Consumer Reports magazine and TreadmillDoctor.com have the best elliptical trainer reviews. Consumer Reports tests and compares models based on ease of use, safety and value, using both trained fitness professionals and regular people to identify the best elliptical trainers. TreadmillDoctor.com sells replacement parts and supplies for fitness equipment, so editors are in a unique position to judge long-term reliability and value. Websites like Elliptical-Trainers-Review.com and Elliptical-Trainers.com do include some critical comments, but we didn't see any testing methodology discussed. Accordingly, we took the recommendations of these sites with a big grain of salt. Consumer Reports and TreadmillDoctor.com offer much more credible elliptical trainer reviews.
Consumer Reports notes that elliptical trainers in the lower price range often have problems right from the start; the bottom line, the magazine's editors say, is you get what you pay for. Models costing over $2,000 performed best in testing. One of the magazine's best buys cost $800, although the editors point out that this elliptical trainer lacks the sturdy health-club feel of the more expensive models.
You might recognize the Orbitrek Elliptical Glider (*est. $160) from TV infomercials. Consumers posting to Epinions say that the Orbitrek can tip at high speeds, causes painful, choppy movements and all too often breaks within a year. Further, some consumers say they had a hard time getting the manufacturer to honor the one-year warranty when the machine broke within that time frame. Owners posting comments to FitnessInfomercialReview.com echo those comments. Better choices include the entry-level Fitness Quest Eclipse 1100 HR/A (*est. $400) or Image 8.5 (*est. $325).
Elliptical trainers are a mix between a stair stepper and a ski machine. You stand on pedals, which move on an elliptical track, usually via rollers. Some models have only stationary or preprogrammed incline options, while others allow the user to adjust the incline throughout the workout. Reviews say that elliptical trainers have caught up to treadmills in popularity because they provide a variety of aerobic workouts, while the ski-type leg movement limits the impact on joints.
Some elliptical trainers provide an upper body workout as well as lower body, and most offer multiple exercise options with varying levels of difficulty. Fitness reviews say that while elliptical trainers give you a good workout, they do tend to overestimate the number of calories you're burning, usually by 20 percent to 30 percent. Elliptical machines that ask you to enter your body weight can be more accurate. In general, reviews say that you'll burn 500 to 650 calories (depending on effort) after one hour of exercise on any cardio machine, whether it's a treadmill or an elliptical trainer.
Best elliptical trainers
If you've used an elliptical trainer at the gym, it was likely a higher-end commercial machine. Reviews say commercial machines are more expensive and feature-laden than most people need at home. However, Precor ranks highly in reviews for both its commercial and home elliptical trainers. The (*est. $2,700) is Precor's entry-level model, and the editors of Prevention magazine say it's one of the most durable on the market. The Precor elliptical trainer has four programs including an optional heart-rate monitor, 20 resistance levels, an incline that adjusts from 12 to 25 degrees, and a long, 19-inch stride. This makes it one of the largest home models, with a footprint of 75 x 30 inches. The Precor machine weighs 197 pounds. According to the manufacturer, Precor elliptical trainers don't have a weight limit, so they are appropriate for heavier individuals.
The Precor EFX 5.17i elliptical trainer has an accessory holder on the console for your water bottle or CD player. Precor comes standard with a child safety feature to prevent accidental startups, but you have to pay extra for the optional heart-rate monitor. The Precor EFX 5.17i elliptical trainer doesn't include an upper body workout, but step-up models do, including the (*est. $2,700) and the EFX 5.33 (*est. $3,800). However, these two models have a 20-degree fixed ramp, so if you like to adjust the incline while working out, you might opt for the EFX 5.17i instead. With Precor elliptical trainers, you must choose between an upper body workout and an adjustable incline.
We featured the Precor EFX 5.21 (*est. $3,700) in a previous version of this report, but chose to replace it with the EFX 5.17i, which is less expensive but has comparable features. For the extra money, the Precor EFX 5.21i gives you two extra workout programs, a slightly larger 13- to 30-degree incline, and an included heart-rate monitor. The only downside to Precor elliptical trainers (besides the high price) is the large size and weight (the very qualities that make them so stable), so make sure you have enough space.
Another higher-end option is the Life Fitness X3 elliptical trainer (*est. $3,000). This elliptical trainer has movable handlebars for an upper body workout and an interactive heart-rate monitor to help keep you in your target heart-rate zone. The Life Fitness elliptical trainer has 12 workouts, including a "My Workouts" section that stores weight, incline levels and progress for up to four workouts or people. However, experts at TreadmillDoctor.com say this model is overpriced for what you get, and in this price range, Precor is better.
If you're looking for a lot of features on a limited budget, reviewers like the Smooth CE 3.2 (est $1700). Experts say it's durable for the price and offers a full complement of features for the money. It has nine customizable programs, a 300-pound weight capacity, and comes with a wireless heart-rate monitor. Movable handlebars give your upper body a workout, but reviews especially like the pivoting foot pedals, which decrease ankle strain. One drawback: The stride length on the Smooth CE 3.2 is 16 inches, which may be too short for taller people. However, Smooth's step-up model, the CE 7.4 (est $2,500) has a 19-inch stride, equivalent to the Precor elliptical trainers above.
Smooth's elliptical trainers use a flywheel instead of rollers on a ramp for the leg movement, and thus, the user can’t adjust the incline. The machine's speed and resistance are based on the workout program, but these can be customized as you work out. This is an improvement over Smooth's former CE models, which didn't allow setting changes. The high-end Precor EFX 5.17 elliptical trainer (*est. $2,700), on the other hand, has an adjustable incline to vary your workout. (Reviews say a variable incline can help isolate different muscle groups.) Smooth elliptical trainers have a lifetime warranty on parts and a one-year labor warranty.
According to reviews at TreadmillDoctor.com, Spirit elliptical trainers are a great value right now; editors think that Spirit is actually under-pricing its elliptical trainers. This manufacturer gets good reviews for its treadmills, but we didn't see as many reviews for its elliptical trainers. Both the Spirit XE 350 (*est. $1,450) and the Spirit XE 550 (*est. $1,750) have a long 20-inch stride and upper body handles. Articulated foot pedals reduce ankle stress. Twenty resistance levels and ten workout programs help vary your workout. Neither of these machines has an adjustable incline (a feature you're unlikely to see at this price level). Both models have heart-rate control, a fan and an accessory holder. Both machines include a lifetime warranty on the frame and brake system, plus five years on other parts. A two-year labor warranty is included, which is more generous than Smooth.
The Spirit XE 350 has a 350-pound user weight limit; the XE 550 has a 400-pound weight limit. Added features on the higher-end XE 550 include molded handgrips, a cushioned foot pad and a heart-rate "autopilot" feature, which varies the resistance automatically to keep you in your target heart-rate zone. The entry-level Spirit XE 150 (*est. $1,250) costs less, but doesn't have many heart-rate features, has a smaller display, a 300-pound weight limit and no adjustable foot pedals.
We highlighted the Vision Fitness 6200HRT elliptical trainer (*est. $1,500) in a previous version of this report. The manufacturer upgraded this model to the X6200HRT (*est. $2,000), which also gets some high scores in reviews. Like the Life Fitness elliptical trainer and Spirit XE 550 above, the Vision Fitness X6200HRT will automatically change resistance to maintain your target heart rate (sensors are located in the handgrips). The movable handles work your upper body, plus this model can fold up for storage.
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