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In this review:
  1. Cheap Elliptical Trainers
  2. Cheap Elliptical Machines Stride Length, Resistance
  3. Elliptical Reviews
  4. Best Elliptical
  5. Discount Ellipticals Features Comparison Table

Cheap Elliptical Trainers Buying Guide

Exercise enthusiasts and professional trainers love elliptical machines -- cheap as well as pricey -- because they work the whole body with minimal impact to the joints. Your feet never leave the pedals and most have handlebars that move, so you get a dual workout that burns more calories in less time.

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Better yet, exercising with an elliptical machine seems almost easy. You can certainly pay several thousand dollars for this privilege by buying the type of fitness equipment found in a gym. No need, though, because we've identified several cheap elliptical trainers that provide the same benefits, albeit with a few less frills.

The elliptical trainers universe is dominated by several manufacturers that each make a number of brands. Icon Health & Fitness produces NordicTrack, ProForm, Weslo, and Gold's Gym, for example, and Johnson Health Tech Group produces Horizon Fitness and LiveStrong machines. Under each brand name is a daunting array of models, including many in the cheap elliptical trainers segment where prices sit below $800. At the high end of the market you'll find models by the likes of Yowza Fitness, Precor, and Sole Treadmills.

All elliptical machines follow the same basic principle: the user stands upright on the foot pedals and strides either forward or backward while pumping (or not) the handlebars to and fro. As Fitness Equipment Reviews notes, the location of the flywheel (drive mechanism) determines whether the elliptical trainer is rear-drive, front-drive, or center-drive. On rear-drive ellipticals, the flywheel is behind you and the workout motion feels more like walking or jogging. When the flywheel is in front, you lean forward a bit, sort of like working out on a stair climber. Center-drive elliptical trainers have two smaller flywheels on either side of the user and a smaller profile than front- and rear-drive ellipticals; they're also more expensive. The best way to determine which design suits you is to try out the gym equipment at a fitness store.

Here's what defines a good cheap elliptical trainer: a minimum 16-inch stride length; pedals that are close together (preferably no wider than six inches) and larger than your foot; adjustable resistance; and a variety of preset workout programs. A few better cheap elliptical trainers also sport adjustable incline. Consoles with readouts on data such as distance, calories burned, and speed are common, and almost all models come with a heart-rate monitor (of dubious reliability, according to many users). Cheap elliptical trainers sometimes feature a water bottle holder, fan, and/or MP3 port. High-end ellipticals afford more opportunities to customize the workout and feature more frills, such as adjustable stride lengths, bigger and better console screens, cushioning on the foot pedals, and chest straps for heart-rate monitoring; they also generally accommodate higher maximum weights. Based on the reviews we read, frugal exercisers are willing to sacrifice such add-ons in exchange for value; that is, a good price on in-home gym equipment that's sturdy, easy to assemble, and provides a challenging workout.

After assessing features and performance, we picked two best cheap elliptical trainers and two good cheap elliptical trainers; all are front-drive design. The "best" bucket holds the Schwinn 420 (starting at $500), a solid machine with a smooth, whisper-quiet stride, and the Horizon EX69 (starting at $799), a sturdy, ergonomically-focused trainer with a relatively long stride. Our "good" bucket includes the front-drive Nautilus E514 (starting at $537), another quiet and smooth piece of gym equipment, and the ProForm 590E (starting at $582), which boasts rich electronics that compensate for what some perceive as a bit of performance shakiness. We identified two models, both rear-drive elliptical trainers, that don't make the grade despite their low price. The Weslo Momentum 630 (starting at $229) features a small footprint but an extremely short stride and is dogged by reports of poor build quality. Gold's Gym StrideTrainer 380 (starting at $277) is fairly small and lightweight but users gripe about the assembly and some find it unstable.

Bottom line: The best cheap elliptical trainers will give you a serious workout and will likely do so for a good long while. Of course, no elliptical machine is worth even a penny if it sits and collects dust. Your ultimate satisfaction comes with results, be it weight loss, improved cardio endurance, or just a daily endorphin high -- milestones reached only if you use your cheap elliptical trainer on a regular basis. Professional reviewers, muscle magazines, and customers all agree that choosing the right machine for your size and fitness level increases the chances that you'll stay motivated and stick with your exercise routine.

Review continues below

by Elizabeth Sheer (Google+ Profile)

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Best Cheap Elliptical Trainers

Schwinn 420
Gold Medal

Schwinn 420

Some experts consider the Schwinn 420 one of the best ellipticals for less than $1000. It may lack a few bonus features, but its quiet, smooth, and sturdy performance more than compensate.

Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
Horizon EX69
Gold Medal

Horizon EX69

This is the budget buy for consumers who want to replicate at home the elliptical experience enjoyed at a gym. A solid build, 20-inch stride length, and overlapping pedals offer ergonomically-correct and challenging workouts.

Read Full Review and Compare Prices »

Good Cheap Elliptical Trainers

Nautilus E514
Gold Medal

Nautilus E514

You won't find fancy features on this model, but it's well built, quiet, and smooth. If you want to be sure your heart rate is in the target zone while exercising, the wireless chest strap ensures accuracy.

Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
ProForm 590E
Gold Medal

ProForm 590E

The ProForm 590E is all about the features, but it also offers a decent workout. The manually-operated incline isolates different muscle groups and plenty of preset workout programs provide motivating variety.

Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
 

Don't Bother

Weslo Momentum 630

The very short stride length suits users who are very short, very light, or gunning for a low-intensity workout. Many users report it's noisy and wobbly.

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Gold's Gym StrideTrainer 380

This is an entry-level elliptical trainer with a relatively short stride that many users say is good enough but hard to assemble and sometimes a bit shaky. It's the only model we researched that runs on batteries; an AC adapter is available.

Read more »

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