Elliptical trainers are a top gym favorite. They’re a go-to option for good reason too. They offer a great cardio workout and help to build strength while imparting very little impact on tender joints and bones. An elliptical machine is a great option to get your legs moving and heart pumping.
Compact ellipticals offer the benefits and rewards of full-sized machines with a smaller footprint that’s easier to manage. These machines bring the low-impact, high-intensity advantages of elliptical training into the home at a price and size which can suit all budgets and spaces.
A good compact elliptical will meet your needs to suit your comfort, space, and resistance requirements. With the right choice and a little light research, you’ll find the machine which provides you an effective home workout to meet your fitness goals.
- How to Choose an Effective Home Elliptical
- Top 6 Compact Elliptical Machines for the Home 2021
- 1. Best Overall Elliptical: Body Power StepTrac BST800
- 2. Best Mini-Elliptical: Cubii JR1 Seated Elliptical
- 3. Best Budget Elliptical: Sunny Health & Fitness SF-E905
- 4. Best Premium Elliptical: Schwinn 411 Elliptical Machine
- 5. Most Versatile Elliptical: Stamina In-Motion E1000 Elliptical
- 6. Best Elliptical for Beginners: Gazelle Edge
- A Guide to Buying the Best Elliptical for Your Home
- Exercising Good Choices
How to Choose an Effective Home Elliptical
To make sure you pick the right compact elliptical machine for you, make sure to keep these important considerations in mind.
The compact elliptical which works for you will depend on your height, inseam measurement, and walking gait. The amount of space you have available and the budget you’re willing to put aside will determine what kind of machine you want to buy and the place it can take in your home or office.
A full-length compact elliptical such as the Schwinn 411, may meet all your requirements and more but take up just a little too much space to be a viable home-workout option. Whereas a mini under-the-desk model like the Cubii JR1 may fit your life and space perfectly but not offer the stride-length required to get comfortable with a regular workout routine.
Every compact elliptical has benefits and drawbacks which work for different people in different situations. The one which works for you will come down to personal preference, comfort, and available space.
The single most important factor to consider for comfort on a compact elliptical is stride length. This measurement defines the distance the pedal moves front to back with every revolution.
An average height person is typically most at home with a stride around 20”. A mini-elliptical often sacrifices extra stride length for space in order to fit into an exceptionally small space or be used easily under the desk. Larger machines typically have larger strides, trading-off space savings for greater comfort for taller users.
A generous stride length in a compact build typically comes with a premium price point.
Difficulty is very often one of the first things people look at when choosing a new piece of workout equipment. Resistance determines how much difficulty the elliptical machine can add to your workout. It’s important to consider not just how much resistance can be added to your stride but how that resistance is added too. Different methods of resistance will drastically alter how the machine feels with every stride underfoot.
Budget machines often use air resistance, using fan blades to push against the air and slow down the pedals. The drawbacks in air resistance come from added noise and a pull which often feels inconsistent and sometimes jarring.
More modern ellipticals typically rely on magnetic resistance instead. These machines use magnets to add extra difficulty to every stride. The advantage of this approach is a smooth, quiet resistance to provide an effective workout.
For more advanced users, higher resistance levels can be easily complimented with an at-home workout program which can help you to get the most of your machine and build fitness fast.
When choosing an effective compact elliptical, it’s important to choose one which supports a weight over and above its intended user. This provides more than just a safety factor.
A machine that supports a great deal more weight than it will be subjected to will feel more stable, more comfortable, and last much longer under daily use.
How a machine feels is every bit as important as what it can do and a machine that is comfortable and confidence-inspiring will get used far more than one that is not.
Unlike machines in a commercial gym environment, paying attention to how much noise a machine makes is worth careful consideration before moving it into the home. A compact elliptical that lets you hear nothing else will make it that much harder to use in the long run.
Consider a machine that lets you watch TV, listen to music, or even read a book while you’re on it. Over time you’re likely to use it that much longer and workout that much harder when you do.
Look for a machine that can deliver high-resistance without ear-busting sound so that you have the flexibility and desire to use it how and when you wish.
Now that you know what’s important in a compact elliptical machine, let’s check out the best ones on the market.
Top 6 Compact Elliptical Machines for the Home 2021
At a Glance:
- Stride length: 13”
- Resistance levels: 8
- Resistance: magnetic
- Footprint: 42” x 24”
- Supported weight: 250 lbs
- Assembled weight: 96.8 lbs
Perhaps the most unusual elliptical on this list, the Body Power StepTrac adds significantly more over and above a standard elliptical machine. The body power introduces an upward step to its stride to create a hybrid action somewhere between a traditional elliptical and stepper machine.
Despite its shortened stride length, the hybrid action makes the StepTrac more comfortable than machines with a comparable size. This, combined with a shortened footprint and intense action made the machine a stand out favorite in our book.
On initial delivery, the StepTrac requires careful and time-consuming assembly to get going. Out-of-the-box the StepTrac demands a lot of patience and close attention to the instructions provided. Once built however, the unit has a sturdy design that feels stable and robust.
The compact footprint of the StepTrac gives it an edge over many of its rivals. One that’s paid for, however, in the unit’s shorter stride. The hybrid action feels comfortable and adds intensity and variety but fans of a traditional elliptical workout may take a little time to find their stride with this machine.
At 62” tall the combined stepper and elliptical motion makes this model slightly taller than most but uses its added height to create a highly efficient workout.
The large weighted flywheel, on this machine provides a smooth and consistent pedal stroke which will rival a full-scale elliptical. Magnetic resistance is controllable up to 8 settings without adding undue noise or vibration during use.
Available settings cater well to most abilities and experience levels. Users can get a high-quality intense workout at upper levels thanks to the stepper functions unique to the StepTrac.
While light on extra features and benefits, the StepTrac handles the basics exceptionally well. The large display keeps track of important metrics and is easy to read even amid an intense workout session. There’s little in the way of extra connectivity on the machine itself but the stand provides plenty of space to position a phone, tablet, or device to stream throughout your workout.
At a Glance:
- Stride length: 12.2”
- Resistance levels: 8
- Resistance: magnetic
- Footprint: 23.5” x 17.5”
- Supported weight: 250 lbs
- Assembled weight: 25 lbs
Unlike most elliptical machines the Cubii JR1 feels as if it’s almost purpose-built to be a secondary activity to fit into your day. The pedals are designed so that the device can only be used from a seated position. The mini form-factor fits neatly under a desk or at a comfortable chair and allows you to add exercise to an otherwise sedentary day.
The tiny machine looks great and its near-silent operation means it goes unnoticed either in the workplace or while watching TV at home.
For fitness fanatics, this machine is an ideal way to add-in exercise where you’d otherwise go without for long periods of time. For those looking to start-out or unaccustomed to high-intensity workouts, it’s a great way to take those first strides to build up the necessary fitness and stamina.
As one of the smallest elliptical machines on the market, the Cubii JR1 has some advantages that allow it to squeeze into the smallest of spaces. The device has a small stride that comes with the territory of its tiny form-factor. The shortened stride is a lot less noticeable in a machine often used while watching, doing, or listening.
The tiny machine doesn’t have to fold down or deconstruct to stow away. Its built-in handle means it’s easy to pack away or retrieve from storage. It’s worth noting, particularly for beginners, that the machine’s considerable heft will make picking it up a workout in itself.
Unlike the comparably sized Stamina In-motion E1000, the Cubii can only be used from a seated position, making it more limited than most elliptical machines on the list.
Magnetic resistance is controlled by a dial on the front of the device. The resistance range is enough to suit from a first workout up to a reasonably fit enthusiast. Resistance can be set before starting but one drawback of the mini stepper design is that it can’t reasonably be adjusted mid-stride.
As you’d expect from a mini-elliptical the computer and features are a relatively no-frills approach. Much like the rest of the unit, the features the computer does handle are done very well. The LCD readout on the top of the unit is clear and easy to read from a seated position, keeping approximate tabs on calories burned, strides pedaled, and distance traveled.
At a Glance:
- Stride length: 11”
- Resistance levels: 8
- Resistance: magnetic
- Footprint: 28” x 12”
- Supported weight: 220 lbs
- Assembled weight: 60 lbs
The Sunny Health & Fitness SF-E905 is perhaps the most familiar and least intimidating machine of any we’ve reviewed. The machine itself looks like a full scale elliptical miniaturized for use in the home.
The large platform and stable base are easy to get comfortable on from the first minutes with the machine. Its lightweight frame is easy to move around but does nothing to detract from the smooth and steady stride at full pace.
On initial delivery the Sunny elliptical requires a little more careful assembly than most. The instructions provided are less than entirely helpful,but watching a full-setup on Youtube first can do wonders to speed up the process.
The extra-compact nature of this machine is paid for in its smaller-than-standard stride. At just 11 inches, taller users may struggle to hit a comfortable pace using this machine. In a pinch, it will provide a great workout to most and perform above average for smaller users.
The machine doesn’t fold away for storage but has a discreet set of wheels that allow it to be transported with ease.
Similar to other machines in this price range, the Sunny Health & Fitness SF-E905 has 8 magnetic resistance levels. Combined with large comfortable foot pads and long leverage handles, it’s easy to maintain a comfortable stride to match your desired intensity.
Unlike smaller machines in a similar price-range, resistance can be adjusted up or down mid-stride.
Common to most home machines around this price point, the onboard computer is simple yet functional. The readout provides the essentials: time, distance, speed, and calories to help to track and monitor progress over time.
At a Glance:
- Stride length: 18”
- Resistance levels: 16
- Resistance: magnetic
- Footprint: 54” x 24”
- Supported weight: 300 lbs
- Assembled weight: 100 lbs
The Schwinn 411 is the perfect premium option for those looking to get a gym experience in the home. A front drive machine, the compact body has a space-saving footprint yet a long 18” stride which feels comfortable, even for larger users.
At 100 lbs the steel-tube frame is far from lightweight or easy to move around. This added heft comes with its benefits as well as its drawbacks. The Schwinn 411 is stable enough to support users up to 300 lbs. Its rugged durability inspires excellent confidence in-use, feeling solid and planted with every step.
Despite its weight, the Schwinn 411 is surprisingly straightforward to assemble out of the box. The vertical body and base both come pre-assembled. Once unboxed you only need to connect the two and attach the peripheral handles, pedals, and console to the frame. More akin to an oversized Lego set, the manual comes with clear instructions, tools, and detailed images to make the process as easy as possible.
Despite its small footprint the Schwinn 411 provides an 18” stride which can easily accommodate users up to 6 feet tall. The user’s gait can be easily adjusted to personal preference to find a stride and pace which suits well.
This unit does not fold away for easy storage but does feature wheels in the frame to transport the machine around the home.
The Schwinn’s resistance comes from a magnetic brake in the front-drive with 16 levels of variability. While higher levels will deliver a tough, high-intensity workout for those looking to take their fitness regime to the next level; even the lowest settings provide a challenging workout to those just starting out.
The internal flywheel is well-weighted and maintains a large amount of momentum through every step. The result is a consistent feeling stride through every pedal stroke.
The internal drive-train is a belt-driven system requiring less maintenance than a chain-drive design. The design allows for an easy and comfortable switch into reverse to work different muscle groups and provide a more complete workout over time.
Despite being a home-based machine, the Schwinn 411 is no slouch when it comes to workout instruction, extra features, and metrics to drive you. The 5.5” LCD is a large clear screen that shows your workout metrics all on the same page, a strong boost over scrolling designs.
The machine’s onboard computer tracks time, distance, speed, RPM, calories, and pulse in both imperial and metric units as required. While the detailed feedback and clear display provide excellent motivation to keep you on track, the accuracy of its distance calculations can leave something to be desired. The data provided is best used to compare workouts from one day to the next rather than comparing against outdoor pursuits or long-distance trails.
The machine supports additional accessories such as a Bluetooth heart rate monitor to add additional detail and metrics to its 13 workout modes.
At a Glance:
- Stride length: 10”-15”
- Resistance levels: variable
- Resistance: magnetic
- Footprint: 24” x 17”
- Supported weight: 250 lbs
- Assembled weight: 24 lbs
For those with even greater restraints on either space or budget, a compact mini-stepper is a great option for a workout at home. The Stamina In-Motion offers bundles of flexibility at a budget price point.
Unlike the Cubii JR1, the mini elliptical can be used in a standing or seated position to accommodate a wide range of fitness levels and workout options. The entire unit can tuck away under the desk, at the edge of the bed, or at the end of the sofa to incorporate a steady workout into your work or leisure times.
Due to its small size, the unit arrives with only a small amount of assembly required. A short three-step assembly process is all that’s required before you can put down and go for a quick workout wherever you need it.
The tiny size of the mini-elliptical is one of its major selling points. No matter what amount of space you have at your disposal the small machine is almost guaranteed to fit in it. Yet, despite its tiny form factor, the elliptical stepper offers a reasonable 10”-15” stride length for a good home workout.
Without having to fold away or get set-up ahead of time, the Stamina In-Motion packs away into a space just 24” x 17” x 11.5” when not being used.
Intensity is adjusted using a tension dial on the front of the machine with complete control over intensity and difficulty. Being able to use the device from a standing or seated position provides a range of options that caters to a wide range of fitness and experience levels.
Seated exercise can be more gentle and relaxed while a standing workout can fully engage core muscles and provide a full-body workout. The obvious lack of handles, either stationary or moving, means users will have to be sure-footed and well-balanced, engaging core muscles while moving to remain upright on the machine. The internal mechanism can work in forward or reverse to add additional variety and a change of pace into your exercise.
The small machine is as light on extra features as it is on unnecessary heft. The in-built computer keeps track of the essentials, such as steps taken and distance traveled, but doesn’t add much which will get in the way of streaming movies or listening to audiobooks.
At a Glance:
- Stride length: N/A
- Resistance levels: none
- Resistance: none
- Footprint: 43” x 29.25”
- Supported weight: 250 lbs
- Assembled weight: 45 lbs
The Gazelle Edge is far and away the simplest version of an elliptical out there but it’s far from the most limited. The Gazelle provides many of the features you need of an Elliptical without compromising on some of the most important necessities.
While it’s not the most compact machine on the market, it does fold away into the thinnest space of any full-sized alternative. There’s little in the way of complex bells and whistles to distract or take away from a rapid daily workout. It doesn’t have the advanced features or strong resistance of its nearest competitors, but it does deliver a low-impact full-body workout at an agreeable price point. Most annual gym memberships will set you back more than this simple model and get a lot less use too!
In use, the Gazelle Edge doesn’t have the smallest footprint of the bunch. It makes up for this in being entirely collapsible and folding away into a neat easy package. The benefit of this larger footprint is a stride length which can accommodate almost any user height.
The stride length, for the Gazelle Edge, is very much dictated by the user rather than the other way round.
Without a heavyweight flywheel or complex mechanism the machine is lightweight enough to be brought in and out of storage with ease. The machine’s movements will require at least 3” of clearance at the front and back in-use, something worth bearing in mind when picking a good spot to set-up and get going.
The Gazelle Edge doesn’t provide any real resistance in its movement. The action is instead controlled by the user’s pace and comfort. For experienced users, this may be somewhat jarring and fail to deliver the expected results. For those looking to return to form after injury or illness, or those setting out for the first time—the experience can be less intimidating than most equipment out there.
Gazelle Edge’s philosophy on fitness is simplicity itself. There’s no onboard computer or tracking to speak of, only simple movement and your desire to go further.
A Guide to Buying the Best Elliptical for Your Home
Among the vast array of choices, it can be hard to know precisely what to look for in a good elliptical trainer. Mini-stepper, foldaway design, or space-saving form factor? Magnetic resistance, weighted flywheel, or no resistance at all? Understanding each of these options and how they translate to a quality workout is critical to finding the compact elliptical right for you.
The Right Elliptical Design
The first thing to think about when buying new equipment is how it’s going to fit in and around your day-to-day life. A compact elliptical should give you the benefits and features of a full-sized machine without taking up the floor space required of a commercial gym environment. Luckily, there is a selection of great compact options out there to be had.
Which form-factor you need is entirely up to you. Whether you’re willing to take shorter strides in exchange for a super-small compact elliptical to tuck away under the desk; or swap quick convenience for a foldaway machine which disappears out of sight and out of mind between sessions.
Advantages of a Home Elliptical
An elliptical machine is one of the best pieces of workout machinery you can purchase for the money. They activate more muscles than walking, whether outside or indoors on a treadmill. They are efficient, saving you both space and time, while delivering a high-quality workout with many wide-ranging health benefits.
A good elliptical trainer provides enough resistance to create a challenging workout that drives you to improve. How a machine delivers its resistance is just as important as how much it can deliver. A machine that provides smooth, consistent work minimizes injuries and keeps you at the machine working harder for longer without jarring discomfort.
A heavyweight flywheel is a great indicator of how an elliptical will feel underfoot. It’s also a strong indication of the experience level expected of its user. Since it requiring a lot of energy and plenty of effort to get going, a beginner or lightweight user is more likely to be satisfied with a smaller, lighter flywheel to start off with. Intermediate users and fitness enthusiasts will typically expect a bit more weight to carry through their stride and maintain momentum.
New users can very often benefit from a little extra research and some additional instruction when it comes to an effective elliptical workout.
How a compact elliptical fits into your natural stride is another important question to ask as part of your research. The two important dimensions to consider are stride width and stride length.
A natural stride should place your feet reasonably close together as they move past each other. This is the width of your natural stride. You can observe your own by walking naturally across the room. The typical stride is separated by no more than 2 inches or so. A good compact elliptical emulates this by having very little gap in between its pedals. The modern elliptical machines listed here have a stride width which will match the gait of most regular users.
Stride length defines how far the pedals move front to back over every step. Most adults should expect to have a natural stride length close to 20” or so.
A good elliptical should have a little variability in its stride length. Large pedals and some flexibility in how they are used can allow you to shift positions to find a natural gait for your home workout.
The first and foremost safety consideration is to choose a machine that will comfortably support your weight. Paying attention to the maximum weight capacity is important but you want to leave a little extra on the table too.
Purchasing a machine that can support just your weight and no-more can lead to the equipment feeling unsteady and unstable during use. It’s wiser to leave a comfortable margin, at least 10 percent or so, to ensure you have a durable compact elliptical for many years to come.
Finding a compact elliptical for use in the home means balancing available space as well as its relevant features and comfort. The ideal machine fits around your space rather than the other way round.
It’s important to consider what kind of machine you want to purchase and what kind of trade-off you want to make.
Do you want a mini-elliptical to sit under the desk or at the TV? If you can tolerate a shorter stride length and basic functionality a mini-elliptical may be ideally suited to fit into your life.
Do you need a full-sized machine which a larger stride and more advanced features? It may be worth considering a full-scale compact machine that offers an elliptical workout within a reasonably sized space. A model that folds away can often be the best of both worlds, clearing the space when it’s not required.
How quietly your elliptical runs is almost as important as how smooth and consistent it feels in-use. One of the prime benefits of a home elliptical is being able to incorporate a little extra exercise into your listening and streaming habits.
A good quality elliptical should get out the way. The best elliptical machines are whisper quiet and don’t need vast volume adjustments to hear the TV over the quiet hum of an efficient workout.
High-quality exercise equipment is a significant investment to make. A good machine should last many years to come and provide years of regular home workouts which can save big on gym costs over time.
Compact ellipticals can be built from strong steel tubing designs or more compact box section frames. The latter provides a space-saving design at the cost of long term fatigue over many years of use. Mini-ellipticals, with their smaller frames and lightweight designs, often have fewer components to break or fail over time. Whether you’re mechanically minded or a maintenance novice, the components inside should take a significant portion of your consideration before making your next purchase.
Power delivery makes up a large part of an elliptical machine’s long-term durability and feel. The majority of freewheel driven machines make use of a belt or a chain to deliver power and resistance between the user’s pedals and the internal mechanism.
A chain-driven machine provides a strong linkage between the pedals and flywheel. A belt-driven machine is very often quieter than a comparably sized chain-driven model and requires less maintenance and zero lubrication.
Front Drive vs Rear Drive
Many commercial elliptical machines are rear-driven models. That is, the flywheel is located behind the user driving the pedals at the front of the device. These are powerful, reliable machines but the trade-off for this style of design is a huge amount of floor space and a great deal of noise.
Compact ellipticals often flip this concept on its head, positioning the mechanical components to the front or center of the machine to save huge amounts of space and bring an otherwise bulky unit down to a more manageable size.
Additional features, tools, and little extras can often make one machine stand out head and shoulders above the rest. When it comes to good quality equipment the small things can be huge. Easy to read displays, sensible data tracking, and accessible fitness programs can make the difference between a machine you’ll use and one that you won’t.
The vast majority of machines come with step counters and distance tracking at a bare minimum. These can be used to monitor your progress between days, weeks, and sessions to track steady improvement over time.
When it comes to accuracy, these computers, particularly in low-budget machines, are very often lacking something to be desired. A mile on the computer very often doesn’t mean exactly a mile on the road or the track.
If you want to track your outdoor exercise together with your rainy day workouts an external fitness tracker is very often the best option to supplement your elliptical machine’s built-in computer. If this is an option that appeals to you then it’s worth factoring it into the final price you pay.
Depending on how seriously you want to track your workout, how much you depend on the elliptical’s computer will vary from very closely to not at all.
The on-board computer of elliptical machines is very much a get what you pay for deal. The high-end machines often feature high-end computers with large clear displays delivering a lot of metrics mid-workout. Low-cost mini-ellipticals almost always have a comparably basic computer which track time, distance, and steps but not much else.
How important these metrics are and how much you are willing to pay for them is entirely up to you.
The most advanced machines feature any number of connectivity options to support connecting heart rate monitors, supplementary sensors, and mobile devices. While these can provide a helpful boost they can also be considered somewhat outside the scope of a basic elliptical machine. They can be nice to have but may simply distract from the thing you want to concentrate on. Your fitness.
Some users will want just the basics, a low-impact high-intensity workout that doesn’t cost the earth or take up too much space. Others want to pour into the data and track every footstep and heartbeat along the way.
An elliptical trainer is an ideal tool for both ways of approaching the task. The one you choose and the features you select will determine what works and what doesn’t for you.
Additional Tips and Tricks When Choosing a Home Elliptical
- A full-sized compact machine should be positioned a small distance away from walls and surfaces to prevent damage or injury. Make sure to consider this distance when choosing the right size for your space
- Consider features and abilities you will want in the future as your fitness improves with regular use and consistent training
- A machine which takes time or excess effort to set up or construct before use is less likely to be used than one which is ready to just hop-on and go
- The right exercise mat under your machine can dampen down noise and vibration to make your workout more silent and even more enjoyable
Exercising Good Choices
Now that you know the available features and options of the models out there, you are ready to dive in and work out which elliptical will fit your goals, your space, and your life. Consider the factors personal to you first and choose what works and what doesn’t from there.
Once you find your compact elliptical you will be off on a fitness journey with the potential to transform your health and body for many years down the line.