Pity the gym-goer of the early 1990s, for their cardio workout options were limited to the treadmill, exercise bike and rowing machine. That’s because it wasn’t until 1995 that US company Precor introduced the cross-trainer to the world, sparking a revolution in low-impact exercise.
The cross-trainer, or elliptical, has two large platforms you stand on that allow your feet to roll from heel to toe just as when walking or running but because your feet never leave those platforms, you don’t experience the same impact on your joints and muscles. Unlike the treadmill or exercise bike, the cross-trainer also works your upper body via two handles you push while using it, making it a great pick for homes where you only have space for one piece of equipment.
When it comes to choosing a cross-trainer, the first thing to check is whether the flywheel is at the front or back of the machine. Front-drive machines can be more compact and foldable, but the movement involved can feel more like you’re on a stair climber than a cross-trainer. A rear-drive machine, on the other hand, typically offers a longer stride length and a movement that’s more similar to running.
Another key feature to check is the weight of the flywheel, because heavier models make for a more stable, smooth-running machine. If you’re tall make sure to check the stride length and handle size, because too short a stride length in particular can make your workout feel uncomfortable. Other features that may affect your decision are the ranges of resistance and preset workout programmes available, because mixing up your training is one way to stop it becoming boring.
The Best Budget Cross-Trainers (Under £300)
You can dip below £100 and find a usable cross-trainer, but it will undoubtedly be lacking in stride length and sturdiness, so even budget shoppers are well advised to spend around £150 to £300 to get something that doesn’t end up collecting dust.
Fitnessform ZGT Z10 Cross-Trainer 2-in-1 Elliptical Exercise Bike
Getting both an exercise bike and a cross-trainer in one might seem like an excellent deal, especially as this machine costs under £150 – but the dual nature of the ZGT Z10 does mean the cross-trainer functions are a little less impressive than on our other budget option, the JLL CT300. However, you can undoubtedly still get a good workout on the Z10, which has adjustable resistance via a knob, and if you find the cross-trainer features lacking, you can at least go for an indoor cycle. £149.99, buy on amazon.co.uk
JLL CT300 Elliptical Cross-Trainer
The 5.5kg rear-drive flywheel on this machine is no heavyweight, but it allows it to run reasonably smoothly even as you crank up the resistance to the highest of the eight levels available. The console is basic but readable, and the 32cm stride length is just about long enough for most, though it might be a little cramped if you’re over 6ft (1.8m) tall. Price when reviewed £159.99, check price and buy on amazon.co.uk
The Best Mid-Range Cross-Trainers (£300-£700)
In the mid-range bracket you’ll find several excellent machines that will satisfy the majority of home users, with heavy flywheels anchoring cross-trainers that offer a wide range of resistance and preset workouts.
Reebok Z Jet 400 Cross-Trainer
The Z Jet 400 offers a frankly unreasonable 32 levels of resistance, which should ensure you never get bored trying to find exactly the right one for you. It also has 20 workout programmes, including 12 preset options, and a 146mm LCD colour screen. All the better for checking in on which of the 32 (thirty-two!) levels of resistance you’re currently using. £399, buy on powerhouse-fitness.co.uk
Hammer Crosstech XTR
Unless you have an especially long stride or hanker for a gym-standard machine, there is no reason to look beyond the Hammer Crosstech XTR for your cross-trainer. The chunky 16kg flywheel ensures it runs smoothly, and there are 16 levels of resistance and 16 workout programmes. The latter includes four that link to heart rate, which is measured via sensors in the handles. Price when reviewed £395, check price and buy on amazon.co.uk
There are two killer features on the JTX Tri-Fit that make it stand out from other mid-range machines: the adjustable (and long) 40cm-51cm stride length and the four incline options for those who want try some uphill cross-training. There are 16 levels of resistance and 19 workout programmes to pick from, some of which link to the included heart rate-tracking chest strap. Price when reviewed £699, check price and buy on amazon.co.uk
Proform 7.0 Elliptical Cross-Trainer
Sneaking in at just under the £1,000 mark, the Proform 7.0 offers a massive range of training options thanks to the 22 levels of magnetic resistance and an incline range of up sto 20in (51cm). There are 29 preset workouts to pick between and you can adjust the stride length up to 53cm. As well as showing normal stats like distance, time and calories burned, the LCD screen will also provide feedback on your tempo and peak effort levels during workouts – useful info for those keen on pushing themselves to the max. £949, buy on amazon.co.uk
The Best Top-End Cross-Trainers (£1,000 And Up)
For those who want a gym-standard machine that runs silently, offers the best preset programmes and will stand up to years of constant use for many years, you’re looking at spending anywhere from £1,500 to £3,500.
Life Fitness E1 Track+ Console
The E1 is Life Fitness’s entry-level cross-trainer, but it’s still a commercial-standard machine that will easily withstand everything you could throw at it during a lifetime of use. The E1 comes with 20 levels of resistance, 12 preset workouts and two user-customisable workouts. If you opt for the more expensive Track+ console (as opposed to the Go console), the E1 also links with smartphones to track your workouts and create more personalised training options. Price when reviewed £1,799, check price and buy on amazon.co.uk
Technogym Synchro Forma Cross-Trainer With Training Link
As you can imagine, if you have a budget of over £3,000 the cross-trainer world is your oyster, but we’d recommend opting for the Technogym Synchro Forma owing to the integrated MyTrainer programme. This will create a personalised training plan to follow based on your fitness goals which you can follow on a partner app.
If you get the Synchro Forma with Training Link you can also connect the machine to a tablet, which can act as the console to show the details of your workout, as well as showing an endless variety of preset workouts via the partner app. You can also watch videos and listen to music on the tablet while it tracks your workout – essential for keeping boredom at bay. £3,141, buy on johnlewis.com