Best elliptical 2021: best cross trainer machines for a full body workout

The best elliptical trainers for limb-twitching, cardio-pumping workouts at home

the best elliptical can get you fit at home without putting too much pressure on your joints
(Image credit: Technogym)

The best elliptical machines are a great addition to any home gym. They might not be as popular as the best treadmills or even the best exercise bikes, but they’re perfect for getting fit without the joint pain, thanks to the low impact nature of the exercise. 

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 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 a lot of space at home for numerous machines and pieces of equipment.

The best elliptical trainers, in order

The Nordictrack E11.5 is the best elliptical trainer pound for pound, with a superb array of features for the price

(Image credit: Nordictrack)

1. NordicTrack E11.5

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

Specifications
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

Some home gym equipment is not only gym-grade quality, but also priced accordingly, like the Assualt AirRunner Curved Treadmill. Others, like this NordicTrack E11.5 elliptic trainer, has a solid semi-commercial construction without the premium price tag.

The NordicTrack E11.5 elliptic trainer improved on many fronts from its predecessor: it has a longer stride length, 20 resistance levels, 10-30 percent incline modes and a lighter yet more efficient flywheel.

The 5-inch display might not be the strongest point of the NordicTrack E11.5 but it still offers 30 individual personal trainer workouts (10 in each category: calorie/performance/intensity) that automatically adjust incline and resistance.

There is a built-in fan as well, which might be oversized but not too strong, good enough for non-strenuous workouts.

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.

The Bowflex MAX Trainer M8 is a reassuringly expensive piece of kit

(Image credit: Bowflex)

2. Bowflex MAX Trainer M8

A reassuringly expensive piece of kit

Specifications
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 length

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.

the JTX Zenith is a commercial gym standard cross trainer

(Image credit: JTX Fitness)

3. JTX Zenith

Commercial gym standard cross trainer

Reasons to buy
+Suitable for all user height+Very competitive price point+3-year repairs and lifetime frame warranty+Built-in Polar heart rate sensor
Reasons to avoid
-Quite big

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.

The ProForm 450 LE is the best space-saving elliptical trainer

4. ProForm 450 LE

Best space-saving elliptical trainer

Specifications
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.

the Life Fitness E1 is a high quality, very quiet cross trainer

5. Life Fitness E1

High quality, very quiet cross trainer

Specifications
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.

the Sole Fitness E25 is a robust machine guaranteed to last a lifetime

6. Sole Fitness E25

A robust machine guaranteed to last a lifetime

Specifications
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.

the Technogym Synchro Forma is a professional grade cross trainer

7. Technogym Synchro Forma

Professional grade cross trainer

Specifications
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.

Reebok Z-Power Cross Trainer is a great, low-cost elliptical trainer

8. Reebok Z-Power Cross Trainer

Great, low-cost elliptical trainer

Specifications
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.

person using an elliptical trainer in a large room with a lot of tall windows

(Image credit: Technogym)

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.

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.

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).

Leon Poultney
Leon Poultney

Leon has been writing about automotive and consumer tech for longer than he cares to divulge. If he’s not testing the latest fitness wearable and action camera, he’s out in a shed fawning over his motorcycles or trying not to kill himself on a mountain bike/surfboard/other extreme thing.