The elliptical trainer is a fitness favourite. It’s beginner-friendly, low impact and ideal for burning lots of calories. But are you gaining the optimum benefits of your elliptical full-body workout?

Unlike automated exercise machines, elliptical trainers need your physical input to work. If you slouch or lose focus, you are reducing the rewards of your hard work. Knowing how to use cross trainers correctly is key to achieving the best results.

Here are some ways to improve your elliptical routine and start your fitness journey right!

Is an Elliptical Full-Body Workout Possible?

Ellipticals are among the few exercise machines that can strengthen your lower and upper bodies and your abdominal muscles.

When using it, you move your arms and legs at the same time. In turn, you move several muscle groups, allowing you to burn more calories.

This machine also lets you walk, run or climb. All of these movements encourage full-body workouts at varying intensity levels.

How Do I Make my Elliptical Workout More Effective?

Now, an effective elliptical workout doesn’t mean exercising for hours. There are better strategies you can apply for a more rewarding fitness routine.

Try incorporating these into your full-body workout plan.

1. Maintain an Upright Posture

With the elliptical handles within easy reach, it’s tempting to grab on, slouch forward and let your legs do all the hard work.

But doing this makes the exercise too easy and ineffective. You’ll only waste time and miss out on all the elliptical gains.

Keeping your body straight during your routine has several fitness benefits. For one, it minimises muscle stress, lower back pain and the risk of injury.

Staying upright also lengthens your abdominal area and keeps your core muscles engaged. That means you are getting good lower and upper body exercise.

So, from now on, keep your back straight, shoulders relaxed and head up during your elliptical full-body workout.

If you keep slouching or hunching over, scale back the machine resistance or incline.

That way, you maintain your proper elliptical form rather than keep up with a routine too intense for your fitness capacity.

Side angle of the friendly woman training with her elliptical trainer

2. Use the Handles Properly

Most ellipticals have outer handles that move in time with your pedalling and a pair of stationary handles near the console.

Midway through your elliptical training, you tend to lean on the handles to lessen the stress on your legs.

While it may make you feel more comfortable, it also reduces caloric expenditure and increases the risk of muscle tightness.

So, resist that urge and do these instead for a good elliptical full-body workout:

  • Actively push and pull on the arm handles using your strength. The addition of arm movement while pedalling will tone your upper body, including your arms, chest, shoulders and back.
  • Keep your arms moving without holding the handles. Position your arms at a 90-degree angle, then pump them forward and back as if running. This variation exercises your core muscles and lower body more while improving your balance.

3. Keep Your Entire Foot on the Foot Pedals 

Do your legs or feet feel numb while exercising on the elliptical trainer? You are probably putting all the load on your toes.

Placing all your body weight on your toes will only stress your knees and inhibit proper blood flow. Aside from pain, it can also affect your balance.

For a strain-free and effective workout, keep the entire length of your feet in contact with the foot pedals.

Make sure your weight is evenly distributed on your feet as you move.

Make it your goal to mimic a natural walking or running motion.

4. Up the Resistance or Incline Level

It’s alright to start pedalling at a slow pace and on a flat surface.

But, over time, your elliptical full-body workout will be too easy that you no longer exert maximum effort. And less effort means lower calorie burn.

What you can do instead is to adjust the resistance or incline of your elliptical machine based on your fitness level.

For example, gradually increase your resistance level after warming up, then raise the incline setting.

Higher resistance will boost your heart rate and muscle strength. While working out on a steeper slope is excellent for your glutes.

Also, diversifying your elliptical routine prevents monotony and keeps your body challenged.

The feet of a person working out on an elliptical cross trainer machine

5. Try Pedalling Backwards

This tip is another way to spice up your elliptical full-body workout. But there’s another reason why you should try exercising backwards.

Adding pedalling variations lets you target various leg muscles.

For instance, if you pedal forward, you are working out your quads. On the other hand, moving backwards targets your glutes and hamstrings.

This variation also helps improve your balance and agility. So, try switching between these pedalling variations within your cardio workout time or week.

Now, if you want to make this exercise more challenging, let go of the handrails, then squat down your legs while pedalling backwards.

Do this for about 30 seconds before switching back to normal pedalling. This move should give you shapely thighs and butt!

6. Do Interval Training

High-intensity interval training or HIIT involves the switch between short bursts of intense exercise and slow movements.

Compared with steady pace elliptical exercise, an interval workout lets you sweat more, boosts your heart rate and optimises calorie burn.

It’s also a better alternative than doing a pre-set exercise program. And good thing this technique is easy to do on elliptical machines.

All you need is to allocate minutes for warm-up, fast pedalling, and recovery throughout your routine.

As your elliptical full-body workout improves your stamina, you can gradually spend more time pedalling at top speed with a shorter rest period.


Proper form and technique can turn your daily elliptical routine into an effective calorie-burning workout.

Best of all, elliptical machines let you adjust your speed, resistance or incline to make your exercise time challenging and fun!

And with this machine at home, you can work on your fitness goals no matter the season or time of day.

If you’re keen on owning one, my buying guide and reviews should help you find the elliptical cross trainer that suits you best.

Woman wearing a red top adjusting the settings of her elliptical cross trainer in her living room

1. Can you build muscle on ellipticals?

Elliptical machines build muscles through full-body exercises. Pedalling targets your lower body muscles, while the movable handlebars work your arms and chest. Your midsection or core also gets an effective workout as it keeps your entire body stable on the elliptical. Healthy eating, interval training, and the right machine features are also vital to muscle development.

2. What other exercise machines work like an elliptical?

The best alternatives to an elliptical are a mini stepper, rowing machine, StairMaster, exercise bike and under-desk bike. The movements you’ll make from these elliptical alternatives may not be the same. But you still burn calories and train your upper and lower body without causing joint issues. Make sure to study their pros and cons.