The elliptical machine offers a low-impact cardio workout. Among main elliptical benefits are improving cardiovascular fitness, burning calories, and strengthening both the upper and lower body. It also reduces joint stress, making it an ideal choice for those with joint issues or injuries. Regular sessions can contribute to improved endurance, weight management, and overall cardiovascular health.
What Is An Elliptical Machine?
The elliptical machine is best defined as a cross trainer in the form of a stationary exercise machine. It features two handles and pedals for your feet to go into. The machine is designed to simulate a variety of exercises, including stair climbing, running, walking, and cross-country skiing.
Since the pedals are suspended above the ground, the athlete never has to deal with the direct impact of the hard floor.
It primarily focuses on training the legs and lower body through various built-in programs. However, the elliptical also targets the upper body to a small degree. Gym goers can choose to use the fixed handles and only focus on the legs or the handles, which move with the machine.
Due to the high versatility of the elliptical, those that wonder if the elliptical is a good workout, will find that it targets both the upper and lower body. A test done and published in Harvard Health Publications suggests that the average 125-pound person would burn around 270 calories with a typical elliptical workout routine lasting 30 minutes.
8 Benefits Of Elliptical Machine Workout
Do ellipticals work? Due to the high popularity of the elliptical machine, this is not an issue you should worry about. Once you have an understanding of the benefits of using an elliptical, it might be the first machine you choose for cardio. Here are a few elliptical trainer benefits to keep in mind:
1. Weight Loss (Burns Calories)
According to a survey done between 2013 and 2016 by the United States Center For Disease Control, 49.1% of adults in the US were attempting to lose weight.
One of the greatest elliptical machine benefits is the ability it offers users to lose weight. Keep in mind that your weight would affect the number of calories you burn per session. However, the average person can expect to burn between 270 and 400 calories per 30-minute session, depending on their weight.
For the best weight loss results, you would need to burn more calories than you consume. Fortunately, burning calories is one elliptical workout benefit everyone can enjoy.
2. Improves Your Cardio And Fitness Capacity
Improving your overall fitness is often best done when you perform aerobic exercises. Whilst weightlifting builds muscle, you need to get your heart and lungs to work a bit harder in longer intervals. This will force these two important organs to pump more blood to the muscles and increase cardiovascular health.
The elliptical machine is perfect for performing aerobic exercises that improve cardiovascular fitness. It can also be great for High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), which speeds up weight loss.
3. Targets The Upper And Lower Body
To best describe the benefit of targeting the upper and lower body, we need to compare the elliptical to some of the other popular exercise machines. The treadmill is arguably the most common, followed closely by the stationary bike.
Whilst both the above-mentioned exercise machines provide healthy benefits for athletes, they only target the lower body. Since your arms or hands are fixed on the handlebars, you rarely have to move them. Due to the design, most of the training emphasis falls on the lower body, which performs the workout routine.
In stark contrast, the elliptical is a bit different and offers you moveable bars for your hands. While you can choose to use the fixed handlebars, the rotating options allow you to place some of the strain on your upper body. You can use these moveable handlebars to assist your legs in moving the mechanism of the elliptical.
By using two studies, we see that the Medical College of Wisconsin has noted that the average calories burned while jogging for an hour on a treadmill ranges from 705 to 866 calories. Alternatively, experts estimate that the elliptical trainer can burn around 270 to 378 calories during a 30 minute period. This is by no means fully conclusive but does suggest the elliptical has the potential for burning more calories than the treadmill.
A common conclusion would be that the more muscles you train, the more calories you ought to burn, giving the elliptical the benefit here.
4. Improved Physiological Changes
We all know that training leads to numerous physiological changes in the body. At first, it might be painful, but as your progress and your muscles become stronger, these turn into benefits.
Another study done by J Sports Med Phys Fitness in 2004 found that trainees using the treadmill, elliptical trainer, and stair climber for 12 weeks had moderate physiological improvements. This does imply that using the elliptical could lead to numerous changes, which eventually leads to a boost in self-esteem as well.
5. Reduction In Stress On Joints
Many radical fitness enthusiasts would tell you that years of running or walking on the treadmill have left them with achy joints. Some of these injuries are due to the stress and impact of the hard surfaces when working out.
Exercises like running and jogging put plenty of strain on your knees, hips, ankles, joints, and other parts of your body, but the elliptical benefits aim to reduce this.
A study done in 2022 suggests that the elliptical has a significantly lower impact on the joints and various other parts of your body. It would often be more comfortable for those with injuries to endure than other forms of cardio like running, jogging, and even cycling.
6. Muscle Targeting Is Useful For Training Weaker Muscles
The elliptical might seem like a standard workout machine to many. However, when you get up close to it, you will see numerous knobs and adjustment fittings that could be made.
The great thing about these modifications is that they allow you to target different muscles in the body. Here are a few examples:
- Targeting the Quadriceps More: If you want to target the quadriceps muscles more effectively, you should lower the foot pedals. When performing the same range of motion, it targets the quad muscles more effectively.
- Targeting The Glutes More: If you do the opposite and you raise the foot pedals, you will have a slight incline arch. The incline arch will force you to bend your knees more and this will target the rear or the glute muscles more effectively.
- Targeting The Hamstrings: The elliptical pedals can also move backward if you want to do a reverse workout. If you pedal in reverse, you are bound to feel it more in the hamstring muscles.
If you are new to using the elliptical, you should take some time and experiment. It can definitely help you target a wider variety of muscles.
7. Serves As A Trainer During Injuries
Unless you have permission from your health specialist, you should never work out until you are fully healed from an injury. However, those that have received the go-ahead from doctors can use the elliptical for keeping fit during injuries.
Since it is not a tough weight-bearing exercise, the stress on muscles can be greatly reduced. As discussed in some of the other benefits, you can combine all these benefits and have something comfortable for keeping fit during injuries.
8. Easy To Use
The one great thing about using an elliptical is that it is not complicated. Yes, you have a few adjustments you could make, but the average person using it to lose weight should have no problem.
Once you have the elliptical set up in the correct position and you have all the functions working, you simply need to turn it on. Once the machine is turned on, you can get onto the elliptical and start training.
Possible Drawbacks Of The Elliptical Machine Workout
Unfortunately, nothing is without its flaws. Much like the elliptical offers you insane benefits, there are also a few drawbacks you might need to keep in mind. Here are some of the possible drawbacks athletes might encounter when using the elliptical.
1. Unnatural Movement
Those that have been using the elliptical for years, might be used to the motion of the elliptical. However, those new to the elliptical might find that you twist your body in an unnatural motion when using the upper and lower parts of the machine simultaneously.
Some ellipticals are built for those of average height, which is just under 6 feet, you often see taller and shorter people needing more time to get used to the movements. Fortunately, it doesn’t take long for muscle memory to make you feel comfortable using an elliptical machine. We should mention that you can find ellipticals for those over 6 feet as well.
2. Low Impact Can Be A Bad Thing
We often think of low-impact as being possible. I mean, you don’t want to put unnecessary stress on your joints. However, those that use the elliptical exclusively could be missing out on strengthening some of the tendons and joints that are needed for specific sports and everyday life.
These individuals might find it as a shock when they hit the training ground for sports and their bodies are not used to some of the shock produced by running and jogging.
Finally, the elliptical machine is by no means the cheapest piece of training equipment. Many stationary bikes and some smaller treadmills are affordable. However, the elliptical machines tend to be a bit more expensive. This can increase exponentially if you choose one with all the latest and modern features.
Top Muscles Worked While Elliptical Training
For most people, focusing on the individual muscles trained is not as important as losing weight. However, the more specific athletes like bodybuilders and niche-sports enthusiasts prefer knowing which muscles are trained. In my attempt to find the benefits of using an elliptical, I found a list of muscles most targeted by the elliptical machine.
1. Gluteus Maximus
We have briefly touched on the effect it has on the glutes. However, the elliptical does directly target these muscles, especially when you adjust it for a slight incline or raise the pedal high. Since your knees are bent more, you place plenty of strain on the glutes to ensure they are trained.
Much like the gluteus maximus, an adjustment in the foot pedals can help you to put more emphasis on the quadriceps. The quads are heavily involved in hip flexion and knee extension motion. For this reason, those that want to primarily target the quads should consider lowering the pedals slightly.
No matter which way you are pedaling, the elliptical machine has some effects on the hamstring muscles. However, those that have noticed the backward pedaling feature can place more emphasis on the hamstrings.
If you want to put more strain on the hamstrings, you should consider adjusting the pedals to a more inclined position. Additionally, consider pedaling backward instead of forwards.
No matter what you do with the elliptical, your calves are bound to be affected. Since they are found in the lower part of the leg, every pedal stroke would have a minor effect on them. Whilst it might not have the same effect as traditional calf raises, it will certainly help pump some blood into the muscle.
5. Abdominal Muscles
One thing we are always taught when working out is to keep our abs contracted. Not only does it improve your posture when working out, but also trains these muscles. If you are sticking to the basic workout principles, you will be keeping your abdomen contracted. This will also emphasize these muscles and could lead to a slight increase in strength and endurance.
6. Variety Of Upper Body Muscles
Working from the top down, we see that the elliptical has a limited effect on the upper body. Whilst it will not turn you into the next Eddie Hall, it does target a few specific upper body muscles.
Due to the push movement, you will directly target the triceps and chest muscles. The movement is similar to any other pushing movement you would do when targeting these muscles individually.
Additionally, you are also performing the occasional pull movement. This pull movement puts strain on the upper back and biceps. Whilst it is nowhere close to the chin-ups, it does have a similar anatomical effect.
Keep in mind that the effect on the upper body is not very significant and only serves a supplementary purpose.
How To Use An Elliptical For Maximum Benefit?
Since the elliptical is one of the most versatile pieces of equipment, it can be tedious when you just get started. Depending on where you want the emphasis to be and the quality of the elliptical you use, you can train various parts of the lower body.
For maximum benefit, beginners should consider choosing one of the integrated workout programs. These programs are designed to help beginners get started and show them the ropes.
However, someone with a bit more experience might want to dive into things like HIIT and various forms of cardiovascular workouts.
As mentioned, raising or lowering the pedals can help you to exemplify different muscles during the workout. Those that prefer working on the quadriceps muscles should consider lowering the pedals to target them more efficiently. By raising the pedals, you could place more emphasis on the gluteus maximus. Finally, the hamstrings can be targeted more efficiently by pedaling backward or slightly raising the incline.
Best Elliptical Machine We Recommend
When buying an Elliptical for yourself, ensuring you have excellent quality is always important. The NordicTrack Commercial 14.9 Elliptical Training Machine is by far one of the best options currently on the market.
It comes fully spec’d with a large 10-inch HD touchscreen for a fully immersive experience. Additionally, the strides are about 19 inches, but the unit can be adjusted and the 20-degree power ramp will offer you more of a challenge. We recommend the addition of the incline feature for more training versatility.
Finally, you have the option of choosing between 26 different resistance levels for your specific training needs. Some extras include the water bottle holder and oversized cushion pedals, which adds even more comfort for the athlete.
If you want a good elliptical for your home, the NordicTrack Commercial 14.9 Elliptical Training Machine is certainly a top choice.
What Happens If You Do Elliptical Every Day?
Doing the elliptical every day would lead to an increase in muscular strength and cardiovascular performance. However, it will also lead to an improvement in physiological conditions for the people performing these workouts.
Are Ellipticals Good For Weight Loss?
The elliptical turns out to be an effective means of exercise for those that want to lose weight. Numerous studies point to the ability to increase your rate of calories burned through exercise.
- Physiological changes following a 12 week gym based stair-climbing, elliptical trainer and treadmill running program in females // NCBI: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15470311/
- Effects of incorporating elliptical trainer exercise during rehabilitation on physical function and self-reported outcomes after total hip arthroplasty // NCBI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8918105/
- Comparison of energy expenditure on a treadmill vs. an elliptical device at a self-selected exercise intensity // NCBI: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20453685/
- Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights // Harvard Medical School: https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/calories-burned-in-30-minutes-for-people-of-three-different-weights
- Attempts to Lose Weight Among Adults in the United States // CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db313.htm
- What is the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise? // MNT: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/aerobic-vs-anaerobic-exercises
- High-intensity exercise and your heart // Harvard Medical School: https://www.health.harvard.edu/exercise-and-fitness/high-intensity-exercise-and-your-heart
- Maximal Fat Oxidation // NCBI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7919349/
- How many calories are burned on the elliptical? // HealthLine: https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/calories-burned-on-elliptical#general-amount-burned
My name is Ihor and I have been a professional weightlifter since 1996. With over 20 years of competition experience, my resume includes European Champion in 2009 and the silver medalist at 2011's Senior World Championships – 105kg division.
I competed at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics.
After hanging up my own competitive lifting shoes, I decided to share my huge background as a coach. I am currently coaching multiple athletes who are competing at national and international competitions.