9 Effective Elliptical Workouts for Every Fitness Level

Elliptical Workouts

Getty/Design by Cristina Cianci

Love it or hate it, the elliptical is a mainstay when it comes to cardio machines. The treadmill's lower-impact cousin, the elliptical, mimics the movement of running without all that stress on your joints while also building endurance and strength. And while it may seem easiest to zone out on the elliptical at one speed, there are tons of dynamic workouts to pick from when it comes to leveling up your cardio session. To help, trainers share the best elliptical workouts for folks of all fitness backgrounds, whether this is your first time setting foot on the machine or you're a seasoned pro.

Meet the Expert

  • Holly Roser is a certified personal trainer and sports nutritionist based in San Francisco.
  • Donna Walker is a certified personal trainer and fitness instructor based in Chicago.
01 of 09

Beginner Circuits

New to ellipticals? No problem. Get a feel for the machine and the different resistance settings with this simple but effective circuit workout from certified personal trainer and sports nutritionist Holly Roser. Cycle through the below intervals five times total for a complete sweat session.

  • One minute at level six
  • Two minutes at level seven
  • One minute at level four
  • One minute at level six
02 of 09

Beginner Endurance Intervals

Loved Roser's circuit sequence? Take it up a notch with these longer intervals to challenge your endurance while still keeping things straightforward as you adjust to new equipment. Repeat the intervals twice through for a full 20-minute session.

  • Three minutes at level four
  • Two minutes at level six
  • Three minutes at level four
  • Two minutes at level six
03 of 09

Beginner Booty Back Workout

Looking for an easy hack to diversify your elliptical routine? Certified personal trainer and fitness instructor Donna Walker has got your back. Just do your usual workout, but pedaling the elliptical backward instead of forwards. To switch things up, try the above beginner workouts with reverse pedaling to better engage muscles like your calves and quads and keep things interesting, she says.

04 of 09

Intermediate Cardio HIIT

If you're somewhat friendly with the elliptical and want to crank up your cardio, Roser's 25-minute high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout is sure to deliver. Alternate short bursts of intense exercise with periods of less strenuous activity to get your heart pumping and leg muscles working more quickly than lower-intensity workouts.

  • Five-minute warm-up at level five
  • Three minutes at level seven
  • One minute at level 12
  • One minute at level eight
  • Repeat five times. 
  • Three-minute cool-down at level six
  • Conclude with a stretch. Roser recommends stretching each major muscle group for a minute each.
05 of 09

Intermediate Push and Pull Workout

It can feel strange to pedal the elliptical in reverse, and there's a reason for that: It engages other muscles and challenges your balance and coordination differently than using the elliptical the traditional way, says Walker. And this workout takes full advantage of those challenges by switching between forward and backward pedaling to boost your mobility and coordination while still building strength and endurance. Stick with level 5 resistance after your warm-up, or opt for a different setting based on your preferences to customize this workout to your body.

  • Five-minute warm-up at level five
  • Pedal forward for two minutes.
  • Pedal backward for two minutes.
  • Repeat 10-12 times.
  • Cool-down at level five for five-to-ten minutes.
06 of 09

Intermediate Resistance Intervals

You don't need to have access to hills to get a hill workout in. This interval-based sequence from Roser is heavy on the resistance so that your legs have to put in overtime to keep the elliptical pedals turning before you wind down with a lower-resistance reprieve. Though it may not be easy at the moment, your body will thank you.

  • Two minutes at level seven
  • One minute at level ten
  • One minute at level five
  • Two minutes at level 10
  • One minute at level seven
  • Three minutes at level six
  • Repeat three times.
07 of 09

Advanced High-Resistance Bursts

Perhaps the elliptical section is your go-to spot when you hit the gym. If that sounds like you, then this advanced workout from Roser could be the latest addition to your cardio routine. But advanced doesn't necessarily mean complicated: This sequence features one high-resistance interval on repeat to help you feel the burn quickly and efficiently.

  • One minute at level five
  • One minute at level 13
  • One minute at level five
  • Repeat for 20 minutes.
08 of 09

Advanced Repeating Interval

If you loved slaying those tough intervals in the previous workout, then this challenging HIIT session from Walker will get your heart pounding all over again. Keep your heart rate up by alternating high-effort and maximum-effort intervals to get your sweat on in mere minutes.

  • Five-minute warm-up at level five

Section one:

  • Two minutes at level 10
  • One minute at level 15
  • Repeat twice.

Section two:

  • One minute at level 10
  • Two minutes at level 15
  • Repeat four times.

Section three:

  • One minute at level 15
  • Two minutes at level 10
  • One minute at level 15
  • Five-minute cool-down at level five 
09 of 09

Advanced Slow and Steady Circuits

Moving fast isn't always best, and this workout from Roser is no exception. Alternate high- and then higher-resistance intervals to put your muscle strength and endurance to the test. Though you may not be moving quickly, there's no doubt that your body will be working hard.

  • One minute at level 12
  • Two minutes at level 11
  • One minute at level 13
  • One minute at level 12
  • Repeat five times.

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