Elliptical Workouts from Zero to Intense in 5 Weeks
Athletes and those looking to shed unwanted fat are finding that elliptical workouts provide not only a solid base for warming up as part of an overall workout strategy, but also as a means for shedding extra fat.
Diehard runners will insist only on treadmills, or cross-country running can provide the necessary intensity of working out to maintain sufficient exertion levels to get the metabolism to burn fat – but this is a matter of preference. As discussed in the elliptical vs treadmill article, there are reasons for either an elliptical or using a treadmill.
Assuming that you want to mimic the effects of running without all the damage caused (such as Runner’s Knee), let’s stick to an elliptical workout. But understand this: ellipticals are part of an overall health and fitness plan.
Anyone serious about losing weight or getting into better physical condition will need a variety of exercises (such as those published by CrossFit), but an elliptical workout routine is a good part of the overall plan.
Elliptical trainer workouts are some of the best to use since you will not injure yourself. It is low-impact, but burns calories efficiently.
Once you increase in muscle mass and endurance, keep in mind you should push yourself in intensity levels and incorporate other exercises in addition to your elliptical workouts.
Also note that finding the best elliptical for home use will determine the efficiency of your workouts (we recommend some of the best brands on the market for you with in-depth reviews you should read).
Assuming you have an elliptical trainer, the next question to ask is this:
Which Elliptical Workout Do You Want?
Most ellipticals will provide a number of programs to choose from. These vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Though these are a great place to start experimenting, keep in mind this principle:
Always Introduce Variety and Never Be Routine
This is the principle called “muscle confusion.” Once you train your body to get used to the an intensity level, for example – your body is literally bored and the muscles are not challenged to grow.
The way that muscle tissue is formed is that during a workout, you will tear muscle fibers down. This sounds brutal, but if you push your body by high intensity bursts of movement (like during HIIT or high intensity interval training or bodybuilding and powerlifting), you break down your muscle tissue.
To compensate for this strenuous workout, your body has a mechanism of building more muscle mass to better prepare for the exertion next time – but you must push yourself.
If a workout is too easy, then this is a sign you are not pushing yourself to grow.
What you can do is simply establish a baseline – figure out your fitness level. Many ellipticals will have a “fitness test” that you can perform, or simply begin by choosing a program and logging the intensity level, duration of your workout, and how you feel.
Was the workout too easy? Did you go the “full distance” during your elliptical workout?
Before deciding on which elliptical workouts are best for you, you will need to have this information written down to log your progress. Here is a step-by-step beginning elliptical workout routine.
Elliptical Workout Routine – Beginning
Before actually working out regularly, if you are new to your elliptical machine you will need to figure out a starting point. Measure your progress in a fitness log. This way you will know when you are on a “plateau” of sorts and need to increase your elliptical workout intensity.
Either do this online (WordPress or Blogger blogs set to private are easy ways to do so), or use a traditional journal. There are also many iPhone apps that would do this nicely.
Before Beginning any Elliptical Trainer Routines – Medical Disclaimer:
I strongly urge you to speak to a physician before under-taking any workout routine, no matter where you read it. I cannot possibly know your physical needs, so going to your physician first and asking for a full physical and his or her medical advice is paramount to your overall well-being.
This is a necessary pre-requisite before starting any workout regimen, on the elliptical trainer or other equipment. Also note that I cannot promise what sort of results you will get by following this advice, but consistent effort and normal health followed along with a healthy diet should show some improvement in time as you increase your workout intensity.
Week 1 Elliptical Workout
During this week, you want to workout 3 days: Monday, Wednesday and Friday if possible. You have two goals here: establish a new habit (if this is a new habit), and establish a “baseline” or beginning point.
At first you won’t know which levels of intensity you can manage. You don’t care at this first stage if you are pushing yourself, but you do want to find your beginning point. It may simply be the lowest possible settings for 20 minutes.
Aim for 30-minute workouts this first week. You can go for longer in subsequent weeks. It’s important to establish the habit first.
- Begin logging your progress. Start off with your beginning weight, age and date. Also log your workout type (using the elliptical machine’s own description). Record the intensity level and incline, stride settings and motion type* if you can adjust motion as well.
- Start off by warming up. Use the first 5 minutes to become familiar with the elliptical you’re using. Always warm up.
- Then begin timing yourself. First begin at the lowest intensity level you feel comfortable with for the next 5 minutes. This should be more intense than the warmup mode. The point is to gauge your endurance level. (Increase the intensity of the resistance, every elliptical we review has some sort of intensity setting.)
- Once you have a feel for your stamina – challenge yourself. Raise the intensity level, or the incline, or both for the following 5 minutes.
- Keep raising the intensity level until you feel you are just able to keep up.
- For the final 5-8 minutes, you should cool down by slowing your pace, and lowering the resistance. Don’t worry about inclines yet, just find your intensity levels and overall endurance.
- Afterwards, always stretch your quads, glutes and hamstrings with simple runner’s stretches (e.g.: touch your toes without bouncing, hold for 10 seconds). Do this after every workout.
Once you know your workout “comfort zone” – you can then begin to push yourself beyond your comfort zone. During Week 1, you only want to establish the habit of an elliptical workout routine. Week 2 will be when you push yourself.
The following elliptical workout plan includes some high intensity workouts, and uses muscle confusion. Never push yourself like this unless you are in shape enough to do so. If not, it’s perfectly fine to use your elliptical machine ‘out of the box’ and stick to programs that your machine comes equipped with.
You have to start somewhere.
*There are a few ellipticals on the market that can adjust for stride length. We have reviewed a number of the better models, like Yowza Captiva, Smooth Agile DMT, Smooth Agile DMT X2, and Schwinn 460. These ellipticals will also adjust the motion, as seen on higher-end (gym-level) ellipticals like the Cybex Arc Trainers, but those we’ve reviewed so far are much more affordable.
A newer model that makes a number of adjustments in the motion of the elliptical workout is the exciting, new Smooth 3.0DS Elliptical, which we will review in time.
From our experience it shows a lot of promise, more testing is in order.
Week 2 Elliptical Workout
- Use the first 5 minutes on your elliptical workouts to warm up your muscles – low intensity, low to moderate resistance, no incline.
- After 5 minutes of warming up, increase the incline. Go for 5 minutes if you can. You should also increase the resistance to your next step up (from week 1 experiments and your log).
- Next, increase resistance again. Go another 5 minutes.
- Increase your speed for the next 3-5 minutes.
- Increase your incline again, keeping your higher speed if you can. Monitor your heart rate if so equipped (we recommend Polaris wireless chest straps, they come with Smooth Fitness ellipticals, or use whatever the manufacturer provides).
- Go as fast as you can – for 1 minute.
- Slow down to a moderate speed – catch your breath while still moving along. Do this “cool down” for 2-3 minutes.
- If you can do so, go back up to your sprinting speed, using the upper body arms. Try to go for another minute if you feel comfortable.
- Repeat the last two steps over and over until your time is up – taking 8 minutes to cool down in a slower speed, lower incline and lower intensity (but not quite the “warm-up” speed and intensity).
Try to do these interval training sessions 3 times this week. It’s OK if you feel this pushes you. During week 3, you want to use another elliptical workout: endurance.
That is: you want to be at a moderate to high speed (not sprinting, more like a quick jog) for as long as you can. This is just like a jog – but “walk” if you have to, for a couple of minutes to five minutes a time.
Week 4 – This week, get back on the higher intensity interval training (week 2).
Week 5 – This week, every time you get on the elliptical, try a high-intensity but different elliptical workout each time.
The reason it is important to make adjustments during your elliptical workouts, and to keep making weekly rotations like I suggest, is that you want to challenge your muscles by varying the intensity and type of workout. If your cross-trainer does not come equipped with these adjustments (incline, stride length, motion, etc.) – then simply make the adjustments that you can make.
Even an increase in speed and intensity (which every elliptical we review can provide) will help you make improvements in your overall fitness.
The key is to push yourself, and to keep changing your elliptical workout routine.
Once you grow “stagnant” or your body becomes used to one workout type, change it up.
Tip: Try your elliptical workout in reverse. This targets the quads in a huge way, so try it: add 5 minutes or 10 minutes of a quad burn, and burn big calories that way.
Creative, Intense Elliptical Workout Plan
If you are daring and want to really push yourself, especially on traditional ellipticals – you want to give this a shot. This assumes you have balance on your machine – if you lose balance by letting go of the handles, then do not attempt this workout.
This workout works best if you have a traditional, fixed-stride elliptical, like:
*In the case of the ElliptiGO, you can only use this strategy if you have it in “stationary” mode, supported according to manufacturer’s recommendation.
This is a great way to get the most out of a fixed-stride elliptical trainer, in my opinion.
Let go of the handles. This way you incorporate your core muscles. The only problem is that this will leave your upper body workout to a minimal – right?
Exactly – so here comes the challenging part. Either using a medicine ball, wrist weight or aerobic dumbbells, swing your arms naturally during the workout.
You can also do this with small kettle bells once you’re up for the challenge.
Instead of simply “running,” you can twist at the hips with your stride holding the weights in front of you (or hold the medicine ball at your chest, twisting). This adds an additional core movement, and only attempt this if you’re balanced well enough.
(The top 3 ellipticals from Yowza Fitness make this easy with their counter-rotational core movement.)
If that becomes “routine,” you can also step up the intensity by raising the ball or weights overhead, as sometimes runners will do during a jog, pumping their fists in the air (with wrist weights).
Such elliptical workouts can become intense quickly, so you can get more work done in a shorter time. Keep in mind that this should only be used if you’re not being challenged by the “action arms” that came with your elliptical machine.
Whether you are first starting out in your fitness journey, or if you are an advanced athlete that wants to cross-train in the off season, there is an elliptical workout that can challenge you and give you the results you want – without the damaging, jarring effects of high impact workouts.
Now that you have a 5-week plan for your elliptical workout, you can return to the main site here.