When most people think about High Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT) workouts, they often associate them with the treadmill, bike or outdoor sprinting. But what about the elliptical? Sure, many people may hop on their elliptical for 30 minutes or so and vary the intensity, but very few take it to the full HIIT level. The elliptical can, in fact, be a great choice when it comes to getting in your interval sessions and offers a few benefits that the other options don’t.

Benefits of using the Elliptical for your HIIT workouts:

Low-impact Training

The elliptical allows your body to emulate a running motion without causing the strenuous impact on your joints that occurs on a treadmill.

Cross-training Ability

Most elliptical trainers are equipped with moveable handles which allow you to exercise your upper body and lower body simultaneously.

Reverse Stride

Most ellipticals allow you to stride in reverse which can activate different muscle groups and put more emphasis on your quads and offer an adjustable variety mid-workout. Power-incline ellipticals can also work different muscle groups for increased effectiveness.

Perceived Exertion is Lower

Studies show that people are actually working harder than they perceive when operating an elliptical. Subjects in the studies were asked to rate their perceived output when operating an elliptical and the majority of research showed subjects underestimating actual output based on their heart rate. Therefore, the elliptical can burn close to the same amount of calories with less effort.

While HIIT sessions may not be appropriate for all fitness levels, you can work your way up to being able to incorporate them a couple of times a week into your training routine. I generally suggest that one should be able to complete at least 30 minutes of low to moderate intensity cardio activity such as jogging, biking or using an elliptical before adding in HIIT workouts.

Once you’re ready to try HIIT, you need to have a general idea of the maximum level you can push yourself. The elliptical offers differing variables from a treadmill in that you can increase the resistance level of the pedals on the elliptical, where on the treadmill you’re only changing the speed and/or incline. On the elliptical, you may want to build your intervals based on the resistance level and/or incline and increase it on your “work” periods and decrease it on your “recovery” periods.

Here are a couple of ideas on what a typical HIIT elliptical program might look like. Keep in mind, one of the great parts about HIIT training is that you can design your own intervals based on your fitness level. Always begin with at least a 5 minute warm up before getting into the heart of the intervals (usually 12-20 minutes), and then cool down for another 5 minutes or so at a low to moderate pace after your workout.

20 Minute Elliptical HIIT Workout:

Min 0-2: Resistance 5, Incline 5
Min 2-3: Resistance 10, Incline 5
Min 3-5: Resistance 5, Incline 7
Min 5-6: Resistance 10, Incline 7
Min 6-8: Resistance 7, Incline 9
Min 8-9: Resistance 12, Incline 9
Min 9-11: Resistance 7, Incline 9
Min 11-12: Resistance 12, Incline 9
Min 12-14: Resistance 9, Incline 11
Min 14-15: Resistance 14, Incline 11
Min 15-17: Resistance 9, Incline 9
Min 17-18: Resistance 12, Incline 9
Min 18-20: Resistance 7, Incline 9

28 Minute Elliptical HIIT Workout:

Min 0-2: Resistance 0-2
Min 2-5: Resistance 2-3
Min 5-6: Resistance 8
Min 6-7: Resistance 2
Min 7-8: Resistance 8
Min 8-9: Resistance 2
Min 9-10: Resistance 10
Min 10-11: Resistance 3
Min 11-12: Resistance 10
Min 12-13: Resistance 3
Min 13-14: Resistance 8
Min 14-15: Resistance 2
Min 15-25: Repeat minutes 5-15 while pedaling backwards
Min 25-28: Cool Down

Give HIIT on an Elliptical a shot and see for yourself how this type of training can give your workouts – and results – a big boost!


About the writer: Ken Grall is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and owns and operates an Edge Fitness in Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Ken.

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