7 Do’s and Don’ts For Effective Elliptical Workouts

Julia Malacoff
by Julia Malacoff
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7 Do’s and Don’ts For Effective Elliptical Workouts

Most gyms have elliptical machines. Considering how many benefits they have (like being easy to come by and gentle on the joints), lots of gymgoers choose to use them. But most exercisers never get instructions on how to use an elliptical properly. That might be why trainers frequently see people using them incorrectly. Ahead, fitness pros share their top elliptical do’s and don’ts for a more effective workout.

“People get tired after a period of time and start to shift their weight forward to alleviate the stress from their legs,” explains Nicole Palacios, a certified personal trainer. This leads them to slouch over the machine, sometimes even resting their forearms on the machine itself.

That’s a problem because when you repeat a movement over and over, you want to do so in good alignment to protect your joints and muscles.”Stand tall and place equal amounts of pressure on your feet and legs,” Palacios advises. “Your upper body should not be taking the brunt of your weight.”

Also important: Keep your shoulders back and down. “People will use their arms to push and pull, but keep their shoulders raised up in a defensive posture,” Palacios says. “This causes bad posture, a tight neck and traps and possibly even headaches.”

Hanging out at the same resistance level for your entire workout is a big no-no, says Sheri Saperstein, a certified personal trainer. “The resistance option is there for a reason and can help make your muscles and joints stronger, in addition to your cardiovascular system,” she notes. “By staying at the lowest resistance level during your workout (or by staying at the same level the whole time) your body will adapt and become more efficient over time, resulting in less of a calorie burn, muscle building, strength, endurance and tone.”

Sample workout: To get the most out of your workout and ensure you keep making progress, she recommends starting at a low level for a 2–4 minute warmup. Then advancing your level every 4–5 minutes until your breathing becomes too difficult to hold a conversation. Then, cool down.

Similarly, you can keep your body guessing and progressing (and avoid boredom) by adding different types of intervals, mainly going faster and pedaling backward.

“When you change it up by incorporating timed intervals of harder and more dynamic moves, your body is always challenged and your muscles are forced to adapt at every change,” Saperstein points out. “High-intensity intervals are also great for improving aerobic capacity and burning more calories in less time, as well as after the exercise session is completed.”

Sample workout: Warm up for 2–4 minutes on a low level. Then sprint for 1 minute and recover for 2 minutes. Complete 5–10 rounds of this protocol using different paces and levels of resistance.

Many elliptical users put all their weight in their toes because of knee pain or discomfort. Unfortunately, pushing too hard with your toes can not only compromise your posture but also exponentially increases the pressure put on your knees at a detrimental angle,” says Kristin D. Mercurio, a certified trainer and corrective exercise specialist. “As a result, this can greatly increase your risk of injury. To correct this issue, you have to focus on shifting the weight back toward the midsole of your foot, keeping more contact with your whole foot throughout the stride and maintaining proper posture. The only time your heel should lift is when your foot reaches the end of the stride behind you.”

Not only can using your phone or tablet on the elliptical be dangerous if you’re really not paying attention to your feet, but it can also prevent you from getting a good workout. “If you have your phone in your hand and are busy scrolling Instagram or texting with your pals, you are definitely not working hard enough,” says Sarah Ray, a tactical strength and conditioning facilitator. “You don’t drive to the grocery store to just sit inside for an hour and leave without any goods. Why would you do that at the gym? Set your phone down, grab those handles and get after it.”

“I have lost count of the number of studies showing that cardio machines do not accurately report calories burned,” Ray notes. “But focusing on the calorie output is only one miss when looking at the data the elliptical reports out on. Fixating on time, distance or anything else you see on the machine is a surefire way to drive your routine into the ground.”

Instead, set some SMART goals that address your fitness routine. “These are a much better focus point versus some arbitrary numbers that differ wildly from machine to machine,” she says. “Thinking about the small steps you are taking every workout to get to those goals will be much more encouraging than obsessing about the final destination.”

You’ve seen those people who hop on the elliptical, pop on their headphones and zone out for an hour every single day, Ray says. If your goal is to get fitter and stronger, you want to avoid that. “Adding in strength work or resistance training is often overlooked, especially by those new to the gym,” she notes. “However, a good strength-training plan will contribute to increased skeletal muscle mass, lower body fat, improved bone density, and reduce your likelihood of injury.”

About the Author

Julia Malacoff
Julia Malacoff

Julia (@jmalacoff) is a seasoned writer and editor who focuses on fitness, nutrition, and health. She’s also a certified personal trainer and Precision Nutrition Level 1 coach. Based in Amsterdam, she bikes every day and travels around the world in search of tough sweat sessions and the best vegetarian fare.

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12 responses to “7 Do’s and Don’ts For Effective Elliptical Workouts”

  1. Avatar lwright311 says:

    I love this article. I usually workout at home with DVDs but I always use the elliptical when i stay at a hotel. I was also debating on buying one. This gave me good tips and a HIIT workout that I will definitely try.

  2. Avatar lwright311 says:

    Question: Are the first 2 mins of the 20 min workout a warm-up or do I need to do a warm up before starting?

    • Avatar Michelle5154 says:

      If you need extra money of about 50 dollars to 300 dollars each day for doing an online job on your computer from home for 3-4 h every day then this may interest you…

  3. Avatar motherof9 says:

    I have a live strong and I love it. Another tip is add some dumb bells. If you get in the right grove it is easy to pump up and down 10-15 times as you do fast paced walking to rest then I drop them in the bottle holder and run as fast as I can for as long as I can. Repeat as many times as you can, I have already lost 40 pounds, only 60 to my goal.

  4. Avatar Maurice Class says:

    I got really great workouts with the elliptical machine at 40 minute sessions. Why are you limiting you schedule to 20 minute sessions?

  5. Avatar Manders says:

    There’s a minute missing between each section of the workout. This should really be rewritten as 0-2, 2-6, 6-8, etc., or whichever is correct.

  6. Avatar Shane Arnold says:

    I find it interesting that folks find the eliptical boring? It is my saviour and love spending time on it. The ones in our gym face a wall and I must say its a big help as I am not distracted.

  7. Avatar JL says:

    I’d be interested to know what others think of this workout, which is my attempt to burn a certain number of calories, and keep my mind engaged. Set the eliptical to an interval program type. Go at whatever pace is required to burn 16 calories in a minute. Do it until you hit your calorie goal.

  8. Avatar countrymama14 says:

    I am a below-knee amputee and love the elliptical. It is my cardio workout since I am unable to run or walk at a pace faster than 4mph to get my heart rate up. I can get up to 8mph with no impact which is perfect for me. I aim for 3 20-minute or more workouts a week on the machine, then do weights, planks, and stretches.

  9. Avatar Captain Jeff says:

    elliptical is my fav cardio machine b/c i am able to choose what body part i want to work out, usually my glutes get the most attention. I use elliptical b/c i need to do low impact cardio & this seems to hit the spot. I am able to focus on, hams, calves, glutes, etc…any part.

  10. Avatar Volksman says:

    I use the elliptical a lot as it is the only fitness machine I have at home so it is really easy to just get on it if I want a quick workout. The method I use is to have a “workout” song list that I create myself, which has various beat rates (or whatever they are called). I then exercise to the beat of the music but raise and lower the resistance so that I am always working at a consistent level of exertion (as measured by the watt reading). Whenever I get bored, I just create a different song list.

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