How to Actually Get a Good Workout on the Elliptical Machine


ellipticalOut of all the cardio machines, the elliptical probably gets the most side-eye. People tend to think it’s boring and ineffective (research even says so!)Enjoyment Perception During Exercise With Aerobic Machines. Carraro A, Gobbi E, Ferri I. Perceptual and motor skills, 2014, Jul.; 119(1):0031-5125. , and the go-to source for an easy, mindless workout, if even that. But it turns out there are plenty of science-backed benefits to the elliptical, like raising your heart rate even more than the treadmill and improving fitness just as efficiently as the treadmill or Stairmaster.

What’s more, there’s actually a right and wrong way to use it. With the correct form and plan of attack, you can get a truly killer workout on the machine. To find out how to make the most of every stride, we asked top fitness experts for their best advice, plus an effective 20-minute workout.

DO: Make a plan before hitting “start.”

Before even stepping foot on the machine, set an intention for the workout. “Ask yourself what you want to achieve that day,” says Leanne Weiner, a personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist. “Then monitor your perceived level of exertion—where zero is like going for a leisurely stroll and at 10 you’re completely out of breath—throughout the workout to make sure you’re not just dialing it in. If you don’t feel like you’re working, you’re probably not.”

People just hop on and think, ‘If I move, this will be effective,’ but that’s not the case. You have to have a workout plan.

Not having a goal is one of the biggest mistakes people make on the elliptical, says Marc Santa Maria, national group fitness director at Crunch. “People just hop on and think, ‘If I move, this will be effective,’ but that’s not the case. You have to have a workout plan.” (See below for a killer example!)

DON’T: Slouch.

With handrails on the machine, it can be tempting to grab on and lean forward as your legs do all the work. But slouching forward will simply make the workout feel easier, so it’s not doing you any favors, says Jonathan Cane, a triathlon coach and exercise physiologist. “Instead, stay upright with a firm core, without hunching over,” he says. “Poor form is inefficient, and can contribute to low back pain and muscular imbalances.”

Plus, those handles aren’t supposed to make the workout feel easy. “I often see people leaning heavily on the handrails or propping themselves up on them,” Cane says. “But all that’s doing is fooling the machine. If you support your weight on the handrails, the machine will tell you your caloric expenditure is greater than it really is.”

DO: Use the handles for a total-body workout.

“Power is shared between the upper and lower body on the elliptical,” Weiner says. For the most effective workout, actively push and pull the levers while maintaining an upright posture, keeping the shoulders pulled back and the abs engaged—otherwise the arms are just along for the ride. Working the machine without holding onto the …

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