Making the Most of Your Elliptical Trainer

One of the most efficient ways to drop excess weight and tone your muscles all at once is to exercise using an elliptical trainer. They have become more commonplace, and most gyms have them. Also, since their prices have began to go down, most people can actually afford to buy one for their home.

One of the most important things to know when using an elliptical trainer is how to keep proper form and posture. Before going and trying one out, you should consult with your physician and professional trainer if you have any chronic injuries that might prevent you from working out or which put certain limitations on the way you exercise.

Once you’ve gotten that out of the way, have a look at our guide for using an elliptical trainer.


Since an elliptical trainer targets your legs, gluteal muscles, abdominals, and the entire upper body including Pecs, arms and shoulders, you must stretch each one of these muscle groups properly before you start your workout routine.

Get into the routine of some simple stretching before you begin using your machine – it will allow you to move more comfortably and help avoid injury. There is a good reason why athletes stretch before their sports.

Getting on the Trainer

Precor EFX 5.25 Console

Precor EFX 5.25 Console

This particular step might seem like overkill, but getting on an elliptical trainer is somewhat different when compared to getting on treadmills or exercise bikes – especially your first time!

You must have good balance when you step onto the machine because the foot pedals will move. If you approach the unit from the left, grab the stationary part of the left handlebar and step down on the right pedal. Then you repeat the same process on the right.

Grab the stationary part of the right handle and step down on the left pedal. You can then proceed to steady the pedals by extending one foot forward. It takes a little getting used to but just be prepared for the possible movement of the pedals and keep a good grip on the handles for stability.

Figuring out the Right Settings

A lot depends on the particular machine you have bought. Some of the better elliptical trainers like the Precor EFX 5.25 have quickstart programs that will automatically guide you. With some other models you need to select the programs manually.

Once you step on to the trainer, start pedaling slowly and the trainer will guide you through the rest of the set-up process. If you are impatient to start you can simply press the “Quickstart” button and begin your workout.

In this mode, you can make settings regarding the incline and the resistance. By making the incline go up or down, the machine can mimic cross country skiing or climbing up the hill. Changing the resistance level makes it easier or harder for you to operate the foot pedals.

On some machines you can also set up the trainer by entering your weight and age, and the machine will calculate the number of calories burned, as well as tell you when you are inside the fat-burning zone. This is great, because you can design a custom workout that will fit your needs and goals best. The expensive fully featured machines have extensive pre programmed workouts to keep things varied and interesting.

Making the Most out of Your Workout

According to research, there is a way you can increase the number of calories burned by changing up the perceived intensity during the workout. For example, you can begin by rating the exertion rate on a scale from 1 to 10.

A sample 30-minute workout on an elliptical trainer would look like this: 5 minutes at a perceived exertion level of 2, then 5 minutes at level 3, followed by 2 minutes at level 6. Then, you would return to level 3 for 2 minutes, then again at level 6 for 2 minutes, 2 at level 3, 2 at level 7, then 2 minutes at level 3, 2 minutes at 6, and then 6 minutes at level 2 in order to cool down. You can manipulate the level of exertion by changing the incline and/or the resistance.

This is following a recognized training technique where you raise and lower intensity repeatedly to maximize your exercise. Another benefit is that you can burn more calories in a shorter space of time as opposed to a slow steady workout. Higher intensity is also great for strength training programs – I have an article about that!

Once you own an elliptical machine and learn how to use it you should play around a bit and find the variations of workout that best meet your needs. They can offer a varied workout but unless you have a high quality machine you might need to do some of the programming yourself!

Back to our elliptical machine articles page.