7 Hacks for Burning More Calories on an Elliptical

There’s no worse feeling than investing in an elliptical machine without gaining the desired result! This is especially disappointing if your goal is to burn more calories or shave some pounds off your body weight. Of course, this isn’t the machine’s fault — as people tend to use the trainer incorrectly thereby selling their goals short and retaining calories instead of shedding them.

Elliptical machines when used correctly are a surefire way to strengthen cardio capacity and burn calories without any of the impacts that are common with running. And depending on the resistance, workout, or incline settings used, you can also use the machine to build muscle strength and increase endurance. However, if you are not doing justice to the machine, you can drastically reduce its effectiveness and mar your calorie-burning goals. Thankfully, we’ve compiled a list of tips and hacks that can help you maximize the elliptical’s calorie-burning benefits.

1 Choose Settings that Complement Your Body Size

The “maximum resistance or incline” settings that effectively work for others may not work for you. This is partly due to differences in body size. For instance, cranking the incline settings (assuming your elliptical has one) to an extremely high level is a waste of time and effort if you are short on height.

Why? You need long enough legs to correctly engage the cycling of the foot pedals. Otherwise, you will use more momentum than necessary to complete the rotations, which is as good as undertaking an exhausting futile journey. When you use momentum to execute the rotations, your body will have a harder time burning calories. Plus, you will put in less effort and deny your body the chance to work out like it is supposed to.

That being said, ensure to choose incline or tension settings that are best suited to your body size or type. This means choosing a setting that makes your exertion the pull behind the pedal motion as opposed to the momentum of your weight. One way to know your settings aren’t the right pick is when you can’t rotate the foot pedals in a cycle without placing massive weight on one side of your body. Also if you notice a slight bend in your knees when performing an exercise, your settings may be on the wrong side!

2 Ignore the Fat-burning Zone

It is not uncommon for your elliptical machine’s screen to display a “fat-burning zone”. While this might appear helpful and meaningful, it is grossly misleading. You will be shocked to know that this so-called fat-burning zone is a far cry from reality; it doesn’t accurately depict the amount of fat your body is burning and working out according to this faux information will give you a false sense of goal actualization — and by the time you figure out the “error”, you might have wasted too much time and effort.

But why is the information inaccurate? First off, when you work out while in the fat-burning zone, you target only about 60 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate. As such, you end up burning more calories from your body’s available fat than from carbs.

But when you ignore the fat-burning zone and focus on working the elliptical (as hard as you can), you will burn a ton of calories from both fat and carbs. Also, working out at an intensity greater than that of the fat-burning zone will have you burning calories non-stop, even when you step off the machine. This is known as extra-calorie burn, a phenomenon that occurs post-workout as your body recovers

3 Leverage Interval Training

Elliptical-based interval training might be the fastest way to amp your total calorie burn. When your body’s exertion rate goes up momentarily during an interval workout, the body works harder to replenish the used energy. Interval workouts typically maintain your elevated energy system from 48 to 72 hours after a workout session.

It is quite easy to perform an interval workout on an elliptical machine; start with 2 minutes at a 6-10 intensity setting, and follow it up with a minute of perceived exertion rate at a 9-10 intensity level. Repeat this cycle for 20-40 minutes and you will burn more calories than you would have while maintaining a regular pace. Your cardiovascular endurance will also improve.

To burn extra calories after a workout session, perform the Tabata-style workout; pedal intensively for 20 seconds and recover with a 10-second, lower-intensity pedaling. Repeat this pattern, eight times consecutively for four minutes. You can go all out by allowing just two minutes of low-intensity recovery and then executing four minutes of the Tabata-style once more. No doubt, this makes for an extremely challenging workout that is sure to produce substantial calorie burn.

4 Keep your Feet to the Ground

One of the biggest yet overlooked obstacles to rapid calorie burn on an elliptical machine is the position of the feet. How you position your feet while working out can determine your calorie consumption. It is important to keep your feet flat because raising them can cut through your calorie burn faster than you can blink your eye. However, if you cycle with your entire foot without raising the heel, you will engage a great number of muscles in your legs, leading to massive calorie burn and muscle build.

Also, placing your entire weight on your toes or heels can add unnecessary pressure to your knees, causing pain and maximizing injury potential. By doing this, you may also experience tingling or numbness in your legs or feet.

Ultimately, this defeats the original purpose of the trainer which is to replicate natural motions but with minimal stress on the joints. That said, you should strive to evenly distribute your weight to your entire feet so you can experience greater calorie burn and minimal pain.

5 Make Optimum use of the Machine’s Resistance Levels

What happens when you maintain a constant resistant level each time you use the elliptical? Your body gets accustomed to the intensity and you will feel more comfortable with the resistance settings with each passing workout. Though the workout might feel challenging initially, it will lose its “heat” with time and this is an invitation to less calorie burn!

When you become too comfortable using the elliptical trainer, it means you are burning fewer calories than you should. Hence, you need to upgrade your game by altering resistance settings for a varied workout experience. You can start by gradually increasing the machine’s intensity level. Sticking to the same resistance setting is not only boring but detrimental to your performance output.

Have fun with both high and low resistance settings. Essentially, the higher the resistance, the harder your legs will work. Lower resistance levels on the other hand give you time to recover, hence maintaining a healthy intensity equilibrium. If you employ this technique, you will lose a significant amount of calories and your legs will look better for it!

6 Try not to Zone Out

While workout entertainment is great and all that, it might be doing more harm than good. If you find yourself focusing more on TV shows than the workout itself, then it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities.

Admittedly, working out on an elliptical machine can get boring or monotonous quickly, and your phone or IPad can be a great way to pass the time. However, they shouldn’t take precedence over your calorie-burning and performance goals. So rather than watch addictive TV shows or series, listen to motivational music or work-out related podcasts.

Music is a good way to bridge the gap between moderate entertainment and exercise awareness. But if you can’t do without your TV shows, then you need to practice more workout consciousness or find a way to do both simultaneously without sacrificing workout value. Here’s a bonus tip; If you catch yourself leaning on the machine’s support bars or moving at a snail’s pace, correct your stance immediately and get back in sync.

7 Use and Let Go of the Handles Accordingly

You must have heard that elliptical machines are special because they integrate both lower and upper body workouts which translate to greater calorie burn. Be that as it may, you can only leverage this benefit if you know when to use and let go of the handlebars.

Ultimately, letting go of the handlebars activates the muscles in the lower body while making use of them engages the upper body. Using the elliptical “hands-free” will place more pressure on your lower body as the force goes through the glutes and the hamstrings. It also activates the core muscles as you ensure to maintain balance while working your legs.

The moment you’ve learned how to use the ellipticals without holding on to the handlebars, switch it up; let go and use the handlebars intermittently while noting the frequency with which you push and pull the handlebars. Alternate between pumping your upper body for 30 seconds and a minute of total body workout. Repeat this pattern for 20 minutes for good measure.

Ellipticals are great calorie-burning tools, but only when used correctly. Changing certain things or simply adopting these hacks will make a big difference to your workout output and you will notice a significantly greater impact on your calorie record. Every indoor exercise has benefits, you just need to do it correct to maximise the outcome.

What is an elliptical machine?

Elliptical machines, also known as cross-trainers, are a form of stationary exercise equipment. It can be used as a stair climber, for walking, or for running.

What do elliptical machines do?

An elliptical machine is a type of fitness equipment that provides a low impact, full body workout. When used regularly an elliptical machine will help improve your overall health and fitness. You can use it at home by yourself, in a gym, or with the help of a trainer.

How much does an elliptical machine cost?

If you are interested in home elliptical machines, the price will vary depending on the brand of elliptical machine you are interested and what type of features work best for you. Some cross trainers are basic and others have features from heart rate monitoring to screens that allow you to track workouts while you are working out. The best elliptical machine for you depends on your budget and needs. You can also take a look at elliptical machine reviews to find out what others are using and to find out more about the best elliptical machines out there.

How do you use an elliptical machine?

You stand upright while using an elliptical machine. Your feet will be moving in an oval shape (similar to cycling) and your arms will be moving back and forth while moving the handles. Try not to lean forward or backward. You should be able to take your hands on the handles without falling over. You can pedal forward or backward.

Will an elliptical machine help me lose weight?

If used regularly, an elliptical machine can help you burn fat which may result in weight loss. Results differ per person, effort, consistency, and diet. Everyone is built differently and will achieve different results with any form of exercise.

Will an elliptical machine help me build muscle?

Yes. While using elliptical cross trainers, you use 80% of your muscles. While working out, your weight is balanced between both legs, helping you improve your muscle strength evenly throughout your body. Using an elliptical regularly will help improve your overall health and fitness.

What muscles do elliptical machines work?

Elliptical machines provide a low-impact full body workout and work 80% of your muscles. Working out on an elliptical machine works your upper body and lower body. These machines target your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, chest, back, triceps, biceps, and your core.

Do elliptical machines provide a good cardio workout?

Elliptical machines provide a good aerobic workout. This form of exercise gives you a good cardio workout and help you strengthen your cardiovascular system.

Is an elliptical machine good for my hips?

Elliptical machines provide a low impact workout and can be beneficial for your hips and knees. They exert low force on all of your joints.

Will an elliptical machine work my upper body?

Yes, when used correctly, the elliptical machine will work your upper and lower body. To maximize your workout, make sure your arms are pumping at the same rate as your legs at that your weight is distributed evenly. Make sure that your arms are doing some of the work and that you are not just letting your legs move the bars for your arms.

Is an elliptical machine bad for my back?

You can avoid back pain by strengthening the muscles in your back. Make sure your workouts are designed to build up gradually so that you reduce the chance that your will sustain an injury while exercising.

Can I use an elliptical machine if I’m a senior?

An elliptical machine is a great piece of equipment for seniors who are looking interested in increasing their exercise. It provides a low impact workout which means it is gentle on your joints. They are easy to use and they work your full body. They are good for gaining muscle and improving your cardiovascular strength.

Who can use an elliptical machine?

Anyone can use an elliptical machine. They can be adjusted to suit any individual’s fitness needs. They are easy to use and they work your full body.

How much space will an elliptical machine take up in my home?

You should allow for a space of at least 4’ by 8’ for the machine itself. Also, be sure to consider the movement of the machine and allow for at least a few more inches in the front and back. Some machine can be folded up to save space while not in use.

Sayed Hamed Hosseiny
Sayed Hamed Hosseiny

Hi, my name is Sayed Hamed Hosseiny. I am a professional health and fitness trainer with nearly 20 years of experience using ellipticals, rowing machines, and spin bikes. I also have my own EU-based Rock Fitness Pro fitness brand where I design, import and sell exercise equipment such as rowing machines and spin bikes. I and writers on my team also often receive fitness equipment to review and evaluate their functionalities and performance from tens of different exercise machines manufacturers. Fitness equipment tips, guides, reviews, and comparisons on this website are my opinion (and opinions of my fitness expert colleagues) based on tens of criteria. I never accept payment to write reviews of products or say positive things about fitness equipment products. If brands are interested to have me review their rowers, ellipticals, or spin bikes, they can get in touch with me via email provided on the contact page and send a sample of their product.