7 Tips to Help You Shed More Pounds on an Elliptical
Are workouts on an elliptical machine going to burn more calories and help you lose weight compared to other cardio equipment?
I’m all about getting the biggest bang for your buck, so if I’m going to spend my money (and time) on the best elliptical machine, I want to know that it delivers real results.
I’ve done a lot of research over the years on ellipticals that compared the benefits of a treadmill versus an elliptical. The researchers found that calories burned, oxygen consumption, and heart rate were nearly identical.
But, because it’s low-impact and offers a full-body workout, it’s a better weight loss option for many people. And, of course, you can catch up on the latest episodes of your favorite show while you work out, which is an added bonus!
Because I wanted to get the best results, I did some research and started experimenting to see what changes I could make to improve the effectiveness of my elliptical workouts.
Here’s what I discovered:
1. Start with a Plan
If your goal is weight loss, you need to create a calorie deficit, which probably means you’ll need to make some lifestyle changes before you start.
To get the best results from your elliptical workouts before you even get on the machine, you’ll need to:
- Create a weight loss plan, and set weekly weight loss goals (anywhere between half a pound and a pound). Slow and steady is key here, and losing weight consistently makes it easier to keep it off in the long run.
- Match your diet to your goals, you can work out all you want, but if you’re not also focusing on what you’re putting in, it will be difficult to make any real progress. Half an hour on an elliptical will burn around 330 calories for the average person, so your diet needs to be adjusted according to your weight loss plan.
2. Get the Basics Right
Did you know that something as simple as your foot position will greatly impact your calorie burn? It’s easy to cheat on the elliptical (and you probably don’t even know you’re cheating) by pushing through your toes with raised heels when you pedal. But this means you’re burning fewer calories because you use fewer muscles.
Suppose you can focus on pushing through your whole foot. In that case, you’ll be activating additional leg muscles, you’ll benefit from higher calorie burn, and your muscle definition will get a significant boost.
Another way to improve is to use the handles to move your arms, which will work your back, shoulders, and core muscles. The more muscles you’re moving, the more calories you’re burning, and the more weight you’ll lose as a result. A pro tip is to keep actively pulling and pushing with your arms to get the calorie-burning benefits.
3. Step Your Way Out of the “Fat Burning” Zone
This is one that I got wrong for years -- if you’re using your elliptical’s “fat burn” zone to guide your workout, you need to read this right now!
Here’s what you need to know:
- The fat-burning zone on the elliptical is set to between 60% and 70% of your maximum heart rate, where you burn a higher proportion of calories from fat rather than carbs.
- If you push past this zone and burn more calories overall, that will include a similar number of fat calories.
- But, working out at a high intensity has extra benefits: the afterburn effect, which is also called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). This means that your body burns calories even after you finish exercising as your muscles use oxygen to recover. You won't burn those extra calories if you’re only working out in the fat-burning zone.
4. Change Up Your Routine
If you’re focused on weight loss, it’s easy to get settled into a routine where you automatically select the one for weight loss every time you get on the elliptical.
But most ellipticals have various workouts and resistance settings, and you’ll get much better results if you play around with the options.
The resistance levels, in particular, can help you burn more calories during and after the session. You might notice that you’re "pedaling" slower as the resistance goes up, but you’re working harder and getting a great strength workout simultaneously.
5. HIIT is Where the Magic Happens
However you use your elliptical, you will likely see noticeable weight loss results. And, if you feel like you’re getting a bit stuck and need to shake things up, HIIT training can make all the difference. High-Intensity Interval Training involves alternating between sets of high-intensity training, with low-intensity recovery periods in between. You can alter the pace or resistance to a higher, more challenging level and decrease the recovery time.
There are many different options for incorporating this into your workout, starting with one minute of high intensity, followed by 3 minutes of recovery, and decreasing the recovery time to two minutes as you get fitter.
You’ll get the best weight loss benefits if you can challenge yourself during high-intensity intervals while keeping the duration of the interval periods constant.
Another option is to reduce the duration of the intervals and go all out for 20 seconds, then recover for 10, then repeat eight times for a four-minute total. Then, take two minutes of low-intensity and repeat once more. (You’ll have to build up to this level gradually; don’t just get on an elliptical and go all out!)
Remember what we said about afterburn? HIIT will give you the best ongoing weight loss as your body burns calories for up to 72 hours after a HIIT elliptical workout.
6. Increase the Length and Frequency of Your Workouts
If you’ve just started using an elliptical, the great news is that there’s so much room for improvement. You’ll want to start with two or three shorter sessions a week and build up from there. If you can only manage ten minutes, try to do ten minutes twice daily (for twenty minutes).
The goal is to work up to sessions of between thirty minutes and an hour, three or four times a week (but more is also great!).
Increasing the duration and frequency of your workouts means that you’re going to increase the number of calories that you’re burning, and you’re going to lose weight faster.
7. Keep Focus on the Biggest Wins
I wouldn’t say I like this one much, but if you’re serious about weight loss, it’s definitely worth considering. The seventh way to lose more weight is to cut out distractions. I’m a huge fan of watching TV while working out, so I’ll admit I don’t always do this one, but I’ve noticed that it makes a big difference.
By talking about keeping focus, I mean switching off the TV, putting down the phone, positioning the elliptical in front of a mirror, and really concentrating on getting the most out of the workout.
You’ll work harder, use the machine properly (think flat feet, improve posture, and actively use your arms), and burn more calories!
If you think about it, many of my most effective fitness routines were kickstarted by a desire to lose a few pounds. I tend to focus on feeling healthy rather than worrying about what the scale says, but when my jeans get too tight (usually towards the end of winter), I know it’s time for a new routine to get back in shape.
Access to an elliptical can give you the weight loss you want. In my experience, I’ve had the best results when I’ve focused on making sure my elliptical workout is:
- Regular -- I aim for three to four times a week.
- Varied -- I try to use different workout programs every time I jump on the machine.
- Over 40 minutes long -- this is a challenging one, and if you’re new to using an elliptical, it’s best to start with shorter workouts and build up gradually.
- Engaging my core -- belly fat is my major issue, so building a strong core is a top priority for me.
Once you get started for yourself, you’ll soon fall into a routine that works for you, and if you can stick to a schedule, you’ll quickly start seeing the results on the scale.
Another thing to remember here is that your elliptical workouts will help you lose weight, but they will also build muscle definition and tone. Muscle is heavier than fat, so while your weight should still drop, remember that fat stored in the body is converted into energy. And this energy is being channeled into building muscle, so you might not see all the changes reflected on the scale.
In summary, regular workouts on an elliptical will burn fat better than most types of exercise, especially if you do it right, and you’ll get stronger and fitter in the process.
Tony Lee, MS, RD
Tony Lee, RD, MS, is a highly qualified and accomplished Registered Dietitian with a Master’s Degree in Nutrition Sciences from Arizona State University. Tony brings over two decades of experience in dietetics, specializing in sports nutrition. Interests include studying all aspects of wellness, fitness, genetics, and peak health performance.