The 5 Best Folding Ellipticals – Finding the Best Collapsible Cross Trainer for You!

We felt it was high time we gave this article on the best folding ellipticals a bit of a refresh. So, we revised our guide and FAQ section, while replacing a few of our previous recommendations.

New additions to the chart included the midrange ProForm SMART Strider 895 CSE as well as two slightly more affordable ellipticals – the Gazelle Freestyle and the Sunny Health & Fitness SF-E902.

The winner after the latest chart update:
ProForm SMART Strider 895 CSE-01
  • Stride Length: 18”
  • Incline: Motorized
  • Resistance: 24 levels
  • Folding: Yes
  • Features: SpaceSaver design, adjustable feet, 7” full-color touchscreen display, CoolAire fan, EKG heart rate monitor, transportation wheels, media shelf, iFit compatible

Having a good cardio workout at home isn’t always as easy as simply going out and buying the first fitness machine you see. Sometimes limitations need to be addressed.

One of the most common limitations is a lack of space. Whether you live in a small house, apartment or condo, leaving a full-size elliptical in the middle of your room may not be feasible – no matter how much you use it!

While there is a very good range of compact ellipticals on the market, sometimes these are still too big or – in the case of mini ellipticals – not big enough.

This is where the folding elliptical niche comes in. These collapsible machines offer full-size functionality when in use, but fold up to half their size when done.

In today’s article we are going to run you through a handful of the best ellipticals that fold up, as well as guide you through what to consider before buying one.

The 5 Best Folding Ellipticals:

Pros

  • Easy to fold and wheel around
  • Smooth and consistent motion
  • Plenty of convenient secondary features
  • Good 18” stride length

Cons

  • iFit can be a frustrating system to use
  • Suffers a few quality-control issues

Stride Length: 18”
Incline: Motorized
Resistance: 24 levels
Folding: Yes
Features: SpaceSaver design, adjustable feet, 7” full-color touchscreen display, CoolAire fan, EKG heart rate monitor, transportation wheels, media shelf, iFit compatible

First things first – the E300 is far from cheap. In fact, it sits on our chart of the best ellipticals under $2,000. However, the high-end price feels worth it for the near gym-grade quality on offer.

The E300 features a sturdy steel frame with Body-Solid’s patented Centre Drive technology. This allows for a smooth and natural motion (and a 21” stride length), even on something so compact. On that note, this unit takes up just 50” x 31” of floor space, while it’s great for places with smaller ceilings thanks to the 8” step up.

The main letdown is that the central console is a bit basic in its design for such a high-end machine. Still, there are 20 levels of resistance, seven preset workout programs, and dual LED screens for accurate workout feedback.

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Pros

  • Sturdy build with a smooth operation
  • Extensive incline and resistance options
  • Good stride length for the midrange price
  • Generous range of secondary features

Cons

  • Same frustrating iFit start-up issues as other machines

Stride Length: 18”
Incline: Motorized
Resistance: 22 levels
Folding: Yes
Features: SpaceSaver design, 5” backlit display screen, EKG heart rate monitor, One Touch controls, AutoBreeze fan, 24 preset workout programs, transportation wheels, media shelf, iFit compatible

NordicTrack is a big name in the home fitness market and the brand has proven time and again that they know how to make a solid elliptical. This sleek midrange offering is excellent for getting a sweat on at home, then folding away when you are done.

Like our top choice, the SE7i boasts a plethora of features that provide an effective low-impact workout. For example, the stride length is 18”, there’s both motorized incline and 22 resistance levels, as well as 24 preset workout programs.

The secondary features stand up to scrutiny for the price. This comprises a small but decent backlit screen, an AutoBreeze cooling fan and a media shelf for use with a tablet. Like the iFit system? The SE7i is fully compatible.

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Pros

  • Compact design and easy hydraulic folding
  • Generous 20” stride length
  • Great workout variation
  • Sleek console with built-in speakers

Cons

  • No incline option
  • Quite an expensive machine

Stride Length: 20”
Incline: None
Resistance: 20 levels
Folding: Yes
Features: FeatherLight folding system, 18lb flywheel, 32 workout programs, 5.5” LCD screen, heart rate monitor, built-in speakers, ViaFit connectivity, media shelf

While some of the more affordable models may be a little more compact, the Evolve 3 from Horizon Fitness is one of the smallest folding ellipticals around – yet it’s one that doesn’t skimp on quality.

With a compact front-drive build, this elliptical actually boasts one of the best stride lengths for a compact folding machine – a full 20”. Combined with an 18lb flywheel, this makes for a smooth and quiet ride, while the hydraulic FeatherLight system takes care of folding it away after use.

Even though there’s no incline on offer, you can add up to 20 levels of resistance, while 32 workout programs keep things interesting. Features include a streamlined console with a 5.5” LCD screen, built-in speakers and ViaFit connectivity.

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Pros

  • Sturdy steel frame that folds easily
  • Allows you to target a range of muscle groups
  • Smooth and quiet when in motion
  • Arrives with some extras including workout DVDs

Cons

  • Lack of resistance won’t appeal to all users
  • LCD screen is a bit small and basic

Stride Length: Unspecified
Incline: None
Resistance: None
Folding: Yes
Features: Steel frame, patented split suspension system, LCD monitor, two workout DVDs, nutrition guide, water bottle and holder

Chances are you have heard of ‘America’s personal trainer’ Tony Little, and chances are you’ve heard of his elliptical, the Gazelle Freestyle. Despite having no resistance, this popular elliptical offers a varied low-impact workout – plus it folds away neatly!

It’s a very affordable manual elliptical, so you will have to reduce your expectations when it comes to secondary features. Aside from a small LCD screen, there’s not much on offer (although the included workout DVDs and water bottle are a nice touch).

The elliptical itself features a patented dual-action split suspension system with a smooth and lengthy stride, and natural acceleration. While there is no resistance, you can adjust your body position to target different muscles, so there is some workout variation. Overall, a decent budget option!

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Pros

  • Very affordable price
  • Folds up to a very small size
  • Surprisingly good stride length
  • Smooth and quiet operation

Cons

  • Lack of resistance is not ideal for a good workout
  • The LCD screen is expectedly basic

Stride Length: 30”
Incline: None
Resistance: None
Folding: Yes
Features: Compact design, steel frame, adjustable abdominal support pad, non-slip pedals, LCD screen

For a real bargain, look no further than the super-affordable SF-E902 from Sunny Health and Fitness. This very lightweight elliptical comes in at just 37lbs and folds to half its size (just 15” x 19” x 61”). It’s therefore ideal for apartments, condos and dorm rooms.

Despite its streamlined design, when in use it’s pretty good! Sure, the lack of resistance won’t appeal to everybody, but the long stride length, non-slip foot pads and solid build inspire confidence, allowing you to run as fast as you like.

The SF-E902 is a minimalist unit in terms of features, although there’s an adjustable abdominal pad to support yourself, while a small LCD monitor offers some data on your workout.

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Shopping for a Folding Elliptical

When commercial gym owners go elliptical shopping, it’s safe to say they don’t go looking for a folding model. Even a small gym has enough room for a few full-sized ellipticals.

People who live in smaller homes or apartments don’t usually have the luxury of such a generous workout space, so will have to make the best of what they have.

This may be by purchasing a compact elliptical to keep in the corner, or a foldable elliptical that you can collapse to half its size.

If it’s the latter, our chart will have given you some inspiration. Now, in this section, we take a look at what considerations you should make before settling on one particular model.

Design

As you may have gathered, the purpose of a folding elliptical isn’t to make the overall product tiny, but to allow you to change its shape to make it suitable for storage.

This folding action may be as simple as collapsing a lightweight frame, which is often the case on the most affordable models. On bigger rear- and front-drive ellipticals, the folding is done by moving the rear portion of the machine vertically, and therefore reducing its floor footprint.

With these larger machines you have to make a few considerations. For example, many elliptical users buying a folding elliptical are interested because they are dealing with a very limited amount of space.

However, some do not take into account the actual size of the machine and, after delivery, find out that it doesn’t fit their allotted space at all when it is unfolded and ready for use.

So, be sure to measure the room where you are planning to use the elliptical!

Stability is another factor that falls into the design. Having the ability to change the geometry of the machine – collapsing the frame to some degree – leads some users to think that folding ellipticals are inferior to those with standard single-piece frames.

This logic makes sense, but when you actually inspect the frame of a folding elliptical, your worries will be eased – these are usually rock-solid pieces of equipment.

As long as you stick with reputable brands, you should have no problem finding a folding elliptical that stays stable, no matter how hard you use it.

Stride Length

This is a phrase that often comes up in elliptical reviews – but what does stride length actually mean?

The stride length is the span between the toe of the front pedal and the heel of the rear pedal, when the pedals are at their furthest distance. That’s all it is!

It’s a small part of the elliptical, yet this measurement makes a significant difference to how useable the machine is for you. If the length is too short, you won’t be able to stride naturally. If it’s too long (which is quite rare), you may overextend and risk injury.

There is no written rule, although the general agreement is that a stride length of around 18” to 20” is good for most adults.

If you are 6ft or over, aiming for the 20” to 22” range will give you a more comfortable experience – although be prepared to pay higher prices.

For shorter people and those who are only using the elliptical at walking speeds, then a shorter stride length will be suitable.

Thankfully, most of the models on our chart offer good stride lengths. Some units – especially those cheaper models with no resistance – don’t always advertise their stride lengths, but check out user reviews to determine if the fit will be comfortable for your height.

Resistance

While stride length will determine how comfortable your elliptical experience will be, the resistance is what will define the intensity. This is why we tend to favor ellipticals with good resistance options.

Some of the folding ellipticals we feature offer the same kind of resistance levels as their regular non-folding cousins.

This will be anywhere up to around 25 levels, all selectable via precision or quick digital controls on the central console. This flexibility allows you to set the resistance that works for you, your mood and your workout goals. For example, this may be a light jog at level 6 or a higher-intensity push at level 19.

On cheaper ellipticals you may find less options and less sophisticated ways of adjusting the resistance – a twistable manual dial for example.

You may have noticed that some of the cheaper ellipticals that fold offer no resistance at all. These are often criticized in the fitness world as they don’t allow you to work your muscles as much as machines with resistance.

Cruising along with little to no resistance may give the illusion of working hard, yet you are probably relying more on momentum than your own effort. This means you are not raising your heart rate or working your body properly.

These zero-resistance machines can still give you some benefits, providing you are aware when it’s you working and when the elliptical is working you. It takes some trial and error, but people do use them to good effect and there’s no reason you can’t either, if that’s the way you want to go.

Incline

Just like a treadmill, an elliptical can offer an incline feature, which – like resistance – is there to add intensity to your workout.

By increasing the gradient, shortening your stride and changing the way your muscles must perform, adding incline is a good way to keep the challenge fresh, while also raising your heart rate and encouraging more of a calorie burn.

Many machines offer varying degrees of motorized incline, although these tend to be found in the midrange and higher ends of the market.

However, if you are considering a folding elliptical, a machine with incline tends to be much harder to find. If incline is particularly important, you may want to look in other categories.

Control Module

The features and controls found on an elliptical control module will depend largely on how much you are spending. Ultimately, a higher-end elliptical will offer a lot more than an entry-level elliptical.

Controls will also depend on what there is to actually control. For example, if your folding elliptical is a basic frame with no resistance, then there’s not much you will need to attend to.

If, however, your machine boasts 25 resistance levels, motorized incline, a menu of workout programs and a cooling fan, then you need a lot more controls!

These may come in the form of precision +/- controls – allowing you to gradually increase resistance or incline – or ‘quick controls’, that allow you to jump levels in bigger increments.

Regardless of how much the elliptical costs, a display screen is usually another feature found on the control module. This may be a basic LCD, offering nothing more than your time, distance and speed, or a 10” full-color touchscreen display with all the workout stats and programs you could imagine.

Secondary Features

As we always say, you should start by covering the basics. This means finding an elliptical with a good folding frame, suitable dimensions, an acceptable stride length, and decent resistance options.

Once you cover these fundamentals, then you can move your attention to the secondary features.

We class these features as things that are not essential for your workout, but can make it a more comfortable and enjoyable experience.

Things like a cooling fan, for example. This small device, built into the central console, will blow out air at varying speeds, keeping you refreshed as you work out.

You may find something like a pair of built-in speakers. While many people will be able to suffice with headphones, these speakers can enhance your session as you watch movies, listen to music and use workout videos.

You will also find things like a media shelf to hold your tablet, or USB charging ports to keep your gadgets full of juice.

Whatever they are, these features are great to have if the core performance is up to scratch and the price is right.

Frequently Asked Questions

The short answer here is that some ellipticals fold and some don’t. It all depends on what model you are looking at.

Before buying a folding elliptical, you should consider whether the ability to fold it is a feature you need. For a manufacturer to build a folding mechanism into the frame, it costs more in both the design and manufacturing process. This additional cost is reflected in the price you pay.

This is why, when comparing a regular and a folding elliptical of similar specs, the folding one will almost always be more expensive.

You should therefore assess all the options first. If you live in a small space, will a folding elliptical be exactly what you need? Or will a compact elliptical be even better?

If you are struggling to fit a regular elliptical in your living room, can you rearrange your furniture to cater for one? Or is a folding one the only option?

Remember, even though some fold down in size, they don’t suddenly become invisible. They simply shift the form. So, even though you reclaim some floor space when the elliptical is in its folded position, you still have a big piece of equipment in your room – although now it may be vertical, instead of horizontal.

Some do fold small enough that you can store them away behind a sofa or in a closet, although you tend to find that these units can lack some of the features and performance that bigger machines offer.

Look at any one of our charts, from entry-level to midrange ellipticals [INSERT LINK to https://www.fitnessverve.com/best-elliptical-trainer/under-1000/] and beyond – it’s rare that one elliptical is the same size as another.

However, you have come here for answers, so let’s offer some guidance!

Roughly, a decent elliptical will measure at around 6ft long by 3ft wide. This is a very general estimate and can be anywhere from 4ft to 7ft in length. Be aware that rear-drive units are often longer than front- and center-drive ellipticals.

Also be aware that the pedals of the machine can extend back further than the frame when in use, so allow some clearance. Try to allow clearance at one side of the machine too, allowing you to step on and off with ease.

Don’t forget the vertical impact. Unlike treadmills and rowing machines, you use more vertical space with an elliptical due to the action of the machine.

To avoid hitting your head on low ceilings (it does happen!), you will want to allow at least a 4” to 6” gap between your head and the ceiling when on the machine.

If you are particularly concerned – especially if you have low ceilings (basements or garages for example) – aim for an elliptical with a low-step up height. Anything under 10” is great.

More often than not, the dimensions of an individual elliptical will be listed online. So, if you are interested in a particular model, be sure to look at the marketplace or manufacturer’s website to see the exact measurements of your potential new elliptical.

Unlike some other cardio machines, the elliptical is one of those that can target pretty much the entire body – providing you are using it correctly.

Your legs are obviously well covered in this department. As you push your legs forward, your quads are well worked, as are your glutes and hamstrings when your leg moves backwards.

The stabilizing muscles in your lower leg – your calves and tibialis anterior (the muscles near the shin) – are also in action throughout the entire movement.

However, if you are actively pushing and pulling the handles of the elliptical, you can also work out your upper body too.

Your biceps and triceps are both working hard as you flex and extend your arms, while supporting muscle groups – the back, shoulders and chest – are also hit to varying degrees. Providing you are standing tall and bracing your abs, your core can also get a pretty decent workout.

However, despite hitting all these muscles, be aware that the elliptical is not a muscle-building machine. Think of it more as a way to keep the muscles and joints active, as opposed to actually creating size or strength. The resistance will be too light, even on a high setting.

If muscle-building is something you are interested in, a pair of dumbbells or a good home gym will be more suitable than an elliptical.

Using an elliptical is a great cardio workout, raising your heart rate and boosting your endurance – but can it help you burn fat from your midsection?

First, it’s worth being aware of the principles of fat loss. The main flaw with this question is that, no matter what exercise you do, you cannot target fat loss on a specific part of your body – arms, legs, belly or chest.

Your body decides where it stores and loses fat from, so no amount of ab crunches, running or elliptical work can help you target stomach fat.

The only true way to lose fat is to be in a calorie deficit. Being in a 3,500-calorie deficit over a week will mean you lose 1lb of fat that week. It sounds simple and – if you can do this – it is!

Of course, using an elliptical is an excellent way to torch extra calories. Every person differs, but let’s take a 180lb man. Using an elliptical for an hour, this man will burn around 850 calories on average. Combine these calories burned with a healthy diet and you are well on your way to creating a good calorie deficit.

Keep this up consistently for a few weeks and you will start to see improvements, as your bodyfat percentage – including that spare tire – starts to melt away.

The Ver(ve)dict!

Whether you have your heart set on a folding elliptical or are considering all your options, we hope our guide has proved helpful in your search.

Don’t make a mistake and assume folding fitness gear lacks functionality or features when compared to a regular elliptical. As our chart will have proved, this is certainly not the case!

There are plenty of options to get your teeth into, so take a good look around and do a little research of your own – you may find a model even better suited to your space than those we have highlighted.

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