If your go-to gym routine involves an elliptical workout—meaning you hop on the elliptical machine, pop in your headphones, and pedal along for 30 minutes at the same incline and pace—you could be getting a lot more for your time.

There are good reasons so many people love the elliptical machine at the gym: It’s non-impact, meaning the pounding you get from running doesn’t exist here. Everything is just one smooth motion. It’s also great to help you recover from injuries. If your knee hurts when you do some type of running or jumping, you can get on an elliptical and mindlessly move, Steven Bronston, trainer at Life Time Fitness, tells SELF.

As with any workout, however, it can get old fast. And if you don’t know how to challenge yourself, you might see your results plateau. We pulled together the top tips from trainers across the country to help you find the oomph you need to get the most out of your next elliptical workout.

1. Keep your feet flat on the pedals.

Proper form will help you avoid the aches and pains that can creep up when your body isn’t in alignment. Your feet go on the pedals, and your hands hold the bars alongside the machine or at the base of the monitor, depending on the type of elliptical. Be sure to keep a micro bend in your knees and elbows, and remember to keep feet flat against the pedals, as opposed to standing on your toes. Clench your core to keep it engaged, and keep your back straight so your spine is long, Annette Comerchero, founder of Elliptifit studio in Los Angeles, told SELF.

2. It’s always a good idea to mix in some core exercises.

You may not feel your core throughout your elliptical session, but to keep good form and get the most out of each workout, you want to be sure to keep your abs engaged. To test that, stepping off the elliptical and dropping down to hold a static plank can help remind you how to really engage your abs.

Adding some core exercises is also an easy way to mix up your time on the elliptical. “Every three minutes, get off the machine and perform a 30-second plank or side planks,” Allison Berry, Crunch personal trainer, tells SELF.

3. Vary the incline to really hit your butt muscles.

The higher the incline, the more you work your glutes (butt muscles). You can manually adjust the incline every other minute to go up or down, just to start to get a good feeling for it. Incline normally ranges anywhere from one to 20, so try going up in increments of two each time. Start at zero for a minute, then move up to two, then four, then six, and then come back down. You can vary this ladder, and go all the way up to 20 if you’d like, or even alternate by fives.

4. This sounds funny, but you can go backward on the elliptical without turning your body around.

Going backward on the elliptical will target more of your hamstrings (back of thighs), which are typically weak in most people. How to do it: When you get on the elliptical and start rotating your legs, it’s likely in a clockwise direction. Slow your feet down and reverse them, to start moving in a counter-clockwise direction, Cindy Lai, founder of Cindy Lai Fitness, tells SELF. It might sound strange, but once you try it, you can feel the difference.

5. Use the pause button as an interval timer.

“When you are on the machine and hit pause, it gives you a minute count down, so I like to do a combo with the elliptical and specific upper-body work. Do the elliptical for one minute and then jump off and do 15 to 20 push-ups,” Bronston says. Depending on how much space is around the machine, you can pull over a mat, or stick with other body-weight exercises like lunges or squats. Rest for the remainder of the minute, then hop back on the elliptical. Do 10 intervals for a full-body 20-minute workout that fits in strength and cardio.

6. Know when to use the handles and when to let go of them.

“Use your legs only (no handles) to emphasize lower body,” Berry says. Driving through your glutes and hamstrings will put more pressure and effort on your lower body. No hands means you get more of a core focus as well, Lai says. You have to make sure to balance as you keep your legs moving.

Elliptical trainers are a gym favorite. Not only is this cardio machine joint friendly, it’s incredibly versatile. You can go forward and backward, work your arms and legs, or focus on your core — all while getting your heart rate up. Here are some tips to help you maximize your minutes on the elliptical machine.

  • If your focus is cardio: Watch your strides per minute. SPM is the number of times your legs go around in 60 seconds, a stat most ellipticals conveniently track for you. After warming up, aim to keep your strides per minute between 140 and 160. If you’re doing intervals on the elliptical, make sure your “sprints” are above 160. Here’s a great elliptical workout with sprint intervals so you can start practicing this technique.
  • If your focus is toning your thighs: Pay attention to your feet. Pressing more with your heels will work your hamstrings and butt more, while pressing more with your toes will tone your quads on the front of your thighs. Pedaling backward on the machine is also a great way to tone your backside — hamstrings and glutes. Increasing the incline is another way to focus the work on your glutes. Do try this 35-minute workout that truly targets the backside.
  • If you’re short on time: Use your arms and legs equally. To get more bang for your cardio buck, make sure to work your upper body along with your legs. This will help raise your heart rate into an intense, calorie-burning zone and tone your upper body too. Push the handles to work your chest and pull the handles to work your upper back and shoulders. Follow this full-body workout next time you’re on the elliptical.
  • To work your core: Go hands free. Letting go of the handles on the elliptical challenges your sense of balance and targets your core. Make sure not to sway from side to side once you let go of the handles. Place your hands on your hips to monitor your posture.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Kat Borchart

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Enjoy the SilverSneakers store!

Get more out of your cardio routine with these small tweaks—no extra time or equipment needed.

If your go-to workout involves the elliptical machine, there’s a good chance you could be getting more from your time at the gym. But that doesn’t mean heading over to the treadmill.

“The elliptical machine is a great option for cardio workouts because it’s much easier on your joints than machines like the stair stepper or treadmill,” says Chris Freytag, C.P.T., founder of GetHealthyU.com.

The impact involved is virtually nonexistent, adds exercise physiologist Pete McCall, C.S.C.S. Everything is just one smooth motion, which is ideal for people with cranky ankles, knees, or osteoarthritis.

So what’s the problem? Elliptical workouts are incredibly easy to phone in. The momentum of those sliding pedals can take over and you end up getting far less out of your cardio session than you want—or your body deserves, McCall says.

Not anymore. Here, McCall and Freytag share their best advice for making your elliptical workout much more effective.

Upgrade #1: Stand Up Straight

Slouching is the quickest way to ruin your elliptical session. “Stand up straight to lengthen your trunk. It engages your core and even works some of your upper-body muscles such as your biceps, triceps, and shoulders,” Freytag says.

The result: You strengthen your postural muscles, decrease your risk for back and shoulder pain, and even burn more calories, McCall says. If you want help to improve your posture in and out of the gym, check out our four-step plan for standing taller.

Upgrade #2: Keep Your Whole Foot on the Pedal

The next time you’re on the elliptical, pay attention to your toes. Putting too much pressure on your toes can cause your heels to lift up, lead to numbness in your feet, and even decrease your calorie burn by limiting the number of muscles you work, McCall says.

The fix: Focus on keeping your heel in contact with the pedals and pushing through your entire foot with each stride. Freytag explains that this will help engage the powerhouse muscles in your lower body, including your quads and glutes.

If you find that uncomfortable, McCall suggests wearing a running sneaker with an elevated heel rather than a flat training shoe. For more guidance, check out these five steps to finding the right workout shoes for you.

Upgrade #3: Hold on Tight

Most gyms offer two different kinds of elliptical machines: those with handles and those without handles. Any time you have the option to use a machine with an upper-body component, Freytag recommends that you choose that machine.

“Holding the handles and moving your arms activates not only your arm muscles, but also your back, shoulders, and core,” she says. Remember: The more muscle groups you engage, the more your body benefits.

“To make sure you’re actually engaging your arms and back instead of just taking them along for the ride, try to actively press and pull the handles,” she says. If that’s too tiring, try using the moving handles for 1 minute, then hold the stationary handles for 2-3 minutes before pumping your arms once more.

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Upgrade #4: Mix Up Your Workouts

Most machines have two variable settings: resistance and incline. Dialing up the resistance is a great way to work your muscles harder to power every movement, Freytag says.

As you increase the resistance, don’t be surprised if you have to pedal slower, she says. It should be tougher, and you’ll feel exhausted quicker. So if you’re short on time, up the resistance for a faster, effective workout.

The incline affects which muscles handle the brunt of the work, McCall explains. For example, a higher incline gets the glutes and the quads working, while a lower incline targets your hamstrings and calves. If you’re using the elliptical 2 days in a row, alternate between high and low inclines to keep from overworking any one muscle group, he suggests.

With both resistance and incline, start small and make sure you feel comfortable and steady before increasing either further. Going up in increments of two at a time is a good rule of thumb.

Upgrade #5: Take the Talk Test

It’s tempting to simply watch the elliptical monitor to know how hard you’re working. But there’s a better (more accurate) way: Listen to your body and give it what it needs. The talk test is the easiest way to do this.

How it works: If you can say a couple sentences at a time without feeling out of breath, you’re in the moderate-intensity exercise zone. If you can barely get out a few words—maybe one short sentence—without needing to take a breath, you’re in the high-intensity zone, Freytag says.

She recommends starting with moderate-intensity exercise and slowly playing with resistance and speed to increase intensity. Over time, as you feel able, try to exercise at a level somewhere between moderate and high. You should be able to speak one to two sentences at a time before needing to take a breath.

And remember: It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before pushing the intensity too much.

Upgrade #6: Make Your Entertainment Work for You

“If you’re flipping through TV channels or reading a book, you’re probably not working at a high or even moderate intensity,” McCall says. But if reading or watching a show helps motivate you to show up for the gym, don’t ditch your entertainment entirely, he says.

“It’s okay to tune in, as long as you keep reminding yourself to pay attention to your body,” Freytag adds.

One suggestion: During commercial breaks, focus on your form and increase your resistance and speed. Then, when your show comes back on (and you’re likely distracted), lower the resistance and use that time to recover and get ready for the next round of commercials.

Similarly, depending on how quickly you read, you might decide to go hard for one minute, then lower the intensity and read a handful of pages of your book or magazine, and repeat.

Upgrade #7: Add Intervals

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a style of exercise in which you alternate between periods of (almost) all-out effort and low effort. And it’s a great way to get the most out of your elliptical workout.

“The high-intensity intervals push your body toward its metabolic limits, and the low-intensity intervals allow it to recover and catch your breath,” McCall explains. As a result, you burn more calories in less time and also stand to build more strength and lean muscle than you would with steady-state cardio.

When getting started with intervals, use caution and stick with short high-intensity periods and longer low- to moderate-intensity ones. For example, you could try going all out for 30 seconds, and then moving to a recovery pace for a full minute or two, and repeat this pattern up to six times.

As you progress, lengthen your work segments and shorten your recovery sessions. Use the talk test and listen to your body to gauge intensity and adjust as needed. If you ever feel uncomfortable or that you are too fatigued to use good form, stop and rest.

Want More Tips to Improve Your Gym Workouts?

  • How to Choose the Right Weight for Strength Training
  • Master the 5 Rules of Exercise Regression
  • The Right Way to Warm Up Before Exercise
  • Do This Between Workouts to Get Stronger Every Day

The Best Way to Use an Elliptical Trainer

I have some friends (dyed-in-the-wool exercise enthusiasts) who think that the elliptical trainer at the gym, or those funny looking outdoor standup elliptical trainers with wheels, don’t really work at all, especially when it comes to making you a better runner.

Many personal trainers also tend to stop at the elliptical trainer, instead choosing modalities such as the treadmill, the rowing machine, or the bicycle for interval training or aerobic cardio.

But a recent study on elliptical trainers (specifically the outdoor type that are on wheels) caught my eye. The study, which was entitled “A Physiological and Subjective Comparison of the ElliptiGO and Running in Highly Fit Trained Runners” investigated elliptical training on something called the “ElliptiGO” as a potential form of cross-training that could to provide a low impact, running-specific, high intensity exercise experience without the actual joint jarring that running typically causes.

In this study, they compared the physiological response to running with the physiological response to an equivalent workout on the outdoor elliptical trainer. The study showed complete maintenance of the fitness necessary to maintain running performance in highly trained, fit runners when using the elliptical trainer. In addition, this fitness was achieved with a lower rating of perceived exertion and a higher rating of enjoyment.

So it turns out that elliptical trainers aren’t just silly exercise devices—they can actually be used to train both the general population and highly trained runners for enhancing fitness. But there’s even more good news when it comes to elliptical trainers, and in this episode, you’re going to discover five more proven benefits of an elliptical trainer, how to use the elliptical trainer to burn more calories, become a better runner, and get more fit while decreasing your risk of injury.

5 Benefits of an Elliptical Trainer

Benefit #1: Lower Joint Stress Compared to Running

The elliptical trainer was originally designed by an inventor who came up with the idea for the elliptical motion by filming his daughter running alongside his car, then replicating that running motion in a machine that gave running benefits, but put less strain on the joints.

And he was right. A study at the University of Missouri measured oxygen utilization, lactic acid formation, heart rate, and rating of perceived exertion on an elliptical trainer as compared to a treadmill, and found that the elliptical exercise was nearly identical to the treadmill exercise in every respect, but the elliptical trainer created far less joint impact.

Benefit #2: Ability to Fix Weak Muscles

Another study compared muscle activity patterns of the quadriceps and hamstrings in walking on the ground, walking on a treadmill, stationary bicycling, and the elliptical trainer. The elliptical trainer produced significantly greater quadriceps utilization and greater quadriceps and hamstring coordination than any of the other modes of exercise!And a study at Willamette University found that when you pedal backwards on an elliptical, your quadriceps utilization skyrockets even more.

Considering that most people have weak quadriceps compared to hamstrings, this is another definite benefit to using an elliptical trainer, especially if you’re a frequent runner or cyclist who wants balanced muscles.

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How to Use an Elliptical Trainer

With elliptical trainers, your feet follow a path that’s sort of a stretched-out oval known as an ellipse (hence, the name elliptical trainer). The motion feels like a mix between fast walking, stair-climbing, and cross-country skiing.

Runners who need a day off from the pounding gravitate toward this machine like moviegoers to the concession stand. It’s also popular with walkers looking for a more spirited workout and people who are bored with stair-climbing or find stair-climbing hard on their knees.

Precor, Reebok CCS, Life Fitness, StairMaster, and Startrac make the most popular models. The popularity of this machine has exploded in recent years. Newer models allow you to work your arms in an opposite motion to your feet, which allows you to burn additional calories.

Credit: Photograph by John Urban Elliptical trainers are gentle enough for prenatal workouts.

Elliptical trainers can take a bit of getting used to, but they don’t require great skill. You’ll be up and running in no time by following these tips:

  • Limit backward pedaling. Contrary to popular belief, pedaling backward does not work your buttocks more than pedaling forward (and it may even be hard on your knees). Both motions emphasize the front thigh muscles, so do it once in a while, but not for any prolonged amount of time.

  • Use the machine’s versatile features. To adjust the intensity of your workout, you can pedal faster, raise the incline, increase the resistance, or any combination.

  • Don’t lock your knees. Keep a slight bend in your knees, keeping the motion smooth.

  • Remind yourself to stand up straight. Although the elliptical trainer lends itself to better technique than the stair-climber, you can still commit postural violations such as leaning too far forward and hugging the console.

While you may be proud of yourself for making it to the gym and squeezing in some cardio (and you should be!), taking a lackadaisical approach to your elliptical workout and casually spinning your legs while reading a magazine or watching TV isn’t doing your any favors. (You could always skip the gym and hit the road: Follow this plan to walk off 22 pounds in just 8 weeks and get an MP3 player!)

Here, 10 mistakes you frequently make on the elliptical and how to fix them so you maximize calorie burn while adding fun to your ho-hum routine.

1. Your resistance is zero
You might feel like a million bucks stepping a mile a minute, but without resistance, you’re not going to see results, says Röbynn Europe, a personal trainer at Chelsea Piers in New York City. Make sure that you’re using enough resistance to push and pull through the stride. Then, continue at a moderate pace until you feel like you’ve done all you can do. “You shouldn’t feel like you have even 5 minutes left in you when you step off,” she says.

2. You’re a sloucher
Standing up straight helps to lengthen your abs, giving you a chance to engage your core and even work your upper body muscles, says Jennifer Cassetty, an exercise physiologist. Certified personal trainer Neal I. Pire, MA, CSCS, president of Inspire Training Systems in New Jersey, recommends hopping on a machine with an upper body component so you can engage even more muscles—and blast more fat. Can’t find a machine that lets you pump your arms? Let go: Some research suggests that leaning on machine armrests during exercise reduces calorie burning.

3. You don’t enter your information
Most machines are calibrated for a 150-pound person—but personalizing your stats will help you get a more accurate calorie read. Aim to burn around 100 calories per 10 minutes, says Cassetty.

George Rudy/Getty Images

4. You don’t change directions
Going backwards doesn’t just stop you from getting bored, it also changes which large muscle groups are working hardest, says Europe. While moving forward fatigues your quads, backwards puts emphasis on your hamstrings and glutes. To max out the effect, sit back slightly, keeping your knees at a 90-degree angle as you stride.

MORE: The Best Joint-Friendly Workouts

5. You haven’t changed your workout in months
Intervals are a great way to break up the monotony of the machine and boost your calorie burn, says Europe. You can do this in one of two ways: Leave the resistance steady and change your pace (fast for 1 minute; moderate for 4) or maintain your speed and change your resistance (challenging resistance for 1 minute; moderate for 4).

6. You go until you can’t feel your feet
One of the most common elliptical mistakes is putting too much pressure on your toes, which can make your feet go numb and cut your workout short. Instead, sit back into your heels, which allows large muscle groups to work harder and gives you the stamina to go for longer, according to Cassetty.

7. Your machine sounds like it’s going to take off
If you can hear the purr of the machine while you’re exercising, it means that you’re going too fast without enough resistance—which means you’re not getting the most calorie burn out of your time, Cassetty says. Keeping a steady, moderate pace at a resistance that forces you to use your muscles will get, and keep, your heart rate up.

webphotographer/Getty Images

8. You don’t work your upper half
Incorporate the moving handles two days a week to put your upper body to work, and hang on to the stable handles on the others, says Cassetty. When you’re working your arms and legs, try intervals—focus on your arms for 1 minute, then pump your legs for 4, and repeat through your workout.

9. You spin your way up a hill
Some models have a ramp incline, similar to a treadmill. But, unlike a treadmill, a large incline won’t increase the difficulty—instead, it’s easier for your legs to push and pull through the stride.

MORE: 7 Slimming Workouts For Small Spaces

10. You’re an elliptical junkie
As tempting as it may be to shoot straight to the elliptical every time you enter the gym, you should never be using one machine exclusively, says Europe. Supplement your routine with weight training and other cardio equipment, such as the rower. Making sure you incorporate variety keeps your body from getting used to a single movement and also continues to help you build muscle mass—which, in turn, will keep your metabolism boosted.

How to Use an Elliptical Machine

Fitness junkies often place the elliptical machine in the “friend zone” for cardio: good for those nursing an injury or seeking an easy gym session, bad for anyone desiring a “real” workout. But even though some people deem the elliptical ineffective or boring, there’s actually a lot to this machine in terms of exercise.

Elliptical workouts can match physiological benefits of similar workouts on the treadmill or stairclimber. They can also improve your quality of life and fatigue levels, protect your joints (in general and after an injury), and raise your heart rate faster than a summer fling.

This is the first of a new series we’re taking on here at Aaptiv. We’ll be demystifying machines at the gym. This post will help you get up close and personal with the elliptical in order to learn how it can serve as your match made in exercise heaven.

What types of elliptical machines exist, and what are the similarities and differences?

Walk into any gym, and you’ll probably see a long line of elliptical machines. But, how are you supposed to know which one to use, and why, and how? Is there really much of a difference between models?

“With my clients at Life Time Fitness, I tend to find the most challenging part of using an elliptical for them is deciding which one to use and how exactly to use it,” says Joseph J. Aiello, Personal Training Manager, Life Time Chestnut Hill. “What all ellipticals do have in common is that their low-impact and easy-to-use design that puts any user in an advantageous biomechanical position that avoids injury, while also achieving a highly effective workout.”

Kelsey L. Waugh, Fitness Manager III of 24 Hour Fitness Santa Monica Super Sport, states all types of elliptical machines are stationary and allow for customization. They also as provide workout programming, heart rate monitors, and various resistance levels. From there, models get a little more complicated.

Here’s a quick breakdown of common elliptical machines with key features, according to Waugh:

Precor Adaptive Motion Trainer (AMT) Elliptical
* Includes arms/handles that move during exercise
* Moves in a linear motion
* Can be set to a stepping motion similar to walking up stairs or steps
* Stride length can be adjusted

Precor Elliptical Fitness CrossTrainer (EFX) model 833
* No arms/handles
* Moves in a linear motion

Precor Elliptical Fitness CrossTrainer (EFX) model 835
* Includes arms/handles that move during exercise

Cybex Arc Trainer (total body or lower body)
* Includes arms/handles that move during exercise
* Moves in a linear motion
* Can be set to a stepping motion similar to walking up stairs or steps
* Stride length can be adjusted

Octane Fitness-Lateral X
* Includes arms/handles that move during exercise
* Adjusts through a spectrum of linear and lateral motion patterns, which means it moves side-to-side (as Waugh explains, “it mimics a skating motion or moving quickly in a game of tag, so a user can squat, lean back, or go fast all at the same time”)
* Can be set to a stepping motion similar to walking up stairs or steps

“Within each elliptical brand are different styles that should be selected based on individual needs and goals,” says Aiello. “For example, the XT4700 from Octane, which we have at Life Time, is excellent for a low-impact feel while still providing the ability to recreate the cardiovascular benefits a traditional road runner would achieve over time, including an increased cardiac output and lower resting heart rate.”

What sort of programming is available on common elliptical models?

“The elliptical models at 24 Hour Fitness provide various workout programs,” says Waugh. “The user can enter their age and weight for more accurate calorie expenditure estimates, target heart rate, or simply a time frame.”

According to Waugh, the Precor AMT offers fat burner, heart rate, interval and manual. The Precor EFX elliptical offer programs around weight loss, heart rate, performance, variety, interval, and manual. The Cybex Arc Trainer offers heart rate recovery, circuit training, off-day cross training and max strength. And the Octane offers 13 total workout programs, some of which include heart rate, cross circuit programs, interval, and MMA (mixed-martial arts). It also has workout “boosters,” says Waugh, to target areas like thighs or quads.

New machine features can also lead to differences in program options. Consider lateral ellipticals, such as the Octane model mentioned by Waugh. Aiello says this newer concept “propels the body forward and forces the user to move side-to-side. . . This type of movement creates a more functional advantage that can lead to greater muscular and neuromuscular stimulation not normally seen in more commonly used cardio equipment, like the treadmill or stair stepper.”

Most programs start with a 3-5 minute warm-up and end with a cool-down of similar length. But, this can vary by machine.

What do all the buttons on an elliptical mean?

Aiello says the most common question he receives about the elliptical is: “What are all of these settings for?” Waugh notes that the multitude of buttons simply allow the user select a workout, enter age, adjust intensity (or incline or stride length), and set a time for the workout duration.

Still, Aiello says these buttons can be confusing if you’re unfamiliar with the interface. He recommends using the “Quick Start” option, which is available on almost any piece of cardio equipment, where you simply enter a resistance level and start moving.

What sorts of workouts can be done on ellipticals?

Aaptiv trainer Candice Cunningham says many cardio workouts are optimal for ellipticals, particularly those focusing on endurance, strength (with resistance and incline focus), stamina, and speed.

Waugh likes doing HIIT workouts or steady-state (lower intensity, longer duration) workouts on the elliptical. “A common HIIT workout would be to ‘sprint’ for one minute, where you go as fast as you can and/or substantially increase resistance, followed by a recovery period of two minutes where you don’t stop completely, but you slow down or decrease the resistance,” she says. “You would then alternate between one minute sprints and the two minute recovery periods on a repeating cycle for 15-30 minutes.”

“One of the best parts of using an elliptical is that it is low-risk, high-reward,” says Aiello. “The risk for injury is relatively small when used properly. Falling off an elliptical is much less common. In addition, there’s reduction in impact injuries or soft tissue damage you commonly see in runners and other high-impact activities like plyometrics.”

Is there anything you should avoid when working out on an elliptical?

In terms of what to avoid on the elliptical, Waugh has three main don’ts. (You can find more elliptical machine dos and don’ts, here). First, stopping suddenly or locking your knees (instead, wait for the machine to come to a complete stop). Secondly, jumping off without cooling down (you should let your heart rate lower first). Lastly, doing the same workout every time to skip the pesky plateau that can hinder results.

Cunningham offers a couple other things to keep in mind: “Avoid driving through the toes when moving, as this causes you to knee load versus engaging your glutes, which is what should be working the majority of the time. Don’t slouch over, as this can put pressure on the lower back, and avoid holding on too tight (to arms/handles) because it can cause the upper body to tense up.”

Of course, use your best judgement. If you’re recovering from an injury, be mindful of other non-impact forms of cross-training that may be better for your body, like swimming. And if something hurts while using the elliptical, don’t do it.

What are some tips and tricks for using an elliptical machine in your exercise routine?

On that same note, Cunningham tells her clients to focus on driving through their heels, regardless if they are moving the pedals forward or backward, to engage the glutes. She says to pretend you are actually outside walking or running. Stay light on your feet on the elliptical machine in the same fashion.

Waugh says the elliptical can benefit anyone on the fitness spectrum, from beginners to elite athletes. The majority of her clients use elliptical machines because of their low impact nature. To get the best workout, she advises people to utilize the arms or handles to engage the core. She also advises that clients aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of cardiovascular training per week.

Why are elliptical machine workouts effective?

Aiello says the bottom line for an effective workout involves “how hard you push yourself and how you measure that intensity.” He suggests adjusting your workout using heart rate monitoring and zone training on an elliptical machine, no matter the model.

“Elliptical workouts are effective because they can work the cardiovascular system in multiple ways without putting stress on the knees and ankles,” says Cunningham. “You can increase resistance to help with toning the lower body, and include moveable arms/handles, when applicable, to get upper body work in, too.”

Waugh believes the elliptical machine can support a variety of fitness goals at any stage, as they target the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves while building upper body and core stability and strength. That means anyone with a fitness goal of weight loss, performance, or muscle gain (to name a few), can benefit from an elliptical workout—a good thing, since elliptical workouts are easier on your body than most other workouts.

Another win: ellipticals are just about everywhere, from fitness clubs to gyms to spas, and relatively inexpensive to purchase for use at home. However, be sure to supplement your fitness regime with strength training and workouts on other types of cardio equipment. Variety is the spice of life, particularly with exercise. And, switching it up helps build muscle mass and maintain a boosted metabolism!

“At the end of the day, the workout you choose will always be relative to your goal,” says Aiello. Whether it be weight loss, cardiovascular conditioning, muscular endurance, or strength building, the elliptical machine is a great way to achieve each and every one of these goals in a safe and effective manner.”

Aaptiv has workouts to help hit your fitness goals with our audio-based fitness app. Our trainers will guide you through each class and workout.

10 Benefits of an Elliptical Machine Workout

1. Boost your stamina and cardio capacity

Aerobic exercise, also known as cardio, is a key part of a balanced exercise routine. When you do aerobic exercise, your heart and lungs need to work harder to provide your muscles with more blood and oxygen.

The elliptical machine allows you to get a good aerobic workout, which can strengthen your heart, lungs, and muscles. This, in turn, can help build your stamina and endurance.

With an elliptical, you can perform both high-intensity interval training as well as steady-state cardio workouts.

2. Burn a lot of calories

If you’re looking for a way to crush your calorie burn in a short amount of time, jump on the elliptical. Depending on how much you weigh, this cardio machine can burn about 270 to 400 calories in 30 minutes. The lower end of the range represents a person weighing 125 pounds, while the higher end is for someone weighing 185 pounds.

Burning more calories than you consume can help you lose weight. To boost your calorie burn, consider increasing the intensity of your elliptical workouts.

3. Put less stress on your joints

When the elliptical hit the cardio machine scene back in the 1990s, runners with achy joints and overuse injuries rejoiced at the thought of being able to train their cardiovascular system while relieving some of the pressure on their joints.

Your knees, ankles, hips, and other joints can take a beating when running or doing other high-impact cardio exercises. Since your feet never lift off the pedals with an elliptical, this machine offers a low-impact type of cardio workout.

A 2014 study showed that an elliptical workout can significantly reduce weight bearing compared to running, jogging, and similar workouts. In other words, with an elliptical, you can continue training without the wear and tear that comes with high-impact exercise.

4. Get both an upper and lower body workout

An elliptical machine with handles is one of the few cardio machines that can provide you with both an upper- and lower-body workout. The key to maximizing the upper-body benefits is to distribute your weight and resistance evenly. In other words, pump your arms just as fast as you’re moving your legs.

When done correctly, the elliptical can target your glutes, hamstrings, quads, chest, back, biceps, triceps, and core muscles.

5. Burn body fat

Due to its high calorie burn ability, an elliptical can help you lose body fat and tone up your muscles in a shorter amount of time, especially if you focus on interval work. To maximize fat burning, you’ll need to focus on the intensity of your workouts.

Consider adding interval training to your elliptical workouts with a 2 to 1 ratio: 30 seconds of high-intensity work, followed by 15 seconds of recovery, or 60 seconds of high-intensity work, followed by 30 seconds of recovery. Do not stop moving your legs during the recovery periods. Continue to move the pedals, but at a slower pace.

6. Target specific leg muscles

You can change both the resistance and incline of the foot pedals on an elliptical. By doing this, you can target different muscles in your lower body including your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

By increasing the incline, you may feel the back side of your lower body burning. If you adjust the foot pedals lower, you may feel your quads working harder. Plus, since the foot pedals go in reverse, you can change the direction of your stride and focus more on your hamstrings and glutes.

7. Improve your balance

Weight-bearing exercise can help strengthen your bones. But did you know it can also improve your balance? If you stand up straight and let go of the elliptical handles, you can target your core muscles and work on your balance.

Just make sure the resistance and incline are set at a manageable level so you can use the elliptical machine safely without using the handles.

8. Maintain fitness after injury

If you’re nursing an injury and can’t participate in your regular physical activities, working out on an elliptical can be a great way to build or maintain your fitness. Since it’s a low-impact exercise, it puts a lot less stress on your joints than high-impact workouts, like running, jogging, or jumping.

Working out on an elliptical after an injury may help you regain full range of motion. It can also help strengthen your muscles and joints, while taking the stress off of the injured area.

9. Enjoy a variety of options

Elliptical machines usually offer a variety of pre-programed exercise routines that mimic hill climbing, internal training, and other customizable options that help you get the type of workout you want.

10. Learn quickly

One of the advantages of an elliptical is that it doesn’t take long to learn how to use it. Although the learning curve with this machine is fairly easy, you may want to ask a personal trainer for guidance if you haven’t used one before. They can give you tips on how to use it correctly and the type of workout that may be best for your fitness goals.

When starting out on the elliptical, you may want to only use the foot pedals. Once you get used to the movement of the machine, you can add the handles.

How to Use the Elliptical Machine

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The elliptical trainer has many advantages and targets a host of muscle groups in the upper and lower body. To really work these muscles you have to use the elliptical trainer correctly.

1. Elliptical Trainer Posture

  • Remember to maintain good posture to get the most out of your workouts.
  • Adopt a comfortable standing position with your spine in a neutral position (with a straight back).
  • Your hips, knees and ankles should be in alignment.
  • Keep your shoulders back, your head up and your abdominal muscles tight.
  • Let your lower body support your weight.
  • Your weight should be distributed approximately evenly between the heels and the balls of the feet, sitting a little back on your heels.
  • Stick your butt out as much as you can. This will target your butt, outer thigh and hamstring muscles and lessen the strain on your quadriceps. This will avoid building muscular big thighs.

2. Resistance on Elliptical Trainer

The elliptical trainer is very versatile. You can use the elliptical trainer as a cardio workout, by going fast with little resistance. You can also use the elliptical as a resistance based workout, where you are going slower but working against greater resistance to work and tone your legs. (Read more here for more about targeting specific parts of your body)

If your focus is cardio: Pay attention to your strides per minute (SPM). SPM is the number of times your legs go around. The elliptical trainer shows this number on the screen. If you can try to keep to between 140 and 160 strides per minute. If you are doing interval training on the elliptical trainer, make sure your sprints are closer to 160 strides per minute.

If your focus is toning your thighs: Concentrate on your feet. If you press down with your heels, you will work your hamstrings and bottom more. If you press with your toes, you will tone your quadricep muscles (front of your thighs) more.

3. Work Your Core Muscles on Elliptical Trainer – Hands Free

You can choose not to use the handlebars (you must have good balance) during some of your workout. This strengthens the core muscles, and improves posture and balance. Make sure you don’t sway from side to side once you let go of the handles.

Instead of holding onto handles, try pumping your arms as though you were running. If you are not paying attention to maintaining posture, you will have the natural tendency to move from side to side, instead of propelling forward, when going hands-free. Your hips may move from left to right and although your heart rate remains elevated, your quads are not working as hard as they should be. If this is a problem, to ensure you maintain proper form, place your hands firmly on your hips and pull your shoulder blades together to maintain posture. Your hips move less, your core tightens and your quads are engaged.

For an even greater challenge, transfer weight from heel to toe throughout the workout.

4. Resistance Training on the Elliptical

You can use the elliptical trainer to really target and work your leg muscles and glutes. Do this by increasing the resistance or if a feature on the elliptical trainer by increasing incline.

You can also do incline intervals increasing the angle for a few minutes at a time, followed by a similar period with a lower incline. This will really work your guteal muscles (bottom). You can also do intervals with high and low resistance. Intervals make a great combination of cardio and resistance workouts.

Women training on the elliptical several times a week with high resistance, should keep an eye on the results. The elliptical can give you amazingly toned thighs. However, you don’t want to overdo it and become bulky in the thigh area (though this will take time, i.e it wont happen overnight). Therefore, once you are happy with your legs, stop increasing the resistance/ incline. Keep the resistance/ incline constant to maintain what you’ve got.

5. Do You Have a Body Part In Mind?

When you get on the elliptical trainer, you may have a particular body part in mind that you want to tone. Some of the newer elliptical trainers have body-part specific pre-set programs, such as “gluteal training” or one targeting the calf muscles. Choose the program that you want.

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