5 New Exercises to Change Up Your Typical Elliptical Workout

exercisers on elliptical machine

Exercising the same way day in and day out can get old fast. Not only does it decrease your interest in working out, but it also limits your progress by restricting the variety of muscles targeted.

If you’re only using your elliptical for a standard cardio routine, you’re missing out on some fun workouts. With the right modifications, an elliptical can provide a targeted or total body workout experience.

An important aspect of modifying the way you use your machine is being familiar with its resistance settings. You should be continuously adjusting the resistance on your elliptical for different positions and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routines.

You should also mentally visualize and engage the muscles that you’re targeting. This will help to ensure that your form stays tight as you work out the intended muscles. 

Here are some new exercises to try if you want to add a bit of variety to your elliptical workout.

1. Strengthen Your Legs

Elliptical workouts already have an emphasis on the lower body, but you can increase the intensity by trying some new moves. As previously stated, a good place to start is by increasing your machine’s resistance. This will require more effort from your lower half to move the pedals through the rotation.

You can also change which way you’re pedaling. Reverse movements are typically harder because they require more core stability and target different muscles than forward movements. 

Placing resistance bands around your thighs (just above your knees) also increases the difficulty of your workout. Play with the positioning to figure out where the band feels best for you.

2. Tone Your Booty

You may not know it, but your elliptical is a booty-toning master, and it doesn’t take much more than a little incline and posture change to achieve results.

To target your glutes, gradually increase the incline of your elliptical while keeping your heels on the pedals. You can also tilt your hips slightly forward so your butt sticks out to target those muscles even more. Just make sure that you don’t have an excessive curve in your back and that you are leading through each stride from your butt, down through your legs, and into your grounded heel. 

To increase the intensity, set your resistance higher on the machine or squeeze your glute muscles slightly according to whichever leg is coming forward. For example, squeeze your right butt cheek as your right leg makes it to the front of your stride and vice versa.

3. Work Your Core and Arms

women in ponytal and sports bra on elliptical machine

If your machine has moving handles, you can incorporate a great upper body workout by pushing the handles as you go. Focus on using your chest muscles as you push, then pull the handles back with more focus on your back muscles.

Another good workout for your arms and core is to simply let go of the handles. This puts your core in charge of your stability, rather than using a combination of core and arms.

While this configuration won’t provide you with an arm workout, beginners can place their hands on their hips to help stabilize themselves. If you want a more advanced move that will burn additional calories while toning your arms, pump your arms in an arc from hip to chin as if you were running.

If you’re not moving too fast and feel comfortable on the machine, you can even add resistance bands to increase the intensity of your upper arm workout. An example exercise would be to loop your resistance band behind your back and under your armpits, like a backpack. Grab the ends of the band in either hand and pull forward so that your elbows are bent at a 90-degree angle and your fists are straight out in front of you. Stretch out your right arm so that it’s straight at the shoulder level, then bring it back to the starting position for one rep. Alternate sides to complete a set.

When adding a resistance band to your elliptical workout, make sure that you’re stable and your posture is still correct, with your head straight and facing forward and your spine long with just a slight natural curve.

4. Total Body Workout

A total body workout maximizes your effort and efficiently uses your time by targeting your body as a whole. Try this interval training routine to make sure that you’re hitting all the important muscle groups.

Start with a five-minute warmup: You should be aiming for about 130 strides per minute (SPM). If your machine doesn’t calculate SPM for you, you can count how many times one foot completes a rotation in the span of a minute, then multiply that number by two. Your SPM should be used in addition to your target heart rate for the best cardio workout.

During your warmup, try to gradually work up to 150 SPM. Once you begin your workout, keep your rate steady at 150 SPM with no hands to target your core. Do this for two minutes.

Increase your pace to 170 SPM then place your hands back on the handles with an emphasis on the pulling motion for another two minutes to target your arms. 

Lower your speed to 150 again for another round of no hands for two minutes. Increase your speed back to 170 as you return to using the handles, this time with an emphasis on pushing for two minutes. 

Lower your SPM to about 130 as you move into backward movement with your hands on the handles for two minutes. Make sure that you’re targeting your legs and not your arms for this portion of the workout.

You will work back through this routine, beginning again with no hands for 150 SPM, then pulling handles at 170 SPM, no hands at 150 SPM, pushing handles at 170 SPM, then moving backward at 130 SPM. Each movement should be maintained for two minutes for a total workout of 20 minutes. Finish with a five-minute cooldown at around 130 SPM.

You should also play with the resistance while you’re training to increase the intensity of each movement as necessary.

5. HIIT Cardio

HIIT is a great way to increase your cardio health, especially if you’re working with a shorter amount of time. The important part of HIIT routines is to balance high-intensity exercise with low-intensity recovery periods. Here is an example of an elliptical HIIT routine, but keep in mind that any time periods or resistance levels can be customized for your needs.

Begin with a three-minute warmup on resistance five in the range of 120 to 130 SPM. Increase the resistance to level seven and aim for a solid 130 SPM. 

Keep it on resistance level seven but increase your SPM to 180 to 190 for 45 seconds. Reduce your speed and transition to recovery for 1.5 minutes. Increase your SPM back to 180 to 190 and increase your resistance to eight for 45 seconds. Lower the resistance back to seven and reduce SPM to 130 to 140 for a 1.5-minute recovery period.

Continue alternating between higher intensity and recovery periods. Try to keep your recovery periods between 120 and 140 SPM and your high-intensity periods between 180 and 200 SPM. Change the resistance settings to accommodate your effort output.

Mistakes to Avoid While Using an Elliptical

It’s an easy thing to overlook, but you should never forget to input your personal information. This will help the machine to provide a more accurate estimate of calories burned.

You should also change your routines frequently, even if you’re doing full-body workouts. Trying new workouts increases your engagement and keeps your routines fresh and fun.

Strike a balance between challenging yourself and not overdoing it. The best indicator of a good balance is staying within your target heart rate zone, but if you don’t have access to this information, you can take the talk test. If you’re too winded to talk, you’re going at it too hard. On the other hand, if you’re more focused on your conversation than your workout, it’s too easy.

Maintaining proper form is also important. Make sure that your shoulders are pulled back and not slouched, and that each movement feels natural while supporting a tight core and straight spine.

While ellipticals are a great way to work your body, make sure to incorporate the other machines or training equipment at your disposal whenever possible. 

Be creative, have fun, and most importantly, keep working out!

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