Last Updated: 5th September 2017
Ahh, the elliptical: the fat-burning, booty-blasting, cardio-killing machine we all know and love.
We’ve all seen those people spending hours doing a steady-state, low-intensity workout on the elliptical machine. They’re barely going above walking speed, and they expect to burn fat?
Let’s be clear: all exercise is good. Even if you walk at an incredibly slow pace for an hour, you will burn SOME calories. However, if you really want to kick things into high gear and see serious weight loss, you can’t be content to walk simply on the elliptical machine. It’s high time you learned to do a proper elliptical trainer workout…
What Makes the Elliptical Machine Unique?
The Elliptical Machine is sort of a hybrid between the Stairmaster and treadmill. You can use it to walk and run as well as climb stairs, making it great for your lower body training. Most people use it for cardio (low intensity, steady state), but you can put it to use for building muscle AND engaging your heart and lungs in some serious high-intensity exercise.
Why You Should Use the Elliptical
The elliptical is actually one of the best of the cardio machines in the gym, for some reasons:
- It’s easier on your knees, hips, and ankles — Running and jogging are both high-impact forms of exercise. Your lower body joints take a beating with every step, leading to an increased risk of skeletomuscular problems. People recovering from surgery or injury often can’t run or jog on the treadmill. But the elliptical is a low-impact machine. You never take your feet off the pedals, so there is no IMPACT when you step.
- It’s easier on your back – Cycling uses your lower body muscles, but it weakens your gluteal and lowers back muscles. Elliptical training, however, engages both of these muscles along with your legs. Your spinal erectors (lower back muscles) do a lot of the work of keeping you upright as you walk/run/jog/climb.
- It’s great for cross-training — The treadmill, Stairmaster, and stationary bike are built for one purpose, but the elliptical machine can be used for multiple workouts. The moveable handles work your upper body, and you can adjust the incline of the elliptical to mix and match walking, running, and climbing.
- It’s easier on your body overall –– According to one study, elliptical training is easier on your body than other types of exercise. 20 athletes reported a lower Rate of Perceived Exertion using the elliptical machine, but their heart rate and oxygen uptake were the same as other types of exercise.
Bonus: With the elliptical machine, you can REVERSE your stride. This places emphasis on your glutes and hamstrings instead of your quads. This change of angle can give you a better overall lower body workout.
All pretty good reasons to use the elliptical trainer, right?
Where to Work Out: At Home and At the Gym
One great thing about elliptical trainers is that they’re EVERYWHERE! You can find them at just about every gym in the country, right next to the treadmills and stationary bikes. It’s easy to get a workout at pretty much any fitness club, gym, or wellness spa.
Of course, elliptical trainers are also pretty inexpensive, and you can buy one for use at home. You won’t need to hit a gym to get a great workout, but you can do your own elliptical workouts in the comfort of your garage, basement, or home gym.
The Ultimate Guide to Elliptical Workouts
Below, we’re going to look at the “how” of elliptical workouts. First, we’re going to find out how NOT to do a workout, including a few simple mistakes to avoid. Then we’ll take a look at some simple tips on how to maximize the time you spend on the elliptical. Finally, we’ll finish with three killer workouts to help you burn some serious calories and fat. By the end, you’ll be ready to hit the elliptical hard and work out like a boss!
How NOT to Work Out
I’m willing to bet that 90% of the people working out beside you are using the elliptical trainer WRONG. It’s harsh but true.
Here are a few mistakes they’re probably making:
- Too-low resistance — The machine is designed to add A LOT of resistance, but if you always stay on 1-5, you’ll never see results. Divide the workout between the various resistance settings for the maximum burn!
- Steady pace — Low intensity, steady state exercise burns fat, but it also breaks down muscle. For serious weight loss/fat burning, you need to kick the intensity up a lot of notches. That’s where HIIT training comes in handy. Plus, you get through your workout a lot faster.
- Only going forward — Remember that the elliptical machine can go backward as well as forward! Use this setting, and you’ll work your muscles from a new angle–meaning more well-developed musculature.
- Poor posture — Slouching, leaning, and locking your knees when you walk can all increase your risk of joint strain and lower back injuries. People who train with proper posture engage the upper body and core muscles along with their lower back, leading to a better workout.
- Same workout day after day — Your body is designed to adapt to strain, so it will build muscles and enhance your cardiovascular capacities to meet the demands of your workout. But if you never change the workout, you allow your body to adapt to the workout–but no further. You have to switch things up and keep your body guessing if you want to see results.
Of course, there’s always the classic mistake of NOT doing resistance training. Focusing exclusively on cardio is TERRIBLE for your fitness. You do burn some fat, but eventually, the fat-burning slows and you burn mostly muscle mass. You end up “skinny fat”–you lose weight, but most of that is muscle mass, so there’s still lots of fat around your frame.
Now, you may be thinking, “All these things I’m doing wrong, but how can I do the workout CORRECTLY?” Don’t get discouraged, but keep reading…
How to Maximize Your Time on the Elliptical
Your ultimate goal is simple: lose weight and get in shape. To do that, you have to:
- Burn fat and calories
- Build muscle
Pretty straightforward, right? You need to construct your elliptical workouts with this goal in mind. What does this mean?
Here’s how to build muscle as effectively as possible with an elliptical workout:
- Increase the Intensity/Angle — Instead of always going at the regular incline and difficulty, switch things up. Turn the angle up until you’re climbing stairs, or increase the difficulty so it’s harder to take every step. The harder you work, the more muscles you build!
- Forward and Backward — Don’t just walk forward, but switch it up and stride backward. It will feel awkward at first, but once you get used to it, you’ll find that it hits your glutes, quads, and hamstrings in a whole new way–leading to better muscular development overall!
- Correct Your Posture — Stand up straight, keep your shoulders back, and tighten your core as you step. This will strengthen your core muscles and keep your lower body working well.
- Push the Handles Hard –– This is the way to add in a bit of upper body and core training along with your lower body workout. Take advantage of the built-in cross-trainer handles, and use your arms, shoulders, chest, and back to really PUSH against those handles. The more you work your upper body, the better!
The elliptical machine isn’t designed for the same type of muscle-building as resistance training, but you’ll find that a few slight adjustments can make all the difference! Don’t forget to try this exerpeutic upright bike for some home training.
The real reason you’re on the cardio machine is to give your cardiovascular system a proper workout, force your body to burn calories, and activate stored fat. Here’s how you can do that:
- Increase the Speed — The low-impact nature of the elliptical workout is great for your joints, but you’re never going to see results if you don’t pick up the pace. Increase your pace even a little bit, and you’ll increase your calorie burn. Go from a 4 MPH speed to a 4.5 or 5 MPH speed. The faster pace will force your body to adapt, leading to a faster metabolism, more calories burned, and better fat activation.
- Change it Up — Don’t do the same workout every day. Do HIIT one day, a stair-climbing workout the next, a mountain hike the next, and a sedentary walk the next. The more variety in your workouts, the more you keep your body guessing.
- Try Intervals — Low intensity, steady state exercise burns fewer calories, but more fat. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) burns a lot of calories, thereby a lot of fat. Best of all, you get a killer workout in far less time. Mix up intervals (60 to 90 seconds) of low-intensity exercise with intervals (30 to 60 seconds) of full-intensity training. It works like a charm!
- Feel the Burn — If you’re not feeling anything, you’re doing the workout wrong! An easy workout is a TOO easy workout. You should push your body to the very limits every day. Any day you don’t step off the elliptical trainer exhausted is a day you didn’t really do as much as you could/should have.
- Get Off the Machine — Remember how your body adapts to the same workouts, but that goes for the same type of exercise too. If you ONLY use the elliptical, your body will adapt to that style of movement, and may even become “locked” or “rigid”. You could end up losing mobility because you are only doing one kind of workout. Instead, get off the elliptical machine and try the treadmill, stationary bike, Stairmaster, or a bodyweight cardio workout. Do this at least once or twice per week for maximum results!
Follow this advice, and you’ll make the most of your time spent on the elliptical machine.
The 3 Best Elliptical Trainer Workouts
Here are three of the best workouts to do on your elliptical machine:
Squat Workout — Hit your legs HARD while giving yourself a killer cardio workout.
To do the workout:
- First 5 minutes: Warm-up. Keep the pace slow and steady to let your muscles warm up.
- 45 seconds: Faster pace (65% intensity)
- 15 seconds: Walk in a crouch (leading on the handles/supports as needed) at the same pace
- Repeat this for 10 minutes, then reverse your stride and repeat for another 10 minutes in reverse.
- Last 5 minutes: Cool down. Back to a slow, steady pace to give your muscles a chance to recover.
HIIT Workout — This is the best way to kick your cardio into overdrive using high-intensity intervals.
- First 5 minutes: Warm-up. Keep it steady at 50% intensity to get your legs and cardiovascular system ready to work.
- 60 seconds: Faster pace (65% intensity)
- 30 seconds: Sprint pace (95% intensity)
- Repeat for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Last 5 minutes: Cool down.
Stair Challenge — Give your lower body a killer workout with this Stair Challenge.
- First 5 minutes: Warm-up. Keep the pace steady at 55-60% intensity, but with the incline set to zero.
- For the next 20 minutes, increase the incline by 10% every two minutes. By the time you hit the 20-minute mark, you will be climbing stairs at the highest incline.
- Last 5 minutes: Return to zero inclines and keep the pace steady to cool down.
These workouts aim to help you lose weight; however, keep in mind that you should get the best results if you couple it with a healthy, balanced diet. The results should motivate you enough to keep on going as the effects should last a long time.
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For more info on elliptical machines, check out these articles:
Elliptical vs. Treadmill: Which is Better for You
What’s The Best Home Fitness Machine for Cardio Workouts?
What’s The Best Fitness Equipment for Seniors
What Is The Best Workout Machine For Your Home Gym?