Fitness Articles

How to use the Elliptical Trainer

A Fun, Low-Impact Cardio Option

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This standard piece of exercise equipment is one of the most popular in many gyms. Ellipticals are a unique hybrid of a treadmill, stepper, bike and cross-country skier, that move your legs in an elongated oval pattern (hence the name elliptical). This low-impact machine is also easy on the knees, simple to use, and burns big calories.
  • Step onto the elliptical trainer, facing the console. You may have to start pushing the pedals to turn on the monitor.
  • Most will have a digital monitor. Follow the instructions given to either setup a pre-designed program, or start your own program. Notice where the controls for incline are located, as well as other important buttons for starting, stopping, and pausing.
  • Push the pedals in a forward motion (they also go backwards). It's easier to balance when moving forward, and backward pedaling can be hard on your knees.
  • Some machines have moving handlebars, and others have fixed handlebars. Using the handlebars will give you more of a full-body workout, but it will also take some of the emphasis away from your legs and butt. If using fixed handlebars, continue to stand up straight and avoid leaning your weight onto the handlebars or console.
  • Increase or decrease your resistance at any point, and feel free to switch between forward and backward pedaling (if your balance allows) throughout your workout.
For elliptical workout ideas, check out these SparkPeople workout programs:
Elliptical Training for Endurance
Elliptical Intervals
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.

Member Comments

  • Hello! I can do 45 mins easily on my home elliptical. I use a proform elliptical with moving and stationary and moving handle bars. I don't push myself too hard or I'll quit. This is the only equipment I keep in my almost sedentary lifestyle (that im actively working on changing!) and I will slowly add other stuff to my routine as time goes by. My daily goal is to simply burn 400 calories on it. so that's about 45-1 hour for me.

    @Jenn240308 - You are not alone! I get numb feet too! I haven't found any solution to this at all except pedaling back or slowing down. - 5/3/2013 2:27:33 PM
  • I agree when I use equipment sp say different than the other equipment I use - 1/14/2013 10:11:53 PM
  • i ove the elliptical as well, with my bad knee and all. here's the question though.

    My ellipticl says I burned 184 calories
    SP says I burned 304

    That is a big difference. who's closer? - 1/6/2012 10:39:40 PM
  • This is my main workout equipment that I use at the gym. I like using the ones without the moving bars and I always get a great workout while buring tons of calories. - 6/22/2011 8:23:52 PM
  • I use the eliptical at my YMCA several times per week. It is a GREAT piece of equipment for cardio health and for burning large numbers of calories. I would suggest using your pulse meter to compare calorie burn with the number on the machine. Our precor machines are really high on the calorie count. I only burn about 61% of what the number on the machine shows. - 6/22/2011 9:44:39 AM
  • I love my elliptical and was so thankful I had it after I broke my foot. Even now, almost a year later, it is still one of the few cardio exercises I can do that doesn't bother my foot.
    Mine had the moving arms and although that takes some of the emphasis away from the legs, I love they way it has helped me lose weight in my upper body.

    To JerseyKelley- I have some social anxiety and I am definitely a gymaphopic. I recommend calling your gym and simply saying "Hi, I'm going to come in and work out at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, do you have someone that can take a moment to show me how to use the elliptical?" That way you have someone with you the first time you get on. Or go to a fitness equipment retailer- they will gladly show you how to use one!

    To SaltyChocolate- Ellipticals are sold my the length of the "stride." Most gyms are going to have an elliptical with a longer stride so that men can use it, too. I am 5'2" and purchased one with a mid-range stride so that it wouldn't be too uncomfortable to me.

    Don't give up on this fabulous, low-impact piece of equipment!
    - 2/15/2011 12:47:53 PM
  • I still have no idea how to use an elliptical machine - this article doesn't give enough info, I guess I'll have to try it again. My problem is with coordination - I cannot seem to work the machine. I get very confused. Don't know how to start it, am I peddling? Does that turn the machine on? And I'm supposed to work the buttons, etc., while trying to coordinate my feet? I don't think so... And with my social anxiety, the last thing I want is an entire gym of people watching me screw up. I have this awful fear of either hurting myself or doing something really dumb and clutzy on the elliptical and in doing so providing a room full of perfectly capable people entertainment by way of my humiliation. Its hard enough to get on the treadmill with the mirrorful of people's faces looking my way, getting on the elliptical is something I have way too much anxiety over. - 1/28/2011 10:10:30 AM
  • My elliptical came with some pre-programmed beginner programs - both 20 and 30 minutes. I primarily use the 20 minute programs and am thrilled that I can do that. One day, I will eventually get to the 30 minute programs, but the sweat already pours off me just doing 20. :-) - 1/25/2011 8:45:22 AM
  • Thank you so much for this article. I read it over the weekend and have made some changes to how I use the elliptical machine.

    I was doing the "random program" prior to reading the article on level 13-14 and could only do about 13 minutes maximum on the machine.

    Today, I tried it on maximum level 9 and was able to a 33 minute session.

    Thank you so much for the invaluable advice which has made me alter the way I do something. It made me feel like I was making good progress as well. - 12/20/2010 9:36:00 AM
    @ARACELIS0104 - I used the elliptcal 20 minutes 3-4 times a week along with eating right and being activity like walking to the train station and I lost 30lbs last year. - 6/22/2010 6:07:35 PM
    Home elliptical are not as sturdy as the gym ones. I have a nordic trak. I notice when I'm working out on my home elliptical my knees hurt the next day. I don't have knees problems and I don't want to start having problems. Any suggestions? - 6/22/2010 6:06:01 PM
    I love this machine. It works you hard and you can easily do interval training. You burn so many more calories than using the bike or treadmill. - 6/22/2010 9:16:55 AM
  • I'm not too tall and I find that ellipticals force me to keep my feet at a stance that is wider than normal for me. As a result, my gait is off and my hips hurt. I've tried adjusting my foot position but I have't been able to find a stance that works. Again, I believe this occurs because I'm short. But, it's not a big deal because I use the elliptical ONLY when we're away and there's no place for me to run.
    But yes, I think ellipticals, at least for people who are average height or taller, are great. - 6/22/2010 8:40:58 AM
  • Compare to threadmills and gym bike, I much prefer elliptical, it's much easy to use for beginnner and nice change from my normal routine of jumping rope. And yes, it's easy for joints - my mother's review, hehe. - 2/28/2010 6:12:11 AM
  • JENN240308
    I have an elliptical at home and love to use it, but I was also getting the numb feet after about 30 min of use, so thanks to all of you who shared your tips to stop this! - 12/28/2009 1:52:49 PM

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