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How to Use an Elliptical Machine for Weight Loss

By Andrew Bennett ; Updated July 18, 2017

Using the elliptical machine for one hour, five days per week should be enough cardiovascular exercise to stimulate weight loss in most people. However, not all forms of cardio are created equal. For example, exercise has different effects on the body depending on duration, intensity, timing and nutritional factors. Follow a few simple guidelines to maximize fat burning by manipulating these exercise variables.

Do your elliptical cardio on an empty stomach upon waking. If you must eat, have a small protein snack like a couple of eggs or a scoop of whey protein. Protein does not negatively impact fat burning, and may actually improve weight loss. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, are our body’s primary source of fuel. If your fuel tank is full, the body has little reason to turn to fatty acid stores for energy.

Time your elliptical cardio workout immediately after a resistance training workout. Best-selling fitness author Jeff Anderson calls this “super cardio” because it can help to directly target body fat. Even a brief weight-training session uses up our stored muscle glycogen (carbohydrate fuel), forcing the body to turn to fat for energy.

Use a low to medium intensity on the elliptical machine. It is true that high intensity training burns more calories, but where are those calories coming from? “Combat the Fat” author Jeff Anderson explains that high intensity cardio breaks down muscle tissue for energy. Low to medium intensity workouts actually burn more calories directly from fat. This does not mean that there is not a time and place for high intensity.

Try a HIIT or high intensity interval training workout. This form of cardio combines medium intensity with short bouts of high, maximal intensity training. For example, during your hour on elliptical machine, you would do short sprints, pedaling as hard as you can for 15 to 30 seconds, every few minutes. Make sure to take in some protein and carbohydrates before and after this workout to optimize fat burning and minimize muscle loss.

Split your elliptical cardiovascular workout between two sessions if you cannot commit to a full hour on the machine. In fact, reducing the duration of the workout may protect your metabolically active muscle tissue from wasting. Cardio is cumulative, so it is perfectly acceptable to do 30 minutes upon waking and another 30 minutes later in the day, on your lunch break for example.

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