Do You Burn a lot of Calories on an Elliptical? (and How to Burn More)

You probably already know that cardio is one of the best ways to burn calories. But with so many options available, how do you know which exercise is best for you, and which one will burn calories most efficiently? 

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Elliptical workouts help you burn calories by setting a target heart rate while providing resistance training for your lower body, upper body, and core. Compared to treadmills, ellipticals provide lower-impact workouts, meaning that your joints are under less stress. On an elliptical, your feet are planted instead of hitting the ground repeatedly, as is the case with running. This makes elliptical training an ideal choice for joint and knee health.

While elliptical workouts are low impact, they are still weight-bearing exercises. This means that you are supporting your full weight as you move, as opposed to cycling or swimming where your weight is partially supported by water or your bike. Weight-bearing exercises are great for bone density and can help prevent osteoporosis. 

If you’re using an elliptical for cardio, knowing the basic calculations for how calories are burned can help you track your progress and tweak your workouts to burn even more. 

Science of Burning Calories and Losing Weight

If you’re exercising to lose weight, it’s important to understand how burning calories plays into the mix. Every second of every day – including while you’re reading this article – you’re burning calories. Calories are the units of energy needed to function. We consume these calories from food and expend them on various activities. So if you’re trying to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you take in. This is called a calorie deficit. 

The number of calories burned on an elliptical depends on a variety of factors. Your weight must be factored into the equation because it acts as resistance during your workout. If you weigh more, you’re going to burn more calories per minute than someone who weighs less. Think about carrying around a 30-pound weight during your exercise: You’re going to tire yourself out faster than if you hadn’t carried the extra weight.

Your total calorie expenditure also depends on your body composition. Muscles burn calories at a higher rate than fat, so a more muscular person will burn more calories per minute than someone who weighs the same but has a higher fat index.

Gender also plays a role to an extent: Men typically have more muscle mass than women. That’s part of the reason why it seems like men lose weight faster than women even when they put in the same amount of effort.

The final two variables are the intensity and duration of your workout. Intensity refers to how difficult your workout is: If you barely break a sweat during a 30-minute training session, the intensity was probably fairly low, meaning you burned fewer calories. On the flip side, if you’re drenched in sweat and feel like you’re going to collapse after 30 minutes, your intensity level was likely quite high, and you will have burned more calories. 

Duration refers to how much time you spend exercising. Running as fast as you can for 10 minutes will most likely burn fewer calories than walking at a brisk pace for an hour.

How Many Calories Are Burned on an Elliptical? 

So how many calories do you burn during a typical elliptical workout? Harvard Health Publishing estimates that during a 30-minute workout, a 125-pound person burns about 270 calories, while a 155-pound person burns 335 calories and a 185-pound person burns 400 calories. 

 

Of course, our weight and workout times won’t always reflect these estimations of calories burned on an elliptical. If you’re looking for figures customized to your weight, workout intensity, and duration, you can try an online calculator, such as this one at HealthyEater, or apps for your smart device like MyFitnessPal. These tools can help you get a more accurate reading of the calories burned on an elliptical. Be sure to find a reputable calculator for the best results.

You can also do the calculations yourself based on scientific data. The Compendium of Physical Activities is an online resource compiled by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Arizona State University. This database is used by researchers as a reliable reference for how many calories are burned during a wide array of activities. You can look up a variety of activities, but the code for elliptical training is 02048 and has a MET (metabolic equivalent) value of 5.female in ponytail on elliptical

Once you have your MET, the calculation is simple: 1) Convert your weight into kilograms. You can search online for a calculator to convert your weight from pounds to kilograms. 2) Take your weight in kilograms and multiply it by your MET value, which is 5 for elliptical training. This will tell you how many calories you will burn in an hour. Example: If I weigh 145 pounds, my weight in kilograms is 65.7. Multiply that by 5, and I get 328.5 calories burned in an hour. 

How to Increase Calories Burned on an Elliptical

Do you want to burn more calories? Of all the factors that contribute to your total calorie expenditure, you only have control over two: intensity and duration. Intensity is where you can be the most creative, but there are tricks that can help you increase your duration as well.

The most efficient elliptical exercise is one during which you maintain your target heart rate for the entirety of the workout. This ensures that you’re not only burning more calories but also that you’re getting the best workout to promote heart health.

If you’re trying to increase the intensity of your elliptical workout, here are some ideas to try:

  • Increase your machine’s incline and/or resistance to give yourself more of a challenge. 
  • Change to a reverse motion by pedaling backward. Switching it up not only keeps you from getting bored but also it targets different muscles in your body, creating a more intense and well-rounded session.
  • Don’t rely on the machine’s momentum. It’s easy to let the momentum passively carry you through each glide, but you should be mindful of your muscles’ exertion. It will keep your body engaged and produce a better workout.
  • Let go of the handles and pump your arms to engage your core. You can even hold weights to work your arm muscles. Make sure to start this exercise at a slower pace so that you can find your balance and avoid injury. 
  • Try a HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout. Changing up your pace and challenging your body will keep your exercise interesting and work up a serious sweat!

If you want to increase your duration, do so incrementally. If you’re used to working out for 30 minutes, add five minutes to every session for a week, or until you start to feel comfortable. Work up to a full hour, and watch your results double!

You can also break your session up into sets. This is best done by incorporating weightlifting into the routine, so you can return to a lower heart rate before jumping back on the elliptical. An example of a well-balanced routine would be five minutes of warmups; 10 minutes of moderate exercise on the elliptical; the first set of your weightlifting routine; 10 minutes on the elliptical at a moderate pace; a second set of weightlifting; 10 minutes of higher intensity on the elliptical; a third and final set of weightlifting; and then finish off with 10 minutes of moderate exercise on the elliptical before heading into your cooldown. 

Tips for Working Out on an Elliptical

No matter how long or intense of an elliptical workout you choose, it’s important to stay hydrated from start to finish. It’s best to drink plenty of water before your workout, but if you become too thirsty while exercising, you can also take a short break and drink room-temperature water slowly before returning to your workout. Be sure not to overindulge, as drinking excessive liquids can irritate your stomach or cause nausea during the remainder of your workout.

Make sure that you maintain proper form throughout your entire workout. If you’re slouching or your footing is incorrect, you’re not only detracting from the efficiency of the workout, but also you might risk injury. 

Last but not least, listen to your body! Challenging yourself is important, but if you feel like something is too intense, or you start feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or otherwise unwell, rest and remember to lower the intensity the next time you work out.

Take each workout in stride, and give yourself a high five as you start noticing your progress!