Not only are elliptical trainers some of the best tools for a full-body cardio workout, they're also among the largest. Most high-end home elliptical trainers are at least 70 inches long and 30 inches wide. The best-reviewed Sole E95 is a whopping 83 inches long and 27 inches wide, while the near-commercial-quality Precor EFX 5.33 (Est. $4,500) measures 84 inches long by 31 inches wide.
Bargain-priced elliptical trainers are much smaller but tend to be unstable, with short, choppy strides and poor durability. Folding models save space but aren't as popular as they once were, perhaps due to numerous complaints about poor durability and stability.
So if you're trying to squeeze an elliptical trainer into limited space, that leaves us with two standout models worth recommending -- the front-drive Octane Fitness Q37ci (Est. $3,000) and the center-drive NordicTrack A.C.T. Commercial (Est. $900) .
Although you'll have to pay more for the Octane Fitness Q37ci, it draws near-universal praise for good durability and customer service (although the editors of TreadmillDoctor.com pan it for being overpriced). It also offers wireless or hand-grip heart rate monitoring (heart-rate monitor included) and comes with a few features you won't find on other brands of elliptical trainers.
Those include preset workouts that coach you through a series of movements to target varied muscle groups; optional side platforms to stand on while working only your arms; an ArmBlaster mode that briefly pumps extra resistance to the moving handlebars; and elastic resistance bands that attach to the front of the machine so you can incorporate strength training into your workout.
The A.C.T. Commercial smaller than the Q37ci, with a 51-by-34.5-inch footprint, thanks to a design that places you right between the twin drive mechanisms. The A.C.T. Commercial offers 22 levels of NordicTrack's "silent magnetic resistance," and a stride that manual-adjusts between 18, 20 and 22 inches. It also offers wireless heart rate monitoring (the chest strap is included), handgrip heart rate monitors and iFit Live, which allows you to download and create your own interactive Google Maps workouts. (In order to enable iFit Live you must purchase the optional wireless module (Est. $99) and, after the first year, pay an annual subscription fee of $99 per year or $149 every two years.)
Some experts worry that the A.C.T. Commercial's dual drive mechanisms create twice as many moving parts to go wrong, and they may be on to something -- it seems that users of this elliptical trainer make twice as many complaints about loud clunking sounds when in operation. "This thing clunks like a 5-year-old kid beating a drum," writes one reviewer at Sears.com.
We also found complaints about poor durability and customer service. "Less than 3 weeks and the machine is unusable," writes one frustrated Sears.com user, who says the resistance motor went out. The A.C.T. Commercial is covered by a very decent warranty -- lifetime on the frame, five years for parts and two for labor -- but users say that when you invoke the warranty you're liable to face long hold times, high call volumes, and unreliable estimates of when replacement parts will ship.
Both elliptical trainers offer handgrip heart rate monitoring too but, as is almost always the case, the handgrip monitors perform unreliably at best. If you're not concerned about checking your heart rate as you work out (or using one of the Octane Q37ci's 4 heart rate control programs), you can save about $500 by purchasing the Octane Q37c (Est. $2,500) , which is mechanically similar but offers only handgrip heart rate monitoring.
If a compact footprint is your highest priority, the NordicTrack A.C.T. Commercial wins in terms of space -- and its price is less than a third that of the Octane Fitness Q37ci. If you're willing to give up a few inches in the interest of better durability and innovative features, however, the Octane Fitness Q37ci and its 65-by-30-inch footprint are well worth a look, which is why it's our best-reviewed pick in this category.