3 elliptical machine workouts for every fitness level

You don’t need long to break a sweat, burn calories and tone up - try one of these elliptical machine workouts instead…

An elliptical machine workout is a great full-body workout
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s all arms and legs, the ol’ elliptical machine (or cross trainer, as they’re also known). We see it, we ponder for a moment and then we swerve it. Is it the thought of losing coordination? Or just that we don’t know what we’re doing? 

Well, fun fact; the elliptical (or cross trainer) is actually a great exercise to get the whole body moving for gym newbies and experienced gym goers.

And if you're looking for the best elliptical machine workouts to make the most of your time on the trainer, we're here to help. 

Personal trainer Paul Humphries explains that the cross trainer is a great low-impact, high-energy cardiovascular machine, that uses both the lower and upper body while maintaining a strong core. Sounds like the dream machine, right?

Paul adds, ‘Unlike treadmills, where the machine works you, cross trainers need plenty of energy just to get them started but once you get going, you can spend a long time on one, while burning a lot of calories.’ 

Ready to get going? First, a word on form and key terms - and then try one of Paul’s killer workouts, tailored to all fitness levels… 

How to use an elliptical machine

Before you start, be sure to get your form right. ‘To start, press one foot on the lowest of the pedals while placing your hands on the handles,’ advises Paul. ‘Once you’re comfy and stable, move the other foot onto the second pedal, push one of the handles forward and move the pedals in a forward circular motion. 

‘The correct motion should look and feel similar to a cross-country skier. The set of handles in the centre of the machine are great if you want to give your shoulders a rest or focus the workout on the legs. Oh, and keep your core tight throughout. 

Elliptical machine lingo explained

Increasing gradient: This increases height of the front of the machine, thus increasing the amount you have to lift your knees, and therefore increasing energy output. 

Higher resistance: This means more tension within the machine and the belt that it works on, making the machine a lot harder to move, making you push harder with both legs and arms. 

Beginners’ elliptical machine workout

If you’re a cross trainer newbie, stay at a constant intensity throughout the following workout…

5 mins: Start on a 2.5 gradient with resistance on 5

5 mins: Up the gradient to 5 and the resistance up to 10

5 mins: Drop back to a 2.5 gradient and 5 resistance

5 mins: Increase the gradient again to 5 and resistance to 10. And you’re done!

Intermediate elliptical machine workout

If your fitness levels are decent, keep the intensity high throughout this workout. It should feel HARD.

2 mins: Start with gradient and resistance both on 5 

1.5 mins: Up the gradient to 7.5 and the resistance to 10

1.5 mins: Now drop the gradient to 2.5 and the resistance to 5 

Repeat four times - and feel the burn!

Advanced elliptical machine workout

3 mins: Start with gradient on 2.5 and resistance on 5

2.5 mins: Up the gradient to 5 and resistance to 7.5 increase your intensity 

2 mins: Continue at same intensity with a gradient of 7.5 and resistance on 10

1.5 mins: On a gradient of 10 and a resistance of 15, go as hard and fast as you can. 

1 min: Placing hands in to the middle, lower gradient to 2.5 and resistance to 7.5. Go as hard as possible. Repeat 2 times. Well done! 

Lucy Gornall

Lucy is a freelance journalist specializing in health, fitness and lifestyle. She was previously the Health and Fitness Editor across various women's magazines, including Woman&Home, Woman and Woman’s Own as well as Editor of Feel Good You. She has also previously written for titles including Now, Look, Cosmopolitan, GQ, Red and The Sun. 

She lives and breathes all things fitness; working out every morning with a mix of running, weights, boxing and long walks. Lucy is a Level 3 personal trainer and teaches classes at various London studios. Plus, she's pre- and post-natal trained and helps new mums get back into fitness after the birth of their baby. Lucy claims that good sleep, plenty of food and a healthy gut (seriously, it's an obsession) are the key to maintaining energy and exercising efficiently. Saying this, she's partial to many classes of champagne and tequila on the rocks whilst out with her friends.