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 quite a bit 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 close to identical. But, because it’s low-impact and offers a full-body workout, it’s actually a better option for weight loss for many people. And, of course, you can catch up on the latest episodes of your favorite show while you workout, which is an added bonus!
Because I wanted to get the best results, I did some research and started experimenting for myself to try and 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 that you’ll need to make some lifestyle changes before you get started.
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, 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 is going to have a huge impact on your calorie burn? It’s easy to cheat on the elliptical (and you probably don’t even know that you’re cheating) by pushing through your toes with raised heels when you pedal. But, this means you’re burning fewer calories because you’re using fewer muscles. If you can focus on pushing through your whole foot, you’ll be activating additional leg muscles, you’ll benefit from higher calorie burn, and your muscle definition is going to 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 here 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 so, 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 a higher number of 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 basically means that your body is burning calories even after you finish exercising as your muscles use oxygen to recover. If you’re only working out in the fat-burning zone, you’re not going to burn those extra calories.
4. Change Up Your Routine
If you’re focused on weight loss, it’s easy to get settled into a routine where every time you get on the elliptical, you automatically select the one for weight loss. But most ellipticals have a range of different 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 at the same time.
5. HIIT is Where the Magic Happens
However you use your elliptical, you’re likely to 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, then 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 as you get more fit, decreasing the recovery time to two minutes. You’ll get the best weight loss benefits if you can challenge yourself during the 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’re going to 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, then try to do ten minutes twice a day (for a total of 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 don’t 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, improved posture, and actively using your arms), and you’ll 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 that you’re looking for. 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 keep in mind here is that your elliptical workouts will help you lose weight, but they’re also going to build muscle definition and tone. And muscle is heavier than fat, so while your weight should still drop, keep in mind 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 are going to burn fat better than most types of exercise, especially if you do it right, and you’ll get stronger and fitter in the process.