Elliptical workouts are high-energy and low-impact, working your entire body from head to toe. Not only will you get your cardio on, you’re also getting a great toning workout without putting in extra time in the gym.
If you’re looking for a compact elliptical to add to your home gym, read on to learn everything you need to know.
Why Buy a Space Saving Elliptical?
- Takes up less space than a normal elliptical: If you’re looking for a great exercise machine to have at home but are concerned with the amount of space it would take up, a compact elliptical might be the way to go. The footprint of many compact ellipticals is around 15 to 20 inches wide and 25 to 30 inches long.
- To burn more calories in less time: Working out on an elliptical optimizes your energy expenditure, meaning that you’ll burn lots of calories in a relatively short amount of time. Ellipticals work many of your muscle groups, providing an excellent toning workout.
- To inhibit the onset of osteoporosis: Regular workouts on an elliptical can help protect your bones. Elliptical training is a weight-bearing exercise, a type that has been shown to help prevent osteoporosis.
- To get a balanced workout: Ellipticals offer the option to work both your legs and arms at the same time. If you crank up the resistance on the elliptical handles, you can tone your arms while getting your cardio in. Varying the resistance will bring the best results.
- To keep your fitness routine fresh: Many ellipticals come with built-in workout programs, making trying something new super simple. Typically, you can also manually change the settings to customize the exact workout you want and need.
Types of Compact Ellipticals
The line between a compact and regular elliptical machine is blurry. Most manufacturers use the term to describe models designed to save space. However, there is no hard rule on what size really counts as “compact.”
Type 1: Compact Elliptical Trainer
“Compact” is the general term to describe elliptical trainers designed to save space. These tend to be lighter in weight and have a narrower footprint. Some brands use this term to describe non-folding, small ellipticals or desk ellipticals as well. Three main types of elliptical exist: the trainer (works the lower body), the cross trainer (works the upper and lower body), and the glider (works the lower body). See our other post on ellipticals for a more detailed breakdown.
Type 2: Folding Elliptical Trainer
Technically, this includes any elliptical designed to fold down. Generally, the end opposite of the flywheel folds inward, cutting the footprint nearly in half and freeing up space. Some models feature built-in transport wheels to move the elliptical around (i.e. into a closet or the corner of a room to make room). Keep in mind that this type can be less sturdy due to the hinge points and the increased complexity of the machine. Unfolded, these ellipticals tend to be longer than non-folding compact ones. Finally, hydraulic or electronic mechanisms make it easier to fold/unfold the elliptical automatically.
Type 3: Desk Elliptical
These are small elliptical machines that lack arm handles and are designed to fit under desks and tables. They’re used from a seated position and are made to promote physical activity while workout at a computer. Compared to regular-size models, these are more portable. They’re often referred to as “desk” or “under desk” ellipticals, with some models boasting an impressive amount of features. Some models even include resistance straps to add a basic upper arm workout to your daily activity.
Elliptical Drive Types
Ellipticals are also sorted into categories based on where the flywheel (a weight that controls how smoothly the machine runs) is located.
Rear Drive Ellipticals
As the name suggests, rear drive ellipticals have their drive system in the back of the machine. This provides for a better jogging and walking experience. Typically, they’ll also need less maintenance when compared to other drive systems.
Front Drive Ellipticals
The drive system is located in the front of the machine, saving space. A front-drive elliptical provides an intense glute and leg workout, as it recreates the experience of stair climbing. You’ll encounter this kind of drive system mostly in folding elliptical machines.
Center Drive Ellipticals
Typically found in desk ellipticals, center drive elliptical machines have their drive system centrally located. This setup puts less strain on your hips while still giving you a challenging workout.
Hybrid Drive Ellipticals
These types of ellipticals can be used sitting or standing, making it easy to change up your workout. The flywheel is located in the front, similar to the front drive elliptical, so it can mimic the feel of walking or jogging. When you lean forward, it mimics the experience of climbing stairs, and when sitting, it mimics biking.
Compact Elliptical Prices
- Under $500: This is the budget price point. You’ll find a variety of wallet-friendly machines in this category with varying degrees of durability. Typically, compact ellipticals in this price range will have fewer features than more expensive options.
- Under $1000: In the midrange, you’ll find a variety of ellipticals from reputable brands. The machines are overall more durable and will have more features, such as built-in exercise programs. You’ll also find the majority of desk ellipticals in this category.
- Under $2000: You’ll start to see some luxury features here, with lots of high-quality machines to choose from. At this price point, you’re getting a highly-durable elliptical with great warranty. Folding ellipticals also tend to hover around this price and above.
- $2000 and above: At this price point, you can expect advanced fitness tracking, a highly durable build, and excellent warranty. Your machine is an investment that will last you for years to come.
Key Features of Compact Ellipticals
Some machines have an incline or ramp feature that will change the angle of the pedal pathway, increasing or decreasing the exercise difficulty. A maximum tilt of 20% is the most common, while some machines can go higher. This feature is either manual or powered. Most machines will also allow you to adjust the resistance itself, allowing you to customize your workout.
Heart Rate Monitor
A number of ellipticals have built-in heart rate monitors, making it easy to keep track of workout stats. Some machines can automatically adjust settings to keep the heart rate in the target zone, taking all the guesswork out of the equation. You can also find machines that are compatible with heart rate straps (the brand supported varies, but is typically Polar).
Used to display workout metrics, such as time, speed, distance, calories burned, and heart rate, digital displays are integrated into many compact ellipticals. The best displays are big and easy to read, with backlighting. Here, you can also control your workout settings, and customize your workout.
Resistance levels vary by model. The higher-end models tend to have over 20 resistance settings, while lower-end models have less than 10. The type of resistance matters as well, since the higher quality machines will provide smoother workouts and create less noise.
Most compact ellipticals come with built-in fitness programs. The higher-end models will have 13 or more programs, will lower end models have a few basic programs. Some ellipticals have an Internet connectivity feature, allowing you to download new programs from the Internet or from an app. High-end ellipticals can offer the same types of video and audio based interactive workouts as regular-sized models.
Ellipticals tend to have high weight capacities. The higher-end models can easily handle 300 pounds or more, whereas cheaper models will top out at around 200 pounds. This is where the build quality really matters – the more durable the machine, the more weight it will handle and the longer it will last.
Most ellipticals feature non-slip pedals. These are grooved and textured for easier grip and help keep you balanced while exercising. This type of pedal is particularly helpful on elliptical gliders, as these have a back and forth range of motion vs. a circular one.
Other Buying Considerations
- Stability: Look for steel frames and a quality build. The heavier the machine, the more stable it will be. High-quality ellipticals will weigh 200 pounds or more, which will provide a stable base for exercising. Lower quality, lighter models can weigh as little as 30 pounds. These can wobble and even topple over when exercising.
- Ergonomics: You’ll want to look for articulating pedals, easy-grip handles, a weighted flywheel for smoother motion, and an adjustable stride length. Pedals with a narrower stance will feel more natural. Finally, keep your height in mind when considering an elliptical.
- Assembly: Depending on how heavy your machine is, chances are you’ll need some help assembling it. In some cases, this may even require several people to avoid damage or injuries, so make plans beforehand and ask friends or family to help you out.
- Space: Always measure your space so you know what you’re working with. Factor in your feet hanging off the pedals, as you can damage your wall if your heels are too close. It’s a good idea to keep some free space all around your elliptical for safety reasons.
- Stride Length: This refers to the distance the pedals move back and forth with your body. The longer stride length allows for leg movements targeting muscles in your calves, thighs, and glutes. Varying the stride length will target different muscle groups, and effects your range of motion.
Best Compact Ellipticals 2018 Product Reviews
Best Compact Elliptical Overall: Diamondback Fitness 1260E
- Pedals ergonomically spaced closer together helping to...
- Welded heavy duty gauge steel frame and enclosed...
- Small Footprint measures at 69.5 x 65 x 27.5 inches (W...
- Incline settings and 20 levels of gradual resistance,...
- Heart rate chest strap included to monitor your...
The 1260Ef is a space-saving model with a small footprint of 69.5 x 65 x 27.5 inches, with an impressive weight capacity of 325 pounds. The welded heavy-duty steel frame and enclosed bearings make this an extremely durable elliptical that will last you a long time.
The pedals are ergonomically spaced to help prevent stress on the hips, knees, and ankles. They’re also set on soft polymer rollers to ensure a smooth workout. This elliptical also features incline settings, 20 levels of gradual resistance, a chest strap heart rate monitor, and a backlit console with large buttons.
The only real drawback of the 1260Ef is assembly, which is not the easiest. Our advice would be to get help during the assembly process to make sure everything gets set up properly.
Best Compact Elliptical for the Money: Gazelle Edge
- High-performance exercise glider for improved...
- Unsurpassed range of motion goes from slow walk to full...
- Easy-to-use, 5-function workout computer tracks speed,...
- Extra-wide, non-skid foot platforms ; Padded Handlebars
- High-density foam handlebars; maximum weight capacity...
A great value option, the Gazelle Edge is a high-performance exercise glider that will help improve your cardiovascular performance. It has unsurpassed range of motion, smoothly going from a slow walk up to a full run. A user-friendly 5-function workout computer that tracks speed, time, distance, and more, is built-in to the machine.
This elliptical also features extra-wide, non-skid pedals and high-density foam handlebars for a comfortable workout experience. The frame is made from durable 1.5-inch rolled steel, giving this elliptical a maximum weight capacity of 250 pounds.
The main drawback is the noise factor. Due to the construction, the elliptical may squeak, which can be minimized by properly oiling and maintaining the frame’s moving parts. It’s also not as durable as some of the more expensive ellipticals out there.
Best Compact Elliptical Honorable Mention: EFITMENT Compact Elliptical
- COMPACT - A small footprint design with a...
- PORTABLE - Making the transformation of your...
- TOTAL BODY WORKOUT - Provides a no impact,...
- DIGITAL DISPLAY MONITOR - The LCD monitor...
- QUIET AND MOBILE - A belt driven flywheel...
One of the most compact ellipticals out there, this machine has an 11-inch stride length, making it ideal for smaller spaces. It also features transport wheels, making it quick and easy to move and store. The belt driven flywheel ensures a smooth and quiet workout, while the overall design ensures a virtually maintenance-free owner’s experience.
This elliptical provides a total body workout thanks to the attached arm handles, and the LCD console displays speed, time, distance, calories burned, and pulse rate. It also features a slot to place a smartphone or small tablet. The build is durable, allowing for a maximum user weight of 220 pounds. Eight levels of magnetic resistance and non-slip foot pads make for an easily customizable and safe workout.
The compact size can be a con in this case, as the resulting stride length is small. This will result in less toning action and less muscle engagement. The overall motion of the pedals is also not quite as smooth as on other comparable ellipticals.
Best Compact Elliptical Honorable Mention: Sunny Health & Fitness SF-E902
- AIR WALK TRAINER: The non-slip pedals will help...
- TOTAL BODY WORKOUT: The air walker exercise machine...
- SPACE SAVING: When not in use, easily fold the product...
- LCD MONITOR: Informative LCD monitor displays time,...
- AEROBIC TRAINING: increases cardio respiratory...
If you’re looking for a folding elliptical with a durable build, this is a great fit for you. It folds up to half the size, making it a great option if you’re short on space in your home gym. This air walker provides a low-impact full body workout and features an abdominal pad for additional comfort and support.
It features built-in fitness programs to keep your daily workout challenging. The LCD computer displays time, calories, total distance, and step count. With a stride length of 30 inches, this elliptical is a good fit for you regardless of height. The frame supports a maximum user weight of 220 pounds.
The main drawback here is noise, as parts of the machine can squeak. Likewise, the frame is not as durable as some of the other machines out there, so keep that in mind if you’re going to be using your elliptical often.
Best Compact Elliptical Honorable Mention: Sunny Health & Fitness SF-E905
- 8 Levels of adjustable resistance
- Hand pulse monitoring system allows you to control your...
- Meter function: Scan, Time, Speed, Distance,...
- Large anti-slip platforms . With a simple twist,...
- Weight Capacity: 220 LB
Another great compact option, the SF-E905 boasts an 11-inch stride length for short burst-like motions. The frame also features built-in transportation wheels to easily move the elliptical into storage. Adjustable leg stabilizers help prevent tipping, rocking, and swaying on uneven surfaces.
This machine features 8 magnetic resistance levels, which can be easily adjusted with a twist of the conveniently-placed tension knob. A digital monitor helps track your fitness progress, as well as heart rate, distance, and time. The pedals are large and textured to prevent slipping.
One of the main drawbacks is the overall durability. Users have reported that this elliptical is not sturdy enough to withstand intense and regular workouts. It’s also difficult to assemble and hard to maintain.
Best Compact Elliptical Honorable Mention: Gold’s Gym Stride Trainer 380
- Gold's Gym
Designed with 8 built-in workout apps created by a certified personal trainer, this elliptical features 12 digital resistance levels, allowing you to customize your workout every time. Also includes iFit compatibility to keep your workouts engaging.
The large LCD display allows you to clearly see all your important stats, including RPM, speed, and time. A heart rate monitor is built into the grips, making it easy to stay in your target zone. The flywheel is inertia enhanced, making the ride smooth and natural. A 250-pound weight capacity and 90-day parts and labor warranty round out the deal.
Although this elliptical comes with lots of features at a low price point, you do get what you pay for. In this case, that means the frame is less durable than comparable models and will have a harder time standing up to regular use. It’s also on the nosy side.
Best Compact Desk Elliptical: Cubii Jr.
- Cubii is the leading compact ergonomic elliptical to...
- Low impact on joints with 8 levels of resistance to...
- Whisper quiet with a smooth gliding motion. Quick and...
- Keep Fit While You Sit, you can multitask with the...
- A built- in display monitor tracks real time, calories,...
The Cubii Jr. is whisper quiet, making it ideal for home and office spaces. It’s compact and will fit under most desks — just make sure to leave about 2-3 inches of space for your knees to move. Construction is durable and sturdy, ensuring the machine’s longevity.
The sleek design of the Cubii Jr. is also functional, with patented ergonomic angles to ensure a smooth, low-impact workout. You can track your activity easily, thanks to the built-in display monitor, and you can customize your workout by choosing from eight different resistance levels. Assembly is also quick and easy, with an estimated 5 minute assembly time.
If you’re looking to torch a ton of calories, this isn’t the elliptical for you as it’s designed to promote activity while sitting rather than giving you a sweat session.
Tips for Making the Most Out of Your Compact Elliptical
When using a compact elliptical, there are a few handy techniques that can be used to maximize your workout potential:
- Purchase an elliptical mat to avoid slipping and sliding, and scratching your floors.
- Keep your back straight when riding an elliptical trainer to avoid injury.
- Use felt bumpers near the handlebar attachment points to help minimize noise.
- Leave the abdominal cushion off to improve the range of motion.
- Bungee cords can help add extra endurance to your machine.
Compact Elliptical FAQs
Q: What stride length should I pick and does it matter?
A: Getting a proper workout from your elliptical machine is heavily dependent on you working out with the correct stride length for your body. The stride length should correlate as closely as possible to your natural walking stride. The taller you are, the longer your stride length will be. Check out this article by LiveStrong for more info.
Q: Should I buy a front drive or rear drive elliptical?
A: Most ellipticals found in gyms are rear drive, as this allows for better inertia, delivering a smoother pedal feel and overall more enjoyable workout experience. Rear drive models tend to be more expensive than front drive machines due to this difference.
Q: What’s the best type of resistance system out there?
A: The most advanced silent drive system on the market is the eddy-current resistance system. Using a magnetic braking device positioned closer to the flywheel, the resistance is increased or decreased by a magnet that moves closer to or further from the spinning flywheel. This type of resistance system is found on higher-end models.
Q: Will my elliptical help me lose weight?
A: With regular use and a healthy diet, working out on an elliptical trainer will help you shed pounds, improve your cardiovascular health and fitness, and help tone your body. Elliptical workouts tend to be perceived as less intense than treadmill workouts, even though you’re burning the same amount of calories. That helps encourage you to keep up the hard work in the gym!
Q: What kind of maintenance will my elliptical need?
A: Every elliptical will have a different maintenance schedule listed in the user manual. You should follow this advice as closely as possible. Most ellipticals require only occasional maintenance, mostly consisting of cleaning the rails and rollers, and making sure that all bolts are tight.
For the best overall compact elliptical trainer, we selected the Diamondback Fitness 1260Ef. Its compact, highly durable design, combined with 20 resistance levels and other useful features, make it a great addition to your home gym.
If you’re looking for a budget pick, the Gazelle Edge offers the best value for money. It also features a compact, user-friendly design, helping you achieve your fitness goals.
We hope the above recommendations and considerations have been helpful. Now, let’s hear from you. Which models are your favorite and why? Let us know in the comments below!