The elliptical is one of the most widely used and least intimidating exercise devices in the gym, which can tempt you to zone out in front a television to stave boredom as you exercise. This is fine if catching up on the daily news is your priority but not if you are seeking results from your workout. Using an interval-training method on the elliptical will boost your workout to burn more calories and build overall strength.
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The elliptical can improve your fitness, boost your heart health and help you to lose weight. Most machines engage simultaneous arm and leg motion to work your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves and -- to a lesser extent -- your upper body, primarily your arms, shoulders and back muscles. Avoid using momentum to move the elliptical pedals. Push and pull the pedals while keeping your weight centered by engaging your core muscles to use the elliptical machine for an effective workout.
Interval training intersperses short bursts of intense activity and moderate recovery periods. According to the American Council on Exercise, training at a high intensity can burn more calories, reduce fat and lower cholesterol and blood pressure in a shorter period of time than steady-state exercise. The work-to-rest method involves using predetermined intervals for work and rest. A basic beginner example could start with a ratio of 1-to-3 -- one minute of intense work followed by three minutes of active rest. As you progress, decrease the rest period until you reach a 1-to-1 ratio of work to rest.
Resistance and Speed
When you can easily achieve a 1-to-1 ratio on the elliptical, begin incorporating the rate of perceived exertion scale -- or RPE. The training method measures your effort on a scale from zero to 10 -- where a zero represents doing nothing, a 3 would be a moderate pace and a 10 would be your maximum effort.
Adjust the intensity of the elliptical by changing the resistance or speed on the device. A lower resistance will allow you to go at a greater speed to increase your heart rate to burn calories. A higher resistance will require you to apply more force to help build and tone muscles to aid in burning fat. Using a combination of resistance and speed intervals will result in an effective workout to improve fitness, body composition and health.
The intensity of the interval should be very challenging -- a 7 to 9 on the RPE scale out of a possible 10. Your active recovery should allow you to catch your breath while still providing some challenge, around a 4-to-6 RPE. Note your settings for your next workout to keep your workouts progressing.
Start your first minute by increasing the resistance to 7-to-9 RPE and then use the active recovery to bring the resistance back down to 4-to-6 RPE, allowing you to catch your breath to prepare for the next interval. For the second interval, keep the focus on speed, not resistance to bring your RPE back up to 7-to-9 for one minute, followed by the active recovery. Complete the two intervals for a total of six rounds, or 24 minutes in total. When you are able to, add one more round to burn even more calories. According to Harvard Health Publications, a 155-pound person will burn an average of 355 calories in 30 minutes on the elliptical.
Tips and Considerations
Warming up for at least three minutes is essential for minimizing injury risk. Start on a low resistance to warm up your body and get blood to your working muscles. At the end of your workout, the American College of Sports Medicine stresses the importance of a cooldown to bring your body back to its normal state. Drop the resistance down for at least three minutes at a steady pace to finish your workout.
If you have high blood pressure, take extra precautions when beginning an interval-training workout and always consult your doctor before starting. In some cases, it may be better to build up slowly with steady-state cardio work before progressing to interval training.