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Boost Your Cardio Endurance and Protect Your Joints with This Beginner Elliptical Routine

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

With their stripped-down features and instinctive design, ellipticals might just be one of the least daunting machines at the gym. But just because they’re simplistic in nature doesn’t mean they can’t provide you with an intense workout.

“Ellipticals are beneficial for building cardiovascular stamina — so it’s advantageous for your heart,” states Amber Harris, a personal trainer certified by ACE and a running coach certified by RRCA. “It’s also gentle on the body, making it suitable for beginners or those with joint problems, and it places less strain on your hips and knees compared to running or walking on the treadmill,” she explains. Combine this with the resistance from the incline and the motion you get from gripping the machine’s handles, and you have a comprehensive full-body cardiovascular workout.

Moreover, this blend of low-impact exercise and user-friendliness makes it an excellent tool for introducing cardiovascular workouts to gym novices, according to Harris. When you jog on a treadmill, you put all your body weight on one foot with each step. As your foot hits the ground, the impact travels throughout your body, she clarifies. On the other hand, an elliptical is built to remain in contact with your feet throughout the entire workout, meaning you don’t experience the same jarring impact when you move the pedals.

This same characteristic makes ellipticals a safer option for cardio exercises, particularly if you’re new to using fitness machines. “I believe the treadmill can be intimidating, particularly for beginners, and I think many people go all-out,” Harris notes. “If you’re running and don’t know how to use it properly, you can end up flying off the back and injuring yourself. But with an elliptical, you simply hop on, press the manual button, and start,” she explains.

Are you ready to give the elliptical machine a go? Follow these tips to create an effective cardiovascular workout the next time you visit the gym, and then try a beginner-friendly elliptical workout recommended by experts.

How to Incorporate Elliptical Workouts into Your Fitness Routine

Ellipticals often receive criticism for being “easy,” and to be fair, they can be if you’re simply casually exercising on an incline level of one. In order to have a productive and efficient elliptical workout, you need to be purposeful with your time, advises Harris. “You should notice an increase in your heart rate, and your breathing rate should go up — but if you’re just getting on it to read a magazine or relax, you might not achieve the desired benefits,” she says.

Follow these tips endorsed by experts to create an engaging elliptical workout that suits you (and won’t bore you to tears).

Have Entertainment Available

Admittedly, using an elliptical machine — or any cardio machine for that matter — to work up a sweat can be extremely tedious.

That’s why it’s advantageous to possess a collection of catchy tunes, preferred podcast, or volume at the prepared to genuinely relish your period on the equipment, advocates Janeil Mason, the originator of Fit and Lit physical fitness courses who possesses a master’s degree in workout physiology. “Overhearing lessons if you’re a scholar or listening to something for employment while on an elliptical is achievable since it’s an exercise that necessitates less contemplation as you grow more comfortable on the equipment,” she elucidates. Just ensure you’re still delivering top-notch performance on the elliptical apparatus while you do so.

And while you may feel inclined to meticulously watch the small screen displaying the number of calories you’ve burned, there’s no need to fixate on it, emphasizes Mason. “The caloric expenditure calibrated on the elliptical is usually inaccurate since it’s calibrated using steps and the action you’re performing on the elliptical is not a stepping action,” she explains. “Instead, concentrate on your rate of perceived rate of exertion (RPE) to determine if you are having a good workout.”

Discover Your Incline and Speed Intervals

That RPE is the crucial factor in initiating an elliptical workout for beginners — as is adjusting it as your fitness improves. When you initially step onto the elliptical machine (after positioning your entire foot on the pedals and grasping the handlebars), set your incline at a grade that’s anywhere between a flat road and the steepest incline available. Your RPE should be at a 4 to begin, and you should be able to move at a conversational pace, meaning you feel like you could sing your ABCs and not feel out of breath for 10 minutes. If it’s too challenging, decrease the incline until you reach that RPE, says Harris. (Reminder: Your RPE is a means to measure the intensity level of your activity, based on how hard you perceive your body is working on a scale of 1–10. An RPE of 1 would be easy peasy and 10 would be a maximum effort.)

Once you can maintain that steady pace for 10 to 15 minutes, it’s time to incorporate intervals into your elliptical workout. Doing so will provide some much-needed mental variety and also help you enhance your VO2 max and cardiovascular endurance. Commence your workout with a five-minute warm-up at RPE 4, which will aid in lubricating the joints and increasing blood flow to your muscles, says Mason. Then elevate your RPE to a 6 or 7 (you should feel slightly winded, but not like you’re gasping for air) for two minutes, suggests Harris. To achieve that RPE, try increasing the ramp incline or your speed (meaning the pace at which you’re pedaling).

After that two-minute interval of working at a higher intensity, lower your effort level back down to an RPE of 4 for three minutes to recover. “Recovery is important for your body to reset,” says Harris. “You’ll bring your heart rate back down and bring your breathing under control so you can ramp up that work effort again,” she explains. When you’re just starting out with your elliptical workout for beginners, your work-to-rest ratio should not drop below 1:1 — so if you’re pushing hard for two minutes, take at least two minutes to allow your body to recover. If you skip this rest period or make it shorter, you could create additional stress on the body, potentially resulting in injury or strain on the heart, says Harris. “It’s simply safer to maintain [a 1:1 ratio] for a beginner,” she advises.

Once you’ve recuperated a bit, repeat this interval cycle as many times as you desire.

Afterwards, proceed with a five-minute cooldown at RPE 4.

Integrate Some Resistance

If you’re utilizing an elliptical machine that permits you to enhance both slope and resistance, you may want to delay adjusting resistance until you’re at ease exercising for 20 to 30 minutes at a conversational tempo, as this setting necessitates a bit more stamina, suggests Harris. Once you’re prepared to begin incorporating resistance into your elliptical routine, allocate one workout each week to adjusting only the resistance (interpretation: don’t modify the slope) and adhere to the same RPE guidelines as you would when altering the incline. By altering the resistance, you’ll observe a few slight gains in the muscular department: “The more resistance you have, the harder your body is functioning and the more muscles you’re employing,” says Harris.

When you do modify the resistance, discover a setting that makes you feel in command of the elliptical machine, rather than feeling like the machine is controlling you, adds Harris. You should have enough resistance that you don’t feel like you’re pedaling at a rapid pace, but you shouldn’t have too much that your movement is barely discernible.

Determine the Appropriate Length and Frequency of Your Elliptical Workouts

If you’re entirely new to cardio, the phrase “the more, the merrier” doesn’t necessarily apply. “A lot of beginners start out extreme, and then they [get] injured, are unable to move, and subsequently quit,” says Harris.

For that same reason, those who have a completely sedentary lifestyle should inaugurate their elliptical machine usage by exercising for 10 minutes daily, three times a week, and gradually progress to 30-minute workouts, five times a week, as recommended by Mason. Once you establish that routine, you’ll fulfill the American Heart Association’s recommendation of obtaining at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, she explains.

“Some movement is better than no movement, and everyone’s initial fitness level will be unique to them,” notes Mason. “Commence with what feels achievable for you and then incrementally challenge yourself as the weeks pass by and it starts to feel excessively easy,” she advises.

And remember, rest days are not the adversary. By spacing out your elliptical workouts with a solitary rest day in between, you’ll afford your body sufficient time to recuperate from the exercise session. Plus, it’s still frequent enough that the machine doesn’t seem entirely unfamiliar every time you step on it, says Mason. “If you adopt a more moderate approach — working at that conversational pace, taking a day off, and resuming the next — you’re going to be able to move and function,” adds Harris. “Your body is going to feel good,” she remarks.

20-Minute Interval Elliptical Workout for Beginners

Are you ready to tackle the elliptical but unsure how to commence? Follow Harris’ uncomplicated elliptical workout designed for beginners to obtain all the cardiovascular benefits of the machine.

How it operates: Perform this workout approximately three to four times each week (alternatively every other day), adhering to the instructions for the elliptical workout devised specifically for beginners listed below.

As you become further accustomed, lessen the interval for recuperation amidst the exertions — simply avoid descending beneath a 1:1 proportion of labor-to-cessation.

You’ll need: An elliptical machine

Design: Mehroz Kapadia.

20-Minute Elliptical Workout for Newcomers
 Time (min) What to Accomplish RPE 
 5 min Warm up 4-5
2 min  Push  6-7 
3 min  Restoration  4-5 
2 min  Push  6-7 
3 min  Restoration  4-5 
5 min  Cool Down  4-5 

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