Best Elliptical Workout Routine for Weight Loss

Christiana Mikesch, CPT
Published by Christiana Mikesch, CPT | Senior Coach
Last updated: December 28, 2023
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As a certified personal trainer, I generally recommend that my clients do elliptical workouts rather than spend a lot of time on a treadmill and exercise bike.

There are huge benefits from this aerobic exercise, ranging from cardio endurance to boosting your calorie burn.

But just getting on this cardio machine and doing the same thing every time isn’t going to give you the best results.

So, I got the team together, and we pulled in three other personal trainers to come up with a list of elliptical exercise options with a bit of fun and variety.

Quick Summary

  • To effectively lose weight, incorporating a variety of elliptical workouts, ranging from beginner routines to high-intensity interval training, is recommended for enhancing cardio endurance and calorie burn.
  • Elliptical workouts are designed to engage both lower and upper body muscles, providing a comprehensive cardiovascular exercise experience.
  • Harvard Health studies have demonstrated that high-intensity interval training, like on an elliptical, profoundly enhances cardiovascular health.
  • Given the versatility and low-impact nature of elliptical workouts, I believe they are superb for various fitness levels and health goals, and pairing them with a natural thermogenic fat burner can optimize results.

Best Elliptical Workouts

A person working out with an elliptical

Here are the six elliptical workouts I generally recommend to clients, depending on their different fitness goals and skill levels.

We’re basing the settings below on the fact that most machines tend to include incline settings from 1-3 and resistance settings from 1-6.

If your machine is different, then roughly adjust it based on a similar range.

Read More: Elliptical Benefits: Why This Cardio Machine Is Useful

1. Beginner Routine

From my early days of coaching, I've seen how beginners can benefit from elliptical workouts that balance lower body engagement with arm movements, ensuring comprehensive cardiovascular exercise.

Here’s what I recommend beginners do: 

  • 3 minutes at the lowest incline setting with a resistance level of 3
  • 3 minutes at a medium-incline setting with a resistance level of 5
  • 3 minutes at full incline with a resistance level of 6
  • 3 minutes at the lowest incline setting with a resistance level of 3
  • 3 minutes at a medium-incline setting with a resistance level of 5
  • 3 minutes at full incline with a resistance level of 6
  • 3 minutes at the lowest incline setting with a resistance level of 1

On a very basic home machine, you’ll have to set a timer on your watch or phone. Most gyms will have advanced machines where you can program these settings.

2. 15-Minute Varying Intensity

A person doing intense elliptical machine workout

A 15-minute elliptical workout might seem short, but you can achieve a lot by experimenting with those intensity settings.

Here is an elliptical routine I often do as part of my general warm-up, as it will really get your blood pumping:

  • 2 minutes at the lowest incline setting with a resistance level of 3
  • 3 minutes at a medium-incline setting with a resistance level of 4
  • 2 minutes at full incline with a resistance level of 6
  • 3 minutes at full incline with a resistance level of 3
  • 3 minutes at full incline with a resistance level of 6
  • 2 minutes at the lowest incline setting with a resistance level of 1

The great thing is that this exercise session is a total-body workout that will warm up all major muscle groups, according to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study [1].

3. High-Intensity Elliptical Training

I’m a huge fan of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, as the huge intensity variations have a great impact on the cardiovascular system, as claimed by Harvard Health [2].

You should ideally have a machine that allows you to preprogram the settings for each time interval so that you don’t disrupt things as you go from moderate intensity to high intensity.

Here are some types of high-intensity elliptical workouts:

  • 1 minute at the lowest incline setting with a resistance level of 3
  • 2 minutes at a medium-incline setting with a resistance level of 5
  • 1 minute at the lowest incline setting with a resistance level of 3
  • 2 minutes at full incline with a resistance level of 5
  • 1 minute at the lowest incline setting with a resistance level of 3
  • 2 minutes at full incline with a resistance level of 6
  • 1 minute at the lowest incline setting with a resistance level of 1

4. Incline Elliptical Workout

A person working out on an elliptical machine

Through my coaching journey, I've found that incline elliptical workouts are fantastic for boosting performance and endurance, a technique I often recommend to clients seeking a more challenging routine.

Here’s what you do:

  • 3 minutes at the lowest incline setting with a resistance level of 1
  • 3 minutes at the lowest incline setting with a resistance level of 2
  • 3 minutes at a medium-incline setting with a resistance level of 3
  • 3 minutes at a medium-incline setting with a resistance level of 4
  • 3 minutes at a medium-incline setting with a resistance level of 5
  • 3 minutes at full incline with a resistance level of 5
  • 3 minutes at full incline with a resistance level of 6

5. Full Body Workout

This will be like doing circuit training around the elliptical to introduce an effective workout for your upper body at the same time.

Make sure you have some space available to do this: 

  • 2 minutes at the lowest incline setting with a resistance level of 3
  • 15 to 20 push-ups to fully activate the upper body
  • 2 minutes at a medium-incline setting with a resistance level of 5
  • 15 burpees
  • 2 minutes at a medium-incline setting with a resistance level of 3
  • 15 decline push-ups
  • 2 minutes at full incline with a resistance level of 3
  • 20 v-up crunches
  • 2 minutes at full incline with a resistance level of 3
  • 25 squats
  • 2 minutes at the lowest incline setting with a resistance level of 1

How To Use An Elliptical

A person working out on an elliptical

Based on my extensive experience with different elliptical machines, I recommend paying attention to a few key aspects for an optimal workout experience.

Here’s how to use an elliptical properly.

Related Articles:

Start With a Warm-Up

Don’t jump on an elliptical machine and immediately go full power without first warming up.

Anywhere from a two- to five-minute warm-up is a good starting point.

Even though an elliptical workout has a low impact on your joints, your muscles need to warm up slowly, and blood starts flowing to deliver optimum oxygen levels, as stated in the Gait Posture journal study [3].

Focus On Your Posture

Because your arms and legs are moving during an elliptical workout, it can quickly happen that you hunch over.

And despite the low-impact nature of elliptical trainers, you can still end up doing damage to your hips and back if you move your entire body with poor posture.

Focus on your spine alignment and keep it neutral without leaning forward or hunching over.

Get Your Feet Set Up Right

A person setting his feet on an elliptical

The great thing about every elliptical machine is that the foot platforms are elongated to allow you to find the ideal foot placement for your stride.

You will need to experiment with this but start with a placement that gives you a stride length, like when you’re jogging.

For higher intensity and speed levels, you can extend your foot placement a bit.

Vary the Intensity Levels

While elliptical training is excellent for its low-impact benefits, particularly for those with conditions like arthritis or heart disease, it's important for healthy individuals to avoid monotonous 20-minute sessions at the same pace and intensity.

According to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning research, the more you vary the speed and intensity, the better your body will react for weight management, endurance, and strength [4].

“To change something you’re already doing, add intervals of high-intensity activity interspersed throughout your usual activity.”

- Elizabeth Timms, BSc.

FAQs

Are 30 Minutes on Elliptical Enough Exercise?

Yes, 30 minutes on an elliptical trainer can be enough exercise if you dial up the intensity. Just a leisurely movement at the lowest settings won’t provide huge benefits, so make sure you get a good workout with different intensity and speed intervals.

Do Ellipticals Help Lose Belly Fat?

Yes, ellipticals help lose belly fat. It’s not like you will only lose belly fat; the exercise will help you effectively burn off more calories, which should then lead to a better fat metabolism.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19996770/
  2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/exercise-and-fitness/high-intensity-exercise-and-your-heart
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3299003/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35438660/
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About The Author

Christiana Mikesch, CPT
Senior Coach
Christiana Mikesch, CPT is a personal trainer and author with contributions to publications like the Chicago Tribune and Yahoo. She emphasizes a holistic approach to weight loss, combining an energy-fueling diet, goal-oriented workouts, and daily habits. Her approach avoids short-term goals and fosters a lifelong commitment to health and well-being.
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Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer
Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health and is the owner of Taylor Made Fitness. Her philosophy centers on cutting through the hype and misinformation surrounding dietary supplements, focusing instead on practical, science-backed strategies for health and weight loss.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
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