How to Select the Right Settings for Your Elliptical Workout

Ellipticals, what comes to mind when you hear that word? Most will say cardio machine! This is because the elliptical will improve your cardiovascular health by getting rid of excess fat in the body. Great for putting you back in shape.

But every cardio equipment has a touch of dynamism to it. Therefore, you’ll need to be precise with the settings that work best for your needs. How do you do this? Let’s find out.

Unlike most workout machines, where a lot of force or energy must be exerted on your muscles, bones, or joints to achieve your desired results, the elliptical isn’t built that way. Its movements apply low pressure to your joints, muscles, or bones.

Whatever your fitness goals are, the elliptical makes a perfect choice. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a path to recovery from injury or illness. However, it’s highly recommended you talk to your doctor or physiotherapist before you make any move if you’re injured or ill.

Are There Different Types of Ellipticals?

You’re probably wondering how you could possibly tell the difference between the types of ellipticals that exist. Basically, with all having the same function and settings, we can’t actually blame you for this.

They all contain flywheels and foot pedals that assist in driving the motion of the machine. They also have one or two sets of handlebars with an internal braking system that resists pedaling.

The major differences, however, are in the AI programs that are built for carrying out various functions. With these programs, you can tweak your settings to match your running, climbing, and other goals.

Speaking of tweaking, your elliptical workout is only as good as the right settings. To get the best out of your elliptical, there are some major settings you can work on.

Getting the Right Settings for Effective Workout

Despite the different programs found in the different ellipticals, one thing remains constant; choosing the right setting is key to effective workout sessions.

But before you do anything on the elliptical, always enter your age and weight. Based on the details provided, most elliptical machines are designed to tell you the number of calories you need to lose.

So, enough with the intros, let’s get right down to business.

1. Manual Settings

This is the default setting of the elliptical. All you need to do is hop on the machine and push the quick-start button. Bingo! You can adjust the resistance as you pedal by pressing the resistance increase or decrease button.

To vary the motion of the pedals, you can also change the incline by pressing the power ramp increase or decrease buttons. The “manual mode” is a good option if you’re still a newbie.

2. Heart Rate Setting

The heart rate of your elliptical machine is an indication of how hard you’re working. Most elliptical trainers have sensors on the handles that monitor your heart rate. Just how important is heart rate to types of workout sessions?

First off, knowing your maximum heart rate is vital to the type of workout you should perform.

There’s simple math you can use to find out your maximum heart rate. If you are a man, subtract your age from 220. Let’s say you’re 30; that’ll give you a maximum heart rate of 190.

That aside, your working pulse rate should be between 50 to 85 percent. That is, multiply your maximum heart rate by 0.5 and 0.85, respectively. For a 30-year-old man, that’s 95 to 161.5. This is your target pulse rate.

For women, it’s quite different. You’re to subtract your age from 206 after multiplying it by 0.88. Let’s say you’re 30; you multiply it by 0.88; this gives 26.4. Subtracting this from 206, you get 179.6. This is your maximum heart rate.

Your target pulse rate should be between 50 to 85%. For a 30-year-old woman, that’s 89.8 to 152.15.

The fat-burning zone is between 70 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate.

To increase cardiovascular fitness, you have to be between 75 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate.

The next zone is almost 100 percent; that is reaching your max. But, you’ve to be very careful with this zone as you may come down with serious injuries or even a heart attack.

To be on the safe side, consult your doctor to give you your personalized heart rate range.

What to Consider When Buying an Elliptical Machine

3. Weight Loss Setting

If you’re looking to create a weight loss plan, use the fat-burning zone (this is about 70 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate). To burn more fat, you have to work up a higher intensity; that is, an intensity that is higher than the fat-burning zone.

You can achieve this by applying more force to the pedals. This act leads to more muscles getting active. Activating more muscles is crucial to losing weight and building your muscle mass.

This also explains why you need to actively engage your upper body muscles rather than relaxing or using them for balance. You burn more calories in that way.

How much weight do you lose when your exercise for 30 minutes? You can have a clue on that using this formula; your weight loss in calories is proportional to your weight in pounds multiplied by 2.16.

For example, someone who weighs 200 pounds, will burn 432 calories working out for about half an hour on the elliptical machine.
Another person weighing 170 pounds will burn 367.2 calories at the same time. You can use this formula to find out calories you’d lose in every workout and also to reach your target rate.

PS. You need to combine a weight loss diet with an elliptical workout to have an effective result.

4. Interval Setting

Doing interval workouts is one of the perks of the elliptical machine. You can tweak the machine between high and low-intensity intervals so that you alternate between exerting more energy (at a high intensity) and resting ( at low intensity). This is the bedrock of HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training).

For example, at a low resistance, you can do a 5-minute warmup. Then, for the next 30 to 60 seconds, add more resistance until it feels like you’re trying to drag your feet in mud or trying to run uphill.

Finally, for the next two minutes, you recover at a low resistance similar to the warmup phase. Repeat this at least 3 times -modifying it if necessary- so you don’t stay at the same intensity.

While at it, don’t forget to maintain an upright posture, a slight bend in your knee, and flat feet.

The benefits of HIIT include a higher metabolic rate as you burn fat, an increase in muscle mass, an increase in oxygen consumption, and a drop in blood sugar level.

PS. The key thing is moving your resistance up and down every now and then.

Elliptical Benefits and Drawbacks to Know

5. Performance Option

This option is available to endurance athletes or runners going through periods of injury or rehab. Over time, it can give the same physiological results they get from their normal training routine.

For example, athletes in their periods of injury could come up with an elliptical injury plan. How? By replicating your workouts on the machine but at a lower incline.

Let’s say, your normal easy run is 45-50 minutes, you could replicate that same time on the elliptical trainer at 87 to 92% of your maximum heart rate (if you’re prone to injury), or at 95 to 100% of your maximum heart rate (if you’re an injured athlete recovering from your injuries)

The sweet part is that you maintain fitness levels and strengthen your muscles. This is because the elliptical is a low-impact cardio machine that reduces the risks of low-impact injuries. However, do these workouts at a max of 3 times per week.

What more? Elliptical workouts also stimulate your nervous system to release endorphins, the feel-good chemicals, so that your mental health is preserved. We all know what an injury can do to your mental health. It messes it up, leading to a disruption in your routines.

The elliptical machine can also serve as an alternative to the treadmill. The treadmill has a high impact on your muscles, bones, and joints. This is bad news for a recovering athlete or an athlete in rehab.

Tips For Maintaining an Elliptical Machine

6. Variety Setting

Doing the same training every day will get boring and become less effective. Biologically, your body gets adapted to routines over time; this can become counterproductive if you aim to lose weight or become fit.

Add variety to your training by modifying the incline, intensity, and time frame of the elliptical machine to help you focus on different muscles.

Some elliptical machines come with programs around variety. They do this by changing the resistance for you at random as you exercise.

Our take? Take advantage of this to get the most out of your elliptical workout.

On A Final Note

The elliptical machine is only as good as the right settings on it. Try these settings out in your next elliptical workouts to get the most out of the machine!

And, don’t forget to input your age, weight, and target heart rate at the start of your sessions! Based on the data provided, most elliptical trainers will give you a clue on the number of calories you’re burning!

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.