Commercial gyms worldwide seem to observe an unspoken code: At least one cable machine must be out of order, they never play the song you want when you want it, and they always — always — keep a sweaty elliptical machine tucked away in the corner.
Public gym music may be a travesty, but we can get behind the elliptical.
This cardio machine provides a full-body, low-impact aerobic workout in about 20-30 minutes. But if you’re tired of wiping down the last person’s flop sweat before reaping those benefits, there are plenty of at-home elliptical options. We like the Diamondback 1280ef Elliptical (more on that below).
If you’re considering clicking “add to cart,” minimize that window for a few minutes and keep reading about what to consider before buying an elliptical machine.
This space-friendly elliptical provides the same Big Box gym cardio session minus strangers' flop sweat. Use coupon code BB2DF10 for 10% off.
Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.
What to Consider Before Buying an Elliptical Machine
There are a few key things to consider before choosing the right elliptical. You need a machine that fits both your body and your living space, and it needs to be able to track your progress. Additionally, you may want some fun features on top of all that like entertainment apps or connectivity with a tablet or smartphone.
Here are some things to consider before buying an elliptical machine to get your cardio gains from home (or, if you’re a gym owner, choosing the right brand for your business.)
Consider: Space-Friendly Features
If you’re purchasing an elliptical for home use, take the time to do the following:
- Find out the footprint — or total floor space — that you have available for the machine, including width, depth, and length. Consider both the height of the machine and your height to find out how much space you’ll need between your head and the ceiling.
- Think about buying an elliptical with wheels so you can easily maneuver it around your home.
- Opt for a version that uses magnetic resistance (like the 1280ef Elliptical) versus flywheel technology. The flywheel typically sits behind the machine and therefore takes up more space.
- Check out the storage specs. If you want space for your water bottle, phone, or tablet, check if it has accessible holders for these items while you work out.
- Find out the weight limit of the machine to be sure it’s right for you. One benefit of elliptical machines is that they’re safe for all fitness levels and many body types. Since your feet never leave the pedals, there’s little impact on your joints, and they can be safer for folks with larger bodies.
Consider: Adjustable Stride Length
The size of the machine matters, and so does the orientation of your body. Everyone has a different body structure, and you want to choose a machine that will accommodate your limbs correctly for proper muscle engagement.
Different stride lengths work better for people of different heights. More than your overall height, the length of your limbs — the distance from hips to knees to ankles — may call for a different stride. An elliptical mimics walking but is not walking, so a slower, longer stride with resistance is one way to increase your heart rate. A shorter, quicker stride is another option.
Check out the size of the foot pedals; they should be big enough to comfortably fit your feet. There are benefits to pedaling forwards and backward, since changing the direction can target different muscles in your anterior and posterior chain. Choosing a machine that pedals both ways can help you get the most bang for your buck.
The position of the flywheel, or other resistance mechanism, matters for the overall size of the machine, but it might also dictate your posture. On an elliptical, you want to have good core engagement by standing up tall, without overly extending your low back.
Getting a long session on an elliptical is generally safe due to the minimal impact on your joints — but depending on your posture and core engagement, it can start to strain your lower back.
A rear flywheel creates a flatter movement pattern, helping you to stay in a more upright and posture-friendly position. Front-loaded magnetic resistance will have you lean forward slightly, but it engages more of your glutes and hamstrings. Neither is better than the other — it all depends on the user’s preference.
For your arms, you can choose to hold on to stationary handles to focus on your lower body or choose a machine that has ergonomic swing arms to engage your upper body. Check for foam grips at multiple spots for a comfortable hold and heart rate sensors on all places you may put your hands.
Consider: Connecting to Smart Monitors
All types of workouts can be tracked and increased by using the principle of progressive overload. Whether you are tracking fat loss, maintaining muscle mass, or improving your cardio fitness, it may be helpful for you to choose a machine that monitors your progress.
Your heart rate matters for all types of goals. You can find out your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Then, to get your target heart rate, decide what percentage of that — or which zone — you want to work towards, depending on your goal. (1) You can use this to track your heart rate recovery as well.
Smart apps on an elliptical can make this process more straightforward, so you’re working at the right level for your goals. Besides heart rate, opt for a machine that has both pre-set workouts and manually adjustable settings to manipulate your existing program.
A quick start button is perfect if you’re short on time, so check for that too. If you want to see the data, smart apps on ellipticals can keep track of your watt output, distance, calories, load, speed, resistance, and RPM (revolutions per minute). You can manipulate one variable at a time when designing your program and track your progress over the days, weeks, and months.
Consider: Connecting to Entertainment Apps
We’ll level with you: Elliptical workouts are hard, not complicated. Continuously gliding back and forth (and back and forth) for minutes on end can feel like a slog, which is why we suggest choosing a model with a screen that lets you stream shows or podcasts. (Hey, your heart doesn’t know if you’re re-watching The West Wing for the fourth time). As long as you’re working, you’ll see progress.
Check which apps are available, whether that’s streaming, music, or mapping apps that give you an experience of going somewhere as you stride along. You’ll want an easy-to-use touchscreen to navigate the apps.
If you’re more into working while you work out, check if there’s space to put your tablet or phone so you can check those emails while you sweat.
Consider: How Quiet It Is
While you may be using your headphones to listen to music or voicemails, you’ll still want to consider how quiet — or loud — the machine is while you’re using it. Whether you’ve got a baby sleeping in the next room, have a noise sensitivity, or want to respect your first-floor neighbor, you probably don’t want a really loud elliptical machine.
Look into the motor or resistance mechanism when figuring out the noise level of the elliptical you’re choosing. Find out if it makes any noise when it’s at rest and how much you can expect when it’s in use.
The Diamondback 1280ef Elliptical Trainer
When taking into consideration space-saving features, noise level, stride length, and ability to connect to smart apps and entertainment, the Diamondback 1280ef elliptical trainer could be a great choice for you. Let’s get into the specifics.
1280ef: Physical Set-Up
The Diamondback 1280ef has a small footprint of 4 x 3 feet. When fully assembled, it’s 50 x 36 x 66 inches; when it’s in use and you’re pedaling, you’ll need 65 x 36 x 67 inches. Note that you’ll also need 11 inches above your head, so you’ll want to measure the distance from your ceiling as well. It’s one of the smallest machines on the market.
This machine requires about an hour of light assembly and comes with instructions and tools. The Diamondback 1280ef weighs 180 pounds, lighter than other brands.
Instead of a rear flywheel, the Diamondback 1280ef has a magnetic resistance mechanism in the front, which allows for an upper and lower body resistance workout without taking up the extra space.
If you need to move it around once you’ve set it up, it has wheels on the front, adjustable floor levelers, and rear stabilizers. It can support up to 350 pounds and has a built-in water bottle holder and shelf for your tablet.
1280ef: Walking Experience
The Diamondback 1280ef features adjustable stride lengths that you can switch between 17 or 22 inches. This is helpful for people of different heights and with limbs of different lengths. The foot pedals are oversized and fit all feet. They’re spaced three inches apart, allowing a natural motion.
The pedals are low to the ground, so it’s easy to get on and off the machine. The Diamondback 1280ef features backward and forwards pedaling, so you can change it up if you want to focus more on your anterior (front) muscles or posterior (back) muscles.
The arms of the Diamondback 1280ef are ergonomic and swing to match your stride, so you can push and pull with your upper body muscles with ease. The handlebars, if you choose to rest your arms, are durable with foam grips.
1280ef: Smart Tracking
The Diamondback 1280ef has a smart monitor that can keep track of all your workout data, allowing you to note your progress as you improve. And for more metrics, there’s a 10-inch touchscreen display that keeps track of your watt output, time, distance, calories, RPM, load, and speed.
It will also track your heart rate, either from its hand pulse sensors or your external heart rate monitor. The Pulse Recovery feature keeps track of your heart rate recovery — how quickly you return to your resting heart rate after a bout of effort — an important indicator of cardiac health. (8)
The Diamondback 1280ef uses magnetic resistance to provide multiple levels of resistance, which is key to building lower body strength and muscle. If you’re in a rush, you can press quick start and get going, or you can choose from pre-set workouts focusing on different muscle groups, goals, and heart rate zones.
You can also design your own custom workout — or follow one created by your coach — by manually adjusting resistance, speed, and time.
1280ef: Entertained While You Train
In addition to tracking your data, the smart monitor can also connect to WiFi and be used for entertainment. It has apps for Netflix and Chrome, as well as iRoute and Kinomap, which may make your journey a bit more interesting.
The Diamondback 1280ef also has a tablet holder and USB charger, so if anything is missing from the built-in apps, you can get them on your own device. Watching a show can be a great way to motivate yourself to do your cardio workout, but always pay attention to your form for safety and best results.
1280ef: Quiet Machine
According to an FAQ on the Diamondback 1280ef, it’s very quiet, and you can barely hear it while it’s in use. This is due to the magnetic resistance, which is quieter than a typical flywheel motor. It allows you to adjust your intensity without interrupting your workout or making a lot of noise.
Benefits of Elliptical Machines
Elliptical machines can be space-saving, quiet, and help you efficiently track your heart rate and workouts to make progress over time. They have plenty of benefits that make them a great choice for a cardio workout. Let’s dive in.
Safe On Joints
Compared to other common forms of cardio — bodyweight circuits and running — elliptical machines may be a bit more joint-friendly. They mimic the action of walking, but your feet never leave the pedals. You can increase speed and resistance to progress your difficulty without any impact or stress on your hips, knees, or ankles.
For folks recovering from a lower-body injury, elliptical workouts may be recommended. (2) It’s a way to safely load your joints, strengthen your muscles, and get a cardio workout as you recover.
For older folks, weight-bearing exercise is important for bone density. Women, in particular, are more likely to experience osteoporosis, and weight-bearing exercise can help prevent or manage the condition as they age. (3) If you’ve been told by your doctor to try resistance training, the elliptical is probably a better choice than a recumbent bike, and it’s still kind to your joints.
Upper and Lower Body Strength Workout
While the elliptical machine is a great option for cardio, you can also make it a strength-building workout for your upper and lower body. Here are some coach’s tips on how to maximize your time on the elliptical.
- Spread your feet evenly on the pedals. Press through each foot, with extra emphasis on your heels to activate your posterior chain. Squeeze your glutes and hamstrings as you move. Increasing the resistance will make this more effective.
- Draw your abdominals in and maintain a neutral spine position to keep your core engaged and protect your spine. Using your core on the elliptical gets you an extra ab workout, so you can skip the sit-ups for the day.
- If you’re using the elliptical arms, think of actively pushing and pulling them, rather than holding on and letting them guide you. Use your back muscles, scapula, biceps, triceps, and chest. Maintain a solid grip on the handles without overly squeezing, to train your grips as well.
- If you want to focus more on the lower body, hold on to the stationary handles, increase the resistance, and squeeze your glutes. If you’re going for full-body, make the most of it and engage everything.
Boost Cardiovascular Health
According to the physical activity guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, the American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise per week to improve fitness and prevent cardiovascular diseases. (4)(5) Regular cardio exercise has also been shown to lower blood pressure, improve heart health, and prevent and manage cardiovascular diseases. (6)
The elliptical machine is a great option to get your heart working, and having a machine at home keeps it convenient. Elliptical machines can detect and track your heart rate, and you can use this information to improve your VO2 Max and heart rate recovery as well.
Improve Balance And Mobility
For young and old folks, balance and mobility are important traits. Especially for older folks, balance exercises have been linked with the prevention of falling and other injuries. (7) The elliptical requires you to maintain stability and balance through your core and legs as you train your cardio.
It’s also a good way to practice rotary stability — or maintaining your core and spine position as you move through your extremities. (8)
Mobility-wise, you are getting a lot of good work through a customizable range of motion as you move your arms and legs. Staying engaged through your muscles helps you control your range of motion, improve mobility, and may even have carry-over effects on your strength gains.
A Time-Saving, Space-Saving Sweat
A cardio workout on an elliptical machine can be an efficient, full-body, muscle-engaging experience. To get the most out of it, it’s important to have good form and keep track of your progress over time. If you’re ready to buy one for your gym or for a great at-home workout, there are several factors to consider.
This space-friendly elliptical provides the same Big Box gym cardio session minus strangers' flop sweat. Use coupon code BB2DF10 for 10% off.
Be sure that the machine will fit in your space and that the foot pedals and weight limit are right for your body. Check out how much noise it makes, which can be indicated by the style, size, and placement of its resistance system.
Also, find a machine that allows you to track your heart rate and progress over time on a smart app. (A touchscreen and WiFi connectivity are also preferred.) For more fun results, see if it can track your binge-watching on Netflix as well.
Engage your glutes and core, and get pedaling.
- Target Heart Rate and Estimated Maximum Heart Rate, Centers for Disease Control website https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/measuring/heartrate.htm
- Eken MM, Withers A, Flanagan K, Burger J, Bosch A, Lamberts RP. Muscular Activation Patterns During Exercise on the Treadmill, Stepper, and Elliptical Trainer. J Strength Cond Res. 2022 Jul 1;36(7):1847-1852.
- Benedetti MG, Furlini G, Zati A, Letizia Mauro G. The Effectiveness of Physical Exercise on Bone Density in Osteoporotic Patients. Biomed Res Int. 2018 Dec 23;2018:4840531.
- Piercy, Katrina L., and Richard P. Troiano. “Physical activity guidelines for Americans from the US department of health and human services: Cardiovascular benefits and recommendations.” Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes 11.11 (2018): e005263.
- Lanier JB, Bury DC, Richardson SW. Diet and Physical Activity for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention. Am Fam Physician. 2016 Jun 1;93(11):919-24. PMID: 27281836.
- Nystoriak MA, Bhatnagar A. Cardiovascular Effects and Benefits of Exercise. Front Cardiovasc Med. 2018 Sep 28;5:135.
- Thomas E, Battaglia G, Patti A, Brusa J, Leonardi V, Palma A, Bellafiore M. Physical activity programs for balance and fall prevention in elderly: A systematic review. Medicine (Baltimore). 2019 Jul;98(27):e16218.
- Cook G, Burton L, Hoogenboom BJ, Voight M. Functional movement screening: the use of fundamental movements as an assessment of function-part 2. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2014 Aug;9(4):549-63.
- Qiu S, Cai X, Sun Z, Li L, Zuegel M, Steinacker JM, Schumann U. Heart Rate Recovery and Risk of Cardiovascular Events and All-Cause Mortality: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. J Am Heart Assoc. 2017 May 9;6(5):e005505.