Men and women smiling, exercising on elliptical machines in a gym

How to Burn More Calories with Your Elliptical Workout

(Last Updated On: September 30, 2019)

Burn, Baby, Burn with an Elliptical Trainer!

Low impact? Easy-to-do workout? Perfect for exercise newbies? The elliptical trainer (note, in this post, elliptical machine and elliptical trainer are used interchangeably) answers these questions. This piece of cardio equipment is a frequent favorite of gym goers looking for a lighter-than-average workout. Some elliptical users literally “swing” (using the machine’s momentum) thru the entire workout and not sweat. However, this is a misconception. In fact, you can burn more calories with the elliptical trainer (machine) if you make a few tweaks to your routine. A good elliptical workout would burn between 170 – 320 calories in 30 minutes, depending on your weight and intensity.

several ellipticals at a gym
Ellipticals can burn lots of calories when used with proper intensity

First, let’s take a look at the elliptical’s history.

Wow! The Elliptical Machine @ 20+ years

The original elliptical hit the market in 1995 and was invented by one of the leaders in fitness, Precor. Designed to simulate running, skiing, and even stair climbing, the elliptical provided a very low-intensity version of these higher-intensity exercises. Typically, an elliptical machine will incorporate both arms and legs. However, there are ellipticals that do not have moving arms and focus movement on the legs.

Your foot on an elliptical rolls with the “pedal” as opposed to running on a hard surface. The gym-version of the elliptical typically allows you to adjust for resistance and incline as well as the ability to go backward (as well as forward). Many ellipticals also include a variety of pre-programmed workouts. Home versions of an elliptical trainer may require electricity, but there are some ellipticals that are self-powered.

Top Benefits of the Elliptical Machine

#1 Easy for a novice to start a cardio program

#2 Simulates running or cross-country skiing without the impact

#3 Low impact on knees, hips, and back

#4 Total body workout (core, legs, and arms) when you have “arms” with the elliptical

#5 Burns as many calories as running when used properly and at a challenging resistance

Ellipticals with no arms
These “armless” ellipticals work your legs.

Is the Elliptical an Easy or Hard Workout?

The reputation of the elliptical is that it’s an easy workout. Surprisingly, a study in 2010 looked at this very issue.  Eighteen participants worked out on a treadmill and an elliptical machine at the same RPE (rate of perceived exertion). According to the study’s results, the workouts were exactly the same whether on the treadmill or an elliptical. In fact, by increasing the stride length on the elliptical, you can actually increase the calorie burn without any perceived difference, meaning it’s easier to work harder on the elliptical.

So, you can assure that you’ll get an awesome, sweaty, heart-thumping, toning elliptical workout with a few tricks.

Basics of the Elliptical

#1 Stand up straight

#2 Crank the incline

#3 Set the resistance

#4 Keep your feet flat-footed (don’t use the balls of your feet). This will work your glutes and hamstrings and you’ll burn more calories.

#5 Pedal hard to raise your heart rate (don’t use the machine’s momentum)

Elliptical Workouts that Burn Calories

Four ellipticals at a gym
Using ellipticals with arms deliver a whole body workout.

If you crank the resistance and do intervals or an endurance workout, you can achieve an amazing, calorie-burning workout. To get the greatest “after burn,” try performing a Tabata-style workout on the elliptical, says exercise physiologist and kinesiologist Gavin McHale. 

To do a Tabata workout on the elliptical, try this routine

#1  20 seconds – pedal

#2  10 seconds – recover at lower-level

#3  Repeat this 10 times in a row (five minutes in total)

As you use the elliptical, tighten your abs, push and pull your arms, and move quickly to simulate running while you pedal. For a few intervals, try moving backwards with your arms and legs. 

Aaptiv Love

Start a free 30-day trial with Aaptiv today and elevate your elliptical workout!

The audio exercise app, Aaptiv, is simply amazing. It offers dozens of elliptical training workouts from beginners to advanced. You will burn a lot more calories by following any of the audio-guided routines from Aaptiv. In addition to elliptical workouts, Aaptiv offers guided routines for the treadmill, outdoor running, stretching, yoga, stair climber, and more. The app has a variety of music options including alternative, country, pop, the 80s, etc., as well as different levels, intensities, and music.

Aaptiv’s elliptical workouts offer a variety of trainers who will coach you thru the paces and intervals. With the trainer’s enthusiasm alone, you’ll experience a higher-calorie burning session with your elliptical workout than even running (without the increased risk of injury). You can try a month for free at Aaptiv and then it’s small monthly fee month to access an unlimited number of workouts.

Here is a sample of the elliptical workouts on Aaptiv:

HIIT (High Impact Interval Training) Machine – Intermediate  – 33 minutes – Pop
“Get your heart rate up as you move through intervals focused on endurance, sprints, and climbs. The intervals change with the songs, so you can get in the one and stay on your toes the whole way through.”

The Long Haul – Endurance + HIIT – Advanced – 50 minutes – Rock
“This advanced (elliptical) workout is divided into three (3) sections. Work on maintaining your pace as the resistance increases. Then, switch to faster paced, one-minute intervals with recovery. You’ll end the workout how you started with another steady-state push.”

Three Top Ellipticals from Consumer Reports

Now that you know that you can get a great workout from the elliptical trainer, you might be interested in getting one for your home. While the ellipticals at the gym are upwards of $4000, there are some home versions that can be as low as $139 (found on Amazon).

According to a product review by Consumer Reports in December 2017, here are their three top picks and they are all available on Amazon or through the manufacturer:  

# 1 ProForm Pro 12.9 Elliptical

ProForm Pro 12 Elliptical
ProForm Pro 12 Elliptical rated #1 by Consumer Reports.

The ProForm Pro 12.9 Elliptical offers 43 preset exercise programs. Also, this elliptical has iFit software, which offers virtual training and tracking capabilities for a( monthly or annual) fee. Here are highlights of the elliptical from ProForm is as follows:

  • 7-inch Full-color touchscreen, zero to 20-degree incline ramp, out-of-box easy assembly, oversized levelers 
  • 35 workout apps, integrated tablet holder, EKG grip pulse with wireless chest strap, multi-position upper-body grips
  • iPod compatible audio, workout fan
  • 26 digital resistance levels, adjustable oversized cushioned pedals, commercial-grade steel construction, water bottle holder
  • The ProForm Pro 12.9 elliptical is protected with a Lifetime Frame Warranty, 5-year Parts Warranty, and a 2-year Labor Warranty

#2 Midrange Mover Diamondback 1260 EF

Diamondback Fitness 1260Ef Elliptical Trainer with Incline Compact Footprint and Heart Rate Monitor
Diamondback Fitness 1260Ef Elliptical Trainer with Incline Compact Footprint and Heart Rate Monitor.

Diamondback says it uses the latest exercise technology and has an innovative workout console. It also has built-in warm up and cool down modes.

  • 5 classic workout programs,
  • 5 heart rate interactive programs 
  • 3 cross-training programs.
  • Track your progress with LED feedback (time, watts, heart rate, RPM, etc.)

#3 Total Trainer Sole E95S (E35 available now on Amazon)

Sole Fitness has a highly rated elliptical trainer – the Sole Fitness E35 Elliptical Machine.

Rated as a “Best Buy” by the leading consumer websites and consumer magazines, the E95S is known for its quality and value. It’s sister product, Sole Fitness E35 Elliptical Machine, paid attention to the details and equipped this elliptical with cushioned/adjustable foot-pedals, a vibrant 7.5″ LCD display console and a strong, heavy-duty frame that provides a smooth and efficient workout. Also, the new E35 also now includes Bluetooth capability. This allows users the freedom to transfer workout data from their fitness equipment to their smart device. Users can track their fitness info on the Sole app, or have their data be transferred to other compatible fitness apps.

Laziness with the Elliptical

Fitness fanatics may scoff at ellipticals and pass by this machine on their way to the harder stair climber. However, that’s probably because many use the machine the wrong way. Just going with the flow, setting the machine at a low incline and low resistance will result in a low-calorie burn and little benefit. By deliberately committing to working your hardest and increasing the machine’s resistance, you’ll burn more calories during your elliptical workout.  

Elliptical Energy!

The next time you are at the gym or if you are looking for a solid workout at home, consider an elliptical machine. Crank the music, pick your preset program, and get moving! In fact, you’ll be able to burn more calories on the elliptical than you thought possible and be injury-free with this low-impact wonder!


Disclosures: Fit Forty Forever, LLC is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.
FitFortyForever, LLC is also a participant in Aaptiv’s Media Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Aaptiv.

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