20-Minute Elliptical Workout for Beginners

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The elliptical trainer is great for beginners, allowing you to ease your way into cardio exercise. The elliptical trainer is an especially good choice if your body benefits from less stress on your joints while still conditioning your heart and lower body.

The elliptical trainer offers a low-impact workout compared to running or walking on the treadmill, so 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. If your machine has arm handles, you work your entire body, meaning you get a little more calorie-burn bang for your workout buck.

If you're just getting started with exercise or it's been a long time since you exercised, you want to avoid doing too much, too soon. Going too hard not only makes you sore and miserable, but 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.


Low-impact cardio exercise is often recommended to reduce health risks and maintain physical conditioning. But every situation is different. Talk to your doctor before trying this workout if you have any illnesses, injuries, or medical conditions, or you're on medication that may affect your heart rate or workouts.

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

How to Do the 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 three times a week, with a day of rest in between.
  • Stretch your lower body after your workout, and be sure to drink water before and after.

Make sure to monitor your intensity. The easiest way is to go by your rating of perceived exertion (RPE), a 1-to-10 scale of how hard you're working. For this workout, you'll stay between a level 4, 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.

Beginner Elliptical Workout

Time Intensity/Pace RPE
5 minutes Warm up at a comfortable pace. Keep the resistance or ramps low. 4
3 minutes Increase the resistance and/or ramps one to four 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 pace. 5
2 minutes Increase your resistance and/or ramps once again until you're working slightly harder than baseline. 5–6
3 minutes Decrease the resistance or ramps back to baseline. 5
2 minutes Increase your resistance and/or ramps once again until you're working slightly harder than baseline. 5–6
5 minutes Decrease the resistance or ramps back to a comfortable level to cool down. 4

Total Workout Time: 20 Minutes

Progressing With the Elliptical Workout

To begin adding onto the 20-minute beginner workout, start with adding another three minutes of easier ramps at level 5 and then increasing them for two minutes before doing the five-minute cool-down. You can stay at that level for a week and then add another segment of three minutes of easier work and two 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.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Paquette MR, Zucker-Levin A, DeVita P, Hoekstra J, Pearsall D. Lower limb joint angular position and muscle activity during elliptical exercise in healthy young menJournal of Applied Biomechanics. 2015;31(1):19-27. doi:10.1123/JAB.2014-0105

  2. National Osteoporosis Foundation. Exercise/Safe Movement.

  3. American Council on Exercise. Overtraining: 9 signs of overtraining to look out for.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measuring Physical Activity Intensity.

  5. Eston R. Use of ratings of perceived exertion in sportsInternational Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. 2012;7(2):175-182. doi:10.1123/ijspp.7.2.175

  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition.

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."