TreadmillReviews

Best Treadmill Alternatives

Treadmills aren’t the only way to hit the cardio. Trainers and ellipticals offer a low-impact, high-intensity workout experience.
Photo by: Oleksandr Kosheliev / TreadmilReviews.net

Top by Category

Best Overall – NordicTrack FreeStride Trainer FS14i
Best Runner-Up – Bowflex Max Total M16
Best for Beginners – NordicTrack FreeStride FS10i
Best on a Budget – Bowflex Max Trainer M6
Best Overall Deal – NordicTrack C9.9

Treadmills may be a top seller in terms of home exercise machines, but there are alternatives. Whether an elliptical or a trainer, these machines bring a bit of variety to the mix when it comes to cardio. I’ve been an athlete my entire life, and a competitive bodybuilder for about 10 years. As my sports have changed, so have my goals and tools. If you’re looking for a high-intensity cardio workout without the joint stress, and perhaps something more than just running, an elliptical or trainer might be for you.

Peer reviewed academic studies have affirmed that ellipticals can provide just as good a workout as treadmills. The big questions are, what are your goals and limitations? Ellipticals and trainers put less stress on the user’s knees, hips, and back than running or walking. Instead of moving across a horizontal plane, you’ll be elevated and moving vertically. These ellipticals and trainers typically have upper body handles which resemble ski poles. This adds another element to the mix, like walking with dumbbells, although more joint- and tendon-friendly. Ellipticals and trainers can also be pedaled in reverse to give an additional blast to your calves and hamstrings, whereas walking backwards on a treadmill can be dangerous.

An elliptical, or a cross-trainer, is a stationary exercise machine. They’re designed to combine the movements of a stair stepper, a bicycle, and a cross-country ski machine. The name comes from the oval, or elliptical, pattern in which the arms and legs move. With oversized foot pedals instead of a flat tread belt, the feet never pound downward, rather they move with the machine. If you’ve ever though a set of cross-country skis was tough, try one of these. And just like treadmills today, ellipticals have come a long in way in terms of virtual programming. In fact, you can use the same apps for both in most cases. With live trainers coaching you on a screen, Bluetooth heart rate monitoring, music, and adventure routes, there’s little chance you’ll get bored.

Read below to see my top picks for Best Treadmill Alternatives. Having used both treadmills and ellipticals, I have to say the ellipticals do seem to produce more vigorous workout and are harder in some cases. Harder on everything but the joints that is.

1. Best Overall – NordicTrack FreeStride Trainer FS14i

Where to buy NordicTrack FreeStride Trainer FS14i
Where to buy NordicTrack FreeStride Trainer FS14i

Billed as a 3-in-1 machine, the NordicTrack FreeStride Trainer FS14i can serve as a stepper, an elliptical, and even a treadmill depending on the settings. A top tier machine from NordicTrack, the FS14i features a 20-pound center drive, a 32″ auto-adjustable stride, and a compact footprint of 58.5″ x 29.5″ with a max user weight of 375 pounds . The first feature you’ll probably notice is the 14″ HD screen though, and this comes both Bluetooth- and iFit-enabled, meaning it’s built to work with the brand’s own exercise app.

If you’re concerned about a tough workout, don’t be here. Among the winning features of the FS14i are the -10% decline and 10% incline offered and 26 levels of Silent Magnetic Resistance (SMR). It’s pretty rare among ellipticals to find both incline and decline, and this certainly increases the workout intensity. Magnetic resistance is both smooth and silent, a top choice for exercise machines today.

For a NordicTrack, FreeMotion, or ProForm machine, the iFit fitness app is part of the deal as the screen is built to work with that program. What’s unique about iFit is that it brings automatic trainer control and live instructors from remote locations. This means the machine can adjust resistance to match the workout program or trainer’s demands. A separate SmartBeat heart rate monitor can be used to do the same with your heart rate. Like most workout apps, users can access thousands of on-demand workout routines, but iFit also brings Google Maps workouts that let users stroll the world. All in all, iFit is a very unique program. That said, if you don’t like it, you can still use the machine in manual mode but the screen does lose a lot of value.

In terms of warranty, the FS14i offers 10 years for the frame, 2 years for parts, and 1 year for labor. Read our review of the NordicTrack FreeStride Trainer FS14i here.

ProsCons
  • Premium 14″ HD touchscreen
  • 10% incline and 10% decline
  • 26 levels of Silent Magnetic Resistance
  • Without iFit, screen loses value
  • 20-pound flywheel is a bit light

Key Specs

Motorn/a
Resistance26 levels SMR
Decline/Incline-10% – 10%
FoldingNo
Top Speedn/a
Weight Capacity375 LBS
Dimensions58.5″ x 29.5″ x 74″
Screen14″ Smart HD Touchscreen
Warranty10-Year Frame, 2-Year Parts, 1-Year Labor

2. Best Runner-Up – Bowflex Max Total 16

Where to buy Bowflex Max Total 16
See Price

The Bowflex Max Total M16 offers users a great alternative to treadmills with the features of both a stepper, elliptical, and perhaps even a treadmill. Sporting a 16-inch interactive console and HD touchscreen, the machine comes with a complimentary one-year membership to the JRNY Fitness App. The M16 offers 20 levels of resistance and weighs only 155.4 pounds, but can handle up to 300 pounds in user weight. The machine measures 49.3″ x 30.8″ x 65.7″ and comes with a dual-rail design and six-grip handlebars.

A big plus to the M16 is the JRNY Fitness App. Typically priced at $149 per year, purchase of this machine comes with a full year included. Downloadable onto any device, including smart television sets, the JRNY program offers thousands of classes and can be used with other machines as well. JRNY has an artificial intelligence platform which customizes new workout recommendations based on past performance and offers real-time coaching. Purchase also comes with an armband for heart rate monitoring and the unit is Bluetooth-real-time coaching. Purchase also comes with an armband for heart rate monitoring and the unit is Bluetooth-enabled. Unlike other apps, JRNY works with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and the Disney+ for use on the same screen. And yes, the machine works without JRNY, but you do lose quite a bit of value.

The M16 comes with a warranty of 3 years for the frame and parts, 1 year for electronics, and 90 days for labor. Read our review of the Bowflex Max Total M16 here.

ProsCons
  • 16″ HD Touchscreen
  • JRNY Fitness App
  • 20 levels of resistance
  • Short warranty

Key Specs

Motorn/a
Resistance20 levels
Decline/Inclinen/a
FoldingNo
Top Speedn/a
Weight Capacity300 LBS
Dimensions49.3″ x 30.8″ W x 65.7″ H
Screen16″ HD
Warranty3 Years Frame and Parts, 1 Year Electronics

3. Best for Beginners – NordicTrack FreeStride Trainer FS10i

Where to buy NordicTrack FreeStride Trainer FS10i
 See Price

The NordicTrack FS10i brings a tight package to the home gym. A 3-in-1, it can serve as an elliptical, a trainer, and a treadmill. Built with a 10-inch screen, it offers a 32-inch auto-adjustable stride and 20-pound center drive with 24 levels of Silent Magnetic Resistance (SMR). This machine also features a 10% incline function and can hold up to 375 pounds. The machine measures 58.5″ x 29.5″ x 74″ and offers Bluetooth audio by way of two digitally amplified speakers. The Bluetooth features also work with heart rate monitors.

Like other members of the NordicTrack family, the FS10i comes iFit-enabled and that means the screen is part of the deal. Built with automatic trainer control, the machine can adjust itself n terms of resistance according to the iFit programming, which includes built-in programs as well as live training. This is what makes iFit unique among fitness apps. The app also brings Google Maps workouts and can interact with a SmartBeat heart rate monitor.

The NordicTrack FS10i comes with a warranty of 10 years for the frame, two years for the parts, and one year for labor. Read our review of the FS10i here.

ProsCons
  • 10% incline
  • iFit automatic trainer control
  • 24 levels of Silent Magnetic Resistance (SMR)
  • Bluetooth-enabled
  • Smaller screen

Key Specs

Motorn/a
Resistance24 levels of SMR
Decline/Incline0 to 10%
FoldingNo
Top Speedn/a
Weight Capacity375 LBS
Dimensions58.5” x 29.5” X 74”
Screen10″ HD touchscreen
Warranty10 Year Frame, 2 Year Parts, and 1 Year Labor

4. Best on a Budget – Bowflex Max Trainer M6

Where to buy Bowflex Max Trainer M6

The Bowflex Max Trainer M6 comes in at the lower end of the price range for trainers and ellipticals, and yet it still brings the bang for the buck. Measuring 46″ x 26″ x 64.2″ the unit sports a maximum user weight of 300 pounds. Compact enough to fit in any home gym or even wheeled over into a corner, the M6 brings 16 levels of resistance to the game. Don’t be fooled. Even though other units offer more levels, the M6 has plenty to keep even advanced athletes sweating. Like these other units, it’s a combined elliptical and stair stepper and you can fully engage the calves, hamstrings, and quads all while going backwards or forwards.

The M6 features a small 5″ screen and burn rate monitor, with Bluetooth heart rating monitoring included. Built to work with the Bowflex JRNY Fitness App, the machine comes with a two-month trial membership. Users can download JRNY onto other devices and access thousands of on-demand classes as well as artificial intelligence-style training. Unlike other apps, JRNY also works with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Prime Video, and Disney+ and users can access this through tablets or smart televisions. Bluetooth-enabled, you won’t have to worry about connectivity. Yes, the machine will work without JRNY, and because there’s not as big a screen with the M6, it’s not that big a deal.

The Bowflex Max Trainer M6 comes with a warranty of two years for the frame and parts, as well as 90 days for labor. Read our review here.

ProsCons
  • Lower cost
  • 16 levels of resistance
  • Bluetooth-enabling
  • Smaller screen
  • Shorter warranty

Key Specs

Motorn/a
Resistance16 levels
Decline/Inclinen/a
FoldingNo
Top Speedn/a
Weight Capacity300 LBS
Dimensions46” x 26” x 64.2”
Screen5″ HD touchscreen
Warranty2 Years Frame and Parts, and 90 days Labor

5. Best Overall Deal – NordicTrack Commercial 9.9

Where to buy NordicTrack Commercial 9.9
Where to buy NordicTrack Commercial 9.9

Part of the NordicTrack+ program, the NordicTrack Commercial 9.9 comes free with a four-year commitment to iFit. Priced at $39 per month for the family plan, other NordicTrack machines come with a price tag for both, but with this machine, you can either pay one up-front price of $1,872 for both, or just pay $39 per month. That’s a hard deal to turn down frankly as most of these machines lose a bit of value without their apps.

And yet it’s still a great machine for sure. Built with a 7″ Smart HD Touchscreen and Bluetooth audio capabilities, two machine comes with two 2″ digitally amplified speakers. A front-drive elliptical, the unit comes with a 25-pound inertia-enhanced flywheel and 22 levels of Silent Magnetic Resistance (SMR), a 17.5-18.7″ auto-adjustable stride. The unit features a power-adjustable incline with up to 20% incline by way of one-touch controls.

Measuring 68.25″ x 28.75″ x 68.5″ with a maximum user weight of 350 pounds, the unit weighs 244 pounds in-box. Obviously the machine is iFit-enabled and comes automatic trainer control, as well as Google Maps technology and the ability to access live training. In terms of warranty, the machine brings 10 years for the frame, two years for parts, and one year for labor.

ProsCons
  • Free machine with 4-year iFit package
  • Automatic trainer control
  • 20% incline
  • Bluetooth-enabled
  • Locked into iFit for four years
  • Smaller screen

Key Specs

Motorn/a
Resistance22 levels of SMR
Decline/Incline0 – 20%
FoldingNo
Top Speedn/a
Weight Capacity350 LBS
Dimensions68.25″ x 28.75″ x 68.5″
Screen7″ Smart HD Touchscreen
Warranty10-Year Frame, 2-Year Parts, 1-Year Labor

PROS
  • Treadmill alternatives put less stress on the joints
  • Treadmill alternatives like cross-trainers can work both upper and lower body muscles
CONS
  • Treadmills are better for race preparation

The comparison: Treadmills versus the alternatives

Enough peer-reviewed studies have been published on this topic to state that ellipticals and cross-trainers are acceptable alternatives to treadmills. But there’s no question they are different. I’d also note that exercise bikes can also provide an excellent cardio workout but we’ll stick to those machines which keep their users in an upright position for now.

The most obvious benefit to an elliptical is that your foot is constantly on the pedal which moves, and this eliminates the need to raise and lower it repeatedly as you would when walking or running. This also reduces the pounding effect of hard running and the damage that can come from that impact. One study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research noted this as a reason ellipticals can be used by runners while recovering from running-related injuries. In terms of oxygen consumption, energy expenditure, and heart rate though, the elliptical is just as good and in some cases better.

So what’s the case for treadmills? Treadmills do a better job of tracking mileage for most people. If you’re preparing for a 5K race, then getting your timing down is important. The tracking on ellipticals is based more on time spent or energy output as opposed to running. This is largely in the user’s mind, but there’s no doubt if you’re training to run for time than treadmills are more for you. There’s also some evidence that suggests treadmills are better for burning calories, but that’s largely due to the extra movement of picking up your feet and varies with the individual. In terms of the other metrics, there’s little difference.

Back to ellipticals and cross-trainers, the body gets more muscle action with the arms and shoulders being involved and the movement is like cross-country skiing. One downside to these alternatives in fact is that it’s a lot easier to just zone out and walk on a treadmill, whereas ellipticals make you keep the pedals pumping.

iFit on ProForm H14

Interactive workouts are a key feature on treadmill alternatives. Photo by: Oleksandr Kosheliev / TreadmilReviews.net

Workout Programming

If you’re worried that ellipticals might be boring, don’t. These days most major brands produce both treadmills and their alternatives and you can use the same apps. In fact that’s one of the big selling points to programs like iFit and JRNY. Bluetooth heart rate monitors and handlebar sensors are included on these as well and whatever you goal is, you’ll be able to bop right along on these units too.

One big plug for the iFit system is the automatic trainer control which allows the machine, or instructor, to manage your resistance for you while exercising. JRNY by Bowflex on the other hand has partnerships with Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services. Popular workouts for ellipticals can range from High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to slower, long distance movements.

But even if you don’t want all the bells and whistles afforded by these apps, the machines can work without them. The great thing about home fitness equipment is you can always park the machine in front of a television and simply work.

A big advantage to trainers and ellipticals is how easy they are on the joints. Photo by: Oleksandr Kosheliev / TreadmilReviews.net

Trainer Tips

I love my knees, I do. But seriously, I’ve been a competitive bodybuilder and powerlifter long enough to know what barbell squats can do to them. The same holds true for my back when deadlifting. If you’ve been banging your body around all these years, a good elliptical or cross-trainer might be the ticket. There’s a gentle roll to the machine which lessens the impact on your joints without sacrificing the cardio effort. You can also feel the work in your quads and hamstrings more on these as opposed to a treadmill. If you’re a bigger, heavier person, this might be more for you rather than simply pounding on the treadmill. Ellipticals might actually make more sense than treadmills for lifters, and that’s one reason you’ll see professional bodybuilders using steppers so frequently.

Conclusion

When it comes to cardio, the sky is the limit these days. Alternatives to treadmills are quite varied indeed. If you’re looking for a great workout but don’t want the stress, or even boredom, of simple running, check out an elliptical or cross-trainer. You’ll find just as many programs as you will on any other piece of equipment and maybe even get a better total body workout.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do treadmill alternatives measure up in terms of price?

Just like treadmills, prices vary widely. We've chosen a selection here that compete well in terms of return for the dollar.

Do ellipticals and cross-trainers feature interactive training?

Yes. All of the models we've listed here come with brand-specific apps, but there are hundreds of other programs that can be used as well.

How many times a day can I use my elliptical?

That really depends on the program and goals. But given that these machines are more joint-friendly, you can certainly put in more miles without concern.

Do ellipticals and cross-trainers require maintenance?

Yes. Check the manufacturer's instructions as some require lubrication. Be sure to check the machine regularly for loose bolts.

Can I use both an elliptical and a treadmill?

Absolutely. The ellipticals and cross-trainers combine the motions of a stepper and cross-country skis. If you're preparing for a race you can certainly incorporate both a treadmill and these into a workout plan.