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Ellipticals are commonly viewed as the “easy” cardio machine, suited for beginners and seniors. However, what fitness pros know that most people don’t is that elliptical machines can 100% rock your body and propel you to new fitness heights. 

Not convinced? Let me show you how to get the most out of this behemoth of a cardio machine with my guide to the best elliptical workouts. I’ve been a certified personal trainer for five years and have additional credentials in functional training and corrective exercise, as well as many years of experience in cardio endurance training. 

How to Use an Elliptical Properly

If an elliptical is part of your workout routine, you can maximize fitness benefits, including calorie burn, increased stamina and endurance, and more, by using the machine properly. Good technique is always key, regardless of the type of workout you’re doing. Here are some tips on how to use an elliptical correctly. 

caroline using body rider fan elliptical trainer

Warm Up Ahead of Time

Don’t skip your warmup—seriously! Warming up gives your body time to acclimate from rest to an active status. During a warmup, your blood vessels dilate, your heart rate increases, more oxygen is sent to your muscles, your core temperature rises, and your joints become more lubricated for increased mobility. 

Said differently: Warming up will improve your workout performance and decrease your risk of injuries during exercise. 

Stand with Good Posture

Stand tall and proud during your elliptical workout. Not only will this improve your performance, but long-term, it’ll help to prevent injuries and achiness associated with being hunched over. Here are some cues to think about when training: Pull your shoulder blades together, make a double chin, and tuck your belly button to your spine. 

Keep Your Hands on the Handles

This may sound like common sense, but please keep a firm grip on the handlebars during your elliptical routine. Of course, you can reach away with one hand to take a swig of water, but never release both hands at the same time. This is a recipe for disaster and keeping your hands on the handles is an easy way to prevent injuries. 

Coop on the Horizon 7.0 AE Elliptical.

Be Aware of Foot Placement 

Make sure your feet fit snugly in the pedals, and that they’re centered. You don’t want to feel off-kilter during your workout, or worse, create any compensations in your posture that cause one side of your body to work differently than the other. 

Listen to Your Body

No matter what type of cardio workout you’re doing, you shouldn’t push yourself past the point of exhaustion. Make sure to take note of your body’s signals during your training session. Things like dizziness, lightheadedness, and nausea are indicators that you should take a break or stop the session. 

The 6 Best Elliptical Workouts

Ready to get going? Add any of these six elliptical training sessions to your workout plan and you’ll enjoy all of the benefits of elliptical machines. 

Trainer’s note: I created all of these elliptical workouts based on an assumed 10 levels of resistance. If your machine has more levels of resistance, no need to change anything. If your machine has fewer levels of resistance, you may need to make jumps by one level instead of the two or three prescribed in the workout. 

1. Elliptical Workout for Beginners

This workout is great for all fitness levels, including those who are just starting their elliptical journey or who are looking for a low-intensity session to get loose. 

Total time: 20 minutes 

Intensity level: Low-to-moderate

elliptical workout for beginners graphic
TimeResistanceInclineEffortArms/Legs
0:00–3:0031LowBoth
3:00–5:0052LowBoth
5:00–7:0052ModerateBoth
7:00–8:0063HardBoth
8:00–10:0031LowBoth 
10:00–13:0052LowBoth
13:00–15:0052ModerateBoth
15:00–16:0063HardBoth
16:00–18:0031LowBoth 
18:00–20:0011LowBoth 

2. 15-Minute Elliptical Workout

Don’t be fooled: This 15-minute workout may be short, but it ain’t sweet. 

Total time: 15 minutes 

Intensity level: Moderate-to-hard

15 minute elliptical workout graphic
TimeResistanceInclineEffortArms/Legs
0:00–2:0031ModerateBoth
2:00–6:0063HardBoth
6:00–10:0085HardBoth
10:00–12:0031ModerateBoth
12:00–15:0085HardBoth

3. HIIT Elliptical Workout

During this high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout, the work intervals should be at maximum effort or near-maximal effort. Take the rest periods very easy. 

Total time: 10 minutes 

Intensity level: Hard-to-vigorous 

Complete two rounds of the following intervals

HIIT elliptical workout
TimeResistanceInclineEffortArms/Legs
0:00–1:0033Low (Rest)Both
1:00–2:0066HardBoth
2:00–2:3088VigorousBoth
2:30–3:3033Low (Rest)Both
3:30–4:3066HardBoth
4:30–5:0088VigorousBoth

4. Incline Elliptical Workout

Training for some sort of outdoor activity? An incline workout like this one can help your body acclimate to the demands of the outdoors.  

Total time: 20 minutes 

Intensity level: Low-to-vigorous

Complete two rounds of the following intervals

Incline elliptical workout
TimeResistanceInclineEffortArms/Legs
0:00–2:00101LowBoth
2:00–4:0083ModerateBoth
4:00–6:0065ModerateBoth
6:00–8:0047HardBoth
8:00–10:0029VigorousBoth

5. Full-Body Elliptical Workout

This workout includes elliptical intervals and bodyweight training intervals for a low-impact workout that will tax both your cardiovascular system and musculoskeletal system. 

Total time: 15 to 30 minutes

Intensity level: Moderate

Complete the following for one to three rounds

full body elliptical workout graphic
Elliptical5 minutes, resistance 5, incline 5, moderate effort
Bodyweight20 air squats
Elliptical2 minutes, resistance 8, incline 3, hard effort
Bodyweight20 push-ups (modified if necessary)
Elliptical5 minutes, resistance 5, incline 5, moderate effort
Bodyweight20 hollow-body rocks (modify to sit-ups or crunches) 

6. Heart Rate Based Elliptical Workout

For this workout, make use of the heart rate handles on your elliptical or, if your machine is Bluetooth-enabled, connect a heart rate chest strap or fitness tracker to monitor your heart rate. 

Total time: 15 to 45 minutes 

Intensity level: Low-to-vigorous

Complete the following intervals one to three times

heart rate based elliptical workout graphic
TimeResistanceInclineTarget Heart Rate (% of Max Heart Rate)
0:00–5:003340% MHR
5:00–10:005560% MHR
10:00–12:007570% MHR
12:00–14:00775% MHR
14:00–15:009785% MHR

Why Should You Use an Elliptical?

As a personal trainer, there are many reasons I would recommend an elliptical trainer to clients, friends, family members, or you! 

Full-Body Workout

If you have an elliptical with moving arms, you’ll get a total-body workout every time you hop on. No matter the level of resistance or intensity of effort, an elliptical with moving arms gets all your muscle groups going. 

Caroline showing the NordicTrack Commercial 14.9 in use. She is wearing pink Nike shoes. The elliptical has blue pedals.

Engages Lower Body Muscles

While elliptical training certainly engages your upper body (if it has moving arms), the primary movers are the muscle groups in your lower body. Specifically, your glutes, hamstrings, and quads will take the brunt of the burn. Your calves will also be working, and so will the small muscles in your feet. Basically, if the muscle in question is below your belly button, it’s an effective workout!

Low-Impact

Low-intensity, low-impact exercise has positive effects on mental and physical health. Additionally, low-impact exercise such as elliptical training is a great option for people with joint conditions such as arthritis, as well as those with disabilities and chronic conditions

Increase Cardiovascular Endurance

Most people associate running and biking with endurance, but elliptical training can improve your endurance just as well. In fact, because ellipticals have moving workout arms, your upper body actually gets more of a workout than it does with running, thus training muscular endurance in more muscle groups. 

Calorie Burner

Any type of exercise, including elliptical training, increases your daily calorie burn and can help with weight-loss related goals. Just remember that exercise is only one piece of the wellness pie: Sleep, hydration, diet, stress management, and other factors affect your overall health and fitness status, too.

Post-Workout CoolDown

So you crushed an elliptical workout; what’s next? Your cooldown, of course. Follow these intervals to bring your body back to a resting state. 

Total time: 3 minutes to as long as needed

Intensity level: Low 

Complete as many rounds as you need to feel adequately cooled down.

elliptical post workout cool down
TimeResistanceInclineEffortArms/Legs
0:00–1:0011LowBoth
1:00–2:0011LowArms only
2:00–3:0011LowLegs only

Elliptical Workouts FAQ 

What is a good workout on the elliptical?

In my opinion as a fitness instructor, any workout is better than no workout. So, no matter if you prefer to do HIIT workouts or long, low-intensity sessions on your elliptical, you’re on a path to improved fitness. The six workouts above are a great place to start.

How long is a good workout on an elliptical?

The duration of your workout depends primarily on the intensity of your workout. The more intense your effort, the shorter the workout will be, for the most part. HIIT elliptical workouts shouldn’t exceed 20 minutes, and steady-state workouts can range from 20 to 60 minutes.

Are ellipticals good for losing weight?

Sure, ellipticals can help you lose weight. However, your workouts alone won’t contribute to long-term, successful weight loss. A regular workout routine in conjunction with a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, and adequate hydration is key to long-term weight loss.

Is 30 minutes on the elliptical good?

Yes, a 30-minute session on an elliptical is plenty for a single workout, especially if you are exercising at a moderate intensity or doing interval work.

Is an elliptical or stationary bike better?

Both types of cardio machines are great for improving cardiovascular health and fitness. Whether an elliptical or exercise bike is better for you comes down to your personal needs and preferences, such as space constraints, physical limitations, and enjoyment. 

Related: Rowing Machine vs. Elliptical

What is the best elliptical workout for weight loss and the best elliptical workout to burn fat?

Truthfully, there is no best elliptical exercise for either of these goals, although any type of elliptical workout can be one tool that helps you reach either. As mentioned before, training is only one aspect of burning fat and losing weight. A mix of steady-state exercise and high-intensity training is a good recipe for long-term success.

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