How to Burn More Calories with an Elliptical Trainer

To burn more calories during a high-intensity cardio workout, try hopping on an elliptical trainer with arms instead of a treadmill or bicycle. Get-Fit Guy explains the research behind why elliptical trainers can give you more bang for your workout buck. 

Ben Greenfield
2-minute read


If you read or listened to the 8-Minute Fat Loss Get-Fit Guy episode, then you know all about something called a Tabata set – which is 4-minute exercise series comprised of sets varying in intensity (20 seconds hard followed by 10 seconds easy).

Being the masochistic fitness nerd I am, I’m always looking for ways to gain more fitness or burn more calories with this type of high-intensity interval training, and a brand new study shows how to do just that. The study - “An Elliptical Trainer May Render the Wingate All-out Test More Anaerobic” – compares the use of a bicycle with the use of an elliptical trainer for a traditional 30-second all-out laboratory test for measuring power. The researchers measured energy outputs from the oxidative, phospholytic, and glycolytic energy systems (your three major energy systems) and looked at oxygen consumption and peak blood lactic acid (the stuff that makes your muscles burn).

It turns out that due to the increased arm use, the use of more leg musculature, and the upright posture, an elliptical trainer is able to get the body into an even more exhausted state more quickly than a bicycle.

So what does this mean for you?

If you’re going to the gym to do a high-intensity interval training session and you’re going to choose the type of cardio machine that will get you the most bang for your buck, you should hop on something that involves both arms and legs, if it's an option. So alternatives to a bicycle or a treadmill would be:

  • Rowing machine
  • Elliptical trainer with arms
  • Stairmill while holding light dumbbells

Do you have questions about how to improve the impact of your workouts? Leave your thoughts over at Facebook.com/GetFitGuy.

Elliptical workout image courtesy of Shutterstock.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.