Ellipticals are great machines for staying in shape and burning calories in a short amount of time. But how long do you need to use it to see results?
Using an elliptical for 30 minutes can burn an average of 300 calories (weight and speed dependent). After 3-4 weeks of using an elliptical for 30 minutes at a time, you should begin to see results. Others will be able to notice these results after 6-8 weeks.
Understanding how long you should use an elliptical at a time and what kind of results you can get depend on a number of things.
- 1 How Do Ellipticals Burn Calories?
- 2 What Areas of The Body Do Ellipticals Target?
- 3 How Often Should You Use An Elliptical?
- 4 What Can You Do To Make Your Elliptical Time More Effective?
- 5 Favorite Cardio Machine Accessories
How Do Ellipticals Burn Calories?
The more you weigh, the more calories you will burn during an exercise. More specifically, the greater your muscle mass, the quicker you will burn calories. This is because muscle has a greater metabolism rate than fat tissue.
Regardless of your size, the longer and the higher intensity of your workout, the more calories you will burn. You can increase the intensity of your elliptical workout by choosing a greater resistance level, moving at a faster pace, and including intervals of vigorous motion.
That being said, if you are not in a position to do high-intensity sessions on the elliptical, you can get the same results as a high-intensity workout by doing a low-intensity workout for a longer amount of time. As long as you are continuously moving, you will burn calories. In that way, you can keep going at any speed with any resistance level that you want until you have burned the number of calories you desire.
Elliptical machines will calculate the number of calories that you are burning automatically. To make sure this number is accurate, you need to input your weight before exercising. Otherwise, the machine will use a predetermined average weight which will most likely not be correct for you.
“According to the Harvard Medical School, you burn approximately 2.16 calories for every pound of body weight during 30 minutes of elliptical use.”(Source)
What Areas of The Body Do Ellipticals Target?
While the elliptical does target certain parts of the body, you cannot use it to spot reduce fat. Just because the elliptical can strengthen your hamstrings does not mean your hamstrings will automatically trim down fat. Your body will decide where to lose fat on its own. Rather, think of using the elliptical as a way to strengthen all of the major muscle groups. As you do that, you will eventually see fat start to disappear from parts of your body.
This machine is all about enhancing your cardiovascular endurance. It mimics running, but with extra support from the handles and pedals. That is not to say that it is any less effective than running, though. Using an elliptical, running on a treadmill, or running on the ground will result in greater cardiovascular endurance, each with its own pros and cons.
Aerobic exercise makes your heart and lungs work harder to get blood and oxygen to your muscles. This is the process that is strengthening your cardiovascular endurance while using an elliptical.
Because of the elliptical handles, you are able to strengthen your back, chest, shoulders, biceps, and triceps while you exercise. The best way to accomplish this is by moving your arms at the same speed as your legs.
Just like any other upper body exercise, pulling will activate the muscles in your back and biceps and pushing will activate your triceps. The continuous movement from pulling and pushing will strengthen your chest and shoulders.
Because ellipticals are so adaptable, you can change the settings to target different leg muscles, namely your glutes, hip flexors, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.
The elliptical strengthens different leg muscles with the same pulling and pushing principles as any other exercise. When your leg is moving backward on the pedals before pushing forward again, you are making a pulling motion that strengthens your glutes and hamstrings. When you then push forward, your quadriceps are being worked. The continuous movement then strengthens your hip flexors as they are constantly adjusting to the motion of your legs and your calves will be engaged to stabilize the lower portion of your legs.
Additionally, the elliptical pedals are designed to spread the weight of your body evenly across both legs. This will result in more equivalent results in your legs, rather than your dominant leg getting stronger and leaner than the less dominant leg. The pedals’ design also makes it significantly less likely to develop bad posture while running. Your posture can greatly affect the workout’s effect on your body.
When you step, you naturally contract your abs to keep your posture straight and balanced. This will strengthen your core. A great way to increase the effect, because it is not one of the main benefits of using an elliptical, is to let go of the handles. When you are using the elliptical without handles, your core must work harder to keep you balanced and straight. However, this will then reduce your ability to work your upper body.
You can make a compromise between working your upper body and focusing on your core by incorporating intervals. In a forty-minute workout, you can alternate ten minutes with the handles and ten minutes without.
How Often Should You Use An Elliptical?
Ellipticals are a great alternative to using a treadmill if you suffer from joint injuries. This is a low-impact machine, so you will be less likely to aggravate an injury or hurt your joints to begin with. Since it is nicer on your body than traditional running, it is safe to use the elliptical more often.
You can use the elliptical every day if you desire. However, adults are recommended to exercise at least 150 minutes a week. Typically, this recommendation is broken up to an average of 30 minutes a day for five days a week to allow the body time to rest and recharge. If you overwork your body, you will be causing more harm than help to your body.
Exercising at least 150 minutes a week is recommended for preventing weight gain. If you are looking to increase weight loss, however, you should be striving for around 250 minutes of exercising a week (while maintaining a healthy diet, of course). In that case, it is recommended to be working out 45 minutes to an hour for five days a week.
Again, there is nothing wrong with using the elliptical more than five days a week, as long as you are not doing long high-intensity sessions each day. If you plan on using the elliptical every day, you should schedule two or three days a week that have shorter and/or lower intensity sessions to still give your body the ability to rest.
Combining cardio exercise with resistance training will make your workouts even more effective. Varying your workouts makes them less repetitive and building some muscle raises your resting calorie expenditure which means you burn more calories while sleeping!
What Can You Do To Make Your Elliptical Time More Effective?
First and foremost, the key to increasing the effects of your exercise is to also being eating balanced and nutritious meals. To get the most out of your physical activity, you have to be giving your body sufficient energy to perform.
Now, what is considered to be a balanced diet depends on what you are trying to accomplish. There will be a different amount of calories you should be consuming a day and a slightly different ratio of carbohydrates, fats, and protein (macronutrients).
Typically, your ratio of macronutrients should be:
- 30–35% of your calories from protein
- 55–60% of your calories from carbs
- 15–20% of your calories from fat
To lose weight, you need to be taking in fewer calories than you are going to burn from exercising. If your primary type of exercise for losing weight is aerobic exercise, then your ratio should include slightly more carbohydrates in your diet.
If your goal is to bulk up and gain muscle, you actually need to be switching between eating more calories and fewer calories. This is referred to as bulking and cutting. After identifying the number of calories you need to maintain your current weight, you will eat 15% more calories than that during your bulking phase. This is so you can build as much muscle as possible. Then you switch to your cutting phase and will eat 15% fewer calories than you need to maintain weight.
The purpose of the cutting phase is to lose as much fat as possible while keeping the muscle mass you built during the bulking phase.
A note about protein: It is a myth that you need to consume significant amounts of protein to gain muscle. Strength training is how you will build muscle! If you consume more protein than your body needs in a day, it will be converted and stored if it exceeds your daily calorie needs. Thus, eating extra protein in your diet will actually go against your goal and reduce the efficiency of your workout. About 0.6 – 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight is a good goal.
Strength Training Exercises
As stated before, ellipticals are better at strengthening major muscle groups than individual muscles. To strengthen specific muscles, you use strength training. Combining the benefits of the elliptical with specific exercises can magnify your workout’s efficiency.
The best way to include strength training exercises in your elliptical workout is to focus on the muscles that are already being activated by the elliptical. These would be the muscles previously listed.
You can incorporate strength training before, after, and during your elliptical use. Adding strength training exercises during your elliptical session is a great way to keep your body working hard without getting comfortable. If your body gets too comfortable at a certain pace or resistance level, you won’t burn as many calories or see as many results. Switching between the elliptical and strength training exercises every 15 minutes will allow for your body to keep burning calories and getting stronger.
Stretching Before And After
Before and after any workout it is important to stretch. If you begin working out without warming your muscles, you are more likely to injure yourself during your exercise. Stretching is a light way to warm up your muscles and prepare them to be used.
Good pre-workout stretches include:
- The Pike Stretch- Start by standing with your legs shoulder-width apart and reach down to put your hands in front of your toes. You’ll then slowly walk your hands forward while keeping them shoulder-width apart and keeping your legs straight. Essentially, you are walking yourself into the yoga stretch “downward dog.” Stay in that position for 30 seconds. This will stretch your hamstrings and calves.
- Trunk Rotations- Start lying on your back with your hips and knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Your arms should lay straight at your sides. Squeeze your shoulder blades and flatten your neck to the floor while rotating your legs to the left. As you twist, your right shoulder blade and arm should remain flat on the floor. Hold that position for a few minutes and then slowly return to the starting position and rotate your legs to the right side. This will stretch your shoulders, legs, and core.
- Lunges- Lunges are an example of dynamic stretching, a way to stretch by constantly moving as opposed to holding a pose for a long amount of time. Since lunges target the leg muscles and back, doing a set or two of them before getting on the elliptical can help get the blood flowing through your legs and prepare them for endurance.
Good post-workout stretches include:
- Chest Stretch- Start by standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width. Place your hands on the back of your head with your arms raised and elbows pointed to the sides. Bring your shoulder blades together as you press your elbows backward.
- Seated Glute Stretch- Start by sitting in a chair with one foot flat on the floor. Place your other leg so that its ankle is over the knee of the foot flat on the floor. Slowly bend forward while keeping your back straight until you feel a slight pull in your hips and glute muscles. Hold that position for 30-60 seconds and repeat with the other leg.
- Cat-Cow Stretch- Start with your hands and knees on the floor, with your spine straight and relaxed. As you inhale, press your chest forward as if making your back into a bowl. As you exhale, relax your shoulders and round your spine upward, and press your hips forward as if making your back into a hill. Relax your shoulders and continue to go between these positions for a minute.
Favorite Cardio Machine Accessories
Check out these accessories that improve a home cardio workout:
- Equipment mat: All cardio equipment should be put on an equipment mat. The Rubber-Cal mat (Amazon) is an affordable yet very high quality choice.
- Interval timer: To time your intervals and workouts, there is no better choice than the GymNext Flex. It’s super easy to use and set up with a phone app.
- Tablet holder: Cardio can be boring. With this tablet holder (Amazon) you can follow along with on-demand workouts or just watch a movie on any cardio machine.
- Heart rate monitor: Monitoring your heart rate is very important while doing cardio. The Polar H10 (Amazon) connects to almost anything you can imagine and is very accurate.
To find which cardio machines I recommend for home gyms, click here.