Elliptical Trainer Workout for Beginners

Woman on an elliptical trainer
Woman on an elliptical trainer. urbancow/Getty Images

If you're just getting started with exercise or it's been a long time since you exercised, the last thing you want to do is make the mistake many of us make — doing too much, too soon.

Going too hard not only makes you sore and miserable, it also puts your body at risk for injury. Your body needs time to build endurance and strength, which is why it's always best to ease into exercise.

The elliptical trainer is great for beginners, allowing you to ease your way into cardio exercise.

The elliptical trainer is a great choice especially if you need less stress on the joints while conditioning your heart and lower body.

It gives you a low impact workout, without the kind of bone-jarring experience you would get by running or walking on the treadmill.

It also may be a good choice if you have knee problems. Because it's no impact, it's easier on the knees and hips but it's also weight bearing, which is essential for building strong bones, muscles, and connective tissue. 

As a bonus, if your machine has arm handles, you work your entire body which means you burn more calories while getting a little more bang for your buck.

Precautions for This Workout

See your doctor before trying this workout if you any illnesses, injuries or you're on medication that may affect your heart rate or workouts.

Low-impact cardio exercise is often recommended to reduce health risks and maintain physical conditioning.

But your situation is individual.

One other note — the first time you try the elliptical trainer, you'll likely feel it the most in your lower body, especially the quads. It's normal to feel a burn as your muscles work and you may need to start with a shorter workout, 10 or so minutes, and slowly work your way up to longer workouts as you build more endurance.

Last, make sure to monitor your intensity. The easiest way is to go by your perceived exertion, a scale of 1 to 10 of how hard you're working at different levels of intensity.

For this workout, you'll stay between a Level 4 on this Perceived Exertion Chart, which is an easy warm-up pace and, Level 6 which is just out of your comfort zone. Make adjustments throughout the workout to stay at a moderate intensity.

How to Do the Beginner Elliptical Workout

  • Follow each segment of the workout, working to find a pace/resistance that allows you to work at the suggested rate of perceived exertion.
  • Back off if you feel too breathless or your muscles feel weak or fatigued. You should feel like you're exercising, but you should also be able to talk in full sentences.
  • Perform this workout about 3 times a week with a day of rest in between. 
  • Progress by adding a few minutes each time you workout until you're up to 30 minutes.
  • Stretch your lower body after your workout.

Beginner Elliptical Workout

TimeIntensity/PaceRPE
5 minWarm up at a comfortable pace and keep the resistance or ramps low4
3 minIncrease the resistance and/or ramps 1 to 4 increments or until you're working harder than your warm-up pace.  You should feel you're working, but you should be able to carry on a conversation. This is your baseline pace5
2 minIncrease your resistance and/or ramps once again until you're working slightly harder than baseline5-6
3 minDecrease the resistance or ramps back to baseline5
2 minIncrease your resistance and/or ramps once again until you're working slightly harder than baseline5-6
5 minDecrease the resistance or ramps back to a comfortable level to cool down4
 Total Workout Time:  20 Minutes

Good work! Take a good drink of water to ensure you are well-hydrated and make sure you wipe down the equipment with a clean towel. 

Progressing With the Elliptical Workout

To progress with this workout, start with adding another 3 minutes of easier ramps at level 5 and then increasing them for two minutes before doing the 5-minute cooldown.

You can stay at that level for a week and then add another segment of 3 minutes easier work and 2 minutes harder work. Now you are at the 30 minute level for exercise. This meets the minimum daily exercise guideline for moderate to vigorous physical activity.

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