by

Elliptical trainers are excellent exercise machines, as they give you a great cardiovascular workout without the high impact of jogging or similar activities. You can use an elliptical machine for high-intensity interval training (HIIT), during which you shift between high-intensity and low-intensity exercise, alternating consistently between the two levels for a period of four to 30 minutes. Start with a good warmup and cool down afterwards, and you’ve got a simple pattern for an effective workout that can be used with any type of exercise you like.

HIIT workouts have become popular because they burn more calories in less time, and studies show that many of the benefits of sustained exercise can be achieved faster with a HIIT session. Packing more benefit into less time makes interval training a perfect fit for a busy schedule.

Elliptical Training Variations

Even with the fairly basic workout a standard elliptical trainer provides, there are variables you can adjust to shift your focus to a specific fitness goal. For example, you can gear your workout toward fat burning, strength training or endurance building. By adjusting your machine’s incline and level of resistance, you can make your workouts more intense overall. More resistance enhances muscle building, while lower resistance lets you step up the speed for endurance training.

You can also work your upper body on an elliptical machine. Pushing into the handles to take some of the load off of your lower body effectively works your arms and chest. Switching pushing for a pulling motion focuses on your back and shoulders, while hitting different muscles in the arms. Combining the push and pull motions, while doing most of the work with your arms instead of your legs, gives you a complete upper-body workout without doing a single curl.

You can also let go of the handles entirely, which focuses the workout entirely on your lower body. This also works your core, as your body recruits all of your trunk muscles for balance.
When elliptical training, you also want to pay attention to your strides per minute (SPM). Even without changing resistance or incline, increasing your SPM quickly ramps up the intensity of your workout.

Workout #1 - Interval Sprints

This first workout is HIIT in its purest form, alternating between high-intensity sprints and low-intensity rest periods. Use your warmup period to find the right incline and resistance, setting each at a level you can comfortably return to during your recovery periods but also still challenges you during your sprints. Alternate between sprinting and slow recovery periods for at least 10 minutes, but work up toward a full 20 minutes over time.

  • 3- to 5-minute warmup
  • 20- to 30-second sprint at top speed
  • 60- to 90-second recovery at moderate to low speeds
  • Repeat 10 times
  • 3- to 5-minute cooldown

During each sprint, you should push yourself to your maximum; completing a full 30 seconds should be a challenge. During your recovery periods, reduce the speed as much as needed to catch your breath and gear up for the next sprint, but try to keep moving, even if it’s at a slow pace.

Workout #2 - Push & Pull

This HIIT variation lets you focus on giving your upper body a killer workout, with each sprint alternating between pushing and pulling motions. During each sprint, focus on engaging your arms, back and shoulders; maintaining good posture; and keeping up a good pace. During the recovery periods, drop your arms entirely, letting your legs and core do all the work.

  • 3- to 5-minute warmup
  • 20 to 30 seconds of pulling at high speeds
  • 60- to 90-second recovery at moderate to low speeds
  • 20 to 30 seconds of pushing at high speeds
  • 60- to 90-second recovery at moderate to low speeds
  • Repeat 5 times
  • 3- to 5-minute cooldown

If you don’t feel like you’re getting enough of an upper body workout during the push and pull intervals, increase the resistance and make a conscious effort to use your arms more than your legs.

Workout #3 - Forward & Back

You can go forward and backward on an elliptical machine – going forward focuses on your quads, while reversing turns the focus to your hamstrings and glutes. This workout has you sprinting forward, but you change direction for your recovery periods.

  • 3- to 5-minute warmup
  • 20- to 30-second sprint going forward at high speeds
  • 60- to 90-second recovery going backward at moderate speeds
  • Repeat 10 times
  • 3- to 5-minute cooldown

Want to mix it up further? Try backward sprints, or alternate with one sprint and one recovery interval going forward, then a sprint and recovery interval going backward.

Workout #4 - Hands-Free Core Workout

Working your core on an elliptical is a simple as letting go. Taking your hands off the handles shifts the work of balancing to your core muscles, and after this workout, you’ll definitely feel it.

  • 3- to 5-minute warmup
  • 20- to 30-second sprint at top speed with no hands
  • 60- to 90-second recovery at moderate to low speeds, using hands for balance
  • Repeat 10 times
  • 3- to 5-minute cooldown

Want to give your abs even more of a workout? Go hands-free for both the sprint and the recovery interval, forcing your core muscles to stay engaged from start to finish.

Workout #5 - Off & On

Your elliptical machine may be the centerpiece of your home gym, but you don’t need to use it exclusively. For a real fat-blasting, muscle-building workout, replace your sprints with bodyweight exercises, then hop on the machine to keep moving during your rest periods. You can even alternate between exercises during your sprint periods, doing pushups for one sprint, crunches for another and squats for a third, cycling back through as you continue. Remember, this is a sprint, so do each exercise with as much speed and intensity as you can muster while still maintaining proper form.

  • 3- to 5-minute warmup
  • 20 to 30 seconds of bodyweight exercise (pushups, abdominal crunches or squats)
  • 60- to 90-second recovery at moderate to low speeds
  • Repeat 10 times
  • 3- to 5-minute cooldown

For a very different sort of full-body workout, you can do your sprints on the elliptical and do slow, deliberately controlled reps of bodyweight exercises as your recovery interval. Research suggests that performing weight-bearing exercise at slow speeds – as slow as one rep over a 10-second period – has its own benefits. Keeping your muscles tense for long periods of time increases strength, tones muscles and burns extra calories. It’s the perfect companion to high-intensity training, packing even more benefit into a few simple exercises.