The elliptical machine is a modern hallmark of any proper aerobic workout session - with its high rate of caloric burn, significant stimulus of the cardiovascular system and capacity to build skeletal muscle all making the elliptical an indispensable tool.
We live in the age of instant gratification however, and as such many individuals will find themselves asking the question; “how long on the elliptical before results will be seen?”
The answer to this question is somewhat more complicated than simply citing a specific length of time, as such a number will vary between individuals and can be altered by genetics, age, the presence of other exercises within the workout session and even the exerciser’s diet.
The elliptical machine is a cardio-based exercise with a significantly lower level of impact in comparison to other forms of cardiovascular exercise - allowing novices and individuals with joint issues to achieve similar effects to jogging or stair climbing.
In terms of skeletal muscle training stimulus, the majority of elliptical machines do not feature a significant amount of resistance (even when adjusted) and as such will rarely result in any strength developments or muscular hypertrophy, though an improvement in efficiency and muscular endurance is all but guaranteed over time.
It is in the systemic developments derived therein that the elliptical truly shines, where the exerciser’s VO2 max, resting heart rate and a number of other cardiovascular and neurological benefits can all be achieved simply with regular usage of the elliptical at a moderate tempo.
Even relatively short sessions of 30 minutes on the elliptical machine can result in significant improvements in the exerciser’s bodily composition and muscular endurance, usually as a direct result of the metabolic exertion required to keep up 30 minutes of steady state cardio exercise.
On average, an exerciser utilizing the elliptical for a steady 30 minutes will burn anywhere between 280-378 calories, with their bodyweight, the machine’s level of resistance and their age factoring into the total number of calories expended.
This is, of course, in addition to the improvements in stamina and endurance that comes with any sort of aerobic exercise.
As was previously mentioned, the exact length of time to see results from the elliptical machine is far too varied to pin down to a specific number.
Nevertheless, this is quite different from the average expected time; one month, wherein the average healthy exerciser will notice that their bodily composition has begun to change, with an average loss of 1 to 4 pounds of body fat having been achieved within such a time frame.
Such results will naturally be affected by a number of factors like diet, training experience and body weight - and is nonetheless still considered to be an average, not a guarantee.
It is completely likely that an exerciser could achieve greater or worse results depending on their circumstances.
Though low impact and unlikely to result in significant muscular hypertrophy, the elliptical machine primarily targets the skeletal muscle groups of the legs; that of the gluteal muscles that make up the buttocks, the quadriceps femoris at the front of the thigh, the various muscles of the hamstrings and the calf muscles.
At particularly high tempos, the elliptical machine may also cause a low level of isometric contraction in the muscles of the core - further increasing caloric expenditure and bodily coordination.
Elliptical machines achieve caloric expenditure or “burn” by raising the exerciser’s number of heart beats per minute, as well as by forcing the skeletal muscle groups of the legs and core to activate continuously beyond the metabolic capacity of their glycogen stores.
Not only does this result in the exerciser’s body reducing total fat composition percentage over time, but also improves a number of other metabolic processes associated with body fat such as cellular insulin sensitivity and endocrinological function.
However, the exact number of calories burned by the elliptical and how fast one’s body may lose fat stores is highly variable between individuals, making exact measurements and the formation of projected weight loss timelines inaccurate except in larger lengths of time.
For the most part, assuming a proper calorically restricted diet and that one is relatively healthy; a loss of 2 to 3 pounds of body fat (0.9-1.4 kilograms) per month can be expected - though this is a rough estimate at best.
As the elliptical is relatively low impact and does not excessively damage any of the body’s tissues, a healthy exerciser can feasibly use the elliptical nearly every day.
However, like any other form of exercise, taking one to two rest days a week will not only prevent the exerciser from reaching the point of overtraining, but also aid in achieving their training goals as the body is given sufficient time to recover - thereby maximizing athletic performance.
Despite its low impact and reputation, quite a number of benefits can be expected from the elliptical machine, making it a truly useful tool in any type of exerciser’s arsenal, regardless of their experience level or body composition.
Though it does take significant targeted resistance to induce muscular hypertrophy in skeletal muscle groups, regular and repeated performance on the elliptical can eventually lead to some small scale improvements in the strength of the leg’s muscle groups.
This can be maximized by increasing the total resistance of the elliptical machine - as well as making use of interval training methodology, both of which will act as stimuli that can trigger the body to make structural improvements to the muscles of the lower body.
The most significant benefit from using the elliptical machine (apart from fat loss) is in its capacity to improve systemic function of the heart, lungs and vascular systems of the body.
This has a whole host of benefits not solely contained within the extent of athletic activities, such as an increased average lifespan, reduced risk of cardiovascular ailments, greater capacity to perform aerobic exercise and even improved brain function in exercisers of more advanced age.
One can determine that this particular benefit is being achieved by their resting heart rate steadily lowering over time, their blood pressure reaching clinically ideal levels and the fact that it takes more intense aerobic exercise before they reach the point of perceived exertion.
Unlike high impact forms of aerobic training like sprinting or the jump rope, usage of the elliptical as a method of improving athletic aerobic ability is far safer and can be performed more frequently without risking pain or injury.
This is achieved by the variety of benefits and training stimuli induced by regular elliptical machine training, with its cardiovascular improvements, skeletal muscle development and body fat reduction all leading to a greater level of athletic performance in regards to endurance and stamina.
The second most significant benefit of regular and effective elliptical machine performance, burning a significant amount of calories in a relatively short time is something many exerciser’s seek to achieve - especially those wishing to lose weight in the form of body fat.
Performing the elliptical for any length of time will induce some level of caloric expenditure, with such caloric burn being in accordance to the tempo and level of resistance the exerciser is using the machine at; greater resistance or faster movement will naturally equal more energy (calories) used.
The factors that contribute to weight loss and physical development from the elliptical are too numerous to count - though several are established to be more important than others, and as such it is these aspects that should be focused on so as to maximize benefits from the elliptical machine.
Most important and the first to be examined is the pace and resistance of the exercise itself - if the exerciser wishes to develop greater aerobic capacity or burn more fat within a shorter length of time, they will be better served using the elliptical at a higher level of intensity.
As an extension of this, the relative perceived rate of exertion found in the elliptical will also be directly connected to the exerciser’s own body weight and training experience.
Individuals of higher body weight will require more energy to move than lighter individuals, resulting in greater fat burn comparatively, especially at higher intensities - though it is the training experience and aerobic capacity of said individual that will dictate what is considered “intense” on the elliptical.
Ideally, an individual of high body weight and intermediate to advanced experience in aerobic training will achieve the greatest results from the elliptical machine, so long as their desired results are weight loss and cardiovascular developments.
Finally, smaller but nonetheless important factors such as the age of the exerciser and the sort of food they eat will also influence how rapidly their goals are achieved.
Individuals of advanced age, unfortunately, have slower metabolisms and are less likely to be able to perform exercise at the intensity of a younger individual - something that will directly slow down how quickly they see results from the elliptical.
Certain metabolic diseases or chronic injuries that hamper an otherwise young exerciser will also have much the same effect, slowing the pace at which they achieve results.
There is also the matter of the exerciser’s adherence to a proper diet, wherein if they are consuming a significant caloric expenditure, it is unlikely they will achieve significant weight loss results.
So too is this applicable in low protein diets, as sufficient amino acids are required in order to develop skeletal muscle tissue and cardiovascular system adaptations.
For the quickest and best results from the elliptical, one should align their diet with their own personal training goals and avoid solely relying on their workout to alter their body composition.
If all the previously covered factors are followed perfectly and the exerciser is otherwise in the ideal position to achieve results, they can expect changes in their body within as short a time as 3 to 4 weeks, with stronger leg muscles, a healthier heart and lower body fat all being direct results of the elliptical machine.
Regardless of one’s starting point or pace of results, it is important to remember that physical fitness is a marathon and not a sprint - so long as they persevere and ensure their methods are healthy and safe, the exerciser will doubtless reach their goals in due time.
1 Damiano D L, Norman T, Stanley C J, Park H S. Comparison of elliptical training, stationary cycling, treadmill walking and overground walking. Gait Posture. 2011 Jun;34(2):260-4. doi: 10.1016/j.gaitpost.2011.05.010. Epub 2011 Jun 17. PMID: 21683599; PMCID: PMC3130090.
2 Martins, D., Padavan, D., Kahn, A. et al. Effects of Impact Versus Non impact Cardiovascular Machines in Individuals between Age 50 and 80 Years. Population Ageing (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12062-020-09281-8
3 Brown, Gregory & Cook, PhD, Chad & Krueger, Ryan & Heelan, Kate. (2010). Comparison of Energy Expenditure on a Treadmill vs. an Elliptical Device at a Self-Selected Exercise Intensity. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association. 24. 1643-9. 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181cb2854.