Elliptical Workouts for Beginners

Cardio is arguably the most important type of exercise. Yes, strength training can be very beneficial, but, ultimately, it doesn’t matter how toned your arms are or how strong your legs are; it’s your heart and lungs that keep you alive.

Cardiovascular fitness is inextricably linked to cardiovascular health, and according to the American College of Sports Medicine, most people should aim to clock up about 150 minutes of cardio per week.

That might sound like a lot, but it’s just 30 minutes five days a week. You don’t even have to go hard or fast; brisk walking counts are cardio.

Not much of a walker? No problem! There are lots of cardio exercises to choose from. Cycling, swimming, rowing, jogging, and group exercise classes are all great options.

But what about elliptical trainers; are they beneficial?

The good news is that using an elliptical is an excellent way to get your cardio workout. Not sure where to start? We’re here to help! In this article, we reveal how to use one of these popular machines and provide you with three elliptical workouts for beginners.

Whether you want to get fit, lose weight, or improve your health, using an elliptical trainer can help.

Elliptical Workouts For Beginners

How to Use an Elliptical

How to use an elliptical

Ellipticals are a cross between a bike and a treadmill. They’re so-called because your feet follow an elliptical or oval-shaped path.

Most have handles with which you can push and pull to exercise your upper body, although you can also use them hands-free.

Follow these steps to use an elliptical:

  1. Carefully stand on the footplates. Make sure your whole foot is on the plate and not just your toes.
  2. Take hold of the handles. Ideally, your hands should be somewhere between hip and chest height.
  3. Stand up straight and look straight ahead. Do not look down at your feet.
  4. Pull with one arm and push with the other as you start stepping. You should feel like you are using your arms as much as your legs.
  5. Allow your feet to roll from heel to toe naturally as though you are walking or running. This will stop your feet from going numb.
  6. Adjust the resistance according to your current fitness level. Aim for around 30-40 steps per minute.

Remember to:

  • Stand tall in good posture; look straight ahead.
  • Keep your shoulders down, back, and relaxed.
  • Use your arms as much as your legs.
  • If you go hands-free, do not lean forward and rest on your arms.
  • Keep your core slightly braced throughout.
  • Wait for the machine to stop before stepping off.

The Benefits of Using an Elliptical

Elliptical workouts are very beneficial. Reasons to make an elliptical machine part of your fitness program include:


Unlike jogging and running, using an elliptical trainer involves no impact. When running, your feet hit the ground with a force equal to 6-8 times your body weight. That’s a lot of stress if you are carrying a lot of weight, but if you weigh closer to 200, it can be enough to cause pain and injuries.

Elliptical workouts are ideal for overweight exercisers and anyone with pre-existing foot, ankle, knee, hip, or back problems.

Full-Body Workout

If your elliptical features push/pull handles, using it will deliver a full-body workout. This means you’ll burn more calories and also strengthen and tone your arms and core, as well as your legs. Because of this, for most people, an elliptical provides a better workout than an exercise bike or treadmill.

Easy to Use

Unlike rowing, there are no tricky techniques to master when using an elliptical. In fact, they’re very hard to use incorrectly. If you are looking for a workout that you can start today, the elliptical is an excellent choice.

Suitable For All Levels of Exerciser

Most ellipticals have 20 or more levels of resistance. Some also allow you to raise the front of the machine to simulate going uphill and make your steps bigger. Because of this, ellipticals are suitable for all levels of exerciser, from beginner to elite.

Lots of Feedback

Elliptical machines usually have LED or LCD screens that display pertinent information about your workout, such as your heart rate, speed, step rate, calories burned, and distance covered. Some exercisers find this feedback very motivating.

How Long Should A Beginner Use an Elliptical Machine?

Beginner elliptical class

To benefit from any cardio machine, you need to use it for at least 20 minutes without stopping. If you are a beginner, this may seem like a daunting if not impossible prospect.

The good news that ANY amount of exercise will do you good, and whatever you can do is better than nothing. However, you should gradually build up to doing 20 minutes per workout.

Start off by doing just 5-10 minutes at a slow, comfortable speed. Add a minute per workout until you can do 20 minutes without stopping. At that point, you can either work out for longer or pick up your pace and go a little faster.

If you can’t manage 5-10 minutes, it might be because you are going too fast. Using an elliptical, you should be slightly out of breath but still able to maintain a conversation, albeit haltingly. Your heart rate should be about 60% of your maximum, which you calculate like this:

220 – age in years x 0.6 = 60% of your maximum heart rate

Can You Burn Belly Fat Using an Elliptical?

Contrary to popular opinion, no type of exercise specifically targets belly fat. Fat is stored energy and is the result of consuming too many calories. When you eat too much, your body takes any excess calories and turns them into fat. That fat is then secreted all around your body, including your abdomen.

Fat is stored according to your genetics, gender, and hormones and comes off in much the same way.

Using an elliptical will burn fat from your entire body, and that includes your belly. However, it won’t preferentially target belly fat; sorry!

3 Easy Elliptical Workouts

While there is nothing to stop you from just jumping on an elliptical and getting started, you’ll probably have a more productive and enjoyable workout if you do something more structured. A lot of ellipticals have pre-set programs to follow, or you can use one of the following.

Before you start, warm up with 3-5 minutes of easy stepping followed by a few gentle stretches and joint mobility exercises. Warming up will make your workout more comfortable and help reduce your risk of injury.

1. Resistance Level Ladder

Easy elliptical workout class

Do one minute on the lowest resistance level on your elliptical. Move up a level for your second minute.

Keep increasing the resistance every minute until you’ve had enough, or you run out of levels. Then, if you wish, you can come back down, decreasing the resistance each minute until you arrive back at the lowest setting.

2. Simple Intervals

Interval training is a very time-efficient way to work out. In simple terms, it involves alternating between periods of high-intensity exercise and periods of easy rest and recovery. Interval training burns more calories as you are doing it, and afterward, too.

After you have warmed up, do three minutes of fast pedaling and then two minutes at a slower pace. Repeat four times to total 20 minutes. Take care not to go too quick, or you may not complete the workout. Instead, take your heart rate up to about 70-80%, and then back to 50-60% during the rest periods.

3. Back and Forth

For this workout, go forward for 60 seconds and then backward for 60 seconds. Continue going back and forth until you’ve done 20 minutes. Make sure you use your arms as much as your legs, especially when you’re going backward when your legs will not be able to generate as much force.

Bottom Line

Elliptical trainers are popular for a reason; they are very effective, enjoyable, and easy to use. While exercising with one won’t magically melt belly fat, working out on an elliptical will help you lose or maintain your weight, increase your cardiovascular fitness, and improve your health.

Using an elliptical will give you a full-body workout as, in addition to working your legs, you’ll be using your arms too. Make the most of this feature by consciously pushing and pulling with your arms. Aim to use your upper body as much as your legs. That way, you’ll burn more calories and get a far better training effect.

Ellipticals are the ideal workout for overweight people and anyone who find that high-impact activities like running and group exercise classes cause joint pain. With no impact to worry about, you’re free to exercise in comfort and with a much lower risk of injury.

If you are new to using an elliptical, resist the temptation to do too much too soon. Instead, start off with just 5-10 minutes, and increase gradually after that. Build up to doing 20-minutes without stopping, and then try one of our three beginner workouts.

How often should you use an elliptical? It’s such a low-stress exercise that you could probably do it daily. But, for most people, 3-5 workouts per week is plenty. If you feel like you need to do more than that to control your weight, it could be a sign you are eating too much.


Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine and owner and lecturer for a fitness qualifications company. In addition to training prospective personal trainers, Patrick has also authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos.

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