The Average Speed on an Elliptical

Elliptical machines, or trainers, offer a low impact cardiovascular exercise alternative to traditional exercises like stair climbing and running on a treadmill. Like many other fitness machines, most ellipticals are equipped with sensors that measure speed. Understanding how speed is calculated and its benefits will help you get the most out of your elliptical workout.

A woman is using an outdoor elliptical trainer. (Image: Anetlanda/iStock/Getty Images)

How They Work

Elliptical machines calculate average speed based on thousands of readings taken throughout your workout. Most machines measure your speed every few seconds and record the information in the elliptical's computer. Average speed is typically available in real time and as a final summary of your elliptical training session. Speed is normally denoted in miles per hour and is carried to one decimal place -- for example, an average speed of 5.2 mph.

Interpreting Readings

Average speed offers several benefits for elliptical exercise enthusiasts. It offers a way for you to track your fitness improvements over several training sessions. Simply compare your average speed during one session with your average speed of previous sessions, when exercising at the same resistance for the same amount of time. Average speed can also help motivate you to work harder during your workout. Choose a realistic goal for average speed before you get on the elliptical, then try and achieve that goal.

Interval Training

Average speed is affected by several factors. Elliptical machines offer two ways to increase exercise intensity -- through faster cadence or pedaling, and through added resistance. Adding resistance will decrease your average speed, yet your overall intensity will remain the same. Consider average speed in context with resistance and with any significant variations in speed that might affect the final average speed calculation. For example, if you use the elliptical for interval training and switch between speeds of 3 mph and 7 mph, an average speed calculation of 5 mph does not accurately define your workout.

Heart Rate Monitor

While average speed is a quick and easy way to help promote and track your fitness, the best way to gauge your exercise intensity is with a heart rate monitor. Your heart rate is the most direct measurement of exercise intensity. Heart rate allows you to track your workout intensity despite changes in machines, resistance or speed. Many elliptical machines are equipped with integrated heart rate monitors which will provide the same real time and average measurements of your heart rate, as with your average speed.

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