Do Elliptical Trainers Have Adjustable Incline? How|Why?

Adjustable incline is something very common and often used on treadmills. But what about elliptical trainers? Do they have something similar and how can you adjust it? Here’s what you want to know.

Some elliptical trainers have manually or electronically adjustable incline. The machines that have this option tend to be the more expensive ones. Using incline is good to get an extra tough cardio workout that also burns extra calories and targeting different leg muscles like the calves, hamstrings and glutes.

To discover if you need incline and how to adjust it, keep reading down below.

Do elliptical trainers have adjustable incline?

You probably know incline from treadmills. It’s when the front of the belt raises up while the rear stays the same height. This means you have to lift your feet higher on every step which is tougher, targets different muscles and strengthens your core as well.

On elliptical trainers you the same thing. The front raises up so you have to use your muscles differently and the workout is tougher. However, not all elliptical trainers have this option. It’s something relatively new and for now only reserved for the more expensive models.

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Where the majority of treadmills have adjustable incline, in ellipticals it isn’t as common. It’s mainly reserved for the upper mid-range and high end models. Especially if you want it to be have motorized, you’ll have to bring the big bucks. Elliptical trainers with motorized incline adjustment start at about $1000 and many are much more expensive than that.

Some of the cheaper models have a manually adjustable incline. That means you won’t be able to adjust it during your workout with a push of the button. You’ll have to get off the machine to change the incline. Some make it quite easy, there is just a pin you take out of the hole and adjust it to the height you want. Other machines are more difficult and you’ll need some tools.

Especially with the latter, you won’t be changing it for every workout. You set it once and leave it there because it’s just too much of a hassle to change it for every workout. So, if you want to have an elliptical trainer that makes it easy to adjust the incline and be able to do so during a workout, it’s best to get a motorized version.

Looking for a good elliptical trainer for a good price? Click here to find my recommendation for a home gym elliptical trainer.

Some cheap elliptical trainers try to trick you into thinking they have adjustable incline. But actually, the only thing they do is increase the resistance. While that gives you some of the effects of increased incline, it’s not the same.

In general, only elliptical trainers with a drive wheel at the rear are capable of adjustable incline. Cheap models usually have the flywheel in the front which makes adjusting the incline more difficult. That doesn’t mean that ALL rear drive models are adjustable. And of course not every model that has the flywheel in the front doesn’t have incline adjustment.

It’s just that the part with the flywheel is the heaviest part of the machine. That means it’s more difficult to lift that part up. So a manufacturer has to spend more money on parts and engineering to make that happen.

Rear drive ellipticals also tend to be quite a bit bigger. Click here to find a post that tells you everything you need to know about elliptical trainer dimensions.

How to adjust incline on an elliptical trainer

So if your elliptical trainer has an adjustable incline, how can you actually adjust it?

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There are three ways. Which one you should use depends on which type of elliptical you have. Most of them are pretty self-explanatory.

  • Adjustable with a button. This is the easiest, most convenient option. Push a button on the console and a little motor in the machine adjusts to whatever setting you chose.
  • Manually adjustable. Some elliptical have some type of manual adjustment. This can be simple where you just pull a pin out and adjust the angle or more involved. Many of the mid-range models it’s more involved which means you have to use some tools to change the angle of the pedals.
  • Put something sturdy under the front of the machine. Weight plates are probably the best option you already have laying around in your gym.  Be very careful when you do this. Use something very sturdy and don’t go too high. Make very sure the machine can’t fall off. Obviously, the machines aren’t really designed for this so do this one at your own risk.

Why would you even want to adjust the incline on an elliptical trainer? Keep reading to find out.

Why adjust the incline on an elliptical trainer?

Even if you can adjust your incline, why would you want to do this? What are the benefits?

There are two main reasons why you would want this;

  • Tougher workouts. You have to lift your legs higher. Just like walking up a hill, this means you have to exert more effort which means your heart has to work harder which gives you cardiovascular benefits and burns more calories.
  • Targets different muscles. Another big reason why people want to use incline and maybe even more important than the first one is that you use different muscles when using incline. Just like when walking up a hill, you’ll use your calves, hamstrings and glutes more than if you’re walking on a flat surface.

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Another reason can be is if you’re training for something specific that includes hills. Maybe you want to be prepared for a hiking trip in the mountains but where you live there isn’t even an anthill in sight. Having an incline setting can help you train for that specific situation.

Should you pay extra for an incline setting on an elliptical machine? That depends on your goals and budget. If it’s not in your budget, it’s not in your budget. If you can afford a higher priced model and your goals include;

  • Very tough cardio workout
  • Most calories burned per minute as possible
  • Target your calves, hamstrings and glutes more
  • Train for something that involves walking/running up a hill.

That means that many people would benefit from having an elliptical machine with adjustable incline setting. However, it’s not necessary for everyone. If you’re just looking for a normal cardio workout, a normal (cheaper) elliptical machine without incline will do fine. Most ellipticals provide enough resistance to push the limits of many ‘normal’ peoples fitness.

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Which incline setting should I use on an elliptical?

How steep should you set the incline at to get the benefits listed above?

Every degree of incline will make your workout tougher and focus more on the back of your legs. How high you should set the incline really depends on your training level and fitness.

If you want to focus more on the development of your legs, set the incline high but keep the workout a bit shorter and/or the resistance lower to offset the extra effort from the incline.

If you want to burn as many calories as you can, keep the incline a bit lower so you can keep going for longer. If you can hit your time goals, increase the incline the next workout.

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When adjusting incline, go slow. Start with the lowest setting and work your way up. There is no use in getting one really heavy workout done with a steep incline but then not being able to walk for the next few days because of muscle soreness and skipping the next workout.

Also, if you’re suddenly changing things, there is always the risk of injury so that’s another reason why you should take it slow.

Looking for a good elliptical trainer for a good price? Click here to find my recommendation for a home gym elliptical trainer.


Hey, I'm Matt. Welcome to I've been going to the gym for about 15 years and am now looking to build my own. In the process I've learned many things I'd like to share with you.

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