When it comes to cardio machines that are easy on your joints, an elliptical is a good investment. The best ellipticals come with a number of stride lengths and options to increase or reduce resistance as you see fit in order to provide a low-impact cardio workout. “With an elliptical, you can perform both high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and low-intensity steady-state cardio workouts (LISS) with minimal joint impact,” says personal trainer Hayden Steele, CPT.
Playing around with the resistance and speed can help keep things interesting while you work to hit your cardio goals—which are a minimum of 150 minutes of low- or moderate-intensity cardio or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ physical activity guidelines (or, a combo of the two).
This could mean dedicating a couple of days to distance sessions on your elliptical in which you spend time striding at a single pace (one that’s easy to still talk while you sweat). Then, on the other days, you’d take things up a notch by doing interval training, in which you push your speed to shorter periods of time and then return to a conversational pace to recover in between bursts of high-intensity effort.
“For example, a 2:1 work to rest ratio on the elliptical could be 30 seconds sprinting, followed by 15 seconds of rest,” suggests Steele. “A 1:1 work to rest ratio is another great way to do intervals on an elliptical. This could be going as hard as you can for one minute, followed by one minute of rest.”
And while an elliptical workout is primarily going to target your legs, hips, and glutes, you can get your upper body into the action with this tip from Steele: “Try to pump your arms as fast as you’re moving your legs, and be sure to distribute your weight and resistance evenly.”
Below, check out his recommendations for the best ellipticals available, so you can get started ASAP.
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Best Budget-Friendly Elliptical
Sunny Health & Fitness SF-E902 Air Walk Trainer Elliptical
A total bargain, you can get this elliptical for less than $100, but that doesn’t mean you’re sacrificing the efficiency of your workout. This air walker machine forces you to work your leg, arm, and abdominal muscles as you build up from a simulated walk to a run. Plus, it features an LCD monitor where you can keep track of your time, count, total distance, and calories burned.
Reviewer rave: “This machine is a dandy. It has a sliding, swinging motion that can go quite fast if you want with little demand on joints. It’s great if you want to put it in front of your TV in your living room. It doesn’t take up the space of a treadmill or even a bicycle. It is light enough to drag off or carry off in a hurry.” —Bunny Max, amazon.com
Best Compact Elliptical
Stamina InMotion E1000 Compact Strider
If you need to get some cardio in as you work, then store this compact elliptical strider under your desk. It’s suitable for training either sitting or standing, though it doesn’t include handlebars to hold on to. Still this bargain purchase includes other features like a display monitor that allows you to play with the intensity of your workout and the ability to pedal forward or in reverse.
Reviewer rave: “I bought the under desk elliptical machine in the hopes of getting more exercise while I’m stuck behind a desk for 8–10hrs a day. I was hesitant at first because I wasn’t sure how distracting the machine would be while trying to work on spreadsheets and emails. It was only distracting for the first couple hours. After that, I almost forgot it was there while I worked. I’ve been using the elliptical for the past two months and I love it! I feel more energized during the day and better about myself because I got some low-intensity cardio in.” —Elfear, staminaproducts.com
Best Elliptical for a Quiet Stride
ProForm SMART Pro 12.9
Should being able to stride silently (so as not to wake up anyone else in your house) be a big selling point, behold! your new fave elliptical. The magnetic resistance on this cardio machine allows you to switch up your intensity levels quickly and quietly. Plus, it comes with a one-year membership to iFit virtual workouts, which you can follow-along to on the built-in touch screen.
Reviewer rave: “This was so easy to assemble; there was only one step that required the assistance of my husband. I have knee issues and I am able to get a good work out without the knee/joint pain I was experiencing while running. I love the various workouts that are available. Looking forward to using this for many years to come!” —Goldie, proform.com
Best Vertical Elliptical
ProForm HIIT H14 Elliptical
Build strength and boost your cardio as you trek your way through the 26 digital resistance levels this elliptical offers. Stream on-demand workouts via iFit for free for a year over its 14-inch touchscreen display. It’ll basically feel like having your own personal trainer at home, which is especially helpful when you’re just starting out.
Reviewer rave: “I am very pleased with my new HIIT Trainer. I feel like I am getting a full workout. I like that I can hold and control the handles in multiple places which is helpful and more comfortable than grabbing stationary handle on other machines. I was pleasantly surprised that the machine came with a 1 year iFit membership which has been great!” —Maxie, bestbuy.com
Best Overall Elliptical
Sole E25 Elliptical
With foot pedals designed by physical therapists to ensure there’s no strain on the knees or joints, this is an elliptical created with comfort in mind. Bluetooth audio speakers, a USB port, and pulse monitors allow for great sound and tracking, while the 20 resistance levels allow you to build your endurance up over time.
Reviewer rave: “This is my second Sole elliptical. I sold the first because I was moving. I’ve had other makes of ellipticals that wore out or just never performed. This one is durable and smooth. Great customer support, too.” —pearcy6297, soletreadmills.com
Best Overall Elliptical
Nautilus E616 Elliptical Trainer
If you’re looking for an all-in-one, affordable option, you need to get your hands on the Nautilus. It has bluetooth setup so that you can sync it to a number of different apps, including MyFitnessPal, Explore The World, and more, as well as an interactive display that features 29 customizable programs.
Reviewer rave: “Got mine set up and after I tried it for the first time I love it. The features I like are: the fan is super nice and keeps you cool; it’s nice to be able to plug in my iPod to charge while I work out and the speakers on the front are awesome if I don’t feel like wearing headphones; water holder & phone storage is nice; doesn’t take up much room! The resistance can feel a little bit high on the lowest settings but once I got used to how the machine felt I got into it. I was sweating when I was done, that’s for sure! Glad I purchased it :)” —Patricia Krinke, amazon.com
- Bluetooth Connectivity
- Comfortable Grip
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