The elliptical is one of the most widely recognized and consistently utilized pieces of cardio equipment in gyms around the world. Two of the main reasons that they are so widely used by fitness addicts is that they’re accessible as well as easy on the joints.
And, while just about any movement is good for the human body, there are ways to make certain movements more effective for burning calories, which is the primary reason individuals hop on the elliptical, to begin with.
Today, we discuss the important do’s and don’ts for effective elliptical workouts.
Do’s & Don’ts of Effective Elliptical Workouts
Do Put Your Phone/Tablet Away
So often, we see individuals piddling their gym time away on a cardio machine with their face glued to the smartphone or tablet.
While this might help pass the time, it is actually impairing your workout.
You see, when you stare at your device, be it reading email, texts, social media, or the news, you’re removing your attention from your workout, which decreases performance, training intensity, and ultimately the amount of calories you’re burning.
Remember, you’re at the gym and on the elliptical to train. As such, dedicate all of your focus, energy, and effort into maximizing your time spent on the elliptical.
You can listen to music or a podcast if you want, but avoid staring at screens which directs your focus off of your movement. Even better is to turn your phone on airplane mode or leave it in the car altogether.
Do Adjust Speed & Intensity
It can be tempting to go at an easy pace on any piece of cardio equipment, and simply “check the box” on your workout.
But, if you really want to challenge yourself and improve your overall fitness, be willing to mix things up in your elliptical workouts by adjusting the speed and intensity of your movement.
Steady-state cardio has its place, but so too does interval training and other HIIT protocols.
So, if you’re doing multiple elliptical workouts each week, make sure to incorporate some workouts that are more steady-state, moderate intensity, with ones that alternate between all-out “sprints” interspersed with periods of low intensity “ellipticalling” for an interval training effect.
This way, you’ll get the best of both cardio training modalities while improving overall fitness and burning tons of calories!
Do Maintain Good Posture
As you fatigue, it can be tempting to want to slouch or start to lean on the equipment more, thereby offsetting how much of your own bodyweight you’re having to move. This is wrong for a couple of reasons.
First, by slouching, you’re placing undue stress on your low back, which can lead to pain, irritation, and discomfort in the long term.
Second, by leaning more on the equipment and not maintaining an upright posture, you’re actually reducing how much weight you’re moving, which means you’re burning less overall calories.
Maintaining an upright posture while doing your elliptical workout helps guard against low back pain while helping you maximize the calorie burn.
And, speaking of calorie burning…
Don’t Rely on the “Calories Burned” Ticker
Just about every cardio machine at the gym has some little indicator or tracker that (supposedly) tells you how many calories you burned during your workout.
However, these calories burned trackers are notoriously inaccurate and tend to heavily overestimate how many calories are actually burned during workouts.
In fact, research notes that some ellipticals overestimate the number of calories burned during workouts by as much as 130 calories per 30 minutes of exercise!
What this means is that you should take the reading on the machine with a grain of salt. It might be close to how many calories you actually burned, or it could be way off.
If you use the same elliptical machine week in and week out, then you can start to use the calories burned tracker as a gauge for how hard you’re pushing yourself from one week to the other, but a better method might be to use the heart rate monitor on your fitness tracker, if you have one.
Don’t Forget to Use Your Arms
Ellipticals have handles on them, and many individuals hold onto them, but more often than not, the arms are merely along for the ride while the lower body does the vast majority of the work.
This is all well and good, but if you really want to ramp up the calorie burning, actively push and pull the handles with your arms. Not only will this help you increase how many calories you burn during training, but you’ll also get in a great arm workout at the same time, giving you more defined and toned arms -- that’s something we all can get behind!
Do Use Other Cardio Options
The elliptical is a fantastic cardio machine, and it represents a phenomenal option for burning calories and getting results.
But, remember that it’s not the only option available.
Performing the same movement pattern over and over and over again can lead to overuse injuries, and your body can adapt to it and become more efficient, which reduces how many calories you burn during training.
That’s why, it’s recommended to mix up your cardio training during the week by using different modalities. One day could be the elliptical while another day is the rowing machine while another is bodyweight circuits.
And, if you want to build strength and get more muscle definition, you also need to perform resistance training each week in addition to your elliptical workouts. Resistance training (push ups, pull ups, squats, deadlifts, presses, etc.) tax your muscle in a different way than elliptical workouts and provides the signal they need to grow stronger and more resilient. Resistance training also improves bone density and boosts metabolism.
Don’t Forget to Adjust the Resistance
Speaking of resistance, many elliptical enthusiasts forget the fact that the elliptical machine has the ability to adjust the resistance.
Increasing the resistance makes your muscles have to work harder to move your body across the same distance, which increases calorie burning and makes for a more challenging, demanding workout.
Training on a harder resistance setting also poses a greater challenge for your cardiovascular system.
During your own elliptical workouts, after performing a brief warm up on a low/no resistance setting, feel free to increase the challenge by increasing the resistance and seeing how hard you can push yourself. You can also make it into an “interval” type challenge by doing a few minutes at a higher resistance and alternating with periods of lower resistance. This way you keep your body from adapting to one set pace.
- Glave, A. P., Didier, J. J., Oden, G. L., & Wagner, M. C. (2018). Caloric Expenditure Estimation Differences between an Elliptical Machine and Indirect Calorimetry. Exerc Med, 2, 8. https://doi.org/10.26644/em.2018.008