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The elliptical has long been a versatile piece of home gym equipment, used for everything from physical therapy to getting in a low impact workout. But knowing how the find the best elliptical can make a difference in the overall quality of your workout and your budget.
If you have doubts about the elliptical and aren’t even sure that it’s an effective piece of equipment, consider the inspiring recovery story of Abbey D’Agostino, a mid and long-distance American runner who earned the distinguishment of ‘most decorated’ track and field athlete for an Ivy League school during her career as a collegiate athlete, and went professional in 2014.
At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, it looked like a lifetime of training was about to pay off for D’Agostino. Very few athletes that go pro make it to the Olympics, so just to be there was an honor. She did indeed garner a good deal of attention–for the very opposite reason of what she’d undoubtedly hoped for.
In a bizarre mishap, during the five thousand meter race, she and Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand collided on the track two miles into a just over three-mile race. The race, as always, was not only about endurance and speed but also careful maneuvering: with a full track of runners all trying to squeeze into the first lane it’s difficult enough, the nature of the length of the race meant that slower runners were being lapped–which unfortunately was a critical cause of the collision.
D’Agostino immediately rose; Hamblin did not. And then D’Agostino made a decision that would touch viewers around the globe–she paused to help New Zealand athlete get up.
As it turned out, they were both injured, though no one knew to what extent at the time. Together they ran a final mile, D’Agostino limping and praying the entire time and finishing what started as a hopeful competitive time and ended as a triumph for even completing. The two athletes hugged and were eventually awarded the International Olympic Committee’s Fair Play Award.
- 1 What does an elliptical do?
- 2 How do I use an elliptical?
- 3 How do I find the best elliptical?
- 4 What are some of the best elliptical machines?
- 5 Sole E35 Elliptical
- 6 Horizon EX-59 Elliptical
- 7 NordicTrack SpaceSaver SE7i
The long road to recovery included an essential piece of gym equipment: an elliptical
It turned out there was a reason D’Agostino barely managed to finish her nonetheless inspiring race–as a result of the collision, she now had a torn meniscus and an injured ACL. What might have greatly discouraged other athletes pushed her to put all the effort she put into training into recovering.
After a difficult five-month break, she started a regime that powered her back. Though it took time, she credits journaling, taking rest days, getting in proper electrolytes, and focusing on self-care and positivity. But one of the key things she did was regular elliptical sessions. The elliptical helped her slowly gain back strength in a gentle, low impact way.
And it worked: in 2017 she returned to professional running with a five-kilometer race in New York, finishing seventh, and continues to run professionally today.
What does an elliptical do?
Inspiring as D’Agostino’s story may be, it’s not uncommon for athletes of any kind to have heard of an elliptical but not really understand what it is or how it works.
Among the most popular types of home gym equipment, the elliptical, also known as an elliptical trainer or a cross trainer, is a piece of stationary exercise equipment that is used to mimic walking, running, and stair climbing all in one but in a low impact way.
Ellipticals provide users with a cardiovascular workout but specifically impact your glutes, hamstrings, and quads. Some also half an adjustable incline ramp that helps you target your calves as well. Higher-end models may even include adjustable handlebars, which allow you to push both forward and backward for a small anaerobic workout.
How do I use an elliptical?
An elliptical is not all that different from using a stationary bike or rowing machine in some ways, though the movement and its impact on your body are a bit different. To use an elliptical, follow these simple steps:
- Start pedaling to activate the machine; a few also require you to press a start button.
- As you pedal, make sure you’re pedaling at a steady pace, with your arms swinging up and down in alignment with the handles and one leg bent when the other is straight, and vise versa.
- Be careful not to bend your knees and maintain good posture for the best workout possible.
What are the benefits of a workout on an elliptical?
One of the biggest reasons that ellipticals are among the most popular pieces of gym equipment is that they provide a quality, but low impact workout, making them especially ideal for those coming off of injuries or older adults because they don’t tax your joints the way traditional running or stair climbing can. Among the benefits of using an elliptical, these are the most noteworthy:
Weight-bearing. It may surprise you that one main advantage ellipticals have over stationary bikes is that they provide what is termed a weight-bearing workout. Weight-bearing exercise, which also includes running, walking, stair climbing, and even jumping rope, is important because it helps strengthen your bones; swimming and biking, well great for cardiovascular health, are not considered weight-bearing and should be alternated with weight-bearing activities.
For all fitness levels. Like walking, using an elliptical is suitable for nearly all fitness levels. You can go fast or slow and increase the intensity of your workouts by using adjustable handlebars and increasing resistance.
Low impact. Of course, we’ve already mentioned this, but not only are elliptical machines weight-bearing but they also kinder to your joints, making them perfect also for cross training days. Cross training is one of the most effective ways to protect against injuries.
Upper Body. The best elliptical machines also give the option to get an upper body workout in while you’re doing cardio which makes the elliptical stand out from other gym equipment.
Easy to use. For most, the learning curve is much less steep than with some more complicated pieces of gym equipment.
Are there any drawbacks to ellipticals?
Of course, no home gym equipment can provide a perfect workout, as is the case with the elliptical. So downsides to using an elliptical include:
Lower intensity. Unless you really take advantage or incline and resistance features, elliptical workouts are generally easier–which can be good in some cases, but maybe a downside if you’re trying to get a more rigorous workout in.
Fit. Many ellipticals come in a single size; while this is not so much of a problem for those of relatively average height, shorter individuals may risk overextending if they don’t use the machine properly. It may not be as comfortable as more adjustable pieces of gym equipment, either.
Lower calorie burn. This goes along with lower intensity workouts, but ellipticals also may take more work to burn calories on. According to Rachel Mariotti, a personal fitness trainer, in most cases, you’ll burn about twenty to thirty percent fewer calories on an elliptical than you would for the same time spent on a treadmill. Some look for features to increase the intensity of their workouts, while others use it as an easier training day or simply increase the length of their workouts.
Price. Ellipticals can cost more than other gym equipment; be prepared to spend a few hundred to two thousand dollars.
How do I find the best elliptical?
Finding the best elliptical is not so hard if you focus on a few key factors. While there is no such thing as a perfect model, the best elliptical machines are durable and optimize your workout in every way possible. Here’s what to look for:
Adjustable handlebars with comfort grip
Adjustable handlebars aren’t a matter of comfort so much as they offer an added workout benefit–in the best elliptical machines, moveable handlebars work your upper body and provide a full body workout. Comfort grips help prevent calluses and make your workout more enjoyable. Also look for handlebars with different grip positions.
Adjustable pedals help with the fit problem and help prevent hyperextending your legs, which can lead to injuries. A two degree adjustability is considered a very good level of flexibility.
The incline is another way to increase the intensity and improve the overall benefits of your elliptical workout. Nearly all models will offer this. Ramp angles range from zero upwards to around thirty degrees; thirty degrees is available normally only on the highest-end machines.
Dual track system
A dual-track system adds both stability and durability, making mishaps less likely and reducing the wear and tear on the machine with extended use. Most dual-track systems are also equipped with something akin to concave roller wheels.
Multiple resistance levels
Multiple resistance levels not only help you to increase the intensity of your workouts but also allow you to target and tone specific muscle groups. Resistance comes from either fan wheels or is magnetic; while fan wheels tend to be much lower cost and smoother, magnetic systems are quiet and the most consistent, making for a higher quality workout overall.
To get the best elliptical machine for you, also see if you can find out any information for the stride length. A fifteen-inch stride length may not be suitable for anyone who’s taller.
Dual direction flywheels
Flywheels are essentially what helps the entire machine to move; dual-direction flywheels are ideal because they allow them to work different muscle groups and also break the monotony of going in one direction.
Size and budget
While larger elliptical machines can offer more features, be realistic about how viable space you can devote to your elliptical machine. In terms of cost, stay within budget, but also don’t go for the least expensive machine possible. Machines well under five hundred dollars tend to not be durable or as stable. Several hundred dollars through two thousand is a normal price range for ellipticals.
Type of elliptical
You may be surprised to learn that there are actually three different categories of ellipticals:
- Elliptical cross-trainers are the best bet in terms of versatility and full-body workouts; these are increasingly the most popular types of elliptical machines. These provide arm resistance and work both upper and lower body workouts.
- Elliptical trainers were the earliest elliptical machines and focus on lower body workouts and usually still offer features like changing resistance and incline.
- Elliptical gliders are also known as ‘air striders’ and limit motion to up and down but do not include circular motion. These tend to be the most affordable, but also don’t provide a true elliptical workout.
Front vs rear vs center drive
You also have your choice in terms of how the elliptical machine runs. Front-drive machines mostly provide motion like you’d get with stair-stepping; these machines are among the most affordable less durable, while rear-drive machines are your best bet. Unlike front and center drive, rear-drive machines provide the most flexibility and variety in terms of movement and are equipped with adjustable, often dual-track flywheels.
Additional features make your ride more comfortable, enjoyable, and even effective. The highest end elliptical models include cooling system, heart rate monitors, audio output, and bluetooth capability, as well as programmable workouts.
Warranty & ratings
Warranty & ratings provide assurance that you’re making a smart investment. Before you purchase any home gym machine, you should make sure it comes with an option for some kind of warranty to protect against defects. Researching customer reviews is also a smart option; it can show you just how satisfied customers are, but also draw attention to potential complaints.
What are some of the best elliptical machines?
Now that you know some critical factors you need to know to find the best elliptical, it’s good to get an idea of what’s out there. The following elliptical machines are not only well-received but also offer many of the features we suggested looking for. By no means is this list all-inclusive, but it is meant to provide a starting point so you can be on your way to purchasing the best elliptical machine possible.
Before you shop, though, we recommend heading to a local gym, if you’ve never used an elliptical before. Get a feel for how the machine works, what it feels like, and take note of what you like or don’t like so you’re also prepared with your own personal preferences in mind.
Finally, remember to always comparison shop. By doing so, you’re not only looking to ensure the best deal, but also to purchase the machine that will provide the most optimal workout possible for you personally.
The 2019 model of the Sole E35 Elliptical earned a best in class distinguishment and there’s plenty of reason to see why. A flywheel provides a smooth and quiet ride, powered by a ‘whisper drive’ system.
Forward and reverse functions allow you to change your workup up, with the addition of power inclines, a steel frame with a lifetime warranty, and foot pedals designed by physical therapists. Other noteworthy features include a Bluetooth speaker system, USB port, tablet holder, and special incline technology meant to target specific muscle groups.
Looking for a more budget-friendly elliptical machine? Consider the Horizon EX-59 Elliptical. This model may not have all the bells and whistles of some higher-end models, but it’s still a smart buy. The flywheel provides a smooth workout and comfortable, ergonomic design with the ability to change both speed and incline with a single touch.
A smaller distance between pedals produces less strain on your hips and back, it can be installed in under half an hour, and it comes with a lifetime warranty. Plus its Bluetooth compatible and includes a USB charger.
Coming in between the two options in terms of the price range, this elliptical by NordicTrack is also a great space saver, making it ideal for more cramped living spaces. The SE7i is comfortable, with cushioned pedals, and workout fan and soft grips.
It’s also effective, with magnetic resistance, an ‘inertia enhanced’ flywheel, and gives you twenty-four programmed workouts. Incline goes up to a respectable eight degrees and an EKG grip pulse helps you keep track of your heart rate. Other features include a music port, water bottle holder, and tablet holder.
Finding the best elliptical machine requires shopping around. Make sure to always check warranties before you check out, and keep the price in mind. While a cheaper machine may save you in the short term, spending a little more may be an overall better investment, as long as it’s within your budget.