12 Elliptical Mistakes That Can Sabotage Your Workout

The elliptical gets a bad rap for being an ineffective workout tool, but that’s only because most people use it wrong. Tweak these bad habits to get the most out of your workout.

You only ever use the elliptical


Using the same equipment at the gym in the same way every single time is not only monotonous, it can also hinder your ability to meet your fitness goals in the long run. “Working out your body the same way every day can lead to overuse of certain body parts that may result in injuries,” says Ryan Halvorson, senior editor of Idea Health & Fitness Association and a personal trainer in San Diego, California. “You’re making yourself good at one thing. [Eventually] your body will adapt to that specific movement and you’ll plateau.” If you don’t want to give up the elliptical, fitness experts suggest incorporating an elliptical workout into a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routine; this means you alternate between high-intensity exercise for 30 seconds to a minute and low-intensity exercise for one to two minutes. Instead of an hour straight on the machine, try doing as many burpees or mountain climbers as you can in 30 seconds, then hop on the elliptical for a minute or two to let your muscles recover. But bear in mind that the length of a HIIT session varies from person to person depending on your fitness levels and goals. If you’re unsure how to do HIIT, take advantage of the free personal training sessions that most gyms offer. “You can up the ante, cut your time in half, and burn twice as much,” says Chris Ryan, a certified personal trainer and strength and conditioning specialist in New York City. Check out these treadmill mistakes that make trainers cringe. 

You always use the ‘Fat Burn’ button


Don’t let that “fat burn” button fool you into thinking that the weight will melt off quicker. The fat burn option helps you burn more fat at a lower intensity, but the problem is that you’re not burning nearly as many overall calories. “If you want to lose weight, you want to burn calories,” says Dani Singer, Fitness Director of Fit2Go Personal Training in Baltimore, Maryland. “Whether you’re burning carbs or fat is irrelevant, weight loss is about the calories that you’re burning.” High-intensity workouts are most efficient for fat burn and weight loss because you burn more calories and get that added benefit of the afterburn effect. After a physically intense workout, your body breaks down fat and continues to burn more calories to repair your muscles and replenish your energy sources. Make sure to avoid these post-gym mistakes, which will ruin your workout. 

You pay too much attention to the numbers on the machine

ellipticalscreenAi Photo/Shutterstock

You can’t help but feel victorious when the “calories burned” window on your elliptical dash hits triple digits. But there’s a catch. Those numbers may be skewed. Most cardio machines can only detect weight and age, and that’s only if you plug in your own information. But overall, they can’t detect who is using it in terms of body type, fitness level, height, or body fat percentage, which means the numbers on the machine during your elliptical workout may not be accurate to you. In fact, researchers from the University of California at San Francisco found that the elliptical overestimated calorie burn by 42 percent. “Don’t pay attention to the numbers on the machine. Pay attention to how hard you’re working because that’s correlated with calorie burn more than the machine,” says Singer.

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