If you’re stuck at a desk all day at work and are looking for a way to keep yourself a little more active while you work, you might not think you have many options. After all, what kind of exercise can you do while you’re sitting down?
If you’re looking for a great way to counter the time you spend sitting at your desk at work every day or if you just want a way to expend a little more energy while you’re sitting on the couch watching TV, an under-desk elliptical might be exactly what you’re looking for.
It’s possible that you’ve never heard of under-desk ellipticals before but they’re an amazing thing to have if you want to burn extra calories in the time you’d usually just spend sitting down.
After you use a desk elliptical for a while, you’ll find that you don’t really even need to think about it much.
Pedaling becomes automatic and you might not even realize that you’re burning calories while sitting at your desk or in your favorite chair in the living room while you’re watching TV.
Our buyer’s guide will explain just a little more about the features available on various models of desk ellipticals and help you figure out what qualities to look for to find the right fit.
Then, our reviews will introduce you to the six best desk ellipticals of this season, which include a wide variety of options from high tech to low, motorized to manual.
If you’re unfamiliar with desk ellipticals or if you aren’t sure what things you need to know to find the right one for you, our buyer’s guide aims to help clear up any confusion and offer you a few tips so you know exactly what to look for.
Who Benefits from a Desk Elliptical?
Recent research suggests that sitting for long periods of time can have devastating effects on your health, but there are circumstances when sitting can’t be avoided.
If you have a job that requires you to sit at a desk for long periods of time, you don’t have much choice.
Another group of people to consider is those living sedentary lifestyles. This could be because of bad habits or there may be legitimate reasons why people aren’t able to exercise.
For example, older people suffering from arthritis may not be able to handle any medium or high impact exercise.
Or, people who are obese and need a way to slowly ease into an exercise routine might feel overwhelmed at the idea of joining a gym or even be unable to get outside for a walk.
Whatever the reason, finding a way to stay active during what are usually inactive periods is a way to boost your health or maintain all the hard work you’ve already put into exercising.
For anyone looking for a way to increase their activity to counteract periods of sitting, a desk elliptical is a great way to keep moving that is much less expensive than a lot of home gym equipment.
It’s important to mention here that desk ellipticals are not meant to replace going to the gym or other kinds of more intense exercise.
They are a great way to counter long periods of inactivity and can help avoid the damage that is caused by extended periods of sitting down.
Some Factors to Consider
If you’re going to use your desk elliptical at work, under your desk, make sure you choose one that is quiet, especially if you work in an office where your desk is located in a cubicle.
Your co-workers aren’t going to appreciate listening to you pedaling away and you may even be asked to stop using it.
As for home use, you have a little more leeway, but if you’re going to use it, say, in the evening when you’re watching TV with your family, it’s still a good idea to make as little noise as possible.
High or Low Tech
A lot of desk ellipticals are pretty simple and don’t even require a power source, but you can find some that have a lot of high tech features.
There are options available that can connect to an app through BlueTooth to keep track of your “steps” and you can even sync them to you FitBit so you can count your pedaling toward your daily goals.
In the end, this boils down to personal preference and how connected you want your desk elliptical to be; either way, your body is still getting the benefits.
You will need to know how much clearance you have between your knees and underneath your desk in addition to knowing the pedal height if the desk elliptical you’re considering.
You should easily be able to find out the pedal height, which is the height of the pedal at its highest point. If you don’t have enough clearance, you won’t be able to use your desk elliptical without constantly bumping your knees.
You can test how much pedal height you need by stacking boxes or books up underneath your desk, sitting in your desk chair, and placing your feet on the stack to see how high the stack has to be before you hit your knees.
Say you have made a stack that’s ten inches high and your knees aren’t touching the underside of your desk yet. Then, you’ll know that a ten-inch pedal height or lower is what you need to look for.
If you’re really tall with long legs or if you have a desk that is particularly low, there are desk ellipticals available that have pedal heights as low as eight inches.
Resistance is the measure of how hard it is to pedal. Most desk ellipticals have several different tensions you can choose to make it easier or harder to pedal. Some have as little as three options while others can go up to eight.
For some people, three will probably be enough, but if you want something a little more challenging, more settings give you the choice of having a more strenuous workout.
All desk ellipticals allow you to sit and pedal. That is their main purpose so this isn’t surprising. That said, you can find some that will give you options to get more of a workout. Some of them can be used when standing.
You can use this if you have a standing desk or add in some weights and work your arms while you pedal.
We even reviewed one model that has optional tension cord attachments so that you can work your arms and legs while sitting or standing, all with one machine.
Obviously, desk ellipticals that have more features are going to cost a little more. High tech models with BlueTooth connectivity that sync with an app and a fitness tracker are going to be a lot more than a simple analog version.
It’s great if you want to invest in a more expensive piece of equipment. When you consider that you’re potentially sitting at your desk for 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, that’s a lot of use that your machine will be getting.
More expensive models will be higher quality and durable enough to last for a long time.
But don’t let the high price of these models discourage you. There are reasonably priced models, too, that work just as well and are essentially giving you the same exercise, just without all the added bells and whistles.
There is a desk elliptical that will fit any budget.
Best Desk Elliptical Reviews
The Cubii Smart Under-Desk Elliptical is a state of the art way to get yourself moving. It’s Bluetooth enabled and syncs with a mobile app so you can check out your progress throughout the day.
Stay motivated by checking out how many calories you burned, how many minutes you were active, and how many miles you “walked.” Set goals for yourself and start groups with your friends and co-workers.
You can even sync your Cubii to your FitBit, making your elliptical use count toward you 10,000 steps so you can do even more.
The ergonomic design takes your sitting posture into account so you’ll easily be able to use this machine without any discomfort or awkwardness.
This low impact exercise is great for anyone with joint problems and a great way to start easing back into some form of exercise. It’s quiet so you won’t disturb the people around you if you’re using it in an office cubicle setting.
It has a compact design but it’s recommended that you have about three inches of space between the bottom of your desk and your knees so you can use your Cubii without compromising the ergonomic position or banging your knees.
One thing that sets the Cubii apart is that it is the only NEAT Certified desk elliptical by the Mayo Clinic. NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.
To qualify, any product has to demonstrate that it increases energy expenditure over sitting by more than 10%. Cubii increases it by 84%.
You can choose from eight different resistance levels and, with the right RPMs and resistance, you can burn up to 125 calories an hour. It’s a great way to jumpstart a new healthy routine.
- Bluetooth enabled
- App tracks progress
- Eight different resistance levels
- This is the most expensive model that we reviewed.
- Can only be used when sitting down.
The Stamina InMotion Elliptical Trainer is unique in that it can be used multiple ways: sitting, standing, or even in reverse motion.
Mounted to the top of the machine so you can see it when you’re exercising is a monitor that will tell you how long you’ve been going, how many strides you’ve taken, and the number of calories burned.
Tension is easily changed with a large, easy to use knob that you simply turn to get less or more as needed.
Even high tension is relatively quiet so you can easily use this in a cubicle or even at home while watching television without disturbing anyone else in the room.
Textured pedals help you keep your grip so, sitting or standing, you can go as hard as you want to.
You can choose from three different color accents – black on black, orange on black, or green on black. This is a really affordable option if you’re not looking to invest too much money.
- Forward and backward motion
- Can use sitting or standing
- Very basic
- No app
- Low tech
For something with a little more versatility that can be used to do a few different exercises, try the Stamina InMotion Compact Strider. This model allows you to work both your upper and lower body.
It even has a carrying handle so you can take it with you wherever you know you’re going to be sitting for a while or just to carry it from room to room in your house.
The included monitor will track your progress and tell you how long you’ve been exercising, how many strides you’ve taken, and the number of calories burned.
You can easily adjust the tension as you pedal forward or backward to use different muscle groups.
This model is available both with and without resistance cords though, if you want to use it to workout your whole body, you’ll need the corded version.
Simply use the handles to pull the tension while you’re pedaling the machine and your arms will get a workout, too.
- Can work out both upper and lower body
- Very basic
- Low tech
The j-Fit Under Desk & Stand Up Mini Elliptical/Stepper has adjustable pedals so you can use it sitting or standing up with no adjustments needed – you simply need to turn it 180 degrees.
You can tweak the position of the pedals using three different adjustment modes so you can always get the right fit.
While this is a larger size than some of the other models we reviewed, it’s still compact enough to sit underneath most desks as long as you have sufficient clearance for your knees.
Though on the large size, the company has taken care to make sure that this desk elliptical remains portable. A top handle and front rollers make it easy to move from room to room or the turn it around to change from sitting to standing.
The large wheel gives you a quiet ride so you won’t disturb your office mates.
The LCD monitor tells you how long you’ve been going, how far you’ve gone, how fast you’re going, and how many calories you’ve burned. If you want to amp up your activity a bit, simply turn the tension dial.
This mini elliptical is moderately priced and available in two colors, pewter and navy/black.
- Can be used sitting or standing
- Price is fair
- Low tech
The FitDesk Under Desk Elliptical uses a unique forward and backward motion that is similar to the same one that you’ll find on larger machines. In fact, this machine has the lowest rotation height available.
At only eight inches, it can work with shorter desks that are as low as 25 inches high. If you’ve tried other machines like this and had trouble with the range of motion required to take advantage, this model from FitDesk might be a great fit.
You can change the tension between eight different settings and the foot-shifter allows you to easily do this with your feet as you’re working out. Need a break? The attached foot massager will help soothe your tired seat between workouts.
There are wheels on the bottom for easy transfer. The built-in wheel lock helps avoid any problems that might come up from trying to use it when it’s mobile when you’re sitting in a moveable chair.
You also get a digital meter that’s attached right to the top of the body of the design. From here, you can check your stats to keep yourself motivated focused on your task!
- Optional desk stand for digital meter
- Very fluid forward and backward motion
- Foot shifter allows for hands-free tension adjustments
- A little bigger and potentially stiffer than other units
DeskCycle Fitness has a desk elliptical that offers 8 levels of resistance along with a bi-direction resistance capability. It offers an LCD 6-function display.
You can use this under-desk cycle with desks as low as 27 inches so it’s great to have that versatility. The magnetic resistance mechanism is quite smooth compared to some ellipticals as well.
The pedals can be raised to a height of 10 inches or down to 9 inches for better clearance of the desk.
The calibrated resistance settings mentioned earlier offer a range from easy to challenging and that is actually more than twice the range of many other elliptical exercisers. Here’s a quick look at the rating of each of the resistance levels;
Level 1 or 2 – rated for warm-ups and cooldowns.
Level 3 or 4 – rated for light cardio or rehabilitation exercises
Level 5 or 6 – rated for endurance training, and …
Level 7 or 8 – rated for muscular toning
This trainer is exceptionally quiet while in use, and it has the ability to log your activity to a Fitbit! It offers a 4.6 out of 5.0 rating on Amazon and nearly 1,600 reviews.
That speaks volumes and it’s a very good thing! Many products have only 2 or 3 reviews while many others have NO reviews at all!
- VERY well rated on Amazon
- Connect to Fitbit
- 8 levels of resistance
- Can only use when sitting
- Like any product, there are sometimes inconsistencies in product manufacturing (ie. clicking sound while functioning). If you experience problems, just return for exchange.
Final Thoughts & Conclusion
If you want something that’s the absolute cutting edge of technology, you can’t get better than the Cubii: Smart Under Desk Elliptical.
Sync the machine to an app on your smartphone with Bluetooth technology, connect it to your FitBit, and increase your energy expenditure with this NEAT certified elliptical.
If you’re looking for an elliptical that’s a little more versatile, try the Stamina In-Motion Elliptical Trainer. You can use it standing or sitting, forward or reverse.
Easily change the tension and choose from three different accents colors. For a simple, easy to use machine that’s affordable and uncomplicated, this is a great pick.
The Stamina InMotion Compact Strider is also versatile in a lot of ways, most notably because it gives you the option of working out your upper body, too, when you choose to add the resistance cords.
It’s also easy to operate and low tech if you want something that’s both accessible and affordable.
The jFit Under Desk & Stand Up Mini Elliptical/Stepper is a little larger than some of the other models we reviewed, but it’s built to support you whether you’re sitting or standing and has adjustable pedals so you can get the perfect fit similar to a treadmill.
It’s still easily portable and comes in two different colors.
FitDesk Under Desk Elliptical best recreates the motion of a full sized elliptical. It’s the best one for smaller spaces because its rotation height is only eight inches so you don’t need a lot of leg clearance.
It has eight different tension settings and includes a foot massager that comes in handy at the end of a long day.
The Sunny Health & Fitness Motorized Auto Assisted Elliptical Peddler Exerciser has a motorized option that will give light assistance for pedaling forward and backward, but if you want to use it without the help, you can easily turn it off.
It comes with non-slip pedals and an anti-slip pad for extra safety and is a great choice for someone who will be using their desk elliptical as their main piece of home gym equipment.
With these great options, you’re sure to be able to find one that will work best for you. Whichever you choose, you’ll be making the right decision for your body and your overall health.
These machines help keep you active when you have to be sitting for hours on end and are a great addition to any cardio workout routine.