The best elliptical machines are a great addition to any home gym. And when we say great, we mean huge, as these cardio machines can be pretty sizeable. The not-so-humble elliptical – or cross trainer as it used to be known – is probably the least elegant piece of home gym equipment, but it can be highly effective.
Elliptical trainers might not be as popular as the best treadmills – especially the best folding treadmills – or even the best exercise bikes, but they’re perfect for getting fit without joint pain, thanks to the low-impact nature of the exercise. Yes, it looks a bit peculiar when you see someone embroiled in an 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 means users can easily and quickly increase their aerobic fitness without putting strain on sensitive joints. At the same time, the upper body receives a solid workout too. This multi-muscle training also makes an elliptical ideal for those who want to get fit but lack the floor space at home to house numerous machines and gym equipment.
Best elliptical trainers to buy right now
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When it comes to virtually exploring this planet, few cardio machines compare to the NordicTrack FS14i FreeStride Trainer, which brings the great outdoors right to your doorstep. This elliptical is easy on your joints, and its adjustable stride is far more dynamic than most cross-trainers. Not to mention the fab 14-inch screen!
Overall, the NordicTrack FS14i FreeStride Trainer is a splurge for any home gym, but one that may be worth it in the long run – err, stride. The machine itself is top-notch when it comes to low-impact cardio, but if you can afford the monthly iFit membership to boot, there’s an awful lot to like about this premium elliptical. Your inner child will never get bored, and your inner gazelle will thank you later.
Read our full NordicTrack FS14i FreeStride Trainer review
The JTX Zenith is a beast of an elliptical trainer: it's big, it's heavy and it's made of durable, high-quality components. Given its size, the JTX Zenith is suitable for all user heights, unlike many smaller machines that can only accommodate people under 6-feet high.
The 17-kilo flywheel, combined with 16 the resistance levels and the 19 different programs ensures you will have plenty of progression opportunities using the the Zenith. Better still, the JTX Zenith has a stride length of 21 inches, plenty big enough for even taller people.
The JTX Zenith also features a built-in Polar heart rate sensor that measures heart rate – and therefore calories burned – more accurately. The Zenith also comes with speakers, a bottle holder and transport wheel so the machine can be moved around the house more easily.
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 it 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 a crystal clear display screams premium build quality, and the overall aesthetic of the M8 is chunky and bulletproof. This is an expensive home unit, but one that's built to last.
The Sole E35 has a lot to offer for a home elliptical. It’s easy to use and can be adjusted to suit a variety of fitness levels. And, thanks to the machine’s compatibility with the STUDIO fitness platform, it offers users access to a host of fun, challenging workouts.
It’s slightly disappointing that at this price, it doesn’t include a proper screen, but if you’re used to working out with your tablet for company, it’s no great loss. The Sole Fitness 35 is ideal for elliptical newbies and provides both challenging and fun workouts (especially using the Studio app).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. You'll be flailing like a lunatic to get anywhere near the fat burn zone.
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.
What is the best elliptical trainer?
NordicTrack is King of the Elliptical hot steppers and its E11.5 Elliptical Cross Trainer 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.
Do ellipticals help lose belly fat?
Using an elliptical trainer will help increase heart rate, especially if you use them for longer than five minutes at the time. This, coupled with a healthy, balanced diet, can help you lose belly fat and weight in general. Better still, training on an elliptical won't necessarily ramp up your heart rate too much, meaning it will be easier to keep it in that 'fat burning zone' sett spot (50-60% of max heart rate).