Our chart on the best ellipticals for seniors saw just one change to bring it up to date for the year.
We removed an older model and replaced it with our new top pick – the high-end HCI Fitness PhysioStep HXT.
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.
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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: Unspecified
Resistance: 16 levels
Features: Poly Belt Drive, bidirectional pedals, adjustable padded seat, adjustable pivoting handles, 17 preset workout programs, pulse grip heart rate monitor, backlit LCD display, transportation wheels, 330lb weight capacity
There’s a new breed of ‘semi-ellipticals’ (i.e. hybrid elliptical/recumbent bikes) that are ideal for seniors, of which the PhysioStep HXT is a key part. The HXT is one of HCI Fitness’s most affordable semi-ellipticals, although it still comes in at a higher-end price than most.
In exchange for your investment, you get a confidence-inspiring machine holding users up to 330lbs. Oversized pedals and moving arms give you a total body workout, while the easily-adjustable padded seat and backrest supports your body comfortably.
In action it’s whisper-quiet, thanks to the combination of a poly belt drive and magnetic resistance (there are 16 levels to choose from). The control console is nothing special for the price, but seniors may appreciate the no-nonsense controls and clear backlit display screen.
Stride Length: 20.5”
Resistance: 20 levels
Features: Compact design, low step-up height (4”), padded handlebars, 8 preset workout programs, unique Workout Boosters, heart rate monitoring, simple controls, large LED screen
We begin with a very high-end elliptical, offering the kind of slick performance you would expect from a commercial gym machine. The action is smooth and the mechanism is quiet – ultimately a pleasure to use, especially with a generous 20.5” stride length.
The main benefit for seniors, however, is that the Q35x features a very low step-up height of just 4”, making it a cinch to get on and off. The petite footprint also makes it ideal for smaller spaces, such as apartments and condos.
Controls are simple to use and the main console is as simple to navigate. It comes with a few workout programs, although lacks some of the mod cons you may expect in return for such a premium price.
Stride Length: 10”
Features: Compact build, steel frame, variable magnetic resistance technology, adjustable cushioned seat, transportation wheels, adjustable multi-grip handles, LCD display, media shelf
The Teeter FreeStep is a very popular cross trainer and comes in at a much more wallet-friendly price than some of the higher-end ellipticals we feature.
This innovative machine combines the smooth full-body action of an elliptical, the pressing action of a stepper and the reclined seated position of a recumbent bike for a quality zero-impact workout. You can still burn calories and raise your heart rate – especially with adjustable resistance – but your joints remain stress-free.
The multi-grip handles allow you to work out your upper body too, while the cushioned seat means you can do it in comfort. Controls are simple, while a media shelf allows you to add your own entertainment (such as an iPad) if you wish.
Stride Length: Unspecified
Resistance: 8 levels
Features: Compact under-desk design, fan wheel resistance, quiet operation, real-time workout tracking, display screen, sleek and sturdy design
We have covered some full-sized ellipticals, but now our attention turns to a mini elliptical – the Cubii Jr. Available in four attractive colors, this compact unit measures approximately 23” x 17.5” x 10”, allowing you to fit it under a table, desk or simply in front of you as you watch TV.
There are lower-priced mini ellipticals out there, although the Cubii Jr offers a superior build, a smooth gliding action and a very quiet operation. While you won’t be able to enjoy the full-body benefits of an elliptical due to the tiny size and lack of handles, it still gives you a convenient way to burn calories at home.
This mini unit also features a small built-in display screen to help you track your progress including your time, distance and strides taken.
The 1000XL is a no-nonsense elliptical that offers an effective low-impact workout in a space-saving machine – all without breaking the bank.
Holding users up to 325lbs, this heavy-duty cross trainer is surprisingly compact, yet offers all you need for a great elliptical workout. There are eight resistance levels, while the dual-direction flywheel allows you to stride both forward and in reverse.
Thanks to the magnetic resistance, the 1000XL is a very quiet unit, so is ideal for using while watching TV. The central console is also easy to use, with a large LCD screen and very simple buttons. Throw in a hand pulse heart rate monitor and protective floor mat and you have a very good value machine!
While many people will be quick to point out flaws in resistance-free ellipticals (ourselves included), models like the SF-E902 still have a lot to offer seniors – especially if you are on the hunt for something affordable.
This no-nonsense elliptical is incredibly lightweight and foldable to half its size, for easy storage. At 30”, the stride length is very generous and allows for natural running strides. However, as there is no resistance, use caution not to go too fast for comfort.
The SF-E902 ultimately makes for a great way to keep your legs moving, even if it’s perhaps not as effective as a more advanced cross trainer. An adjustable abdominal pad offers support to your midriff, while the tiny LCD monitor gives you an insight into your workout.
Stride Length: 10”
Features: Multiple color choices, resistance dial, textured pedals, compact design, LCD screen, forward and reverse function
Another mini elliptical that often pops up on our charts is the E1000 from Stamina. This model delivers the same space-saving calorie-burning benefits of other under-desk units, but with a more attractive price tag.
With a footprint of just 24.5” x 17”, this elliptical is small enough to leave in the living room permanently, although you can also throw it in the closet when you are finished. It provides a good workout, with an adjustable tension knob as well as the ability to stride forwards or backwards.
Of course, the petite size means the stride length is also pretty small, yet this remains a solid choice for those looking for a low-impact home workout without spending over $100.
As our chart has highlighted, there is a great range of elliptical machines suitable for seniors, with the ability to provide a low-impact but highly-effective workout.
But, as you will have noticed, each model is different. What stride length is important to you? What about secondary features? And are mini ellipticals worthwhile?
Not sure of the answers to these questions? Don’t worry – the following section will guide you through the ins and outs of ellipticals, offering you some insight on what to choose to fit your ability, your space and your goals.
The first thing we must consider is the design of the elliptical, which will usually be either a full-size machine, a compact elliptical or a mini unit.
A full-sized machine is self-explanatory, with the focus on performance instead of the dimensions. The advantage of a full-size elliptical is that the performance will usually be good quality, with a relatively long stride length (see below).
However, as many seniors may have downsized to smaller homes, apartments or condos, we have been sure to highlight mainly compact models. These are still classed as full-sized, yet have more of an emphasis on being smaller – whether this was a deliberate decision by the designer or not.
These compact versions will often have a smaller footprint and will offer a lower step-up height to cater for lower ceilings, which is a benefit for many seniors (see section below).
Taking compact ellipticals a step further and we have mini ellipticals – also known as under-desk ellipticals. These petite units are small but fully-functional. They are very popular with office workers as they slide under a desk and allow the user to pedal along while answering calls and typing emails.
These machines allow you to raise your heart rate, keep your endurance up and burn calories all from the comfort of your own chair, bench or sofa. The downside is that these mini machines don’t feature handles, so you don’t get to enjoy the full-body workout that a regular elliptical can offer.
In addition to the three we have mentioned, you may also find hybrid ellipticals that incorporate elements of a recumbent bike into their design. Whether or not these appeal to you will depend on whether you prefer standing or sitting down while you exercise.
Standing is better as it proves more athletic and can boost your calorie burn, although sitting takes the extra load off your body, making the movement zero-impact.
What design you go for will largely be determined by your space and wants. For example, if you have a tiny condo and just want to keep your legs moving while you watch your shows, then a mini elliptical – like the impressive Cubii Jr. – will be suitable.
If you are more interested in building your endurance, boosting your cardio health or losing weight, then a full-sized or compact elliptical will be more worthwhile.
You may have seen the term ‘stride length’ in our reviews or on marketplaces – but what does it mean?
Stride length simply refers to the distance between the heel of the rear pedal and the toe of the front pedal, when the pedals are at their widest stride.
There are many opinions but, for most people, a stride length of around 20” is ideal. This gives you enough space to stride freely whether walking or running. Taller people may want to aim for a stride length of up to 22” to feel completely free, but this is usually reserved for very high-end machines.
The good news is that some seniors will be able to enjoy machines with shorter stride lengths. The shorter you are and the slower you want to go, the lower your max stride length can be.
So, you may be able to enjoy working out on an elliptical with a 10” to 14” stride length, if simple walking or jogging is all you want to do.
As we have mentioned above, the step-up height is an important factor to consider. This refers to the distance between the ground and the pedal at its lowest point.
While younger people may be able to hop up 18” onto the pedals of their elliptical, seniors and those with joint issues may find it more difficult. Therefore, it’s wise to seek out a lower step-up height.
Unfortunately, step-up heights are not widely published. Where a manufacturer almost always discloses the stride length of their ellipticals, it’s more difficult to find the step-up height.
However, some of our top picks proudly boast low step-up heights of around 4” to 8”, which is perfect for somebody with poor joint health or flexibility.
Of course, this is another benefit of under-desk ellipticals, as there is pretty much no step-up height. You sit down, lift your leg slightly and you are on the pedals!
While step-up height and stride length should be the first things you consider, the resistance is another important issue. This is what gives the workout its intensity and should not be overlooked.
The general pattern is that higher-end ellipticals tend to offer more variation in resistance (usually up to around 20 levels), while affordable models offer less (around eight levels) – sometimes none at all.
While no resistance may sound nice in theory (after all, it would make for a much easier workout!), it is not entirely beneficial.
Striding along with no resistance can be too easy, as you rely more on momentum than your exertion to move the pedals. Sure, you are moving your legs, but you aren’t enjoying the calorie-burning effects of resistance.
Thankfully even most entry-level ellipticals and mini ellipticals offer a basic manual resistance dial, allowing you to increase or decrease the intensity to suit your level.
Higher-end models tend to feature more sophisticated pushbutton resistance systems. Press either the +/- precision controls or a quick control and watch the resistance rise or fall with minimal effort on your part.
The control module is the large central console found on most ellipticals, although it may not be a feature on lower-priced models or mini ellipticals.
Unless you are a big tech head, many of us – seniors included – prefer simplicity when it comes to controls. The good news is that most of the models we have featured offer streamlined control modules, allowing you to manage your workout with minimal fuss.
Regardless of the manufacturer or the price, each console will share similar features. You will usually find either an LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) or LED (Light-Emitting Diode) screen. This will offer you all sorts of feedback on your workout. This may include your workout time, distance and speed, as well as calories burned.
If your machine features a heart rate monitor (many ellipticals do), then the screen will also display this feedback. Remember that the number you see is more of a guide than an exact measurement – rarely are these monitors pinpoint accurate.
Elsewhere on the control module you will obviously find controls. While lower-end models will feature more basic controls – such as a twist dial to change resistance – higher-end ellipticals tend to offer more convenient solutions.
From the console you will be able to manage the resistance level and incline level, if your elliptical features incline. You will also find controls for things like preset workout programs, cooling fans and other secondary features.
Truth be told, the world of ellipticals is full to the brim with machines offering snazzy screens and excessive controls – but do you really need them? We say no. However, they certainly can enhance your workout, while helping you choose between two ellipticals with similar core specs.
For example, some may come with built-in speakers, allowing you to connect your phone or MP3 player to listen to music while you exercise.
Others may offer a cooling fan, to offer you a little breeze during your workout. Some may provide USB charging to keep your mobile device topped up.
These features undoubtedly boost the convenience and comfort of a workout and can be very welcome additions.
Are they essential? Absolutely not. You can use your own fan to keep cool, plug your device into the wall or simply listen to the stereo. However, there is no harm in having these features built in if the price is right.
It’s no secret that the human body changes with age. Every day we work hard to preserve our muscle mass, our strength and our fitness. But it can become an uphill battle.
One of the areas that tends to give older folk a bad time is the joints – shoulders, hips and knees in particular, especially if you have regularly enjoyed activities known to wear out these joints (such as running or playing sports).
There should be no reason to give up exercise, especially if you have enjoyed it your whole life. However, you may want to rethink the activities you do. For example, running long distances can become too taxing on the joints, which is why many seniors seek out low-impact alternatives.
As this page suggests, one of the best forms of cardio for seniors is spending some time on an elliptical – whether at the gym or at home with a machine of your own.
Ellipticals are very low-impact but, unlike bikes – which are also a great form of low-impact exercise – they allow you to simultaneously work both your lower and upper body.
If an elliptical isn’t enough, you may also want to try a stepper or a recumbent bike, which are both other popular low-impact alternatives.
While cardio machines are excellent for building and maintaining cardiovascular health and endurance, don’t forget resistance training.
You may think ‘Heck, I don’t want to be a bodybuilder’, but a little strength training is not going to turn you into Arnold Schwarzenegger overnight – even over the next 20 years!
In truth, after you hit 30 years of age, you will start losing up to 5% of your muscle mass per decade. So, anything that can help retain muscle mass and strength – preserving your mobility and reducing disability – can only be a good thing.
Buying a set of light dumbbells for your home is a cost-effective way to incorporate more resistance training into your day-to-day routine. If you have the space, a budget home gym can also be worth considering. Both will help get you on the right track.
Truth be told, most people would benefit from doing a bit more exercise. We have become a species of sitters-down – the car, the table, the desk, the sofa, the bed. We do more sitting down than anything and the only remedy is to get some exercise!
However, are the rules different as we get older? How often should a senior exercise?
If possible, you should aim to do some formal exercise for around 30 minutes every day, equating to around 2.5 hours per week. This is in addition to your general activities, such as mowing the lawn or walking around the grocery store.
For the best results and the greatest sense of wellbeing, you should aim to train for both strength and endurance, as well as balance and flexibility.
Strength training does not mean you have to go to the gym to lift heavy dumbbells with the bodybuilders. It simply means incorporating things like bodyweight movements, weight machines and free weights into your routine.
This can be things like squatting while holding a kettlebell, performing some bicep curls, or pushing some light dumbbells overhead.
Endurance training can be taken care of by either getting out in nature for a brisk walk or bike ride, or buying a cross trainer, stationary bike or treadmill for walking for your home. These are all worthwhile purchases if you have the money and space. If not, a gym membership can be one of the most important purchases you make in your senior years.
Balance and flexibility training are unlikely to get your heart rate up, so count these as extracurricular – in addition to your 2.5 weekly hours. You can do simple things like balancing on one foot while watching TV, or going to a yoga class to enjoy a session of balance, flexibility and relaxation.
Taking 30 minutes per day to exercise isn’t a lot of time and, if you can safely fit in more, then do so. If you can’t find the time, aren’t able to go to the gym or can’t afford home fitness gear, then simply try to take advantage of free activities.
By this we mean walking to the store instead of driving. Borrowing a relative’s bike to go cycling. Trying some stretches and bodyweight movements while watching a movie. Incorporating exercise isn’t that hard, although it does require a little thought.
If you are considering starting a new fitness program or using any new fitness equipment, you should consult your physician first. Always be sure to warm up and cool down properly, and stop exercising if you feel any dizziness, sickness or pain.
If you are suffering from arthritis, then it is wise to keep your body moving – a sentiment reinforced by the Arthritis Foundation.
Incorporating both strength and endurance work into your daily life can have a huge benefit on arthritic joints.
Going for a run may be out of the question, but a jog on the elliptical? Now you are talking!
The benefit of elliptical machines – whether at the gym or at home – is that they replicate walking, jogging and running. This means they can provide similar cardio benefits to using a treadmill or pounding the sidewalk, but with much less impact. In some cases, zero impact at all.
This is because your foot does not come off the ground at any point – it remains on the surface of the pedal while they move, eliminating any impact. This reduces stress on the hips and knees in particular.
The good news is that this does not mean any less benefits. In fact, it is understood that the energy expenditure when using an elliptical is the same as using a treadmill with the same pace.
This means that using an elliptical is great for people suffering with arthritis, as you can still enjoy high-paced cardio workouts with less of the pain that running on concrete or a treadmill would cause.
As always, if you do suffer from arthritis or any other condition, check with a physical therapist before starting any new workout routine.
While some exercise – such as running or weight lifting – may cause problems if done every single day for a long period, using an elliptical has less risks.
This is because of the low-impact nature of the machine. When using an elliptical you don’t stress your joints in the same way as you would when walking or jogging on a sidewalk or treadmill.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 minutes of exercise every day for five days a week – more if possible. Jumping on the elliptical every day is a great way to meet and exceed these minutes.
Of course, if you are a senior and need some extra rest, then taking two days away from the machine will probably do you some good.
If you haven’t exercised for a long time and have just bought a new elliptical, then don’t be over zealous – you could risk injury or burning out if you use it too frequently. Aim to start with 15-minute sessions, then build up your time and frequency.
Meanwhile, just jumping onto the elliptical every day may be a nice way to get your body moving and heart rate up, but if you have specific goals such as weight loss, you should tackle your sessions with more purpose.
For example, if you usually just have a light 30-minute jog, you may want to incorporate new things like interval training to keep your body guessing, and burning more calories in the process.
A full guide to every elliptical workout goes beyond the scope of this answer, but searching for elliptical workouts online or speaking to a personal trainer will give you the direction you need.
There we have it – the complete guide to ellipticals for seniors! Hopefully our article and chart will have inspired and informed you. If you are making a purchase any time soon, keep our advice in mind.
Remember that you should make a choice based on your individual needs and requirements, and be aware of the space in which you are going to use your new machine.
Our top seven chart just scrapes the surface of what is out there in terms of cross trainers suitable for seniors so, if you have the time, browse online to see if you can find something more suited to you – you will be surprised at the choice.
Good luck, and enjoy boosting your health and fitness during your senior years!