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I tried an under-desk elliptical and mini stepper for 30 days to see which reigns supreme

I tested the Cubii Move Under-Desk Elliptical and Nordic Lifting Mini Stepper for 30 days. 

I tested the Cubii Move Under-Desk Elliptical and Nordic Lifting Mini Stepper for 30 days. 

Mariana Best for Hearst Newspapers

I’m a gym rat and a penny pincher, which is how I ended up with a makeshift at-home gym in my miniscule San Francisco studio. 

After canceling my gym membership for good at the beginning of 2020, I began investing in compact fitness equipment to occupy my limited real estate. While my foldable treadmill has long established itself as a staple fitness unit in my home, I was ready to bring in another machine: I narrowed down my choices to an under-desk elliptical or a mini stepper. I tested both to see which one would gain permanent residence in my exclusive home gym. 

I used the Cubii Move under-desk elliptical and Nordic Lifting mini stepper for 30 days to determine which machine would help me accomplish my personal goals of torching calories, toning muscles, and seamlessly integrating movement into my daily routine. 

As a regular runner and fitness enthusiast, the mini stepper was ultimately the winner for me as it provided a sweat-inducing workout, activated my lower body muscles, and had the most portable design — with that said, each can help achieve different goals. 

The Cubii Move Under-Desk Elliptical offers a low-impact workout. 

The Cubii Move Under-Desk Elliptical offers a low-impact workout. 

Mariana Best for Hearst Newspapers

Under-desk elliptical review

For this review, I tried the Cubii Move, one of Fitness Cubed’s newer under-desk elliptical models that boasts the strength and cardio benefits of its predecessors at the brand’s most accessible price point. 

The unit consists of two stationary pedals attached to a metal base and doesn’t require any external power source to get started. On its front-facing, backlit LCD display, the Cubii Move automatically clocks metrics including the number of strides, miles, time, and calories burned during use. According to the manufacturer, Cubii users can expend an average of 150 calories per hour while pedaling. 

The machine comes with an accompanying smartphone app, which grants free access to more than 300 guided workout classes and functions as a space to log workout data.

What muscle groups does an under-desk elliptical work?

Per the manufacturer, the Cubii under-desk elliptical activates six muscle groups in the legs and provides cardiovascular benefits. 

Due to its seated design, the under-desk elliptical does not provide a weight-bearing workout. This low-impact exercise method is a great option for those with a limited range of motion and those looking to incorporate easy movement into their day.  


  • Compact size 
  • Quiet 
  • Versatile for all ages 

To my surprise, the portable (but not exactly “lightweight”) 17.6-pound Cubii Move fit perfectly underneath my small desk with its 21.7” x 19.7”  x 9.7” dimensions. The pedals had ample room for my feet and were comfortable to use with all types of shoes. My knees did not hit my desk while pedaling, courtesy of the Cubii’s ergonomic design. 

Cubii is one of the pricier brands on the market (basic seated ellipticals can be found on Amazon for under $120) but the brand truly delivers on the promise of quiet operation. After a few months of continuous use, the Cubii still produces a barely audible whisper of a noise whilst pedaling. I was able to pedal during Zoom calls (although, on the highest setting, my shoulders visibly moved in the frame a bit) and while completing my daily work tasks at my desk. If you’re worried about disrupting a noise-sensitive office neighbor, the Cubii is worth shelling out a few extra bucks for peace of mind.    

The Cubii Move’s approachability is one of its key draws: I found it to be a positive addition to my routine as a relatively fit and active 28-year-old, but the machine is versatile for all ages. Seniors and those with a limited range of motion may find the accessibility of this starter elliptical beneficial. 


  • Limited range of motion 
  • May not provide a difficult enough workout for athletes
  • Slides around 

The Cubii Move is not marketed as a full-body workout, so those who are expecting to sweat may be disappointed by the machine’s limited range of motion. 

I appreciated the Cubii Move’s six interchangeable levels of resistance, and how easy it was to change speeds with the dial. At its toughest level with consistent pedaling, I was able to feel my heart rate elevate (which was validated by my fitness tracker). However, as a long-distance runner, any level below that felt like I was doing nothing more than ridiculously flailing my legs. Those who want to maximize calorie burn may prefer to opt for a model like the Cubii Go, which has similar features as the Cubii Move but with 12 levels of resistance.

A final note: The Cubii Move is the brand’s most lightweight design, which makes it more prone to shifting around on hard floors while in use. I recommend investing in a non-slip workout mat to alleviate this annoyance. Some assembly is required (around 15 minutes).  

Mini Stepper review

The Nordic Lifting Mini Stepper comes in three colors: pink, red and grey. 

The Nordic Lifting Mini Stepper comes in three colors: pink, red and grey. 

Mariana Best for Hearst Newspapers

A mini stepper is a stationary fitness unit that mimics a stair-stepping motion to engage a variety of lower body and core muscles. Its space-saving design requires less real estate than a full-size stair climber or elliptical machine, both of which aim to target similar muscle groups as the mini stepper. Typically, mini steppers are also a more budget-friendly option than their larger counterparts. 

For this review, I used the Nordic Lifting Mini Stepper for 30 days for 20 to 45 minutes per session. 

Nordic Lifting

After 30 days, I can confidently say (from my unlicensed one-woman study) that the mini stepper is here to stay: The machine’s unobtrusive design, ease of use, and muscle-activating qualities add a much-needed strength training element to my daily routine. 

What muscle groups does a mini stepper work?

The mini stepper can activate the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves in the lower body with weight-bearing movements; with the added resistance arm bands, shoulder muscles, biceps, triceps abs, and hips can also feel the burn. 


  • Space-saving design 
  • Budget-friendly 
  • Easy to use 

The Nordic Lifting mini stepper is 11.5 x 16.5 x 7.9 inches and approximately 16.5 pounds. With these dimensions, it seamlessly fits into my small living space, and can be stowed away in my small closet when not in use. For a quick workout during my lunch break, I could whip this bad boy out and catch up on “The Bachelorette” while getting my heart rate up. 

At around $93, the unit is a more budget-friendly choice than a classic elliptical (where prices can easily run over $1,000) and in line with what I spent on my under-desk elliptical. For those thinking of investing in a traditional stepper or elliptical machine, the mini stepper offers an ample in-between option worth trialing prior to making larger purchases. 

This machine is simple to use and is ready to go right out of the box with zero assembly required. 


  • Loud 
  • No resistance levels 

The stepper machine began squeaking after two hefty uses. While not a deal breaker, the squeak was distracting enough for me to invest in a silicone fitness equipment lubricant to ease its cries. It helped temporarily, but considering the persistent noise I wouldn’t recommend this model to someone who intends to use the machine regularly in a cohabiting space. 

While the machine provides a sweat-inducing workout, as someone who regularly works out I found myself wishing there were resistance levels to choose from. I appreciated the stepper's optional arm resistance bands, but was fearful of them snapping off their hinge due to the hooks’ plastic construction and hitting me in the face — I did not use them for the 30 days and instead opted for holding 2-pound hand weights while stepping to engage my arm muscles and core more effectively. 

I give my knees a good daily pounding and found my knees aching after longer mini-stepper sessions. Maintaining good posture helped, but I had to ice my knees twice in the 30 days. For those with similarly testy knees, an under-desk elliptical may be a better option as it doesn’t utilize weight resistance and is designed to be a low-impact workout.  

Under-desk elliptical vs. mini stepper: Which is better?

Admittedly, I felt a sense of inflated productivity typing away on my work-issued laptop while pedaling like a gerbil on my stationary under-desk elliptical. If the prospect of maximizing your 9-to-5 excites you; the Cubii Move is just the machine for you. If you want to set aside time for an intentional, sweat-inducing workout, opt for the Nordic Lifting Mini Stepper. 

The under-desk elliptical offers a great way to sneak in movement throughout the day and is an excellent option for those with a limited range of motion, testy joints, or busy daytime schedules. A mini stepper can utilize weight-bearing movements to work up a sweat but can be louder and requires an upright position instead of a seated one to use.

I wanted to feel the burn, and the mini stepper provided — but the under-desk elliptical still lives in my workspace for those days that my feet get antsy. 

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