Is an Elliptical Trainer Good for Fat Loss?

Get-Fit Guy has the 6 benefits to using an elliptical trainer. Plus, learn how to use one to boost fat loss and fitness levels.

Ben Greenfield
4-minute read
Episode #138

Is an Elliptical Trainer Good for Fat Loss?

In the episode Which Exercise Machine Burns the Most Calories? you learned that even though most computers on an elliptical trainer vastly overestimate the number of calories you burn, you can still get a fantastic fat-burning and fitness effect if you use an elliptical trainer that has arm resistance on it. Even better if you also use a combination of a high cadence and challenging resistance when using the elliptical trainer.

In this episode, you’re going to get 6 other reasons why I’m a big fan of the elliptical trainer. Plus, you’ll discover more about why an elliptical trainer is good for improving fitness or boosting fat loss.

6 Benefits of an Elliptical Trainer

Benefit #1: Lower Joint Stress Compared to Running

The elliptical trainer was originally designed by an inventor who came up with the idea for the elliptical motion by filming his daughter running alongside his car, then replicating that running motion in a machine that gave running benefits, but put less strain on the joints.

And he was right. A study at the University of Missouri measured oxygen utilization, lactic acid formation, heart rate, and rating of perceived exertion on an elliptical trainer as compared to a treadmill, and found that the elliptical exercise was nearly identical to the treadmill exercise in every respect – but the elliptical trainer created far less joint impact.

Benefit #2: Ability to Fix Weak Muscles

Another study compared muscle activity patterns of the quadriceps and hamstrings in walking on the ground, walking on a treadmill, stationary bicycling, and the elliptical trainer. The elliptical trainer produced significantly greater quadriceps utilization and greater quadriceps and hamstring coordination than any of the other modes of exercise! And a study at Willamette University found that when you pedal backwards on an elliptical, your quadriceps utilization skyrockets even more.

See also: How to Tone Your Thighs

Considering that most people have weak quadriceps compared to hamstrings, this is another definite benefit to using an elliptical trainer, especially if you’re a frequent runner or cyclist who wants balanced muscles.

Benefit #3: Targeting of Notoriously Weak Muscles

Another study that came out of Dalhousie University in Canada compared elliptical training to walking, and found greater muscle activation during the elliptical training for the gluteus maximus (butt) and vastus lateralis (external hip muscles), with a slightly lower activation of the hamstrings.

These “hip extensors” and “hip external rotators” tend to be weak in most fitness enthusiasts and couch potatoes alike, and if you need to get them stronger, it turns out that an elliptical trainer can be just the ticket.

Benefit #4: Ability to Maximize Training Effects

Interestingly, another study, at the University of Idaho (my alma mater – go Vandals!) found that as stride length increases on an elliptical trainer, more calories are burned – without you actually feeling like you’re working any harder – which is very good to know if you exercise on an indoor elliptical trainer with adjustable stride length or on the outdoor-style Elliptigo trainer, which also has adjustable stride length.

In other words, eventhough an elliptical can be close to a treadmill in terms of actual calorie burning, an elliptical that has a long stride length can ensure that you’re truly maximizing calorie burn.

Benefit #5: Upper Body and Core Muscle Utilization

On an elliptical trainer that includes arm motion, a shoulder, chest, biceps and triceps workout can be incorporated simultaneous to a lower body cardiovascular workout. In addition, the upright posture on an elliptical trainer will utilize more of your core muscles, and if you go “hands-free” without using the railing on an indoor elliptical trainer, you can increase balance and posture training effects too.

In short, you can save a ton of time by working your upper body muscular endurance, lower body muscular endurance, cardiovascular fitness, and core all at the same time on an elliptical trainer.

Benefit #6: Take Up Less Space

Compared to a treadmill, an elliptical trainer is easier to move and is a great way to save space. I even use an outdoor elliptical trainer (the Elliptigo) and it can fold up smaller than a bicycle and be placed in the trunk of your car. So if your home gym is small or you don’t have room for a bike in your car, an elliptical trainer is a perfect option.

An Elliptical Trainer Workout

Now that you know the benefits of using an elliptical trainer, here’s an elliptical trainer workout that takes full advantage of the benefits of high intensity interval training:

  • Warm up with easy pedaling for 5 minutes.

  • Perform five, 30-second all-out efforts, each separated by 60 seconds of easy recovery pedaling. As an option, alternate between forward pedaling and backward pedaling with each all out effort.

  • Stop the elliptical and jump rope or perform jumping jacks for one minute. If your knees don’t like this, simply do body weight squats.

  • Get back on the elliptical and perform 5, 60-second all-out efforts, each separated by 30 seconds of easy recovery pedaling.

  • Stop the elliptical and perform squat jumps or lunge jumps for one minute. If your knees don’t like this, do body weight lunges.

  • Get back on the elliptical and perform 5, 2-minute all-out efforts, each separated by 60 seconds of easy recovery pedaling.

  • Stop the elliptical and perform regular push-ups or squat-thrust-jumps for 1 minute.

  • Get back on the elliptical and cool-down for 5 minutes, or repeat this entire workout one more time. If desired, you can substitute new exercises the second time through. 

Ultimately, an elliptical trainer is an excellent tool for both fitness and fat loss, and I recommend including it in your fitness routine – even if you’re a “purist” runner or cyclist!

If you have more questions about whether an elliptical trainer is good for fitness or fat loss, then join the conversation over at Facebook.com/GetFitGuy.

Elliptical Trainer image from 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.