Let’s get one thing straight: The elliptical has gotten a bad rap over the years. “Too many times this machine is overlooked because people see others plodding along while they catch up on the latest issue of Us Weekly, so they think it doesn’t really do much when you want an intense workout,” says Annette Comerchero, founder of Elliptifit, an elliptical-only group fitness studio in Los Angeles. But it doesn’t have to be that way. “With the right workout program, you can hit your calorie-burning goals, tone your upper and lower body and blast fat.”
But just like any exercise, good form comes first. It’s OK if you pitch forward slightly, but don’t lean your weight on the bars or let your chest collapse inwards, explains Comerchero. You should have an upright posture, with shoulders rolled down and back. Plus, you want to grip the bars at the right level. “Make sure your elbow isn’t fully extended — there should always be a mild bend,” she says. “If there’s not, lower your hands a little until they’re in a comfortable, relaxed position.”
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And when you want to kick things up a notch? Use the handles so you’re also targeting your chest, back, arms and obliques, says Comerchero. “You can incorporate them in so many different ways so things don’t get boring and you’re using different muscles,” she says. Check out the four grips below, then watch Comerchero’s instructional video to get a walk-through of the different styles.
Full Grip: This is the most common grip. Wrap your fingers around the handle and tuck your thumb around the other side, like you’re holding a bottle. This should feel pretty natural.
Curved Grip: Pretend you are wearing mittens and cup your hands slightly around the handles, wrapping your fingers (and thumb) around the outsides of each handle. This engages your back muscles more.
Open Grip: Place your open palms on the handle and let your fingers point to the sides (not up) — this will challenge your core while also working your chest, biceps, back and triceps.
Center Grip: Rest your hands on the stationary bars in the center of the machine’s console.
Ready to give the elliptical a go? Comerchero designed three 30-minute workouts that feature intervals. (Research shows high-intensity interval training (HIIT) helps you burn more calories in less time.) During HIIT intervals, your ramp should be medium and during recovery, it should be low. “If you’re not feeling a drastic change between your interval and the recovery, then you’re probably not going hard enough,” says Comerchero.
30-Minute Elliptical HIIT Workouts
Explosive Cardio Elliptical Workout
Targets: Speed and stability
Here it’s all about speed, but you’ll also be putting those arm bars to good use. When grasping the bars, try to take the bounce out of your legs. It should feel like your feet are pressing into the pedals and your arms are the main muscle group powering you through, says Comerchero. In other words, if it feels like you’re arms are on fire and your legs are getting a bit more of a break, you’re doing it right. Roll through your feet and start to push your pace for a seven-minute warm up, then HIIT it! Finish off your workout with a two-minute cool down.
Elliptical Resistance Workout
Targets: Building strength and endurance
For this routine it’s all about making your intervals feel like work. As you increase your ramp resistance, it should progressively start to feel like you’re dragging your feet through mud. Just make sure you can keep a consistent pace — if your stride starts to get choppy, you’ve gone too high. Gently stride on the elliptical for two minutes to get your muscles warm, then dive right into the workout. Afterwards, cool down for two minutes.
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Elliptical Mixed Madness Workout
Targets: Upper body, core, balance and stability
You’ll do it all in this workout — push your pace, “run” backwards (to make sure those hamstrings get some attention, too) and isolate the upper body. Proper posture is key here, says Comerchero. “Keep that soft bend in the knees, pedal heel to toe, and keep an upright posture,” she says. “For a quick check-in, take your hands off the bars — it’ll force you to be in the proper upright position because you won’t have anything to lean on.” Warm up on the elliptical for two minutes before you start the intervals, and then take two minutes to cool down after the workout is complete.
Originally published February 2016. Updated November 2017.