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Three people using elliptical machines at the gym.

Best Elliptical Machines for Every Fitness Level

Find the right machine for your budget and workout style

If you've never shopped for an elliptical machine—or it's been a few years—you’ll find that quite a bit has changed. At their core, most elliptical machines still deliver on the central promise of providing a full body workout, but what that workout entails should be the first consideration you make before buying.

"Treadmills and ellipticals are mostly suited for working on cardio and muscular endurance, and can also help with body composition," says CR exercise equipment test engineer Peter Anzalone, adding, "they're not well suited for building muscular strength or flexibility, which require different forms of exercise."

If you're a first-time or casual user, you might consider models with preprogrammed routines, which eliminate guesswork and make it easy to get moving. If you already work out consistently or are trading up from a basic model, consider an elliptical that allows for more programs and variability.

Be sure to try any elliptical you're considering in the store to make sure you find it comfortable to use—you don't want to spend all that money for a piece of exercise equipment that will become an expensive, space-consuming clothes rack.

How We Test Elliptical Machines
Every elliptical machine that enters CR’s labs undergoes a battery of tests to ensure you’re getting a machine that will give you a good workout without sacrificing ergonomic comfort or personal safety.

For our ergonomics testing, we use a figure proportioned to the size of the average American and measure reach to the handles. We also measure the pedals' range of motion and use an automated machine, which pedals the elliptical at a constant speed, to measure resistance. Our user safety tests look at potential pinch points, pedal sizes, and coverings, as well as the design of the elliptical handles. If positioned poorly, the handles can cause accidental eye injuries.

All of these test results are factored into our Overall Scores for models from over a dozen major elliptical brands, including Diamondback, Horizon Fitness, LifeFitness, NordicTrack, Precor, and Schwinn.

Below, you'll find three models that performed well in our tests, geared to different fitness levels.

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1
Easy Strider
ProForm Pro 12.9

ProForm Pro 12.9

The pricetag makes the ProForm Pro 12.9 attractive to a first-time elliptical buyer, as do the 43 preset exercise programs, which should make it easier to get up and moving. We found it easy to use, well constructed, and exceptionally safe—reducing the likelihood that a novice user will sustain an injury. It offers a nice range of exercises and has the ability to download additional routines as well as track workout history using iFit, which charges a $99 yearly subscription fee. The ProForm Pro 12.9 comes standard with a chest strap heart-rate monitor—though it doesn’t provide the machine with feedback to alter your routine.  

    2
    Midrange Mover
    Diamondback 1260 Ef

    Diamondback 1260 Ef

    As the top-scoring model in our test, the Diamondback 1260 Ef offers more serious users an exceptionally well-built machine, loaded with bells and whistles. While the rows of programming buttons can seem overwhelming to a casual user, you’ll be glad they’re available once you’re comfortable with the unit. They allow you to create a tailored workout and offer the ability to change incline settings by 20 degrees—one of the widest ranges we’ve seen. At its highest incline setting, the machine feels more like a stepper than an elliptical. The included chest strap heart-rate monitor is mated to five heart-rate control programs, which automatically adjust to your heart rate mid-workout. 

      3
      Total Trainer
      Sole E95S

      Sole E95S

      The Sole E95S offers the same quality construction of other models in this price range, but is rich with features to elevate the workout of a veteran user. Chief among these are controls to electronically adjust stride length, which varies your routine and helps engage different muscle groups. It also has built-in Bluetooth, which can connect to the Sole Fitness app that allows you to create a custom profile, set goals, and track workout history. This model also has an included chest strap heart-rate monitor that provides real-time readouts and mates to two built-in heart-rate programs that adjust based upon feedback.

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        Daniel Wroclawski

        I'm obsessed with smart home tech and channel my obsession into new stories for Consumer Reports. When I'm not writing about products, I spend time either outside hiking and skiing or up in the air in small airplanes. For my latest obsessions, follow me on Facebook and Twitter (@danwroc).