In the most recent refresh of this article highlighting the best budget ellipticals, we made some changes to the chart.
Two new ellipticals were added, including the popular Doufit EM-01 and the SF-E905 from Sunny Health & Fitness.
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Just wander into any commercial gym and you will witness a crowd of elliptical users striding their way to fat loss, increased stamina and great physical health.
However, just because you prefer to train at home and are working to a tight budget, it doesn’t mean you have to miss out.
In fact, the entry-level elliptical market is flooded with affordable machines, all capable of providing calorie-burning low-impact exercise in the comfort of your own home.
But can you get the same core experience as a gym-grade machine on a budget? Today we are going to explore this question, while highlighting seven of the best ellipticals you can buy for under $300.
After this, we will take a closer look at budget ellipticals and what considerations you should make before buying one online.
Stride Length: 13.5”
Resistance: 8 levels
Features: Front flywheel, moving and fixed handles, anti-slip foot pedals, LCD screen, pulse grip heart rate monitor, water bottle holder, media shelf, transportation wheels, 264lb weight capacity
This affordable model from MaxKare offers plenty for the budget buyer, while proving that you don’t need to spend much to end up with a very functional elliptical for your home gym.
This lightweight machine features a front-mounted flywheel providing a smooth and quiet motion for an effective workout. While the 13.5” stride length may be too short for taller users, it’s longer than some of the other machines in this budget range.
There are eight levels of magnetic resistance on offer, selectable via the tension dial below the main console. The included LCD screen is one of the more basic in this range, although it displays your time, speed, distance and heart rate feedback, with pulse grip monitors built into the handles. A media shelf and water bottle storage round off a good-value unit.
Stride Length: 13.5”
Resistance: 8 levels
Features: Rear flywheel, moving and fixed handles, large textured pedals, LCD screen, pulse grip heart rate monitor, water bottle holder, media shelf, transportation wheels, 250lbs weight capacity
In the budget elliptical market, it’s tough to select one cross trainer that stands out as the best – they all have their own pros and cons. One of our current favorites is the EM-01 from Doufit.
Even though it is restricted by budget, it gives you good fundamentals and a few extras that combine for a sense of value. While the stride length still feels too abbreviated for taller users, 13.5” is better than some of the 11” models elsewhere in the budget zone.
The all-white EM-01 features both fixed and moving arms, with a pair of heart rate monitors on the fixed handles. There’s also an LCD monitor, media shelf to hold your devices, and a water bottle holder.
Stride Length: 11″
Resistance: 8 levels
Features: Rear flywheel, moving and fixed handles, anti-slip foot pedals, LCD screen, pulse grip heart rate monitor, floor stabilizers, transportation wheels, 220lb weight capacity
Simple, compact and effective – there’s a reason that the SF-E905 from Sunny Health & Fitness is one of the most popular budget ellipticals around.
With a small footprint of 17” x 28”, this elliptical won’t take up your entire living room, although it still provides you with a decent workout. This is made possible due to the eight levels of magnetic resistance, which is enough for working up a sweat.
There are two sets of handlebars, with the fixed handles offering pulse-grip heart rate monitors, feeding the data to the LCD monitor at the front of the machine. Of course, being a compact budget machine, the stride length is a bit short at 11”, so taller people may want to look elsewhere. Still, for the price, smaller users will be very tempted.
While it’s a pretty basic design, there is a lot going for this no-nonsense elliptical, which comes in at one of the lowest prices on this list.
Perhaps the biggest selling point of the SF-E902 is that, at 37lbs, it is very lightweight, while it also folds to half its size – ideal for small spaces. Despite the compact nature, the stride length is also the best on this list at 30”, which allows for a fast-paced workout, no matter what your stride.
An adjustable abdominal pad offers additional support, making this elliptical very comfortable to use. Of course, the tiny LCD monitor provides basic workout feedback. A rudimentary but surprisingly good elliptical for those shopping on a budget!
Stride Length: Unspecified
Features: Steel frame, patented split suspension system, LCD monitor, two workout DVDs, nutrition guide, water bottle and holder
If you are a shopping channel fan, you may have stumbled across the Gazelle Freestyle, endorsed by ‘America’s personal trainer’ Tony Little. While it may seem gimmicky, this unit fully deserves its place on this chart for the solid low-impact workout it can offer.
The sturdy steel build inspires confidence, while the patented dual-action split suspension system offers a smooth motion, allowing you to naturally switch from a slow walk to a full sprint – just like its namesake animal!
Unfortunately, there is no resistance, although the ability to reposition your body to target different muscle groups keeps workouts interesting. This elliptical is great value by itself, although this value is enhanced by the inclusion of two workout DVDs, a nutrition guide and a water bottle.
Stride Length: Unspecified
Features: Adjustable resistance, fan blade flywheel, oversized non-slip footpads, LCD monitor, fully adjustable seat, built-in transportation wheels
The BRD2000 is another wallet-friendly offering that takes a standard elliptical and bundles it together with an upright bike for an extra dimension to your home workout. The result may not be the smoothest of rides – and is definitely targeted towards fitness beginners – but this concept works surprisingly well.
This lightweight machine features a fully adjustable seat, allowing you to find the perfect level for your height. A simple tension adjustment knob can increase the difficulty of workouts, although it’s not as advanced as our top picks.
The BRD2000 comes with a basic built-in display unit, which allows you to track your progress including duration, distance and speed. The stride length is expectedly quite short, but it remains a fine choice for shorter users.
Stride Length: 10”
Features: Multiple color choices, resistance dial, textured pedals, compact design, LCD screen, forward and reverse function
One of the best-selling elliptical machines on the market happens to be this compact strider from Stamina. Measuring at just 24.5” x 17” x 11.4”, the InMotion E1000 is ideal for storing and using under your office desk, as well as anywhere else you can imagine – providing you can put up with a little operation noise.
This sturdy steel unit can be used while sitting and standing, as well as in both forward motion and reverse. Even though the stride is pretty tiny, the addition of an adjustable tension knob is good for workout variation.
While very small, the onboard LCD screen displays a few workout stats, including time and strides taken. A basic but very functional unit that’s ideal for users tight on space and budget.
If our chart on the best inexpensive ellipticals has inspired you, then great – you are taking the first step to effective calorie-burning at home!
However, before you dive in and buy the first elliptical you see, there are some factors you should consider.
The budget elliptical market is flooded with cross-trainers that aren’t suitable for certain scenarios – not to mention some downright poor units – so take some time to understand what to look for.
In this section we will discuss some of the things you should keep an eye out for when buying a cheap elliptical. Keep them in mind to avoid ending up with a lemon!
Most budget models will feature the tried and tested elliptical design, featuring a pair of oversized pedals for your feet and a pair of handles to hold onto.
If there are two pairs of handles, one will be shorter and stationary, while the other will be longer and move in conjunction with the foot pedals. This pair allows you to grab on and move your arms at the same time – actively pushing and pulling – to deliver a surprisingly effective full-body workout.
All the moving parts will either be connected to a flywheel or will simply connect to the frame.
Due to less features and lightweight builds, budget ellipticals tend to be quite compact by default. However, some will take this a step further and fold up to reduce their footprint after the workout is complete.
Some ellipticals will even come with small wheels on the base to allow you to wheel the unit into position for your session, then store it away afterwards. These are good features to have if you are short on space or the elliptical isn’t going to be set up permanently.
If you are extremely tight on space, you should check out the super-compact ‘under desk’ ellipticals. As the name suggests, these mini units are able to fit in small spaces, such as under desks or tables.
While they obviously lack upper-body handles, and the stride is very small, they are ideal for office workers or for burning a few calories as you watch TV.
Finally, even in the budget range, you will find some hybrid models. These incorporate other workouts into the same machine, such as a stationary bike. The benefit of these is that you can enjoy different movements on the same machine.
However, be careful – machines offering too much at an entry-level price often fail to deliver on some aspects. Check individual reviews and decide if multiple workouts are something you need before buying something you regret.
When you are using an elliptical machine at the gym, it’s unlikely you will have paid much attention to the stride – how far your feet can move.
This is because commercial ellipticals have huge stride lengths, capable of catering for the stride of the tallest people without limitations. In an ideal world – on most high-end ellipticals – you can enjoy the freedom of an open stride.
Sadly, budget ellipticals don’t offer this same freedom. The stride length on an entry-level model tends to range from around 10” to 16”. Whether or not this will be a problem will depend on how tall you are and the speed you want to use.
For example, if you are tall and using a machine with a short stride, the experience is going to be difficult and uncomfortable, bordering on the unusable.
However, if you are shorter and only want to reach modest speeds, then an elliptical with a short stride will work fine.
There are no written rules, although it is generally agreed that if you are around 5ft, you can usually make do with a machine featuring a stride length of around 14” to 18”.
If you are around 6ft, you should aim for an elliptical with a stride length of around 20”. Any taller than this and ideally you should go for a machine with over 20” for less restriction.
However, many taller people who simply want to use an elliptical to walk or keep their legs moving at home can make do with a shorter stride. If shopping in this budget range, they may have to!
Unlike a good motorized treadmill, you are the motor when it comes to an elliptical. Your arms and legs power the machine and will determine how fast you move.
While moving fast can be a good thing, if you are moving too quickly the resistance may not be high enough.
The problem with this is that, with too little resistance, you are probably relying more on momentum than muscle to power your workout. By doing this, you are not working your muscles effectively and are not raising your heart rate enough, which results in a much less effective workout.
Going too fast due to no resistance also opens you to the risk of a pulled muscle, as you soar along and your body struggles to cope with the speed.
Ultimately, you want some resistance to add some difficulty, so your legs and arms have to actually do some work.
However, this is where we have a slight problem.
In higher price categories, we take it for granted that ellipticals come with good resistance controls. In fact, some more advanced ellipticals will come with 25+ levels of resistance, allowing you to tailor a workout to your exact specifications.
Unfortunately, in this budget section, resistance controls are less common. In fact, some entry-level ellipticals have no way to add resistance at all.
If there is resistance on offer, it will be basic. Most of the time it will be in the form of an ambiguous dial that you can turn to differing levels.
Occasionally, you will find some with more advanced dials, offering up to eight levels of magnetic resistance. These are good features in this category, and help set some models apart from their competitors.
With very little to control on these basic machines, many do not have control modules. However, you will come across several cheap ellipticals that at least offer LCD screens.
These will still be small and basic, but will provide feedback on your workout. You can usually expect to see stats such as your workout time, speed, steps taken, distance travelled and calories burned. If your machine is fitted with heart rate sensors on the handles, it is also likely to reveal your heart rate data.
With these systems, don’t expect precision – the screen may give you a good indication of your heart rate and of how many calories you have burned, although it’s not likely to be entirely accurate.
Truth be told, in this budget range, providing you find an elliptical that gives a smooth operation with enough resistance to suit your needs, you can’t ask for much in terms of additional features.
In fact, most of these entry-level ellipticals don’t even offer a space for your water bottle!
The comfort-enhancing extras you would find in higher price ranges – such as full-color screens, speaker systems, extensive workout programs, built-in cooling fans and Bluetooth connectivity – are all several steps above this category.
Still, some inexpensive cross-trainers do have a few extras to offer.
As we mention above, most budget units will feature a basic LCD screen, which allows you to track your progress during the workout.
Heart rate monitors are another feature often seen in this range. These will be built into one set of handles, capturing your heart rate as you exercise and displaying it on the LCD screen. As with any built-in heart rate monitor, the results are rarely pinpoint accurate, but will give a good indication of your exertion.
As a bonus, some budget ellipticals offer things like DVDs and workout guides to help you plan an effective exercise strategy with your new machine. These are a good addition, although should never be the sole reason for buying the elliptical in the first place.
These days, commercial gyms are as well stocked with ellipticals/cross-trainers as they are with treadmills, rowing machines and exercise bikes.
But what do ellipticals actually offer when compared to the other fitness machines?
In short, an elliptical provides a low-impact way to increase your heart rate and stamina, while burning calories. Despite its reputation as an easier machine to use, an elliptical can work your entire body without stressing your joints.
Unlike a treadmill or exercise bike, a cross-trainer allows you to incorporate your arms to push and pull the poles at the same time as your legs, resulting in more energy expenditure. Meanwhile, your core is more engaged as it attempts to keep the body balanced.
However, to feel the real benefits, you must ensure you use correct posture and that there is enough resistance to make the movement challenging enough.
It is too easy to jump onto an elliptical with the resistance set too low, then stride wildly at high speeds, using momentum instead of energy. This is a sure-fire way to see no results and look quite strange in the process!
While you can easily spend a few grand on a high-end elliptical, it isn’t necessary. There is a wide range of inexpensive ellipticals on the market, catering for people on a budget.
Of course, these entry-level cross-trainers are not a like-for-like substitute for the ellipticals you would find in a commercial gym. There is a reason these machines cost thousands of dollars!
So, which is the best inexpensive elliptical?
We have highlighted a selection of seven in our chart above, although this just scrapes the surface of what you can find if you put some time in.
While we often change our chart to reflect the most popular ellipticals on the market, there are a few factors to consider to determine the best unit for you.
One of these is the stride length, as having a stride that is too long or too short for you can result in an awkward and uncomfortable experience.
The resistance is another important factor. While it can be fun to soar along at top speeds with no resistance, the majority of this speed will be caused by momentum and won’t be giving you an effective workout.
So, finding an elliptical with varying degrees of resistance is important, as it allows you to change the ways you work your muscles.
Of course, the size of the unit can play an important part too. If you live in a small house or an apartment, you may not be able to find room for a large cross-trainer. If this is the case, you may want to look towards a compact elliptical or a unit that folds.
There is more information on stride length, resistance and design in the sections above, while our main chart will offer a glimpse at what we consider the best ellipticals on the market today.
In short, yes. In slightly longer… it depends on several factors!
Firstly, it’s worth remembering that you cannot spot reduce a certain area of your body fat. This means that you cannot use an elliptical (or any form of exercise) to reduce fat in one specific area – whether that’s your arms, belly or butt!
Your body stores fat where it likes and no amount of sit ups, crunches, or elliptical work will be able to target the fat stored around your midriff.
However, the good news is that ellipticals will help you burn calories which, when combined with a good diet, will help you shed body fat – including that pesky belly fat.
Providing you are in a calorie deficit, you will lose bodyfat. To be in a calorie deficit, you simply have to consume less calories than you use on a daily basis. In addition, many people use exercise to help create a more significant deficit – which is where an elliptical comes in.
On average – and depending on your current weight – you burn around two calories for every pound of bodyweight per 30 minutes spent on an elliptical.
This roughly equates to around 300 calories per 30 minutes for a 150lb adult, and around 400 calories per 30 minutes if you weight 200lbs.
Of course, these are all estimates. However, these estimates give you a good idea and reinforces the fact that a session on the elliptical will contribute to a calorie deficit. Just don’t pig out on a pizza after your workout!
The intensity of your workout also makes a difference. It’s no good jumping onto a cross-trainer and striding along at a low resistance – you are more likely using momentum to create this speed.
While there are lots of instructional articles and videos on good elliptical workouts, try to ensure the resistance is high enough to make the workout feel difficult. This should be enough to raise your heart rate (ideally to around 80%) and get a sweat on.
Ultimately, if you are able to hold a nice conversation during your session, you aren’t working hard enough.
Doing things like changing the resistance, changing the direction (forward or reverse), taking your hands off the poles, and using pre-set workout programs can also mix up your workout and keep your body guessing – which usually results in a greater calorie burn.
There is only so much of this you can do on a budget elliptical, like those we highlight on this page. If you are serious about losing fat and want to do it on a cross-trainer, an elliptical costing around $1,000 will offer you more scope to incorporate these techniques.
The answer to this question depends on what you are hoping to achieve. If you are hoping to burn more calories, then yes – the elliptical is a little better than walking.
A recent Mayo Clinic report estimates that a 160lb person will burn 314 calories per hour when walking at a pace of 3.5mph. The same person using an elliptical at a moderate pace will burn approximately 365 calories.
While not a mammoth difference – compared to the 600 calories that the same person would burn while running at 5mph – spending five hours a week on an elliptical will result in around 250 more calories burned than having spent that time walking.
Ellipticals also come with another benefit, in that they are low impact. Exercising on an elliptical reduces the stress you place on your body – around 30% less than walking. So, if you suffer from joint pain or are returning from injury, an elliptical may be better than a walk.
Of course, walking does have its own benefits that outshine ellipticals.
For starters, the added stress walking causes will help strengthen the muscles in your legs slightly. If you are older and want to retain muscle strength, walking will help you do it more so than using an elliptical.
Walking is also a great way to get outside in the fresh air and spend time in nature. Of course, you could drag your elliptical out into the garden, but it doesn’t have the same appeal. A good walk around a local park, beach or forest will sooth the soul more than an hour in the gym!
Our suggestion? If possible, use a mix of exercise to keep things interesting and your body guessing. Incorporate both walking and elliptical training into your week, in addition to some sort of resistance training.
After reading this article, it should be pretty clear of the benefits that ellipticals have to offer, as well as the limitations that afflict budget ellipticals.
Despite their drawbacks, these days spending under $300 on an elliptical can still mean you end up with a good home exercise machine. While there are various secondary features to consider, the most important thing is to go for an elliptical that provides a good core performance. Anything else is a bonus.
On our chart, we’ve selected the MaxKare Elliptical Trainer as our top pick, although another unit may work better for you, depending on your height and how hard you want to train.