Can’t or don’t want to have an elliptical trainer at home but still want to stay in shape? Here are the best alternatives to an elliptical trainer that are perfect for any home gym.
The best alternatives to an elliptical trainer require you to use a lot of muscle mass, are low impact and can provide high and low intensity workouts. The best options are; rowing machines, a Stairmaster and or a stationary exercise bike.
Let’s get into what the best elliptical trainer alternatives are and why they are actual alternatives.
What does an elliptical trainer do
To find alternatives, we have to find out what an elliptical trainer actually does for you. When we know that, we can find alternatives that are similar.
There are a few things that elliptical trainers are good at providing;
- Low or high intensity cardio workout
- Great for weight loss because of the amount of muscle mass used
- Lower and some upper body muscle exercise
- Low impact exercise
- Can be relatively compact although not all models are
First and foremost, an elliptical trainer can give you a great cardio workout while having a low impact on your joints. Machines like a treadmill can be quite harsh on your knees and ankles because of the impacts on the belt. An elliptical trainer has foot pedals your feet should stay on. That means there isn’t a real hard impact.
You can choose to do a low intensity or high intensity workout. An elliptical trainer does both very well.
And finally an elliptical trainer does give you a pretty complete full body workout. Because you don’t only use your lower body but also your upper body although to a lesser degree. Because an elliptical trainer has the levers for your arms. That pushing and pulling motion means you’re using arms, back and chest to some degree.
Don’t expect to get big like a bodybuilder just from using an elliptical machine. However, if you’re not in great shape at the moment, and you use high resistance on the machine, you can expect some modest results.
Because you use a lot of different muscles at the same time, this machine is great for burning calories. More muscles used means more calories needed to move them all. Combined with a good diet, that means it’s effective for weight loss.
Elliptical trainers can be more compact than treadmills although some models are about the same size. For home use there are a lot of elliptical trainers available that are smaller than the average treadmill though.
What can replace an elliptical trainer?
So now we have a few things the alternatives have to do. It’s difficult to get the exact same movement pattern so the alternatives won’t have that but they will have the majority of the benefits of an elliptical trainer.
A treadmill isn’t really a good alternative for a few reasons; They take up more space, are high impact and use less muscle mass. If you have the space and like running, go for it but I wouldn’t classify it as a direct alternative for an elliptical.
A rowing machine is the best alternative to an elliptical trainer. Sure, the movement is quite different but it does tick a lot of the boxes described above.
Rowing machines provide low impact exercise while you can choose to have a low or high intensity workout. You use your whole body and especially the whole posterior chain (muscles on the back of your body.) That means most muscles in your legs but also your buttocks, lower back, upper back, back of the shoulder and biceps.
This is a set of muscles many people overlook anyways to it’s great to have a machine that kind of forces you to exercise them. The amount of muscle used also means you have the potential to burn a lot of calories.
It doesn’t focus on the muscles in the front much but if you’re looking for those, those are easy to get with some other bodyweight exercises.
Rowing machines are pretty long but narrow. So to use them, you need quite a bit of space but, when not in use the slide rail can fold up on many models which means it’s very compact.
A Stairmaster is a really cool piece of equipment although quite bulky and expensive. However, if you’re looking for a really awesome cardio workout and want to get nicely toned legs and buttocks, it’s hard to beat.
It’s basically just a rolling flight of stairs that never ends. You can control the speed so the intensity can be high or low but it’s not great for people that are less mobile. If you have trouble climbing stairs, this is not the machine for you.
Because you’re walking up a set of stairs you’re lifting your body weight constantly. Basically you’re doing small lunges constantly. That’s great to build your legs and buttocks. It also takes a lot of calories even though you don’t really use your upper body much.
Stationary exercise bike
If you want something that is excellent for a cardio workout that’s low impact but don’t care that much about the upper body training effects? A stationary exercise bike is a great choice for this.
Exercise bikes come in different shapes and sizes although all of them are pretty compact. They take up the least amount of space of any class of cardio machine.
A spin bike is great for high intensity exercise while a recumbent bike is great for low to medium intensity workouts although high intensity is certainly possible as well. The seating position of a spin bike is quite bent over so it’s good for producing a lot of power from the legs. A recumbent bike has a backrest which means it’s better for long duration workouts.
This is something completely different. A fitness sled is not the same as the thing you hurl down a snowy mountain on. It is something you can slide though.
A sled is used for conditioning mainly by strongmen and crossfitters. It can be a little bit intimidating but once you get the hang of it, it’s great.
It works very well for conditioning and some strength/muscle building. It’s a very simple piece of equipment that will last forever and doesn’t require any motors, bearings and other things that require maintenance.
You can load them with weight plates to increase the resistance to a level that’s good for you although it’s always pretty intensive. They are relatively compact, provide upper and lower body exercise with a medium level of impact.
There is one big drawback to having a sled as cardio machine though; you need a decent length of free space and a surface to slide on. The surface has to be slippery enough to slide a heavy sled over while resisting abrasion but at the same time provide enough grip for your feet to be able to push the sled.
Certain types of gym flooring are specifically built for this. Normal gym flooring is too grippy though. The specific gym flooring for sleds is quite expensive since it’s mainly only used in commercial facilities.
Most people use artificial grass which works quite well although it won’t last as long and doesn’t have as much grip for your feet. It’s a whole lot cheaper and easier to get though. That only leaves the space. You want at least about 20 feet of length free. For most people that won’t be inside but in the garden or driveway.
For people that don’t want a machine or anything large at all, a kettlebell is actually a great tool. A kettlebell is a ball of steel with a handle on it so you can hold it with two hands.
Working out with a weight does mean you’re training a little bit more for muscle growth than pure cardiovascular exercise although you will certainly be out of breath if you use it right. It’s very possible to modify the exercises to have a higher cardiovascular impact.
Kettlebells are very small, literally just about the size of an old school kettle. Even if you get a few different weights, it’ll be a lot smaller and cheaper than any full size cardio machine. Another benefit is that
On the flipside, you’ll probably want some (online) mentoring to make sure you’re doing it right and get inspiration for different exercises. A cardio machine can usually only be used in one way. Kettlebells can be used for a lot of different cardio and muscle building exercises making them one of the best bang for the buck pieces of home gym equipment.
Favorite Cardio Machine Accessories
Check out these accessories that improve a home cardio workout:
- Equipment mat: All cardio equipment should be put on an equipment mat. The Rubber-Cal mat (Amazon) is an affordable yet very high quality choice.
- Interval timer: To time your intervals and workouts, there is no better choice than the GymNext Flex. It’s super easy to use and set up with a phone app.
- Tablet holder: Cardio can be boring. With this tablet holder (Amazon) you can follow along with on-demand workouts or just watch a movie on any cardio machine.
- Heart rate monitor: Monitoring your heart rate is very important while doing cardio. The Polar H10 (Amazon) connects to almost anything you can imagine and is very accurate.
To find which cardio machines I recommend for home gyms, click here.