Elliptical Workout Ideas – From Beginner To HIIT

Elliptical machines are not very complicated, and generally, offer the same types of workouts for the most part -- but only if you have a simple approach. Think elliptical workouts are relegated to the same mindless back and forth? Think again.

Ellipticals have a lot more versatility than you may initially realize. You can use them for a wide variety of different workout types, ranging from beginner workouts for those who are new to these machines, and all the way up to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routines.

Want to focus on your core a bit more? You can do that too?.Curious as to how many calories you can actually burn during a 30-minute elliptical workout? Keep reading.

In this article, we’ll go over some different elliptical workouts you can do on any standard elliptical machine, and also cover some helpful information that will aid you in your exercises and goal-tracking.

Why Use An Elliptical?

The two main advantages you get with an elliptical machine revolve around a low-impact nature and a more full-body workout experience that’s still centered around cardio for the most part.

using an elliptical machine

The low-impact aspect of ellipticals is appealing for many different types of people, but definitely for those who are recovering from injuries, or simply unable to do higher impact workouts like running, whether that’s from age or lingering issues from prior injuries.

The full-body aspect refers to the handles that typically come with ellipticals, working in conjunction with the rotation of the pedals. This simple inclusion engages your upper body to an extent, leading to a more all-encompassing aerobic workout.

There are plenty of other reasons to use an elliptical (including the simple one of merely adding variety to your workouts,) but that’s enough for now.

Short Beginners Elliptical Workout

Are you new to ellipticals, or even just working out in general? No problem here is an easy workout guide you can use to ease into things as you get to acclimate to the process. 

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Before getting started, a few quick things to go over, however:

If you have an injury, illness, condition, or medications that affect your heart rate, always consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise routine.

Know that you’ll probably feel a burn in your quads when you first get started with all this, but that’s natural. Be sure to not over-exert yourself. Otherwise, you could end up straining your muscles or causing exhaustion, which defeats the purpose of doing this in the first place.

Learn your perceived exertion rate or scale (PRE.) This is a metric in which to gauge how hard you feel that your body is working. This is subjective for everyone, but tends to be divided like this, if you’re going to the Borg Scale:

  • 6 – No exertion at all
  • 7, 8 – Extremely light
  • 9, 10 – Very light
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    11, 12– Light
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    13, 14 – Somewhat hard
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    15, 16 – Hard
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    17, 18 – Very hard
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    19 – Extremely hard
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    20 – Maximal exertion

Okay, onto the workout. This one is only 20 minutes long to start, with room to grow as your abilities increase. (PRE for each step is in parentheses)

1 - Start by warming up for 5 minutes at a comfortable pace, while keeping the resistance level low. (10)

2 - Now that you’re warmed up, increase the resistance by 1 to 4 increments until you're working harder than your warm-up pace. You should feel more exerted, but still able to carry on a conversation easily. This is your baseline pace. Stay at it for 3 minutes. (11)

3 - Increase your resistance a few more increments until you're going a little bit harder than baseline. Do this for 2 minutes. (13)

4 - Decrease the resistance back to your original baseline for 3 minutes. (11)

5 - Now increase your resistance until you're working slightly harder than baseline, and stay there for 2 minutes. (13-14)

6 - Decrease the resistance back to a much more comfortable level, and then cool down for 5 minutes.

Elliptical Core Workouts

core workout with elliptical machine

Core workouts are not typically the first thing most people think about when discussing workouts for an elliptical, but you’d be surprised how effective you can target your core when using the machine in certain ways.

That’s not to say that ellipticals don’t already provide a core workout during normal use, but there are a few simple things you can do to focus even more on the core area.

The most effective solution? Simply let go of the moving handles, and either keep your hands completely free, or grab onto the stationary bars in the center.

This causes you to use your core for balancing, rather than relying on your arms. Since you’re moving your feet in an elliptical motion, you’ll be engaging your core as your normally would, but with an added emphasis that relies fully on your core instead of your arms for overall balance.

It may not seem like that big of a change at first but give it about 5 minutes into your workout, and you’ll definitely feel it. 

You can implement this approach into any elliptical sessions, but try doing it for 5 minutes at first, and then add a few minutes every other day as you progress.

Elliptical HIIT Workouts

HIIT workouts are among the most efficient you can do, regardless of what specific exercise you’re doing, or on what machine. While the low-impact nature of an elliptical might make it seem like it can’t offer anything on the scale of HIIT, that’s not true at all.

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Using resistance settings and even how you stand on the elliptical can help you craft a simple and effective HIIT workout. Here’s an outline you can follow, with the PRE in parentheses:

Warm Up

  • 00:00-03:00 (9)
  • 03:00-05:00 (10)

Quick Intervals (Resistance can range from 5 to 7)

  • 05:00-05:08, (15-17)
  • 05:08-05:20, (13-15)
  • 05:20-05:28, (15-18)
  • 05:28-05:40, (13-15)
  • 05:40-05:48, (16-19)
  • 05:48-06:00, (13-15)

Repeat 4 more times.

Recover

  • 10:00-12:00, (13-15) Pedaling backward

Quick Intervals Part 2 (Resistance between 5 and 7)

  • 12:00-12:08, (16-19)
  • 12:08-12:20, (13-15)
  • 12:20-12:28, (15-19)
  • 12:28-12:40, (13-15)
  • 12:40-12:48, (16-19)
  • 12:48-13:00, (13-15)

Repeat 4 more times.

Cool Down

  • 17:00-20:00 (10)
  • 20:00-22:00 (9)

If you really want to crank up the challenge, do 1 to 2 30-second sets of low-intensity bodyweight exercises off to the side of the elliptical during the recovery periods. This can include planks, push-ups, air squats, and lunges.

Elliptical Machine Workouts For Weight Loss

Elliptical machines have been shown to be just as effective as treadmills in burning calories, if not more. And of course, burning calories is the key to losing weight.

How Many Calories Can I Burn On An Elliptical Machine?

For the vast majority of those that exercise, burning calories is often the primary goal. Whether it’s for losing weight, or keeping it off, calorie burning rates get nearly (or as much) attention as heart rate.

home workout using an elliptical machine

So how many calories can someone burn on an elliptical anyway? Well, this can depend on a lot of things, such as body weight, gender, body type, workout intensity, duration, and more.

According to the Harvard Medical School, you burn approximately 2.16 calories for every pound of body weight during 30 minutes of elliptical use. So, as an example, a 160-pound person would burn about 345 calories during 30 minutes on the elliptical.

Here are two metrics you can reference, one for a man, and one for a woman:

180-pound man - 30 minutes: 75-500 calories and 60 minutes:750-950 calories

120-pound woman - 30 minutes: 250-310 calories and 60 minutes: 450-600 calories

So, while elliptical machines are not as efficient as more impactful and intense forms of exercise, they are still very effective in their own right, especially when you use higher resistance settings, and for longer durations.

Because of this, elliptical machines remain very viable for calorie and fat-burning, especially for those that prefer or require low-impact exercise.

How To Lose Weight On An Elliptical?

You can effectively burn calories with any elliptical workout, whether you’re doing low-level cardio exercises, focusing on your core, or just a general elliptical routine. Here are some ways to maximize your calorie burning:

Push Yourself - Sounds obvious, but it’s worth mentioning again. You only get out what you put in. If you’re treating your elliptical time like a stroll in the park, you won’t burn as many calories. Push yourself hard constantly, and the burned calories will add up fast.

Change Directions - A simple reversal of directions in your pedal motion will cause your body to work differently, which stimulates more calorie burning.

Watch Your Heart Rate - This is key. Keep an eye on your heart rate, and try to keep things in between 75-85% of your maximum heart rate. This is the ideal calorie-burning zone for any workout.

Elliptical Machine Workout Tips

Elliptical machines may seem like simple machines, and they are for the most part, but there are a handful of things you can do to make sure you’re getting the most out of your workouts each and every time you use one.

elliptical machine tips

Be Mindful of Resistance Levels

The resistance level of your elliptical is the key to the overall quality of workout you’re getting. While it may be tempting to leave the resistance low and breeze through a workout session, you aren’t doing yourself any favors, even if it feels nice to keep a strong pace going for long periods of time.

Some people tend to think that a fast pace and fluid form are the keys to getting an efficient workout on an elliptical, but that’s not how it works. If you aren’t exerting effort, you’re not getting a proper workout.

Always make sure to adjust the resistance enough to where you can keep a pace, but it requires effort the entire time.

This doesn’t mean you need to ratchet things up to full resistance, but it shouldn't be hard to find the setting that challenges you, but also allows you to keep things rolling without over-exerting yourself.

Stand Up Straight!

I know, it sounds like something a parent would say, but keeping proper posture on an elliptical is not about aesthetics.

When you slouch on an elliptical, you aren’t fully engaging your muscle groups like you should be, and possibly exposing yourself to the risk of strains and pulls.

By standing straight up with proper posture, you can be sure your muscles are getting worked correctly, and also ensuring that you’re getting the most out of your effort, especially in your core area.

Use Both Directions (If Possible)

I’ve already touched on some exercises that utilize reverse motions on an elliptical, but it’s worth mentioning again. In case you didn’t already know, ellipticals can go in reverse just as easy as they can forwards.

This simple switch in directions results in targeting different muscle groups than when you’re going forwards. For instance, when using a forward motion, your quads and calves are targeted the most. When going in reverse, your hamstrings and glutes get the brunt of the attention.

Don’t Be Elliptical-Centric

With any exercise machine, it can be tempting to get caught in a routine, using that machine for the same workouts every time you exercise. This is especially true with machines like treadmills and ellipticals.

If you find yourself being too reliant on your elliptical, it’s time to switch things up. While trying out some different types of exercise on an elliptical may seem like the logical solution, try switching out your elliptical time with a treadmill, or other forms of cardio training.

This change of routine will shock your muscles (in a good way,) and stimulate them in different ways, leading to better results over time.

You obviously don’t have to eliminate the elliptical from your routines entirely, but doing other things in its place every few weeks will pay off, and you’ll also avoid burnout and boredom.

Conclusion

Ellipticals remain a popular exercise machine for a reason, and their capabilities remain virtually limitless.

By following what you’ve read above, you now have plenty to go off of when crafting your own custom workout routines on your elliptical, ensuring that you’re getting the most out of your workouts each time you hop on.

Good luck!