The elliptical machine is a killer tool for getting in shape. And the good news is that you don’t have to spend hours on it to see results. Here are four 30-minute elliptical workouts, including HIIT, glute-focused, steady-state, and more.
The elliptical machine is an absolute game-changer!
Not only does this machine push your cardiovascular system hard, but it builds muscles, speeds up your metabolism, burns calories by the bucketload, and, best of all, trains your core for greater stability and resilience.
Thanks to the machine’s design, there are so many different types of workouts you can do—from HIIT to a more glute-focused training session to an upper body burner.
That’s what we’re going to talk about in this post. Not only will we look at why the elliptical is so awesome for cardio, but I’ll share with you my best 30-minute workouts guaranteed to take your fitness to the next level.
Read to the very end and learn everything you need to know about how to maximize the time you spend on the elliptical machine.
Why We Love the Elliptical Machine for Cardio
I could spend hours going on about the many benefits of the elliptical trainer—it can just do so much for you! But I’ll limit myself to sharing the top 4:
Work Every Muscle in Your Body
I’m a huge fan of full-body training tools!
While it’s great to focus on specific muscles or specific aspects of your fitness, I prefer to spend the majority of my time training my entire body together.
This helps to develop better functional fitness and resilience overall, with less risk of deficiencies or instabilities.
The elliptical is the best cardio machine in the gym for training your entire body. The list of muscles worked on the elliptical machine is longer than any other:
- Upper body: chest, back, shoulders, triceps, biceps, and forearms
- Core: Abs, obliques, spinal supporters
- Lower body: Quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves
As you can see, it hits everything hard.
But, if you want to focus on specific parts of your body, you can do so. For example, the elliptical is one of the best cardio machines for glutes because at full incline, it hammers your glutes more than your quads. Or, if you want to pay more attention to your upper body, just let your arms do more of the work when pedaling.
Burn a Lot of Calories
If you look at how many calories are burned on the elliptical machine compared to other machines, the elliptical wins nearly all the time.
Because of the way it recruits so many muscles (almost all of them!), more energy is demanded from your body in order to keep moving.
Compare that to other machines—the treadmill, which just moves your legs; the stairclimber, which is also chiefly leg-focused; even the rowing machine, which uses your arms, back, and shoulders in tandem with your core and lower body, but doesn’t engage your chest—and there is more energy being demanded from you with elliptical training.
This not only expends more energy (a.k.a. burns more calories), but increases the metabolic demand placed on your body.
Over the hours following your training session, there is a sustained calorie burn you don’t get with most cardio machines. That’s how to lose weight with an elliptical!
Train for Agility and Coordination
With the elliptical machine, it’s all about keeping all of your various body parts working together in harmony. Your arms have to pedal, your chest and back engaging to push and pull, your legs pedaling, and your core engaging to keep you upright.
Add a layer of difficulty by changing things up—such as going backwards on the elliptical or squat-walking—and you just increase the focus on your coordination and agility.
Or, try walking without gripping the handles. That’s one heck of a workout to train your body to balance on what feels like an unstable moving platform!
The last, but possibly my favorite, benefit of the elliptical machine that I’m sharing today is its low-impact nature.
With other forms of exercise, you lift your feet off the treadmill, stairs, or Jacob’s ladder. When you place them down again (to run, walk, or climb), there is a bit of impact on your joints.
That impact runs up through the foot, to your ankle, up your knees, to your hips and back. The faster you go, the higher the intensity and the greater the impact.
Over time, high-impact exercise can take a toll on your joints and lead to injuries. Or, they can be quite painful (and even dangerous) if you’re recovering from an injury or surgery.
But the elliptical machine involves virtually no impact at all. Because your feet never leave the pedals, the impact is all but eliminated. This makes it safe for rehab following an injury or surgery, and less likely to contribute to joint problems.
As you can see, there are a lot of reasons to love the elliptical. Incorporating it into your training will be a great way to obtain all these benefits while still getting a safe and highly effective workout every time.
30-Minute Elliptical Workouts
Below, I’ll share with you some of my favorite workouts—all of which you can knock out in 30 minutes. Get in, hit them hard, and get out to get back to your day.
They’re the perfect solution for anyone with a busy day and not enough time to spend a full hour training.
Workout 1: Burn, Baby, Burn
This workout is all about burning calories—but specifically, fat calories.
When you push your body to a higher heart rate, it’s unable to absorb enough oxygen to activate stored fats for energy. Thus, you end up burning more sugar-based energy than fat.
To increase fat-burning, you’ve got to keep your heart rate within the 55 to 70% MaxHR range. This is where your body will be able to activate stored fats, but you’ll still be working hard enough to burn sufficient calories.
The workout is fairly simple:
Warm Up – Spend 5 minutes warming up at a slow, steady pace. Don’t push your heart rate above 55%, but give your body time to send blood to your muscles and get your cardiovascular system working.
Minute 5-10: Push your heart rate to 70%. Grip the elliptical’s handles and let the heart rate sensors tell you where you’re at. Don’t go above 70%, so slow down if your heart is beating too fast. However, don’t drop below 65%, either. Speed up if you see it slowing down.
Minute 10-15: Slow your pace just enough to keep your heart rate between 60 and 65%.
Minute 15-20: Speed up to push toward 70%.
Minute 20-24: Slow your pace just enough to keep your heart rate between 60 and 65%.
Minute 25: Finish at a full-out sprint, pedaling as fast and hard as you can for a full 60 seconds. See how high you can push your heart rate for this final interval.
Cool Down – Finish off with a 5-minute cool down to give your muscles a chance to recover and your heart time to slow down.
Workout 2: Shred Those Glutes
This exercise is all about paying attention to your glutes, which you do by raising both the incline and resistance.
With a higher incline, the angle of your step changes, so your glutes engage like you’re climbing stairs. With a higher resistance, your leg muscles must work harder to keep you working, leading to better muscle-building results.
You’ll walk away from this workout with your legs feeling like they’re jelly!
Warm-Up: Spend 5 minutes warming up. Set a slow pace, with incline and resistance both set to “0”. This is all about getting the blood flowing and preparing your legs for what’s to come.
Minute 1-2: Incline 3, Resistance 2
Minute 3: Incline 5, Resistance 2
Minute 4: Incline 5, Resistance 3
Minute 5: Incline 6, Resistance 3
Minute 6-7: Incline 3, Resistance 2
Minute 8: Incline 6, Resistance 3
Minute 9: Incline 7, Resistance 3
Minute 10: Incline 7, Resistance 4
Minute 11-12: Incline 3, Resistance 2
Minute 13: Incline 8, Resistance 4
Minute 14: Incline 8, Resistance 5
Minute 15: Incline 9, Resistance 5
Minute 16-17: Incline 4, Resistance 3
Minute 18: Incline 9, Resistance 6
Minute 19: Incline 10, Resistance 6
Minute 20: Incline 10, Resistance 7
Minute 21-22: Incline 4, Resistance 3
Minute 23: Incline 11, Resistance 7
Minute 24: Incline 12, Resistance 8
Minute 25: Incline 13, Resistance 8
Minute 26-27: Incline 5, Resistance 4
Minute 28: Incline 14, Resistance 9
Minute 29: Incline 15, Resistance 9
Minute 30: Incline 15, Resistance 10
Cool Down: Spend a few minutes cooling down to let your glutes and leg muscles recover actively before you step off the elliptical machine.
Workout 3: HIIT it Hard
With this workout, it’s all about the high intensity intervals!
The elliptical is one of the best HIIT machines because it’s easy to push to a faster pace—just speed up your pedaling and work the handles harder. To make it more challenging still, add some incline or increase the resistance.
But when the time comes to give your body a break on the slow interval, you can just slow down your rate of pedaling, no need to adjust the machine. It’s much simpler for HIIT training than the treadmill because you have manual control over your speed, rather than having to adjust it using the built-in buttons.
Here is my favorite elliptical trainer HIIT workout:
Warm-Up: Spend the first 5 minutes warming up. Set a pace that will get your heart pumping and your blood flowing. Aim to get your heart rate to around the 55 or 60% mark and keep it there for the full 5 minutes.
Minute 1: Speed up to pedaling/pumping as fast as you can.
Minute 2: Slow down to a steady, calmer pace, letting your body recover from the period of high intensity.
Repeat: For the next 18 minutes, repeat these intervals of max intensity effort and low intensity recovery.
Cool Down: Finish with 5 minutes of slow, relaxing pedaling to give your body a chance to cool down after your training.
Workout 4: Full Body Training
This workout hammers every part of your body in a truly effective way, helping you to build upper body, core, and lower body muscle without having to use any other machine in the gym. It’s a game-changer, I tell you!
Warm Up: Spend 5 minutes warming up at minimal resistance and incline.
Minute 5-10: Use your arms to do as much of the work as possible, pushing and pulling on those handles with all your strength. Use your legs just to support you, but focus on engaging the upper body muscles.
Minute 10-15: Remove your hands from the handles and give your legs a chance to shine. Raise the resistance to at least 70%, and consider adjusting the incline to 25-50% to pay extra attention to your glutes.
Minute 15-20: Lower the incline to 20% and the resistance to 30%, and remove your hands entirely from the handles. Extend them out to your sides or swing them in time with your steps. This portion of the workout is all about training your muscles to keep your balance.
Minute 20-25: Grip the moving handles once more, and lean into the effort of both pedaling and pushing/pulling. However, with every movement, focus on engaging your core, feeling your abs, obliques, and lower back do the work of twisting your upper and lower body.
Cool Down: Spend the last 5 minutes cooling down, pedaling at minimum incline and resistance to let your body come down from the training.
30-Minute Elliptical Workouts — FAQs
How many calories will 30 minutes on an elliptical burn?
According to Harvard Medical School, 185-pound person will burn 378 calories in a 30-minute elliptical workout.
However, that’s a “general” workout (such as the “Burn, Baby, Burn” workout I shared above). To burn more calories, all you have to do is speed up the pace, increase the resistance, or raise the incline.
Is 30 minutes on the elliptical good?
Depending on how you use it! If you’re just pedaling at a slow, steady pace and not really pushing your body, 30 minutes will be adequate but not great.
You’ll want to max out the challenge of those 30 minutes using one of the workouts above, and that’s when you can step off the machine knowing you put in the work, burned serious calories, and pushed your fitness to the next level like a badass.
The Bottom Line
The elliptical has the potential to be the best cardio machine in the gym for everything: functional fitness, stability and balance, HIIT training, and fat-burning. If you’re smart with the way you train and use it to the max, you’ll see real results from the time you spend on the elliptical.
More Stuff Like This
How Much Do Ellipticals Cost? (44 Different Models Compared). Ellipticals can be a costly investment in your workout goals. Here is a look at how much each type of elliptical costs and how much to spend on one.
Sole E95 Elliptical Trainer Review | The Best Elliptical Ever for Home Gyms? Wondering if the Sole E95 Elliptical is the right one for you? In this guide, we do a deep dive on this popular elliptical trainer, looking at the pros, cons, and how it compares to other ellipticals for home gyms.