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Elliptical Machines: Speed or Resistance?

author image Jeff Rogers
Jeff Rogers has edited and written since 1987 for the Associated Press, United Press International and six newspapers including "The Dallas Morning News," "The Washington Times" and "Dallas Times Herald." A Charlotte native who holds a bachelor's degree in journalism (news-editorial) from the University of South Carolina, Rogers has also worked as a technology analyst, sales executive and professional golf caddy.
Elliptical Machines: Speed or Resistance?
A woman works out on an elliptical machine with a trainer. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

Elliptical machines are popular exercise equipment because they allow people of all fitness levels to enjoy a low-impact workout. These versatile machines allow you to adjust the resistance and, on some machines, the degree of elevation to further intensify your workout. The handles also allow you to work your upper body simultaneously, giving you a more complete workout than stationary bikes or treadmills, according to an August 2010 study reported in the "Biology of Sport" journal.

Resistance Workouts

Increasing resistance on the elliptical in your workouts will make you stronger, but it's important to not overdo it. Work out at resistance level of 7 on a scale of 10, or enough to exert yourself and be able to carry on a conversation. If it's too hard, it's better to scale back than to lose motivation for your workouts.

Speed Workouts

As with resistance workouts, speed workouts shouldn't be overdone, and some resistance is necessary. Going too fast on an elliptical could cause you to lose balance and cause injury, particularly if you're just starting out. Going fast on an elliptical with very low resistance doesn't provide much payoff for your workout because it will take longer to burn calories.

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Expert Insight

The U.S. Navy permits sailors to meet fitness standards using an elliptical instead of a 1.5-mile run. To train for the test, the Navy's recommended plan focuses on increasing resistance levels gradually over six weeks. The goal in the fitness test is to burn as many calories as possible in a nonstop, 12-minute test period, and increasing resistance allows for faster calorie-burning.

High-Intensity Workouts

The best workout on the elliptical is a combination of speed and resistance, over intervals, just as sprinters do to improve their performance. High-intensity interval training includes a warm-up period, then varying periods of work at sprint intensity and heavier resistance integrated with cool-down periods.


If you're just starting an exercise program, be sure to check with a doctor to see if you're ready to jump on an elliptical and push it through its limits. Remember that muscles that haven't been used tire faster, so give yourself time to build your strength back.

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