How to get a great workout on the elliptical machine

Get your workout right on the elliptical machine, and this weight-bearing, low-impact exercise can give you a better cardiovascular workout and burn more calories than high-impact running on a treadmill – while going easy on your knees (compare the treadmill vs elliptical). Far from being boring and unproductive, elliptical trainers can deliver an awesomely effective workout.

We show you how to get more from your training, tone up, and lose weight on the elliptical. Just follow these easy tips to spice up your workout, maximize your results and make the most of every stride! You’ll never have to slog away at the same old workout again.

1. Do an Interval Training Workout

Rather than just work at the same speed for 20-30 minutes on the elliptical, try alternating 30 second high-intensity (reduce intensity/ time interval if you’re a beginner) intervals with 90 second rest intervals.  You’ll burn more calories during your HIIT workout and also post-workout by boosting your metabolism for hours afterwards with this type of interval training.

2. Add a core workout

Let go of the elliptical handles and only use your legs for a great core workout. As your weight shifts forward and back and from side to side, your ab, back and waist muscles have to work extra hard to keep you upright.

Combine this trick with interval training by going hands-free during your rests, to take it up another level!

3. Throw in a thigh workout

Work your butt and thighs (hamstrings muscles – back of thighs) to the max, by keeping your feet flat and pushing your weight down though your heels. To work the front of your thighs (quadriceps) more, push down though your toes.

4. Use your arms for a total body workout

You’ll get fitter faster and burn more calories if you use your arms as much as possible. Don’t just let your arms move passively. Instead actively push and pull the elliptical handles. If you’re going hands-free, pump your arms forward and backward – as though you are running. You’ll increase your fitness and fat burning, and tone your arms, chest, shoulders and back – making the elliptical one of the best total body workouts around.

Why not give your arms some extra attention with this arm workout?

5. Add a butt workout

For short periods go hands-free and then lean forward from your hips (no rounding your back. This increases the how much your work your hip muscles and your butt (compare step machine vs elliptical). It makes for a great but workout.

Still, remember to spend most of your time standing upright with good posture and only do short sets of this technique (for more check out the Brazilian Butt Cardio Workout).

6. Throw in bodyweight exercises

Make your workout more hardcore. Don’t just limit your workouts to using the elliptical, mix in some bodyweight exercises and turn it into high-intensity interval training, to make your workout way more productive and varied.

  1. Workout on the elliptical for two-minutes and then step off and do a quick set of push-ups.
  2. Do another two-minutes and then a set of squats.
  3. Keep alternating two-minute elliptical bursts with bodyweight exercises to target your major muscles for a complete cardio and conditioning workout in 30-minutes or less.

This is especially great for when you don’t have time to do cardio and weights in the same workout.

7. Do a HIIT Tabata Workout

Not for beginners! Super short, but seriously intense. Being short of time is no longer an excuse. Tabata HIIT workout typically clock in at less than 10 minutes. And it’ll help you get fitter, faster!

  • Warm up for a couple of minutes and then sprint flat out on the elliptical for 20-seconds and cruise for 10-seconds.
  • Repeat 8 to 10 times for a very short but super intense cardio and fat burning workout.
  • Cool down for a couple more minutes and BOOM – a full workout in less than 10-minutes.

Who doesn’t have time for that?

8. Change direction

A unique feature of elliptical trainers is you can go backwards. Changing direction adds variety to your workout and also works your muscles in different ways, which keeps your workout seriously challenging. While forward tends to emphasize your hamstrings (back of thighs) and butt, backward targets your quads (front of thighs) and hip flexors.

Change direction every few minutes to give your legs a more balanced workout.

9. Add in maximum workout variety

Forward, backward, slow, fast. Use your arms or go hands free, stand up tall or lean over from the hip. In running, random mixed-pace workouts are called Fartlek training, which means speed play in Swedish. Do your own version of Fartlek training by making your workout as random as possible and mixing the techniques you use on your elliptical machine.

Not only will this prevent boredom, you’ll ensure you get the most from the elliptical machine.

10. Don’t forget to change the resistance

Most ellipticals have at least ten resistance settings, but most of us tend to just set the elliptical to level four or five and leave it there. Instead, vary the resistance setting and you’ll get far better results from your workout.

  • Long, easy workout planned today? Lower the resistance a little and go for a brisk pace.
  • Want to thrash it up and work your muscles hard? Go for a shorter workout with the resistance turned up.
  • Another option is to raise and lower the resistance throughout your workout to keep things fresh, fun, and interesting.

11. Choose the right workout music

If you find your speed drops and you lose focus during your elliptical workouts, try making a music playlist specifically designed to workout. Select faster paced, motivational music to keep you going and try to keep in step with the music. Many music streaming services (e.g. Spotify) have beats per minute info so you can choose music that is exactly the right speed for your workout.

Whether you like hip-hop or punk, the right workout music will make you workout faster, harder and longer.

12. Exercise at a faster pace

A short, fast workout on the elliptical can be just as beneficial as a slower, longer workout. Rather than coast along at 120 steps per minute for an hour, try going faster at 150 steps per minute for 20-minutes. It’ll be harder, burn calories faster and give you more time for a weights workout afterwards!

13. Follow different workout plans

Don’t just do the same old workout time after time – mix it up to avoid a fitness plateau. Most elliptical trainers have preprogrammed workout plans designed to help you get and stay fit. So use them! While you may find the odd you absolutely hate, you’ll still get a good workout. When you do the same workout day in and day out, it gets easier and you stop getting the awesome results you achieved in the beginning.

Switching up your routine will help you keep getting great results, as well as avoid injury and boredom.

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