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Whether you’re watching Netflix, chillin’ on the sofa, or taking a video call, you can pedal through it all.
As walking pads and treadmill desks continue to rise in popularity, we folks who prefer seated momentum prefer an alternative: under-desk
ellipticals. Useful for remote workers and couch potatoes alike, under-desk ellipticals are low-impact exercise machines that allow you to pedal as you sit in a chair or at a desk. They’re a great way to stay active during moments you would otherwise be still, and they’re way more practical to use in the office than rollers or trainers.
“Any activity is better than no activity, and pedaling under your desk certainly helps you meet your 10,000 daily step count,” says Marissa Miller, an ACE-certified fitness trainer. “A recent study shows that under-desk pedaling can help prevent obesity and diabetes, lowering your risk of heart disease by managing insulin resistance.”
If you need a solution for staying active during your workday or even a low-impact workout to use in conjunction with physical therapy, we’ve rounded up the best under-desk bikes and ellipticals to assist your movement. We’ve also included premium picks for bikes for those serious workers looking for walking pad alternatives. Just because you’re sitting down doesn’t mean you can’t stay in motion.
Looking for more ways to workout at home? Check out our picks of the best power towers, Peloton alternatives, and indoor cycling trainers.
Under-desk ellipticals take a lot of wear from the movement of your legs and feet, so it’s vital to find a durable one. Miller says a rubberized non-slip bottom on a machine may not hold an under-desk pedaler in place. She recommends finding one that can strap to a chair or desk, or pairing your machine with a grippy floor mat.
“The pedals should also feature grooves or traction to keep your foot in place, as well as an adjustable strap,” Miller advises. This will keep your feet in place and plant the device firmly on the ground.
Cheaper under-desk ellipticals risk breaking, so be wary of purchasing machines with thin pedal straps. Also look for under-desk bikes that use magnetic resistance flywheels, as these rely on magnets to adjust pedal resistance instead of padding that can wear out over time and require maintenance.
If you’re looking to build muscle with your under-desk elliptical or bike, reach for one that offers multiple resistance levels. This is usually a knob you can turn to adjust your machine’s tension. Miller says resistance can help change your body and make you feel stronger and taller while boosting your metabolic output, promoting stability, and even improving cognition and alertness. Without a resistance knob, you may feel your under-desk elliptical is too easy to pedal, so we recommend getting one with resistance.
Under-desk ellipticals can get noisy depending on the machine’s flywheel. Magnetic flywheels are best for combatting this whirring sound as they don’t use physical pressure to create resistance. Cheaper under-desk elliptical models rely on physical contact with the pads mentioned above, requiring users to turn a knob to press a leather or felt pad against the wheel to create tension. This causes noise that worsens over time and requires lubricant to fix. Stick to mini-ellipticals that use magnetic flywheels for quiet operation, especially in an office environment.
We found the best under-desk ellipticals by searching through dozens of models and asking an ACE-certified fitness trainer what makes an effective pedal exerciser. We also checked out what other publications, like the Strategist, Prevention, and Sports Illustrated, had to recommend. We considered products to match various user needs, whether for budget-oriented fitness or low-impact devices for physical therapy. This list includes the seven best under-desk ellipticals, which can provide an effective at-home workout for couch potatoes, remote workers, and people who need low-impact exercise.
The DeskCycle 2 is the perfect under-desk pedal exerciser for most people given its quiet operation, low profile, adjustability, and wide resistance range. Its LCD screen tracks speed, distance, time, and calories burned, while the resistance adjusts up to eight settings from low to high.
The DeskCycle 2 also has adjustable height to fit your knees comfortably under your desk while you’re pedaling, dropping as low to the ground as nine inches for use with desks as low as 27 inches.
The DeskCycle 2 has a companion app that you can use to track activity. However, its Bluetooth adapter is sold separately for $30. Users love this under-desk elliptical for its ease of use and quiet operation, with some saying it’s perfect in office environments. Users also say the cadence sensor pairs well with FitBit and Apple Health apps, helping track activity.
If the straps of our best overall pick deter you from pedaling, the Cubii JR2 may be right for you. This under-desk elliptical offers the same functionality of the DeskCycle 2, but with larger, strap-less pedals for your feet to move freely. It also has an included handle to make it easier to move around your home.
I’ve personally tested the JR2 and can attest to its “whisper-quiet” operation and smooth pedaling. I love the amount of tension the machine’s eight levels of resistance provide, and its low profile makes it easy for mindless pedaling while reading a book.
Cubii’s companion app for the JR2 provides hundreds of workout videos and ideas to support your at-home exercise routine. Users love how low-impact the pedal exerciser is on their joints, though some note frustration at how heavy the machine is, which makes it less portable than cheaper models, and the lack of Bluetooth. Like the DeskCycle 2, Cubii fixes the Bluetooth problem with a premium model, the JR2+, for $30 more.
Own a standing desk? With this mini elliptical, you won’t have to settle on sitting or standing upright for your pedal action because it can handle both.
The Jfit under-desk mini elliptical has adjustable angle pedals that can adapt to stand-up or sitting pedaling. Its handles make it easy to move around the home or office space, and a front loop helps it stay put when you’re using a chair with wheels. A magnetic tension dial lets users adjust resistance, and an LCD screen records time, distance, speed, and calories burned.
According to users, this versatile mini elliptical works best when standing or with high-clearance desks, as the range of motion makes it hard to use underneath shorter desks. Some say it squeaks during use, so it might be best suited for at home.
Wakeman’s under-desk pedal exerciser is the most compact on this list. Foldable and easily stored, this nifty machine weighs less than six pounds, making it simple to move and hide when not in use. Its digital screen shows calories burned, revolutions per minute, and time used. It’s also small enough to place on a tabletop for use as a rower-type exercise, which is great for those who may need a low-impact exercise for their arms.
As lightweight and packable as this under-desk elliptical is, it has its faults. For one, users point out that its tension knob, a long screw, doesn’t feel strong enough. Many also comment that its nonslip base doesn’t prevent the machine from sliding in use.
Still, if you’re looking for a low-impact machine to try out in a small space, grabbing this for less than $30 feels worth it.
This under-desk elliptical is excellent for those who seek easygoing pedaling. This machine features automatic movement when it’s plugged in, helping electronically assist those who need the extra push. It also comes with a remote control to switch between its multiple modes.
Those who don’t need the auto-push can operate it manually when unplugged, and an LCD screen shows calories burned, time elapsed, speed, distance, and even a timer.
Users say this under-desk bike is excellent for maintaining muscle tone and circulation, especially after surgery. It’s also a very easy-to-use device with silent operation. Some say it slides around, though, and a lack of resistance makes this too easy for those looking for a solution for working out.
If you’re looking for a solution that bundles a desk and exercise pedaler, FlexiSpot’s V9 Desk workstation is a terrific option. Part exercise bike, part standing desk, this machine has a 20-by-22.8-inch surface large enough to accommodate notebooks and a laptop, with room to spare. That surface stays stable even while a user is pedaling, plus it’s fully adjustable. Raise the surface to the top and use it as a standing desk from its opposite end; lower it and pack it down when it’s not in use.
The V9 desk bike workstation includes a tension knob with eight resistance levels, a height-adjustable seat, a built-in cupholder, and a screen that captures workout time, speed, and burned calories. It also has lockable gravity caster wheels, making moving this workstation easier.
Users love the no-tool setup, quiet pedaling, and ease of use. FlexiSpot’s V9 is surprisingly capable if you can swing its high price.
If the FlexiSpot desk is too pricey for your budget, FitDesk offers an alternative. Like the FlexiSpot desk bike, the FitDesk Desk Bike 3.0 offers a quiet flywheel, a large table surface, and an adjustable seat. It differs, however, with adjustable arm support, a built-in tablet holder, resistance bands that store underneath the seat, and the ability to fold it up when not in use. It also has handlebars that make it functional as a stationary bike.
This desk bike’s table surface is nonslip, which helps keep items from falling, though smaller than FlexiSpot’s offering. Users say the bike is a great value, with some claiming that it lasts for years, though several point out that it takes a very long time to assemble and its LCD screen feels cheap.
Kevin Cortez is a Commerce Editor for Popular Mechanics, Bicycling, and Runner’s World. A culture and product journalist for over ten years, he’s an expert in men’s style, technology, gaming, coffee, e-bikes, hiking, gear, and all things outdoors. He was most recently the style editor for a leading product-recommendation site and previously covered music and podcasting at Mass Appeal, Genius, and The A.V. Club. His work can also be seen in WSJ, Leafly, Input, and Vulture. He enjoys reading graphic novels, birding, and taking long, meandering walks in his spare time.
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