The Benefits of Using an Elliptical Trainer

A look at the benefits of using an elliptical trainer plus a workout that takes full advantage of those benefits while also keeping you from getting lulled into a stupor by all that repetition. 

Brock Armstrong
3-minute read

Last week a member of the Weighless program (that I run with my fellow Quick and Dirty Tips podcaster the Nutrition Diva) asked how she can start using an elliptical trainer that has been collecting dust in the corner of her living room.

My first response was to get the dust off it and move it in front of the TV or near a window. That way she'll be more inclined to use it when she would otherwise be sedentary.

And that got me thinking: Is an elliptical trainer a worthwhile piece of fitness gear? If it is, what type of workout would make the most of it?

Is it Effective?

In a previous Get-Fit Guy article called “How to Burn More Calories with an Elliptical Trainer,” a study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research was examined. This study compared the use of a plain old bike with an elliptical trainer during a good old Wingate protocol test (a 30-second all-out test of maximum effort that measures power output). The researchers had volunteers ride both, and they measured energy outputs from the three major energy systems of the body: oxidative, phosphorolytic, and glycolytic energy systems. They then compared the oxygen consumption and peak blood lactate levels.

The researchers concluded that due to the increased arm use, the use of more leg musculature, and the standing position the user is put in, the elliptical trainer was able to get the volunteers to reach an exhausted state much more quickly than a regular bike.

What I take away from this study is this: if you are looking for a cardio machine that will maximize your effort (especially in a High-Intensity Interval), you are best off choosing a machine that gets both your arms and your legs moving. Options for this combo of arm and leg movers include an elliptical trainer, a rowing machine, a ski ergometer, or (if you are being creative) a stairmill while pumping dumbbells.

Is it Interesting?

In that same conversation with the member of Weighless, we then went on to talk about how to jazz up an elliptical trainer workout so you aren’t just sadly engaged in a mind-numbing and repetitive slog while staring at the wall in your basement or at the gym.

So with that in mind, here is a fun and effective elliptical trainer workout that takes full advantage of the benefits the researchers found in that High-Intensity Elliptical Study:

  • Warm-up by pedalling your legs and pumping your arms nice and easy for 5 minutes.

  • Do five, 30-second all-out efforts, each separated by 60 seconds of easy recovery pedalling.

  • Do five, 10-second all-out forward pedalling efforts, each separated by 20 seconds of backwards easy pedalling.

  • Stop the elliptical and jump rope or perform jumping jacks for 60 seconds. If your knees don’t agree with jumping jacks, you can simply do bodyweight squats.

  • Get back on the elliptical trainer and do five, 60-second all-out efforts, each separated by 30 seconds of easy recovery pedalling.

  • Do five, 10-second all-out forward pedalling efforts, each separated by 20 seconds of backwards easy pedalling.

  • Stop the elliptical and do squat jumps or lunge jumps for 60 seconds. Again, if your knees don’t like this, do some bodyweight lunges instead. 

  • Get back on the elliptical trainer and do five, 2-minute all-out efforts, each separated by 60 seconds of easy recovery pedalling.

  • Stop the elliptical and drop and give me 60 seconds of push-ups or squat-thrust-jumps.

  • Get back on the elliptical one more time and do a nice cool-down for 5 minutes.

  • For bonus points - instead of doing the cool-down, repeat this entire workout one more time. You can substitute different exercises (like box jumps, single leg hops, and dips) the second time through.

Remember that when you do this, or any elliptical trainer workout for that matter, make sure to choose a trainer that has built-in handles that allow you to get your arms involved. In the article “Which Exercise Machine Burns the Most Calories?” we found that even though most calculators on elliptical trainers at the gym drastically overestimate the number of calories you actually burn, you can still get a killer workout if you use an elliptical trainer with arm resistance handles.

Aside from being an effective location to collect dust in your living room, the elliptical trainer is also an excellent option to both build your fitness and to add some pizzaz to your workout routine. 

For more trainer info, oval-shaped tips, and to join the elliptical conversation, head over to Facebook.com/GetFitGuy or twitter.com/getfitguy. Also don't forget to subscribe to the Get-Fit Guy podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play or via RSS.

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

Brock Armstrong Get-Fit Guy

Brock Armstrong was the host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast between 2017 and 2021. He is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute.