Elliptical machines are popular because they are easy on your joints, are good for your heart and provide a smooth, all-around workout by combining running and cross-country skiing motions. But finding an economical home model that feels as solid as the one at the gym can be difficult (I once broke three, under-$1,000 models in a week). The four machines listed below -- all of which include heart-rate monitors -- cost substantially more than $1,000. But the rattle-free, club-quality workouts they provide are worth it.
The feel of being in the club
Precor 5.21i EFX: A midrange model with lots of features from the pioneer of elliptical machines.
Likes: Feels like a club machine. The incline on the Precor is not only adjustable, but ranges from 13 to 30 degrees -- a unique and valuable feature for home machines. The higher the angle, the more calories burned (due to increased use of big muscles of the thigh and buttocks). By changing the stride angle, you can work a variety of leg muscles.
Dislikes: No true upper-body workout; lacks the arm handles of many other brands and Precor's own 5.33 EFX (which lacks adjustable incline). Pricey.
Price: $3,499. (800) 4PRECOR; precor.com.
A workout for the arms, legs and heart
Life Fitness X5l Cross Trainer: Lighter-duty version of the machines found in many health clubs.
Likes: All-body workout with synchronized arm and leg motion. This is the only elliptical with an adjustable stride length, from 18 to 24 inches. The longer stride length is good for simulated running. Two holders for water bottle, cups or cell phones (others have one).
Dislikes: You can't adjust the incline. Slightly more wobbly than gym models. Strides feel choppy at shortest length. Pricey.
Price: $3,499. (800) 735-3867; lifefitness.com.
A moderately priced all-body workout
Schwinn Personal Trek 427p Elite: Moderately priced design in a compact package.
Likes: All-body workout with arm and leg movements. Long stride length (19.5 inches) feels natural, like running. Rock-solid feel. Small footprint, about 4.7-feet long, is one-third shorter than Precor and Life Fitness. Plenty of programs and readouts. At less than $2,000, a great value.
Dislikes: Console has cheap appearance. No incline adjustability.
Price: $1,999. (800) 864-1270; schwinnfitness.com.
Saving space, saving some cash
Vision X6200 HRT: Low-cost, space-saver design that has most of the features you'll need.
Likes: Folds for storage to about 3 feet in length. Arm and leg motion. Smooth, solid and quiet, especially for a fold-up machine. Wide handles don't crowd hands when they are in the nonmoving center position. Low price. Same solid feel in lower-end X6100 model ($1,399), which lacks a heart-rate monitor and gym-style display screen.
Dislikes: No water bottle holder.
Price: $1,799. (800) 335-4348; visionfitness.com.
-- Roy M. Wallack