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6 Ways to Make the Most of the Elliptical


Even if your gym offers Pilates, yoga, Zumba and all of the other fitness classes that are all the rage right now, sometimes you may just be in the mood for a no-frills elliptical sesh.

Since you have a million other things on your schedule, like classes, club meetings and fitting in a social life somewhere in between, it’s important to make sure you’re making the most of your time at the gym. Look no further to learn how to make your time on the elliptical as productive as possible! We talked to personal trainer Melanie Ludwig, owner of Prestige Fitness in New Hampshire, to find out the best ways to make the most of the machine that we collegiettes love (or love to hate).

1. Enter your information

Before you even begin moving, take a minute to enter your weight and age into the machine. This will give you a more accurate estimate of the amount of calories you’re burning and the results that you will see.

“Most exercise equipment has settings you can change for calculating calories burned,” Ludwig says. “The usual default is for a 150-pound man.” That means that if you weigh less or more than that, the calorie-burn data will be off. By entering in your specific weight, you’ll ensure that you’ll get more accurate information. 

A range of calories to aim for is dependent on your goals and expectations through your exercise. In terms of a number of calories to aim for to aid with weight loss, Ludwig says that “to lose 1 pound, you need a loss of 3,500 calories. The best way to accomplish this is by monitoring what you eat and by exercising. If you cut 500 calories a day from your diet and burn 150 calories by exercising, your loss of 4,550 calories for a week should equal 1.3 pounds lost.” Ludwig also notes that “a healthy weight loss is 0.5 to 2 pounds per week.”

She also says that with clients she “stresses the balance of calories in [food] and calories out [activity], and moving your body in ways that make you feel strong and healthy.”

2. Try an interval workout

By breaking up your time on the elliptical into bursts of high-intensity activity followed by lower-intensity activity, you’ll help to challenge your metabolism. According to Ludwig, an interval workout “challenges the cardiorespiratory system by making you work harder and helps ‘push the envelope’ by increasing your capacity to do higher levels.”

Her suggestion for an interval workout is to start off on the elliptical for five minutes on a moderate setting, and then push yourself for 30 seconds with a higher resistance or other feature. Then, repeat five times and complete an easy two-minute cool down. The workout will then total 35 minutes, three minutes of which were high intensity.

“After a few weeks, you will be able to increase those high intervals and shorten the rest intervals because your body will be more fit and able to handle it,” Ludwig says. “Then, maybe go for a five-minute moderate warm-up, one minute of speed and repeat, followed by four-minute rest intervals. Repeat five times before cooling down for the remainder of the 35 minutes.”

Since there is also a risk of injury with too much intensity, Ludwig says to make sure that you always check in with your doctor before trying a new exercise.

3. Amp up your resistance

Speeding through on the elliptical for miles in only a few minutes feels great but prevents you from seeing the proper results. That’s because you’re not getting the biggest calorie burn possible for your time because your resistance is set way too low. Instead, you should feel completely worn out once your workout is over. A good resistance is a level that challenges you enough to power through your workout but doesn’t completely wipe you out in a few minutes. You can change your resistance in intervals throughout your workout, as mentioned above.

“Increasing resistance will increase caloric expenditure, as will increasing the duration of the workout,” Ludwig says. “The main goal is to try to vary what you do so your body has to respond to different stimuli!”

However, don’t get this tip confused with the ramp incline feature that may be available on your machine, which literally increases the incline of the surface of the machine. Although it’s a beneficial feature on a treadmill, it only makes it easier for your legs to stride when it comes to an elliptical workout. On the other hand, an increase in resistance will simply make the workout more challenging by making it harder to stride due to a pressure increase.

4. Set goals to improve your previous time or strides

Just like you can set fitness goals for yourself when you’re running or completing any other fitness routine, you can do so with the elliptical as well! Whether you count the number of strides that you completed in comparison to your last workout or go for an extra few minutes, you’ll have something to strive for with each workout.

Ludwig says “your goals/time depends on where you are starting from. Try to start with achievable goals. If you are not active, maybe 15-20 minutes of exercise three times a week is a good start. A good goal is to try and be active most days of the week!”

To stay motivated, Ludwig suggests keeping a log so that you’re able to see your progress. “Write down all the data and you won't believe what [improvements] you will see in even a few weeks!” she says. “I record all my clients’ data, and it is so cool to see their improvements.”

5. Work your core

The elliptical isn’t a machine that works only your legs and arms—you can get a worthwhile core workout from it as well! By adding this extra dimension to your routine, you’ll continue to burn more calories while strengthening a different part of your body.

To do this, go hands-free by letting go of the handles. This practice helps to challenge your sense of balance and places the target of your routine on your core. Do make sure that you’re not swaying side-to-side while you do this, since doing so will reduce the effectiveness of the routine. To keep your posture strong and tall, simply place your hands on your hips and flex (or “activate”) your core. “This takes balance and some practice, so safety first!” Ludwig says.

If you’re not comfortable with letting go of the handles of the machine but still want to work your core, make sure that you’re standing up straight without slouching so that your abs are lengthened and flexed.

6.Pedal in different directions

The elliptical is one of the most versatile fitness machines because it allows you to move forward and backwards, so take advantage of its flexibility. By moving in the direction opposite of what you’re used to, your routine will stay interesting and engaging.

“Going backwards has not been shown to improve cardiorespiratory benefits, but it does allow you to use your muscles in a different way, and also provides a little variety to help with boredom,” Ludwig says. “When you change direction on the elliptical, it challenges your balance, and this makes your core work harder to keep you from wiping out.”

If you’re looking to work your quads, pedal the machine forward. If you’re hoping to work on your glutes or hamstrings, pedal backwards.


The next time you’re headed to the gym to use the elliptical, keep these tips in mind to have your most productive and energizing elliptical workout yet. These ideas will ensure that you’re getting the most out of your time without getting bored or sidetracked. Feel the burn! 

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