Ways to Maximize your Elliptical Workout

Whether you’re exercising at home or you’re heading to the gym, you want to maximize your elliptical workout. So how do you get the most from your time on the elliptical machine?

Elliptical machines are a great tool for cardio workouts. You can burn calories fast, working out your upper and lower body at the same time—without putting stress on your joints. 1

To maximize your elliptical workout, you should:

1. Get Clear About Your Fitness Goals

You can’t get the most from your workout unless you’re clear about what you want to achieve. 

Do you want to burn more calories? Are you aiming to build more muscle strength? Or are you training for endurance? Maybe you want to target a particular body area, or you simply want to enjoy that feeling of having worked as hard as you can.

Once you know what your goals are, you can look at ways to tweak your elliptical workout.

People working out in the gym on elliptical machines.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

2. Incorporate Interval Training

If you tend to set your elliptical trainer to one resistance level throughout your workout, change things up. Almost all elliptical machines have different workout programs so you can do interval training, with periods of high intensity followed by lower-intensity recovery periods.

Interval training helps you to lose weight faster, so it’s a great way to exercise if you only have 20 minutes to spend on a workout. 2

3. Focus More on Your Upper Body

When you’re using your elliptical machine, it’s easy to end up driving it with your legs and just letting the motion of the machine move your arms back and forth. This isn’t doing much for your upper body.

Instead, aim to put more effort into moving the machine with your arms, not just your legs. You might choose to focus on the push or the pull with your arms, maybe alternating this with periods when you do most of the work with your legs.

4. Pedal Backward Instead of Forward

Many elliptical users only pedal forward—and while this will still get you a good workout, you won’t have the same benefits as you would from going both forward and backward. You use different muscles each way: just try pedaling backward and you’ll definitely feel the difference!

During your workout, alternate the direction you’re moving in. You might want to go forward most of the time, but incorporate short intervals (say, 30 – 60 seconds) of backward movement as well. This helps you target more muscle groups during your workout.

5. Use the Incline Feature

Elliptical machines in the gym—and many elliptical machines designed for home use—will have an incline feature. You can even find high-quality ellipticals at a great value.

By adding an incline, you get a harder workout. This helps you burn calories faster and target different muscle groups too.

6. Alternate Between the Elliptical and Cross-Fit Exercises

One great way to maximize your elliptical workout is to get off the elliptical. By alternating periods of lower intensity elliptical training with high-intensity cross-fit exercises (lifting weights, squatting, pulling, pushing, and so on), you can get more benefits from your workout in a shorter time. 3

This way, you’re using your elliptical as part of your workout—rather than expecting to get every possible benefit of exercise from just one machine.

Dumbells on a gym floor.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

7. Monitor Your Heart Rate

Are you exercising at the right intensity? It can be hard to gauge this simply from how you feel. If you’re not sure whether you’re pushing hard enough, it’s important to monitor your heart rate. If you’re fairly fit, you’ll want to aim between 70% – 85% of your maximum heart rate for vigorous exercise intensity, or between 50% – 70% for a moderate-intensity workout. 4

To work out your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. For instance, if you’re 40 years old, your maximum heart rate will be 180. 5

8. Experiment with Exercising At Different Times of Day

When in the day do you exercise? Some people find that they have lots of energy first thing in the morning—but others find it easiest to put in their maximum effort during a lunch break or after work.

You might also find that you enjoy exercising at the end of the day because it helps you to leave work behind and get ready to relax—or simply because you feel less pressed for time.

To get the most out of your workout, try switching up when you exercise. You might find that your workout is a lot more enjoyable just because you move it to a different time of the day.

9. Listen to Energizing Music

If you normally listen to podcasts or audiobooks while exercising, you might find that these are distracting you or slowing you down. Try some energizing music instead: something that you enjoy, with a fast beat, may get you moving that bit quicker.

Some people like to create a specific exercise playlist of favorite tracks. This can be a great way to get yourself into “exercise mode”, especially if you’re not feeling very motivated to work out.

The elliptical trainer is a fantastic piece of workout equipment, offering low-impact cardio workouts that can target both the upper and lower body. By incorporating the tips above into your workout, you’ll find you get more benefits than ever before, helping you to burn more fat, tone your muscles, and reach your goals faster.

Article Sources

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  1. Eken MM, Withers A, Flanagan K, Burger J, Bosch A, Lamberts RP. Muscular Activation Patterns During Exercise on the Treadmill, Stepper, and Elliptical Trainer [published online ahead of print, 2020 Aug 31]. J Strength Cond Res. 2020;10.1519/JSC.0000000000003743. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000003743
  2. Grossman JA, Arigo D, Bachman JL. Meaningful weight loss in obese postmenopausal women: a pilot study of high-intensity interval training and wearable technology. Menopause. 2018;25(4):465-470. doi:10.1097/GME.0000000000001013
  3. Wewege M, van den Berg R, Ward RE, Keech A. The effects of high-intensity interval training vs. moderate-intensity continuous training on body composition in overweight and obese adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2017;18(6):635-646. doi:10.1111/obr.12532
  4. American Heart Association. Target Heart Rates Chart. American Heart Association. Updated March 9, 2021. Accessed August 12, 2021.
  5. American Heart Association. Target Heart Rates Chart. American Heart Association. Updated March 9, 2021. Accessed August 12, 2021.