Time constraints often get in the way of our fitness goals. But don’t be discouraged. Your body will be happy if you can at least spare 20 minutes a day on the elliptical.

A 20-minute elliptical session can burn about 150 calories, depending on your weight and exercise intensity. If you do this regularly along with a balanced diet, it’s a good workout for better health and performance.

However, this fitness routine is not enough for most people, especially those aiming to lose weight.

Your elliptical training time should be at least 30 minutes for this goal.

Alternatively, you can follow an elliptical workout routine that optimises your 20 minutes for maximum benefits.

Read on to learn how to do this and progress from a beginner to a seasoned elliptical rider.

What can 20 Minutes a Day on the Elliptical Do for Me?

High-speed and intense elliptical workouts let you burn up to 150 calories. If you prefer moderate-intensity exercises, you’ll be burning about 112 calories.

It’s a good starting point if you’re a fitness beginner or want to shift from a sedentary lifestyle to a more active one.

And exercising regularly for 20 minutes positively affects your overall health and performance.

But note that this is not enough to make you lose weight effectively. If you exercise for 20 minutes five days weekly, that’s a total of 100 minutes of physical activity.

And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults like you need at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.

That means regular elliptical training of at least 30 minutes is best for your cardiovascular health and weight.

Then, you can extend this to 45 minutes to 1 hour (or 250 minutes of weekly exercise) to boost calorie burn and weight loss.

20 mins cross trainer calories burning

How Should I Exercise for 20 Minutes on the Elliptical?

Now, not all of us can stretch our exercise time. And if you can only allocate 20 minutes of your day on the elliptical machine, it’s best to make every minute count.

Here are some workout ideas you can try. When you’re ready to progress, check out my suggestions on how you can improve your 20-minute workout.

20-Minute Beginner Elliptical Workout

Exercise TimeExercise Intensity
Level 1: 5 minutes (warm-up)Set your elliptical at a low resistance level. Start warming up at a relaxed pace.
Level 2: 3 minutes (baseline)Increase the resistance to about 1 to 4 levels higher than your warm-up mode. You should still be able to carry on a conversation at this point.
Level 3: 2 minutes (moderate)Increase the resistance again until you are working a bit more than your baseline mode.
Level 4: 3 minutes (baseline)Decrease the resistance, going back to the baseline mode.
Level 5: 2 minutes (moderate)Increase the resistance back to a moderate pace.
Level 6: 5 minutes (cool-down)Decrease the resistance back to starting level. Spend the remaining minutes bringing down your heart rate to normal.

How to progress with a beginner elliptical workout

You can stick to this 20-minute elliptical routine for five days on the first week of your fitness plan.

In the second week, add 3 minutes more to Level 4, then 2 minutes more to Level 5.

From the third week onwards, perform a regular 30-minute exercise with 3 minutes added to Level 2, then 2 minutes more to Level 3.

This workout should be enough to meet the CDC’s minimum requirement.

Throughout your entire workout, incorporate these helpful tips as well:

  • Avoid slouching. Maintain an upright posture to keep your core muscles engaged and prevent body pains or risk of injury.
  • Push and pull the elliptical handles or pump your arms. Keep your entire body moving to make more muscle groups work. Exercising the upper body muscles boosts calorie burn within your limited workout time.
  • Try pedalling backwards. Exercise variations like this are crucial in avoiding a fitness plateau. In the case of an elliptical, pedalling forward and back lets you target different muscles, too.
  • Adjust the ramp incline. If your exercise equipment has an adjustable incline feature, like the NordicTrack 9.9 Elliptical, use it to take your workout up a notch. Start at whichever level is comfortable for you, then gradually increase it to progress.

Check out my previous article to learn more tips for an effective workout on the elliptical.

Woman monitoring her fitness tracker

20-Minute HIIT Elliptical Workout

Exercise TimeExercise Intensity
Level 1: 2 minutes (warm-up)Set your elliptical at resistance and incline levels of 1 to 3. Start warming up at a relaxed pace, equal to a jogging motion.
Level 2: 30 seconds (sprinting)Increase the resistance and incline to 4 to 5 levels higher than your warm-up mode. This stage should feel like you are sprinting.
Level 3: 1 minute (running)Decrease the resistance and incline to a slightly comfortable level. Your movement should be equal to a run.
 Keep doing the sprinting and running moves 9 more times, until you reach the 17-minute mark.
Level 4: 3 minutes (cool-down)Decrease the resistance back to starting level. Spend the remaining minutes bringing down your heart rate to normal. As you reach the final minute, lower your settings further, as if you’re going into slow motion.

How to design a HIIT elliptical workout

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) comprises short periods of vigorous activity followed by lower-intensity exercises or rest periods.

The goal is to reach a maximum heart rate of 70-90%, then bring it down to 55-65% during recovery.

It will be easy to stay within your ideal rate by wearing a heart monitor.

Now, my sample workout is a good starter.

But later on, you might want to create a different interval workout plan or add other variations to your 20-minute elliptical routine.

When you do this, keep these components in mind:

  • Warm-up. Allocate about 2 to 5 minutes of warm-up time for your HIIT plan, depending on your total elliptical training duration. Its intensity should be enough to make you break into a sweat or feel clammy. Sweating increases your temperature, circulation and body fat utilisation, allowing you to exercise harder and longer.
  • Length. HIIT involves doing intense and moderate exercises alternately. You can do this by adjusting the resistance, incline or speed. Allocate 5 seconds to 4 minutes for each move, depending on your capacity and preference.
  • Interval. Breaking up your total HIIT time into intervals is up to you. If you’re a beginner, you can start with a 1:2 ratio for work and rest. Later, shift to a 1:1 work-to-rest distribution. Then challenge yourself further by doing more work than rest.
  • Recovery. Give your heart ample time to recover and clear the by-products of metabolism. And when we say recovery period, keep it active. You can do this by dialling an intense resistance or incline level a few notches down.
Young girl smiling while exercising on an elliptical machine


It’s a challenge to incorporate regular exercise into a busy schedule. But a quick workout is better than no activity at all.

So, if 20 minutes of elliptical training per day is all you can do, keep at it!

While this may not be enough to see significant weight loss, a short daily exercise is still good for your health and performance.

When you have more time to spare, do a 30-minute to 1-hour exercise.

Or you can also design 20-minute high-intensity workouts to boost your caloric expenditure.

Lastly, pair your fitness plan with a controlled calorie intake and a dependable elliptical cross trainer for the best results.

1. Is a 15-minute elliptical workout enough?

A 15-minute workout on the elliptical can burn about 112 calories, depending on your body weight and exercise intensity. However, this routine is not enough for weight loss. Still, any type of exercise provides health benefits. You can also level up your elliptical workout by stretching your exercise time or performing high-intensity training.

2. What are the benefits of elliptical machines?

Elliptical trainers are ideal for burning calories and fat, boosting cardiorespiratory fitness and losing weight. These low-impact cardio machines also suit people recovering from an injury or the elderly with joint issues. Ellipticals are for everyone. And pairing them with a good workout plan plus a balanced diet should keep you on the healthy track.