What is an Elliptical Trainer and How to Use it

You have probably seen an elliptical trainer machine around, haven’t you? I hope you have because an elliptical machine is so popular that you could find them in gyms, health clubs, or even homes.

It’s a stationary aerobic exercise machine that combines walking, running, cross-country skiing, and stair-stepping without placing so much pressure on your spine, joints, and bone due to the fluid elliptical motion you perform on it.

What An Elliptical Machine

An elliptical machine is the inspired by three different exercise equipment. It’s something in between a bike, a stair climber, and a treadmill.

As with everything else, elliptical trainer has evolved. Today, not only it somehow mimics walking, pedaling and stair climbing, it also has handlebars to exercise your arms.

Elliptical is not the same as exercise equipment that inspired its designers. It has its own unique elliptical motion which has less impact than cycling, doing steps, or running. This unique design allows an elliptical machine to minimise the pressure and impact on your joints.

Depending on the models, some are equipped with stat-of-art consoles, heart rate monitors to keep track of your heart rates, how long you’ve been working out, and how many strides you have made so far.

An elliptical trainer has several benefits that includes helping you burn calories in quite a short time as you build and strengthen your lungs, heart, and muscles despite the low exercise impact.

How to use an Elliptical Machine:

NordicTrack Commercial 9.9 Elliptical Review
Sole E35 elliptical machine

To get the most out of your elliptical workout, it’s best to start with a brief warm-up, such as walking a short distance. Or you can simply set the machine to low resistance. This will help relieve tightness and tension in your muscles, and mentally prepare you for the session.

Step 1:

Sole E95s handlebars

Grabbing the handlebars, climb on the machine while facing the console or monitor. It’s important you maintain a good posture while on the machine; this will prevent or minimize the risk of any potential injury during an elliptical workout.

Step 2:

Sole E55 pedal cushion

Start pedaling to turn on the monitor. Depending on the elliptical, you may be required to use the start button. However, regardless of the model, ensure your feet are flat on the pedal before you begin pedaling. It’s a bad habit to stand on your toes.

Also, while pedaling, ensure your back is straightened enough to keep your spine long. If your body alignment is poor, you will most likely come down with body aches and joint pains.

Step 3:

Bowflex BXE226 Elliptical incline

Set your workout by adjusting the incline and the resistance. The incline ranges often from 1 to 20. To make your workout effective and to build your gluteal muscles (butt), vary your incline by twos or fives.

For example, for the first minute, start at zero. After the first minute, you move up to two, then four, then six. Come back to zero again after a while. A high incline translates to engaging your gluteal muscles.

When it comes to resistance – the name implies – it’s how much you want the elliptical to push back against you.

High resistance means a higher amount of force is required of you and vice-versa. Alternate between high and low resistance. This helps build your endurance, increases your focus, and makes your workout highly efficient.

Step 4:

Body Solid E5000 handle

This step is very vital to get the best out of your elliptical workout. It involves you pacing your pedaling evenly in such a way that as one of your feet goes down, the handle of the opposite side should be pulled towards your body.

For example, while at it, if your right foot goes down, the left handle should be pulled towards your body and vice-versa. Don’t let your feet to do all the work. Elliptical cross trainer is unique because you can use your arms as well as legs.

Step 5:

NordicTrack FS14i Elliptical Review

Spice up your workout by going backward on the elliptical. The first time you get on the machine and start rotating your legs, it’ll probably be in a clockwise direction.

To move in an anti-clockwise direction, slow down your feet, at the same time, reverse them. This will activate backward pedaling.

When it comes to moving forward or going backward, it’s best you tweak your routine by alternating; forward builds your quadriceps while backward builds your butts and hamstring muscles.

PS. If you have a knee or back problem, pedaling backward may be less advantageous to you.

Step 6:

To work your upper body, let go off the stationary grips and use the moving handlebars every now and then. When you do this, you’ll have to actively push or pull the elliptical handlebars.

And, if you want to work your lower body, let go of the moving handlebars altogether and hold on to stationary handlebars. Look out for an elliptical machine like Nautilus E618 that have two sets of handlebars, stationary and moving.

Step 7:

Don’t just suddenly stop or jump off the elliptical when you are done. Start by gradually slowing down your pace and intensity for a few minutes.

This will allow your body to recuperate and get rid of the lactic acid that has built up in your body. Climb down from the machine by placing your feet on the pedal (at its lowest point), and grabbing the fixed arm bars.

How to Choose A Good Elliptical For Home

Getting the Best Out of Your Elliptical Workout


Have a Workout Plan

Before beginning your elliptical workout session, hatch out a plan. You don’t just hop on the machine hoping to get the best out of it. Many people make that mistake.

There are some basic questions you need to ask yourself first. What would you call your greatest achievement for that day? What pattern of workouts do you want to follow? How long do you want to work out?

When you have these questions in mind, you can keep track of your perceived level of exertion on the monitor. If you are not breaking a sweat at all, it means you’re probably not doing anything strenuous yet.

Some models come with pre-set programs. These pre-set programs offer you challenges—this is essential only if you have a goal in mind. These challenges may vary from distance challenge, calorie challenge to interval challenge. Choose the one that works best for you.

Maintain a Good Posture

To achieve this, stand up straight while using an elliptical machine. A good posture prevents the risk of a potential injury. How do you achieve this?

Ensure your ankle, knee and hip are in alignment, that is, they are in a straight line while you look straight ahead with your shoulders pulled back.

Don’t Lean on the Handles for Support

When on an elliptical workout, do not lean on the handrails, do not lean forward or backward. Don’t grip the handles too tightly either.

These rules will help you maintain proper balance. Meanwhile, only use the handles for a total body workout or simply avoid using them to work your lower body only. The rule is to do whatever floats your boat.

Cut Off Distractions

There are time-sucks that will profit you nothing. Identify them and cut them off. The gym can be a bit of a distracting place, but it doesn’t mean you can’t keep your focus if you want to.

Firstly, when you have a goal before hitting the gym, it will help eliminate the wandering tendency many gym users seem to have.

Secondly, cut down chats by avoiding stringing your buddy along to the gym or health club. If you insist on having a companion, then hire a personal trainer as this will enhance your performance and results.

Finally, sustain the right level of mental discipline by leaving your phone or tablet at home or keeping it in someone’s custody. Remember, distractions can come in all shapes and sizes, identify them and cut them off.

Don’t Make Your Elliptical Workout Monotonous

There’s a term called “fitness plateau” that describes what happens to your body when you do the same workout over and over again. Your body gets used to it, and your progress gets stalled or halted over time.

This is because your body is designed biologically to adapt to repetition. How do you know you have arrived at the fitness plateau? When you stop seeing improvements toward your goal.

To break out of the fitness plateau, change your routine, don’t just leave it on autopilot. Here’s how:

Modify your incline and intensity, alternate your strides, and challenge yourself by incorporating multi-directional interval workouts. This will not only make your workouts less monotonous, but it will also cut down boredom and distractions.

Focus on the Monitor

One of the most important metrics displayed on your monitor is your heart rate. You’ll find it on the stationary handlebar of the elliptical.

A low heart rate while exercising shows you are not getting the most out of your workout. A high heart rate can also be counterproductive. Strive to maintain a balance by alternating your exercise at different zones.

For example, 50%-60% is the safest zone while 90%-100% is High Intensity Interval (depending on your health status, this may be dangerous and can lead to injuries).

The monitor can also tell you how many calories you have burned up and the amount of time you have spent in the workout.

How to Maintain an Elliptical Machine

A Final Note

Using an Elliptical trainer is a no-brainer if you follow the steps outlined in this article. An elliptical is designed in such a way that it has variable resistance and is equipped with an incline that will help you target your muscles to keep you fit while at the same time putting less pressure on your spine, joints, and bones.

This is very important to people with arthritis or lower body injuries as the elliptical machines go easy on your joints. We hope you learned a thing or two from reading this article. Let us know in the comment box.

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.