We gave this article on the best compact ellipticals a bit of a reshuffle to bring it up to date for 2020.
This included replacing an older model with the excellent Body Power StepTrac BST800. We also reviewed our buyer’s guide and other content for accuracy.
While ellipticals can be one of the smaller cardio machines out there, some can be pretty damn big! For that reason, not everyone is able to cater for a full-size elliptical in their home.
Table of Contents
To help you in your search for the best elliptical to fit your space, we have scoured the market and put together a list of seven of our favorite compact elliptical machines, complete with brief reviews.
Our chart straddles the entire spectrum – budget mini ellipticals, midrange units, and high-end machines with near gym-grade quality.
After we highlight our top picks, we will discuss what makes a good compact elliptical, as well as what features to look out for when choosing one for yourself.
Stride Length: 20”
Resistance: 20 levels
Features: 18lb flywheel, SixStar frame, FeatherLight folding system, 30+ workout programs, 5.5” LCD screen, heart rate monitor, built-in speakers, media shelf, water bottle holder, transportation wheels, 300lb weight capacity
There is so much on offer from the Horizon Fitness Evolve 3, it’s difficult to know where to start. However, it’s worth pointing out that this higher-end front-drive elliptical features a compact footprint (69” x 28” of floorspace), and also folds and wheels away for even easier storage.
While compact, you still get a 20” stride length for the full-size elliptical experience. This is complemented by a sturdy SixStar frame, 18lb flywheel and magnetic resistance, for a smooth, stable and quiet performance.
There are 20 resistance levels offered, along with 30 built-in workout programs for ample challenge. There’s also plenty of secondary features to boost the value, including a nice backlit screen, built-in speakers and a media shelf. A great buy for any small home!
Stride Length: 18”
Resistance: 16 levels
Features: Compact design, transportation wheels, padded handlebars, 13 workout programs, 5.5” LCD screen, Bluetooth connectivity, heart rate monitor, media shelf
The 411 from Schwinn is a fraction of the price of higher-end models on our list, but is a class act. This elliptical perfectly represents what this compact category is all about, with a minimal footprint, low step-up height and high performance.
At 18”, the stride length is a little shorter than some of the others on our list, yet the motion is smooth and quiet. You can add up to 16 levels of resistance to your workout, and add variation with 13 preset workout programs.
The main console is streamlined but modern, with a 5.5” high contrast LCD screen and a media shelf. This means you can attach a tablet and – via Bluetooth – connect to the RunSocial app for a range of mixed-reality runs for even more variety.
Stride Length: Unspecified
Resistance: 8 levels
Features: Elliptical/stepper hybrid, compact design, Curve-Crank Technology, pulse grip heart rate monitor, LCD monitor, media shelf, 250lb weight capacity
Body Power’s StepTrac BST800 is a little different when compared to regular ellipticals, as it adds a stepper element to the mix. However, it definitely ticks the compact box, measuring in at a petite 42” x 24” x 62”.
By combining these two machine styles, you can choose whether to stride smoothly or up the intensity with stepping. This machine also features ‘Curve-Crank Technology’ to eliminate pedal dead zones, resulting in a smoother ride.
The BST800 features eight levels of magnetic resistance, catering well for users of most abilities. While affordable, it still feels like a quality unit, taking users up to 250lbs. Finally, it features a pulse grip heart rate monitor on the fixed handles, as well as an LCD screen and media shelf.
Stride Length: Unspecified
Resistance: 8 levels
Features: Compact under-desk design, fan wheel resistance, quiet operation, real-time workout tracking, Bluetooth connectivity, sleek and sturdy design
We arrive at one of our first under-desk ellipticals, which is the very definition of compact! While the Cubii Pro is a little more expensive than other mini units, it feels worth the price thanks to the build, performance and extras.
Recommended by multiple professional and media organizations, this convenient little elliptical slots neatly under a desk and offers a near silent operation as you use it. The stride length is obviously very small, but eight levels of resistance offers good workout variation
In fact, you can get quite a sweat on if you take full advantage of the functionality. The Cubii Pro also features Bluetooth connectivity and an accompanying app, providing both workout tracking and motivation.
Stride Length: 11”
Resistance: 8 levels
Features: Eight levels of magnetic resistance, belt-driven flywheel, oversized non-slip footpads, LCD monitor, hand pulse heart rate monitors, media shelf, built-in wheels
As we move into the budget range of compact ellipticals, attention quickly falls on the EFITMENT E005, which is a popular unit in the sub-$200 category. Providing your expectations are in line with the entry-level price, you may be quite impressed with what’s on offer.
This rear-drive unit offers a stride length of 11”, which certainly won’t be ideal for taller users, but for shorter people, walkers and seniors, this will suffice – especially as oversized pedals allow you to find a comfortable foot position.
The E005 features eight levels of magnetic resistance, which offers good workout variation. Secondary features for this one include a hand pulse heart rate monitor, media shelf, and a small LCD screen offering decent workout feedback.
Walk into any large commercial gym and you will often be confronted by row after row of cardio machines lined up ready to use – treadmills, rowing machines, spin bikes and, of course, ellipticals.
However, as most of us live in houses not gyms, we need to use our space more wisely. For many, a regular home elliptical will suffice. But, for those living in a smaller home, apartment, condo or dorm room, it will usually mean having to downsize.
This is where compact ellipticals come in. Although how do you know which one is right for you?
In this section, we are taking a closer glance at compact ellipticals – their common features, their benefits and their limitations. This will allow you to develop a clearer idea of what to look for when shopping.
As you may have seen from our chart, compact ellipticals come in all price ranges – premium units, midrange models and budget ellipticals.
Regardless of which range you shop in, you will usually come across two main designs: a more compact version of a full-sized elliptical, or a mini elliptical (also known as an under-desk model).
Those with full-size functionality will be cleverly built to have a small footprint. More often than not, they will feature a front-drive design as this allows the machine to be a little more compact than their rear-drive counterparts.
However, to contradict ourselves a little, some rear-drive ellipticals are just as popular in this range.
Mini under-desk models are designed to fit exactly where the name suggests – under a desk. These petite models naturally lack the traditional handles and some of the secondary features you’d associate with ellipticals, although you can still use most of them when standing as well as sitting.
Whatever the design, a compact elliptical will offer a traditional gliding motion, although the actual effectiveness of the workout will be determined by the stride length.
The stride length is one of the most important things to consider when buying any cross trainer, whether that’s an entry-level elliptical or something costing a few thousand dollars.
This term refers to the distance between the very back of the rear pedal to the very front of the front pedal, when both pedals are at their longest stride. In general, a stride length of around 18” to 20” will suit most people, unless you are very short or very tall.
For obvious reasons, you can expect compact ellipticals to have a shorter stride length than a regular elliptical – especially an under-desk model, where a 10” length is about all you can ask for. This means that you can still use the elliptical, but will have to adjust your natural stride slightly and aim for lower speeds.
Thankfully, for those who don’t want to compromise, some compact ellipticals offer a regular stride length of around 18” to 20”. Of course, you should expect to pay a higher-end price to receive such a generous stride with a compact build.
When you buy a compact elliptical, you will have done the work to ensure it can fit into the desired space on your floor – but have you paid attention to its vertical impact?
As you step onto an elliptical and begin to move, you may notice one action. You bob up and down as the pedals move. This is fine if you are short or if your ceilings are tall, but if you are tall and/or your ceilings are low, you may have a problem!
One thing to consider, therefore, is the step-up height. This simply refers to the distance between the ground and the pedal at its lowest point. Many ellipticals will have a step-up height of around 10” to 14”.
So, if you are 6ft (72”) and you have an elliptical with a step-up height of 14”, then you will need to have a room with a floor to ceiling height of above 86” (just over 7ft) to use the elliptical comfortably. Any lower and you will be hitting your head!
If you are taller than this or your ceiling is lower, then the elliptical will be unusable. This is why ellipticals with low step-up heights in the range of 4” to 8” can be a real benefit.
Sadly, not all manufacturers disclose the step-up heights of their machines. If you are unsure, assume that the height is quite high – around 16”. The worst-case scenario when the machine arrives is that the elliptical has that step-up height. The best-case scenario is that it will be lower, giving you a few extra inches to play with.
Resistance is one of the aspects that make an elliptical worth buying – after all, it is what adds difficulty to the workout.
Lower-end machines will often use air resistance or friction resistance, which is quite effective but also quite loud. More expensive machines take advantage of magnetic resistance. As the name suggests, these make use of a set of magnets to generate a smoother, quieter resistance.
While some entry-level ellipticals have no adjustable resistance – or resistance of any kind – most will offer some sort of adjustability. This allows you to tailor the intensity to your ability, from striding along care-free at a lower level to trudging through what seems like thick syrup at its highest resistance.
On more affordable ellipticals, this adjustability will come in the form of a dial somewhere on the machine. Depending on the unit, this may be a simple numberless dial or a segmented dial allowing you to see the exact level at a glance.
On more expensive models, you will find button controls on the main console, including both precision controls and quick controls (see below).
Like resistance, many ellipticals have an incline feature to add challenge and variation to a workout. Incline changes the gradient of the machine, forcing you to shorten your stride and expend more energy.
This is a great feature for most ellipticals – but not ideal for compact units.
This is because the increase in gradient means an increase in the vertical footprint of the machine – in other words, you are pushed higher towards the ceiling.
Even pushing you an additional 4” towards the ceiling can cause problems if you have measured the room specifically for a certain person and step-up height. This is why we rarely recommend a machine with incline in this compact category.
Unless you are buying the most basic of units, the majority of compact ellipticals will feature a control module – even an under-desk model will have one to a degree.
This may be as simple as a twist dial that allows you to select the resistance, right up to a central console that looks like something from a NASA control room!
Using a good midrange elliptical as an example, the control panel may feature a selection of both precision controls and quick controls for the resistance and – if the machine has it – incline.
Precision controls will allow you to slowly scroll your way through the levels and can be found on both the central console and sometimes the handles of the elliptical as well. Meanwhile, quick controls allow you to instantly change levels in bigger increments – from level 2 to level 18 for example.
Depending on the price range of your machine, you may find other controls for things like workout programs or secondary features.
Another item found on ellipticals in most price ranges is a screen. This can be as fancy as a 10” full-color touchscreen capable of displaying video, right down to a retro LED bar as found on old-school gym machines.
The prime function of these screens is to offer workout feedback – from speed and time, to calories burned and heart rate data (providing your machine has a built-in monitor). What each screen will offer will largely depend on what the manufacturer prioritizes.
Finally, we come to secondary features. While these can be desirable, these features are not as essential to a good compact elliptical as, say, the footprint, step-up height, or stride length of the machine.
We class a secondary feature as something that enhances the comfort or convenience of a workout. For example, a cooling fan, which is often built into higher-end machines to offer some fresh air when the sweat starts to drip.
One thing pretty much any elliptical offers is a heart rate monitor built into the handles. Placing your hands on these pads will deliver your heart rate data to the display screen if present.
As with any machine-based heart rate monitor, these systems are best used as guidance as opposed to an exact measure. If you are trying to stick to specific heart rate zones, a chest-strap monitor will be a worthwhile investment.
Entertainment is another big consideration. Some ellipticals are very basic in this department, while others will offer tablet/smartphone holders, built-in speakers and USB charging ports for a full-on media experience.
Bluetooth connectivity is another good feature as it may allow you to connect to apps such as RunSocial for workout motivation and entertainment.
If these items appeal, then start searching in the higher-end market – they just aren’t available on budget models (or not worthwhile at that price anyway). However, don’t end up buying a unit that’s too big for your room just because it came with Bluetooth speakers!
Couch potato? Want some aerobic action while you watch TV? You may need a mini elliptical!
As the name suggests, this is a unit that takes the motion of a standard elliptical and crams it into a petite package, often measuring no bigger than a square foot or two. Mini ellipticals vary in their quality and price, ranging from under $100 to around $400.
You may also hear mini ellipticals referred to as ‘under-desk ellipticals’ for obvious reasons. They are particularly popular with office workers who can slide them under their desk and discreetly work out while responding to emails and answering calls.
The functionality of these machines is usually intact, although they are obviously missing the handles that full-sized ellipticals provide.
You will often have means to adjust the resistance to increase the challenge, while an LCD screen will provide a little feedback on your workout. More advanced machines may provide additional extras, such as Bluetooth connectivity to monitor workout progress via a smartphone app.
Ultimately, these machines are not a like-for-like substitute for the calorie-burning workout that an hour on a full-sized machine can offer. Yet they prove a great way to keep your legs moving and heart rate up during a point in your day where you would usually be sitting still – at work or at home while watching TV.
They certainly can be. Compact ellipticals provide an effective low-impact cardio workout in a unit that doesn’t take up a great deal of space.
While some people have spacious houses or big home gyms, others live in apartments or condos and can’t afford to dedicate half a room to an elliptical.
This is why compact ellipticals are popular – whether you want something that sits inconspicuously in the corner of your bedroom or something that you can wheel away after use, compact designs will allow you to do this.
But are these compact cross trainers any good?
You may question that, if the size has been reduced, the functionality and quality may also suffer. Of course, some compact ellipticals are poorly built and end up offering very little to the user. If you are shopping in the budget price ranges, this may be a problem you face.
Even if the machine is well-built, a more affordable elliptical can still offer reduced performance. For example, it may only offer a 12” stride length. For shorter users or people who only want to use an elliptical to simply walk, this may be fine. But if you are expecting to be able to run freely on these machines – especially if you are taller – you need to adjust your expectations!
So, to find a very good compact machine that doesn’t compromise on performance or quality, you must look towards the higher end of the market. On these models (around $1,000 and above) rarely any compromise will be made in the functionality.
Just take a quick glimpse at our chart and you will see higher-end compact ellipticals boasting near gym-grade builds with stride lengths above 20”, good resistance levels and plenty of workout variation.
Sure, they may end up offering less in the way of secondary features (a manufacturer only has a limited budget after all), but they perfectly balance performance with compactness.
Before we answer this question, let’s quickly recap the principles of fat loss. In short, to lose bodyfat you must be in a consistent calorie deficit. As a general rule, to lose 1lb of fat per week, you must be in a 500-calorie deficit each day (3,500 calories per week).
There are many other techniques, such as eating more soluble fiber, avoiding alcohol and cutting down on carbs, but a calorie deficit is the best way to see a real improvement.
This deficit can be achieved by consuming less calories than you burn on a daily basis. A good diet is the number one way to do this, although adding in exercise – especially different forms of cardio – can boost this deficit.
Using an elliptical is a great way to do this. It’s a low-impact machine offering great calorie-burning potential, providing the stride length is long enough for you and the resistance provides enough of a challenge.
However, there is one caveat – you cannot ‘spot reduce’ fat. This means that you cannot use an elliptical, treadmill, weight training or any form of exercise to reduce one area of fat specifically. So, whether you have problems with your arms, legs or belly, you need to reduce your entire bodyfat percentage to see a reduction in your problem areas.
Our suggestion is to use an elliptical as part of fat-loss plan. This may be a case of buying a higher-end elliptical and using it for HIIT sessions, or simply using an under-desk model to expend a few extra calories while at the office.
Combine this with a good diet that encourages a healthy calorie deficit and you will see improvements surprisingly quickly!
It can sometimes be a little tricky to instantly differentiate between an elliptical and a stepper. Both cardio machines look similar with oversized foot pedals, and both offer a low-impact cardio workout. However, look closer or – better yet – step on, and you will soon see the difference.
While a stepper obviously uses a stepping action – similar to climbing stairs – an elliptical is more of an elliptically-travelling stride. But which machine is better?
If you are focusing on losing weight by burning calories, then an elliptical may prove more effective for you. If you actively make use of the movable handles by pushing and pulling with the muscles in your upper body, then you will burn more calories on an elliptical (an average of about 100 calories more per 30 minutes for a 155lb person).
If low impact is your focus, then both machines are similar. However, a stair stepper requires slightly more impact as you lift your leg and push down, whereas an elliptical requires no such impact. Therefore, we declare the elliptical as the winner here.
To strengthen and improve endurance in the lower-body muscles, a stepper would be more beneficial. The muscles in the entire leg are worked to a greater degree during a session on a stepper compared to an elliptical. Yet, the elliptical works your upper body in ways a stepper could only dream of! So, it’s a tie.
With all this in mind, the elliptical is generally considered the better machine – providing the stride length allows you to move freely. However, the stepper certainly has its place and benefits, and can provide a seriously good workout.
Ultimately, the decision is yours. Providing you use the correct intensity for your ability and goals, then you will see great results whatever the machine.
Having read this far, you will now understand why a compact elliptical is ideal for use at home or at work when a regular-sized machine won’t do. You will also know what to look out for when shopping for one, as well as which models we deem worthy of your attention.
There are many high-end, midrange and budget options available on the market. Now you know what to look out for in terms of design and features, you should take a good look around the market and see what appeals to you. You may find something even better than we did!