What the best home ellipticals have

  • A heavy flywheel. In general the heavier the flywheel, the smoother the motion. Look for one that weighs 25 pounds or more.
  • Enough resistance levels. To maximize your training, the elliptical must progress with you as you get more fit. Most elliptical trainers have at least 16 levels of resistance; higher-end models have 20 or 22 levels to choose from.
  • Quiet magnetic braking. Almost every modern elliptical trainer uses magnetic braking for resistance. The mechanism should adjust smoothly and quietly between resistance levels, with no clunking or jerking.
  • Appropriate stride length. The actual feel of any given stride length can vary between brands and models but, as a general rule, the longer the better, especially if you're tall.
  • Adjustable stride length. You can get by without this feature but if several people of different sizes are going to use the elliptical trainer, it can make everyone's workout more comfortable.
  • Adjustable incline. Changing the incline serves two purposes at once: altering your stride length and shifting the workout focus to different muscle groups, lending more variety to your workout.
  • Comfortable handlebars. Make sure the handlebars, moving or stationary, feel comfortable when you hold onto them and pedal; it's hard to exercise when you feel awkward and this is a common complaint with elliptical users who end up unhappy with their machines.
  • Easy-to-use controls. Resistance and incline should be easy to control from the center console or moving handlebars. Ideally, you shouldn't have to stop the workout to make adjustments.
  • Strong warranty and solid customer service. The warranty should cover parts for at least five years and labor for at least one. The manufacturer should be easy to reach, and quick to respond to consumer complaints.

Know Before You Go 

Does it fit my available space? Do you have enough space to use an elliptical trainer in your home? The average footprint is about 79 inches long by 30 inches wide by 63 inches tall, and many front-drive elliptical trainers require additional clearance to the rear when in use. Don't forget to measure your ceiling height, too; most ellipticals will add an extra 1.5 feet to your own height.

Does it fit me? If you're especially tall or short, look for an elliptical with a longer or shorter stride length. That said, the only way to know how well any stride length suits you is to get on the machine and exercise for a few minutes. Is the motion comfortable? Do you have plenty of room for your limbs (knees and elbows especially) within the elliptical trainer's frame? If not, look elsewhere. Comfort is key.

Who will use it? If more than one person is going to use the elliptical trainer, everybody should try it out. If the users are of very different sizes, you may need an elliptical trainer with an adjustable stride length to comfortably accommodate all of them.

Should I have it delivered or assembled? When you pick up or receive your elliptical, it will arrive in one or more large, heavy boxes. Often the shippers will deliver boxes to the curb, but won't bring them into your house unless you pay an extra fee for "inside" delivery. If you're handy, patient, and able to get the elliptical trainer into your home on your own (even if that means carrying it piece-by-piece), DIY assembly can be a viable, but time-consuming, option. If you don't have the time or patience to mess with it, consider paying for a professional delivery and assembly service (typically about $100 to $200).

How often will I use the elliptical trainer? If you're committed to long, frequent workout sessions, you'll want to invest in a machine with a solid build and durable parts.

Do I want movable handlebars? Although movable handlebars provide a moderate upper-body cardio workout, many exercisers prefer holding onto the stationary handlebars instead. If you're in the latter group, you can sometimes save money by opting for an elliptical trainer that comes without moving handlebars.

Buying tactics and strategies

Shop around for the best deal. Online retailers often offer the best price, but reliable customer service can be a gamble. We saw some reports of customers who successfully asked their local retailer to match the price of an online site -- and got the local service, to boot.

Double-check the website. Don't depend on specifications or warranty details from retail websites; these may be inaccurate or out of date. Double-check on the manufacturer's website for more accurate information. If you still have questions, call.

Elsewhere in this Report:

Best Reviewed Elliptical Trainers: Need a top elliptical trainer for your exercise room? We found the best ellipticals for every space and budget.

Best Home Ellipticals: Home ellipticals can help you get in great shape without the joint stress of running or walking. We name the best overall elliptical and the best cheap elliptical trainer.

Best Compact Elliptical Trainers: Don't think you have space for an elliptical trainer? Think again -- these compact ellipticals can fit in even the smallest space.

Our Sources: These are the expert and user sources we consulted in finding the top elliptical trainers. They are listed in order from most to least helpful.

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