakers, the ability to tether smartphones and tablets, a backlit LCD screen, albeit one with slightly crap graphics, and a face-cooling workout fan that you'll probably need.

best elliptical trainer: Reebok Z-Power Cross Trainer

10. Reebok Z-Power Cross Trainer

Great, low-cost elliptical trainer

Dimensions: H169cm, W72cm, L135cm
Foldable: No
Flywheel weight: 9kg
Built-in speakers: Yes
Stride length: 15-inch
Reasons to buy
+Excellent VFM
Reasons to avoid
-Not the most demanding trainer

Neat, compact and great value for money, this budget offering from Reebok provides a neat, low-cost intro to the world of elliptical trainers.

The petite, 5.5-inch digital screen gives readouts on all the key info: speed, time elapsed, distance covered, calories burned, pulse, watts and RPM, while a number of preset programmes address a wide variety of fitness goals.

A short, 15-inch stride length and relatively light flywheel don't make for the most natural elliptical experiences but the extra long handles boast heart rate monitoring tech, so you can keep an eye on training zones and adapt effort accordingly.