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For most fitness fanatics, cardio elicits one response: love or hate. Some people say it’s a waste of time, while others say it’s the most important part of a fitness routine. The truth is that cardio is an excellent complement to strength training and a necessity in any fitness regimen. 

So how do you make cardio beneficial and fun? If going for a long run sounds boring, and jumping rope makes you have to pee, and doing burpees hurts your back, an elliptical machine might be the answer for you. 

An elliptical HIIT workout is a low-impact, high-intensity cardio workout that is short and sweet and will leave you sweating. In a HIIT workout, you work hard for a short amount of time and then allow your body to recover, repeating the cycle of work and rest several times. The bouts of high-intensity work coupled with periods of recovery improve heart function, burn calories, and provide a fun and challenging workout.

As a certified personal trainer, I’ve coached many-a-client through HIIT workouts in different modalities. I believe in its benefits, and will break it all down for you below.  

What Does HIIT Mean?

HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training and refers to a type of cardio workout in which you alternate short periods of maximum effort with recovery periods. During the high-intensity portion of a HIIT workout, you should be working at about 80 to 90% of maximum heart rate. During the recovery period, you should get back down to about 55 to 60% of your maximum. 

Unlike steady-state cardio, where you work at a moderate intensity for an extended period of time, HIIT workouts elevate the heart rate quickly and to a greater degree, but for a much shorter period of time. 

HIIT can be a useful type of workout for people of any fitness level and is often used by personal trainers as a complement to strength training programs. Doing HIIT on an elliptical machine is a great way to get a low-impact, high-intensity workout and burn more calories in less time.

Pros of Elliptical HIIT Workouts

Ellipticals can be an effective tool for HIIT workouts. Here’s why. 

Low-Impact

Elliptical trainers are great cardio machines that offer a full-body workout with minimal impact on the joints. Unlike running outside or on a treadmill, ellipticals offer a challenging workout with no stress on the bones and joints. Low-impact cardio is especially beneficial for people with a history of bone or joint injury as well as older adults.

Adjustable Resistance and Incline

Elliptical trainers offer the user the ability to increase and decrease resistance and oftentimes incline as well, which is perfect for an interval workout. Ellipticals typically have a wide array of resistance levels to suit abilities from beginner to advanced user.

Workouts Can Be Programmed on the Machine

Many ellipticals come with pre-programmed workouts, or even come equipped with iFIT for interactive workouts, like the NordicTrack Commercial 14.9. This takes the guesswork out of it for you if you just want to get on and go.

Man using the ProForm Hybrid Trainer XT as an elliptical

Can Keep Exercise Exciting

Some people can find exercise monotonous. Fortunately, interval training keeps you more alert than steady-state cardio as you have to pay attention to the cues to increase or decrease your effort. Additionally, you can always listen to music to get your mind off the repetitive motion of running in place.

Can Be a Full-Body Workout

Ellipticals work not only your lower body, but can also target your upper body if you’re using a machine that has moving handlebars. 

Related: Check out our Body Rider Fan Elliptical trainer review.

Cons of Elliptical HIIT Workouts

While there are quite a few pros of elliptical HIIT workouts, there are some drawbacks, too. 

Need Space For the Machine

Generally speaking, ellipticals take up a lot of space. If you intend to have one for your home gym, you need to have a significant amount of space for it. 

Not Great for Muscle Gain or Bone Health

While low-impact cardio exercise is considered both safe and beneficial as mentioned above, it does not provide much in the way of muscle gain or bone growth. Most experts agree that a strategic combination of low-impact and higher-impact cardio in addition to a strength training regimen is the best way to improve overall fitness.

3 Elliptical HIIT Workouts to Try

Below, I’ve created three HIIT routines to try: one for those short on time, one for beginners, and one for more advanced exercisers. 

Before Getting Started: Warm Up

The intensity of a HIIT workout requires that you be physically and mentally prepared. A proper warm-up includes soft tissue work (i.e. foam rolling or using a massage gun), dynamic stretching, and gentle movement. 

For a HIIT elliptical workout, the warm-up could look something like this:

  • Foam roll hip flexors and quads (1 minute each leg)
  • Dynamic hip flexor stretching (half kneeling position with slow pulses back and forth)
  • Dynamic hamstring stretching (downward dog with foot pedaling)
  • Hip circles (10 each leg)
  • Walking lunges (10 each leg)
  • Inchworms (10 each leg)
  • Three to five minutes at low intensity on the elliptical trainer

Quick Elliptical HIIT Workout

One of the great benefits of HIIT is that you can burn a lot of calories in a fairly small amount of time. This 20-minute HIIT elliptical workout can be done when you’re short on time but want to get in a quick, fat-burning workout. 

Keep in mind that the key to HIIT is working as hard as possible during the short, high-intensity intervals and allowing for a decrease in heart rate while working at a moderate pace during the rest intervals. Monitoring the heart rate is a must for true, effective HIIT training.

0-5:00:
5:00-5:30:
5:30-6:30:
6:30-7:00:
7:00-8:00:
8:00-8:30:
8:30-9:30:
9:30-10:00:
10:00-11:00:
11:00-11:30:
11:30-12:30:
12:30-13:00:
13:00-14:00:
14:00-19:00:
Warm up
“Run” at a high resistance (HR 80 to 90% of max)
“Jog” at a light resistance (HR 55 to 60% of max)
Run
Jog
Run
Jog
Run
Jog
Run
Jog
Run
Jog
Cool down

Elliptical HIIT Workout for Beginners

If you’re new to HIIT, it’s recommended for recovery intervals to be significantly longer than work intervals. Note the target heart rates for the work and recovery periods. If the heart rate doesn’t come down to the target range during the rest period, do not start the next work period. 

This may mean that your very first attempt at a HIIT workout ends up being only one or two high-intensity intervals, followed by recovery. In addition, the warm-up and cool-down periods are especially important for beginners. This simple, beginner-friendly workout is a great way to get started with HIIT.

0-5:00:
5:00-5:30:
5:30-7:30:
7:30-8:00:
8:00-10:00
10:00-10:30
10:30-12:30:
12:30-13:00:
13:00-15:00:
15:00-15:30:
15:30-17:30:
17:30-22:30
Warm up
“Run” (HR 80 to 90% of max
“Walk” (HR 55 to 60% of max)
Run
Walk
Run
Walk
Run
Walk
Run
Walk
Cool down

Advanced Elliptical HIIT Workout

Once you’ve gotten the hang of HIIT, you can make it more challenging by increasing the intensity of, and lengthening, the high-intensity intervals. This HIIT routine is great for people who have some experience with HIIT, are generally fit and healthy, and are capable of closely monitoring heart rate.

0-5:00:
5:00-5:30:
5:30-6:00:
6:00-6:45:
6:45-7:30:
7:30-8:30:
8:30-9:30:
9:30-10:00
10:00-10:30:
10:30-11:15
11:15-12:00:
12:00-13:00:
13:00-14:00
14:00-14:30:
14:30-15:00:
15:00-15:45:
15:45-16:30:
16:30-17:30:
17:30-18:30:
18:30-23:00:
Warm up
Sprint (HR 80 to 90% of max)
Jog (HR 55 to 60% of max)
Sprint
Jog
Sprint
Jog
Sprint
Jog
Sprint
Jog
Sprint
Jog
Sprint
Jog
Sprint
Jog
Sprint
Jog
Cool down

Post Workout: Cool Down

The cool down is equally important as the warm-up, especially after a high-intensity bout of exercise. Even though it seems simple, do not skip this part! Walk or jog slowly on the elliptical for about five minutes, allowing the heart rate to decrease. 

Then lie down on your back, preferably with the feet elevated on a bench or chair. Breathe slowly and deeply for three to five minutes and allow your brain and body to come back to a resting state.

Benefits of HIIT Elliptical Workouts

Elliptical HIIT workouts have several benefits, including:

Increases Heart Rate

Medical professionals recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week. Getting your heart rate elevated is a good way to improve your overall health and fitness.

Burns Calories

​​As mentioned previously, HIIT allows a person to burn calories in a shorter amount of time than moderate-intensity exercise. One of the most interesting and beneficial effects of HIIT is that it increases the metabolic rate for several hours after exercising—an effect called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC. A person will continue to burn calories even after the training session is complete, which makes HIIT elliptical workouts for weight loss a viable option.

Low-Impact

Using an elliptical for HIIT is a great way to get a high-intensity workout without stressing the joints. For people recovering from an injury or those with bone disease such as osteoporosis or osteoarthritis, low-impact exercise can be a good choice for safety and comfort.

Improved Cardiovascular Output

HIIT elliptical workouts challenge the heart to respond to stimulus efficiently and recover quickly. HIIT training can improve heart function and have a positive impact on blood pressure, resting heart rate, and oxygen distribution throughout the body.

Final Verdict on Elliptical HIIT Workouts

HIIT is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise that has many benefits. Performing a HIIT workout on an elliptical is a great way to make the most out of your elliptical machine, burning more calories in less time compared to steady-state cardio and also keeping you engaged and focused throughout the workout. Most ellipticals come with pre-programmed intervals so it is easy to hop on and get an intense workout in a short amount of time.

Elliptical HIIT Workout FAQ

Is an elliptical good for HIIT?

The short answer is yes. HIIT can be done on any cardio machine including an elliptical, a treadmill, a stationary bike, a rowing machine, you name it. HIIT can also be effectively done using just your body weight as in running, stair climbing, jumping rope, or swimming.

Is a 20-minute HIIT workout a day enough?

Twenty minutes of HIIT is plenty in addition to a warm-up and cool-down. And keep in mind that HIIT is most beneficial used in combination with steady-state cardio, strength training, and adequate recovery for a well-rounded workout routine. Be careful of overtraining, too—HIIT should be only performed 2 to 3 times per week.

How do you interval train on an elliptical?

HIIT can be done on an elliptical by changing the speed, resistance, or incline on the machine at predetermined intervals. Always monitor heart rate while performing HIIT on an elliptical machine.

Is it OK to use an elliptical everyday?

Since ellipticals offer a low-impact cardio workout with adjustable resistance, they are safe to use regularly. However, for most people, training on an elliptical machine is best when done in combination with other exercises like higher-impact cardio and strength training.

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