Elliptical Trainers: 24 Common Workout Mistakes ⚠️ ❌

common elliptical workout mistakes

24 Most common mistakes users do while working out on elliptical machines

Find out the mistakes that many people frequently make on the elliptical trainer, and how to correct them to burn more calories. When snow, rain or cold weather rules outside, more and more people are enjoying a warm workout on their favorite fitness machine: the elliptical trainer.


And while you can be proud to have done cardio training in a gym (and you should be), taking a nonchalant approach to your elliptical trainer workout, and carelessly spinning your legs on its pedals while reading a magazine or watching TV won’t do you any favors.

This cardiovascular workout machine is a great choice for most people, and ellipticals provide many benefits for the body. It’s a low-impact activity that’s not only gentle on the joints, but it’s also easy to use. The problem is that many people don’t use it properly.

Over the past 15 years, the number of elliptical trainer users indoors or at home has increased tenfold. A real plebiscite. However, many do not reach their goals and quickly abandon the practice.

To help you avoid this failure, here are a few common mistakes that are responsible for most of the dropouts due to lack of progression (or poor progression).

You do not enter your information

The majority of the machines are set up for a standard person, i.e. 165 lbs or 75 kg. It is always recommeded to enter your own information (sex, weight, height, age…) and the indications provided by the console will be closer to reality and you will avoid miscalculations.

You don’t use the resistance settings

How many of you set the resistance to the minimum to just sweat? Sweating is not losing weight. So adjust the resistance to really force it. Even for 5 minutes during the session, it will always be more effective than 1 hour without any real effort. And your muscles will thank you later.

Your resistance is too low

You might feel like a champion pedaling at 62 miles per hour (or 100 km/h), but without resistance, you won’t get the results you expect.

Personal trainers will not hesitate to tell you to use enough resistance to push and pull during your strides. Then continue at a moderate pace until you feel you have done everything you can.

In short, you shouldn’t feel like you could have pedaled for another 5 minutes when you get off this fitness machine.

Many people believe that the faster they move their legs, the better their workout will be. With other exercises, this might be true, but not with the elliptical as that would be a big mistake.

The rotation mechanism used in this machine is a flywheel. This means that it can use the momentum to turn around. But on this machine, fast strides mean a lot of momentum. That means your muscles don’t have to work very hard to move the pedals. But when you increase the resistance, your arms and legs have to work harder to keep the flywheel moving.

You play the grasshopper

Too many people jump around a bit during elliptical workout sessions. This is not a good thing, as you lighten the work of the arms. Also, if you rest with your arms on the console, it reduces calorie consumption.

Listen to your machine

The noise of your bike, when you train, is important. If it purrs too loud, you are going too fast. Implied that you don’t have enough resistance.

You don’t vary the pedaling direction enough

The advantage of an elliptical trainer is that you can produce your effort in both directions. Balance your workout to really work all the muscles in your body.

You don’t vary your workouts enough

1 month without changing your training routine is a long time, too long. You only make progress by bringing variety. Otherwise, it’s at best maintenance, or even most of the time brewing for nothing. This way you will increase the way your muscles work during elliptical workouts, making it easier to progress in the future.

You pedal badly

If you have calf cramps or numbness in your feet, you are putting too much pressure on your toes (calf work) to the detriment of the large muscle groups that provide calories. Don’t forget that pedaling is done by attacking the heel and then rolling the foot (not just the sole of the foot from start to finish).

You don’t work the upper body

The movable handlebars are built in to your elliptical for a reason. Incorporate movable handles at least two days a week to work your upper body. Do not hang on to the stable handles (the immobile armrests).

When you engage your arms and legs, consider doing interval training there as well. Work your legs very hard for 3 minutes, then focus on your arms for 1 minute, then stride your legs for 4 minutes (at a lower intensity), and so on (keeping the duration of effort varied).

You push and pull the movable handles all the time

We’ve certainly just told you that you need to integrate these handles into your session at least 2 days a week, but that doesn’t mean that you can use your arms to do all the work during the whole session.

If you use your arms to completely assist the legs, it focuses a lot of effort on your arms and minimizes the toning benefits obtained by working the legs. In addition, you will get tired faster because the arms cannot work as hard as the legs.

To correct this mistake, you must always be aware that your arms can help you, but you must not let them compensate for what your legs could do if you did not have movable handles. For best results, get your arms into the effort once your legs have already worked as hard as possible.

You keep your back hunched over

Do not make the mistake of leaning over the immobile armrests all the time. Standing with your back straight on this device helps to lengthen your abdominal muscles. This gives a better chance to engage your core muscles and work your upper body muscles.

Certified sports coaches will recommend using an elliptical trainer that has an upper body workout component (such as the movable grips) to engage even more muscles and burn even more fat.

You stride until you can’t feel your feet

One of the most common mistakes on an elliptical trainer is putting too much pressure on your toes, which can numb your feet and greatly reduce the length of your workout.

Instead of pressing on your toes too much, rest on your heels, this allows the large muscle groups to work harder and gives you the energy to work out longer on this cardio machine.

You don’t put enough strain on the upper body

Legs are powerful muscles. Often they relieve the work of the arms. Force yourself to alternate 2 cycles only with the arms (do not force with the legs) and 4 cycles with the legs (without forcing with the arms).

You put too much inclination

Unlike the treadmill, the more you tilt your elliptical trainer, the less difficulty you put in. So pay attention to this parameter.

You haven’t changed your training program in months

Doing exactly the same routine, month after month, is a mistake. Interval training is a great way to break the monotony of doing just one activity, in addition to boosting your caloric burn.

Here are two examples of how to break up your elliptical workout:

  • Leave the resistance stable and change your pace (fast for 1 minute, moderate for 4 minutes, fast again for 2 minutes, etc.)
  • Maintain your speed and change your resistance (high for 1 minute, moderate for 4, high for 2 minutes, low for 3, etc.)

Your Elliptical makes a lot of noise

If you can hear your elliptical trainer whirring (as if it is about to take off) during your workout, it means that you are going too fast without enough resistance. In practical terms, this means that you are not burning the maximum number of calories possible given the amount of time you spend in the workout.

Keeping your pedaling rhythm stable and moderate, at a resistance that forces you to use your muscles, will increase your heart rate (and keep it high).

You are exclusive to the elliptical

Too many practitioners make do with the elliptical. No warm-up or cool-down out of the machine. No strengthening work (even at body weight) outside the machine. Add a fitness routine before or after the elliptical trainer session (or better yet, intersperse weight training exercises during your session).

You do not change directions

Cycling backwards not only helps you avoid boredom, it also changes the groups of large muscles that work hardest. While pedaling forward tires your quadriceps, pedaling backwards puts the emphasis on your hamstrings and gluteal muscles (buttocks).

To maximize the effect, sit slightly backwards, and keep your knees at a 90° angle when you walk with long strides on your machine.

You’re not making the best use of the time you spend training on an elliptical

You think you can forget the boredom during your workout on the elliptical by watching TV or reading a magazine on the console, chatting with your neighbor in the gym or phoning your friends (or even all 3 of them at the same time) once you’re mounted on it.

Why would you make the mistake of thinking you could do all of this during your session? Because it’s impossible to do your workout well on this machine in such a nonchalant way. Normally, you’re blowing and sweating while you’re shaking. After a while you can no longer really talk quietly on the phone or watch TV with pleasure (because your muscles start to get tired).

If you ride the elliptical trainer for 1 hour without sweating, being able to follow your favorite reality TV show or talking on the phone without getting out of breath, you have chosen quantity over quality. It’s a pity because you are wasting your time somehow.

Instead of cycling for an hour without any resistance, at a very peaceful pace, sitting down, with your arms on the immovable armrests, with your back hunched over… train for real! Do 15 or 20 minutes at high intensity on this machine (which is already enough to burn fat well) instead of 60 minutes without sweating! If you get out of the machine feeling like you’ve just taken a little walk around the house with your dog, there’s a big problem.

You can listen to music (dynamic if possible) during your session, however. Studies have shown that listening to this kind of music can make you work harder (without even realizing it) by giving you an immediate feeling of being very energetic.

If you make the small changes we’ve just suggested, to make it right during your elliptical workouts, you’ll burn more calories and fat. You will also see more noticeable improvements in your fitness level.

Don’t forget to increase the intensity of your workout (while varying it) to get better results in less time. There’s no point in doing it for 60 minutes without working your muscles hard (which is a crash in terms of efficiency). 20 minutes is enough to start seeing improvements if you do the session at high intensity correctly.

You’re trying to climb a mountain

Some elliptical trainers have an adjustable slope, a bit like a treadmill. But adjusting the slope too steeply will not help you progress. Instead, stay on a moderate slope and concentrate by pushing and pulling on your legs.

Balancing your efforts

On an elliptical trainer, there are 2 behaviors that regularly recur: either you work the whole body permanently (the same movement at each session), or you focus on the lower body (you pull and barely push on the handles).

Balance your efforts by accentuating the work of the arms at times, and the work of the lower body at others. This is a necessity for a harmonious progression. Often you can take the ratio 1:4 or 1:3, i.e. 1 minute for the arms for 4 (or 3) minutes for the thighs (in relation to the volume of the muscle masses used).

Being mindful of your workout

Fitness is an experience of body and mind. If you are not present in spirit, your body slows down. So don’t let your negative inner dialogue get you down. If your mind tells you that you are tired, slow down and ask yourself why. Don’t worry if you have to stop early because you’re exhausted. Everyone has a day off and it’s better to listen to your body than to risk hurting yourself beyond a few pounds. Keep a positive attitude, no matter what you feel or what you see in the mirror. Creating an optimistic workout playlist or setting short-term training goals are other ways to motivate yourself in the gym.

Acquiring the right technique

But as usual, for a session to be effective, the technique must be flawless: First of all, make sure you keep your back straight when looking ahead. Place your hands at the level of the cardiac sensors, not too low, as this could cause you to lean too far forward.

As for your feet, they must be positioned flat. To push down, you will mainly use the heel (to preserve your ankles), and to push up, you will raise the heel and work with the front of the foot.

The arms and legs will have to have a natural and fluid movement, you’ll see, it will come by itself! If you wish to work more on the lower body, in this case, position your hands on the inner handles, the ones that are immobile. And conversely, if you want to work the upper body as well, place your hands on the mobile handles on the outside.

The right grip

A striking feature of cross trainers are the armrests and grips. Unlike on a treadmill, for example, the arms are not moved freely but with a predefined movement. A common mistake is not to grip the grips tightly enough. This in turn means that the majority of the movement comes from the wrist, although it should only be subjected to minimal strain. The bars should therefore always be gripped with the entire hand. Your hands should form a line with your forearm.

You should also not strangle the grips, i.e. you should not grip them too tightly. Make sure that the movements take place mainly over the shoulders and the crook of your arm. These are exactly the two parts that should be strained, and at the same time the movements of the arms have been directed towards them. By the way, from a health point of view, the cross trainer is considered more gentle and efficient than the treadmills.

The right posture on the elliptical trainer

Many elliptical users don’t know how to maintain the correct posture for an effective elliptical workout. With just a few basic rules you can achieve a natural, healthy posture on the elliptical.

Back: Stand upright so that neither a hollow back nor a hump is created. Your gaze should be straight forward, your head should remain in line with your spine. Do not stretch your bottom backwards.

Shoulders: Especially at the beginning, consciously pull the shoulders back and down. But do not tense them up, always remain relaxed.

Arms: Hold the arm bars so that the wrists form a line with the forearms. The grip is at shoulder level. A firm grip ensures a good transfer of force and involves the torso in the movement.

Hip: The hip should not swing to the sides when viewed from the front. The hip is always vertical below the shoulders.

Legs: Bend the legs slightly at the knee joint. The knees should never be fully extended so that the load is not too great. Pedalling movements should be fluid and round, not jerky. If the resistance is too high for this, it is better to shift down a gear and take care to maintain a position that is easy on the joints.

Feet: Place your feet in the middle of the pedals with the entire foot surface on the pedals. This is the best way to transmit power and the damping elements can do their job.

Tip: If you are not sure whether you have the correct posture during training, it is worth a visit to the gym. A fitness trainer will show you the optimum sequence of movements and control your posture.

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