Best 5 elliptical workouts for weight loss

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Last updated on February 12, 2023

Ah yes the elliptical. That weird looking machine which you’re not actually sure works, or even how it works. Actually, the elliptical has been around since the 1900’s, initially invented by Precor. The elliptical is a great tool for fitness and overall health as you get the benefit of cardiovascular training, but with very little impact. Low impact movements such as these are great for beginners, people who struggle with joint issues, and those who want to lose some excess weight.


Is the Elliptical good for Fat Loss?

The main driving factor behind fat loss is actually not just limited to physical activity. Biologically, the only thing driving fat loss is going to be a caloric deficit. That being said, to achieve this caloric deficit one should usually adjust one’s diet and train as well. Training can be broken into two parts, weight training and cardiovascular. Elliptical training falls into cardiovascular training and can really help you in your fat loss endeavor.


Elliptical training is a great way to lose fat as it expends calories by not being very impactful on your joints and ligaments. A 2013 study found that joint injuries have been linked to osteoarthritis, thus making sure that doesn’t happen in the first place is vital.


By having less impact on your ligaments and joints, you will have more recovery capabilities for weight training. Or perhaps you are completely new to training, suffering from an injury already or perhaps you are someone past the age of 60 who would prefer low impact workouts. The elliptical would be a great option for training and losing some unwanted weight and even increasing cardiovascular capabilities. In fact, when compared to cycling or treadmill walking, elliptical training has been shown to potentially have more muscle building capabilities according to a study published in the HHS Author Manuscripts.

Which muscles are being worked?

Almost all of them! The elliptical, when performed properly, will make use of your legs and your arms at the same time. When you do this you’ll be making use of the following muscles:


  • Glutes (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus)
  • Hamstrings (semimembranosus, semitendinosus and biceps femoris)
  • Quads (vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and rectus femoris)
  • Core (transverse abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, erector spinae, diaphragm, pelvic floor muscles, and rectus abdominis)
  • Back (trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, erector spinae, multifidus, and quadratus lumborum)
  • Biceps (biceps brachii and biceps femoris)
  • Triceps (Triceps brachii)


There are obviously some other smaller muscles being worked as well. As you can see, compared to something like just walking, you’re getting a lot more bang for buck.


How many calories do I burn?

Calories burnt whilst exercising vary greatly with intensity, type of exercise and even the size of the individual doing the exercise. Someone who is heavier will need more energy to move than someone smaller – the m in  means something after all.

Regardless, depending on how intensely you go at it, you can burn quite a lot of calories whilst on the elliptical.


  • Train long and slow, you can burn up to 450 calories per hour
  • Go really intense, you might burn up to 700 calories per hour


As you can see, combining elliptical training with the right diet and you’ll see a definite shift in body weight. So let’s look at some of the best elliptical workouts.


Best 5 Elliptical workouts for Weight Loss


Workout Duration Intensity Can beginners do it? Precautions
Low and Slow 20 – 30 Minutes Low Yes Stretch prior
Intervals, Medium 25 Minutes Medium Perhaps Stretch prior
Intervals, Sprinting 15 – 20 Minutes High No Stretch and warm up prior
Intervals, Sprinting, Forward and Back 20 Minutes High No Stretch and warm up prior, good mobility is needed
The Mix 45 Minutes Low and High No Stretch and warm up prior, for experienced individuals


1)   Low and Slow


As the name suggests, this one is all about keeping going. The goal is to have a good and long workout that will result in an cumulative amount of calories burnt without being too hard on your recovery.


Before you get on the elliptical, best do some dynamic stretching for at least 5 minutes prior to starting. Then, get on the machine, grab the hand handles, and start pedaling at a pace you can hold for at least 15 – 20 minutes. After this, do a quick 5 minute cool down at a lower pace.


2)   Intervals, Medium

This is going to be slightly more intense than the former. You’ll still need to do 5 minutes of dynamic stretching before starting. Then, get on the elliptical, grab the handles and start pedaling with low intensity for 5 minutes. Then, increase your speed to medium intensity for 5 minutes, then low intensity for 5 minutes, and then finish with 5 minutes of medium intensity. After this, cool down by pedaling at a pace lower than your low intensity to cool down.


3)   Intervals, Sprinting

The first high intensity workout! This is not for beginners. This will also definitely require you to do a good amount of dynamic stretching prior to training, at least 5 – 10 minutes. After this, get on the elliptical and pedal for 5 minutes at a low intensity to warm up. Then, do the following:


  • Pedal as fast as you can, for 15 seconds
  • Pedal at a low pace for 30 seconds
  • Repeat this 8 times for a total of 6 minutes of work


Then, cool down by pedaling at a low pace for 4 minutes. This is what’s known as a HIIT (High intensity interval training) workout, which can also be great for cardiovascular – and overall health.


4)   Intervals, Sprinting, Forward and Back


This workout will require some coordination. On ellipticals, you can not only pedal forward, but backwards as well. Anecdotal evidence indicates this targets a few different muscles and feels like a new stimulation. Start by doing 5 – 10 minutes of dynamic stretching, and then get on the elliptical and do 5 minutes of low intensity pedaling for a warm up. Then do the following:


  • Sprint pedal forwards for 20 seconds
  • Pedal slowly for 10 seconds
  • Sprint pedal backwards for 10 seconds
  • Pedal slowly for 20 seconds
  • Repeat this 5 times for a total of 5 minutes


Then finish off the workout by pedaling slowly for 5 minutes as a cool off. This workout will be quite intense, so keep a water bottle nearby – you might need it.

5)   The Mix

This is a very long and hard workout, thus it is advisable to make sure you have water and perhaps electrolytes available. Also, you will need a good 10 minutes of dynamic stretching before getting on the machine. Once you’ve done this, warm up by doing low pace pedaling for 5 minutes Then, do the following:


  • Sprint pedal forward for 30 seconds
  • Pedal slowly for 15 seconds
  • Repeat this 8 times
  • Pedal with a good medium pace for 4 minutes
  • Sprint pedal forward for 30 second
  • Pedal slowly for 10 seconds
  • Sprint pedal backward for 10 seconds
  • Pedal slowly for 10 seconds
  • Repeat this 10 minutes
  • Finish strong by pedaling slowly for 10 minutes


The elliptical is a great and effective tool to use to get fit and lose some unwanted weight. Whether you’re a beginner or just someone who is keen on doing some high intensity training without the normal high impact associated with this style, the elliptical trainer is your friend.

About the author  Steve

Steve Theunissen is from New Zealand and is a qualified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist with over 30 years experience. Read more about Steve in the 'about us' page.

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