While the treadmill is often synonymous with high-intensity interval training (HIIT), there's another machine that can be just as effective with a lower impact: the elliptical. But lower impact doesn't mean easier. As long as you're putting for the effort, you can work up a sweat and burn plenty of calories.
HIIT workouts come with a long list of benefits, including slowing negative effects of aging and boosting heart health. Whether you do a 15- or 45-minute HIIT workout, are on an elliptical or doing body-weight exercises in your living room, you'll still reap the benefits and the basic components are the same.
"You progress through a series of high energy bursts for a shorter period of time followed by active rest or recovery," says John Thornhill, master trainer for Aaptiv. "The amount of time needed for a HIIT workout to be effective is based on the individual and their experience with exercise."
Exactly how do you use the elliptical, then, to conquer your next HIIT workout? Here's what you should know before you turn up the intensity.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Elliptical Workout
"The elliptical was created to mimic a running motion in a low-impact environment, and that's exactly what it does effectively," Thornhill says. "If you have injuries that prevent you from high-impact activities, the elliptical is an excellent cardio and strength machine."
To avoid wasting your time plodding along with minimal effort and lackluster results, keep these two main things in mind.
Ramp Up the Intensity
Ever heard the myth that the elliptical can't offer you as intense of a workout as a treadmill? Clair Mason, owner of elliptica, an elliptical studio based in Fairfield, Connecticut, says that isn't the case as long as you change up the resistance and increase the cadence.
So first things first, figure out how to change the resistance and the incline on your machine. Not all ellipticals have an adjustable incline, but if yours does, you should absolutely take advantage of it, Thornhill says.
"Resistance is your best friend when it comes to the elliptical, so once you get familiar with it, be generous with it. In the same way, if your elliptical has incline, make sure you take advantage. The higher the incline, the more you work your glutes."
Perfect Your Form
You can't get the most out of your workout if you aren't using the elliptical correctly. Just as with running, form and posture are crucial. Even if you're a veteran of elliptical workouts, a form check may be exactly what you need if you feel you've plateaued.
"Starting from the ground up, your feet should be placed squarely in the pedals with heels grounded," Thornhill says. "Stand tall with good posture, hips and shoulders in line, and shoulders relaxed... Place your hands lightly on the handrails and focus on pushing and pulling with your arms to work your arms, chest and back, with the primary drive coming from your legs, glutes and core."
While it may seem awkward at first, Mason says you should mimic your natural walking, jogging, running and sprinting motion when using the machine. Again, the elliptical was created to provide the same motion as running, with less impact.
Try This HIIT Workout on the Elliptical
When it comes to the pacing of an actual HIIT workout, Mason says it's a back-and-forth between bursts of energy and periods of recovery. Even if you're just starting a workout routine, you can still do these types of intervals.
Need a HIIT workout that's accessible for anyone? Thornhill shares this one that can be easily adapted to your fitness level. "Start small and work your way up once you build stamina and confidence," he says.
- 5-minute warm-up: Light resistance at a steady, easy pace.
- 30 to 60 seconds: Add a moderate amount of resistance and push the speed to as fast as you can maintain for the duration.
- 2 minutes: Active recovery (similar to your warm-up pace).
- Repeat 3 times.
Should you need more guidance — and even more workouts — there are apps for that! Aaptiv (look for Thornhill's workouts) and BeatBurn Elliptical Trainer offer audio guided workouts so you can put in your earbuds and get moving without having to track the time on the screen as you push your pace during those high-intensity bursts.