Elliptical Workout for Beginners

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

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

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

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 of 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.

Precautions for This Workout

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

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 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.

Make sure to monitor your intensity. The easiest way is to go by your rating of perceived exertion (RPE), 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, 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 three 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

Time Intensity/Pace RPE
5 minutes Warm up at a comfortable pace and 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 warmup 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

At the end of your workout, take a good drink of water to ensure you are well-hydrated. 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 three minutes of easier ramps at level 5 and then increasing them for two minutes before doing the five-minute cooldown.

You can stay at that level for a week and then add another segment of three minutes 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.

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