Mini ellipticals are a popular tool to move more at your desk or while doing other things. Do these things work and how effective are they?
In short, mini ellipticals work in the sense that they help you move a bit more than sitting still and offer all the health benefits that come with that.
At the same time, there are more effective tools too. For example, while they may be harder to combine with focused work, pedal exercisers do generally offer more beneficial health effects when seated at a desk.
When it comes to standing workouts, there are definitely more effective options. Even at home, stationary bikes and mini steppers typically offer more benefits than mini ellipticals.
This article will also put the effectiveness of mini ellipticals into more specific numbers and go over the pros and cons of this piece of fitness equipment.
4 pros of mini ellipticals
Mini ellipticals are not the most intense piece of workout equipment ever but they still have some pros that can make them a good choice for the right individuals.
1. Offers health benefits
Moving more intensely typically leads to health benefits. There are limits when it comes to this but it is close to impossible to reach these with mini ellipticals.
By challenging your body, your start a variety of internal processes that can make you healthier and happier in the long term.
That means mini ellipticals can help weight loss, improve cardiovascular health, improve your mood, improve your sleep, etc. At least to a larger extent than sitting still.
2. Combinable with other activities
One of the benefits of mini ellipticals is that you can easily combine them with other activities. For example, they can help you move more while working at a desk or while watching tv.
If you plan to use your mini elliptical under a desk, you do want to check the dimensions of the machine, your legs, and the desk, to make sure you don’t bump against the desk.
That being said, these machines are typically made for this purpose and in turn, they are often the right dimensions. At least for average body and desk sizes.
Additionally, mini elliptical workouts are typically on the lighter side. This interferes less with whatever you are doing at the same time.
3. Light and compact
Two other pros of mini ellipticals are that they are light and compact. Their weight is often under 28 pounds (12.7 kg).
When it comes to dimensions they are typically under 25″ (63.5 cm) long, 19″ (48.3 cm) wide, and 13″ (33 cm) high.
These details make mini ellipticals not only suited for under desk usage but also relatively easy to store and transport.
4. Allow you to move more at home
Even if you know that moving more is healthy for you, there are some hurdles that can make it more challenging to implement workouts. A few of these hurdles come from exercise outside of your house.
For example, if you walk, cycle, or run outside, weather conditions can make your workout sessions a lot less comfortable. Additionally, driving 15 minutes to your local gym adds up after a few visits.
Mini ellipticals, both the seated and standing models, are useful in the sense that they allow you to move more at home. This removes a few hurdles that make exercise less convenient.
There are definitely other fitness equipment options that offer at-home exercise but at the same time, this is a valuable pro of mini ellipticals for many people.
How effective are mini ellipticals?
The next question is then how effective mini ellipticals are. There are numbers called METs which are estimations to indicate how intense workouts are.
While there is no specific estimation for mini ellipticals, there are some values for similar activities. For seated mini ellipticals you can use the MET estimation of 1.8 for sitting and fidgeting with your feet (1).
You can compare that to the MET of seated pedal exercisers which will be around 3.5 which is the estimation for very light usage of a stationary bike.
Another popular alternative is a standing mini stepper which will have a MET of around 4, the estimation for slow pace stair climbing.
Standing mini ellipticals are less popular but will have METs of around 2.6 for light effort usage and 3.5 for moderate effort usage based on the MET of the elliptical machine and the ratios of stationary bike METS.
In short, mini ellipticals are generally more effective than sitting still for improving your health. At the same time, there are other similar fitness equipment options that are more effective.
Differences in weight loss
A popular goal of desk exercise equipment is burning extra calories. Mini ellipticals can help weight loss but the same goes for these other options.
MET values can also be used to get a rough estimation of how effective all of these are for burning calories.
The average person can expect to burn around 53 – 91+ calories per 30 minutes of using a seated mini elliptical. In the same time frame, a pedal exerciser would burn around 103 – 178+ calories.
30 minutes of using a standing mini elliptical at a moderate pace will burn around 103 – 178+ calories for most people. A mini stepper will be around 118 – 203+ calories.
There is definitely more to life than weight loss but seeing how the differences in intensity and effectiveness between these devices influence calorie-burning can be interesting.
5 cons of mini ellipticals
Similar to other fitness equipment, mini ellipticals are not only pros. There are a few cons to keep in mind to get a better idea about whether a mini elliptical is the right choice for you.
1. There are more effective workouts
Intenser workouts and movements are typically more effective for improving your health. As you can see from the MET values above, there are workouts that are more intense than using a mini elliptical.
Even when seated, a pedal exerciser is generally more intense due to the bigger leg movements.
If you are considering standing mini ellipticals this con definitely applies. Even at home, a stationary bike and/or bodyweight workouts can be more intense.
One thing to keep in mind with these intenser workouts is that it is likely more challenging to focus while using them.
For example, at a desk job, you may value the focus of a mini elliptical more than the movement intensity of a pedal exerciser. The pedal exerciser may also be too big to use under a desk.
2. Can lead to suboptimal posture
Mini ellipticals are often made to be used while sitting down. While you don’t have to sit with a completely straight back every second of the day to be healthy, using a mini elliptical can lead to a suboptimal posture.
If you are already regularly using a mini elliptical and find that this is an issue for you, you could do something like set timers on your phone throughout the day and focus on improving your posture when the timer goes off.
3. There are cheaper equipment options
You can look at this next con from two angles. On the one hand, mini ellipticals are many times cheaper than most of the quality models of bigger workout equipment options like treadmills and stationary bikes.
On the other hand, there are definitely also cheaper equipment options. For example certain pedal exercisers, steppers, and at home a jump rope or resistance bands.
This especially applies to some of the more popular mini elliptical brands.
4. They can be noisy or need to be cleaned
A somewhat common issue of mini ellipticals is that they can become squeaky after usage. Luckily, there are customers that mention they resolved this issue by cleaning the mini elliptical or through other creative methods.
That being said, this cleaning does require a bit of extra time and effort which is a con.
5. Does not really build muscle
Any claims from mini elliptical brands that mention building muscle are generally exaggerated.
To grow and strengthen muscles you have to put them under enough pressure. In combination with the number of repetitions, right nutrients, and rest, your body then makes these stronger.
However, mini ellipticals, especially the popular seated ones, are not that challenging for your muscles.
If you have not worked out in a long time and turn up the resistance you may see a tiny amount of muscle growth. However, even if you do, your mini elliptical workouts will normally become cardiovascular-only-exercise soon.
Are mini ellipticals worth it?
In the end, you have to weigh the pros, cons, and your budget to find out whether mini ellipticals are worth it for you personally.
Mini ellipticals can be worth it for individuals who want to be a bit more active at their desks or during other seated activities where more intense equipment options are too distracting.
You may also simply have a preference for the feel of these devices.
In other situations, especially standing workouts, most people will find other exercise equipment options and workouts more effective and at least as enjoyable.