Quick HIIT: A 20-Minute HIIT Elliptical Routine

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Tired of trotting along on the treadmill to start your strength training workout every time you go to the gym? You’re not alone. While treadmills are a super intuitive piece of equipment, (just hop on and start walking or running,) a favorite of many personal trainers, and a great way to get the job done, maybe you’d like to mix up your warm up, veer from that straight line you’re used to, and get your cardio on in a whole new way? Say “hello” to the elliptical.

If you’ve been reluctant to try this mystery machine, we’re here to say, “Go for it!” You can definitely get that blood pumping throughout your entire body on the elliptical machine, whether you’re looking for a beginner, intermediate, or advanced workout. And to offer you a great way to get started, we’ve put together a quick and awesome high intensity interval training or “HIIT” elliptical workout routine to make it irresistible. It’s a 20-minute elliptical workout that pays off for days!

But first, some preliminaries: we’ll introduce you to the basics of the elliptical, give you some background on the HIIT workoutthen put them both together for a calorie-torching, high-intensity interval training elliptical challenge that gives you a super sweaty, effective workout in a short amount of time.

Okay, let’s get our learn on!

Necessity: The Father of Invention

Like many cool things, the elliptical machine was created in the ‘90’s. Larry Miller, whose daughter was a high school tennis player, wanted to help his young star athlete build her stamina but knew that running on a track, concrete, or even a gym floor would be a great way to get an injury, which he didn’t want to risk. So, how do you help your kid crank up the cardio while dialing down the impact? You make her one of the best cardio machines ever invented, of course.

Larry’s prototype got the attention of Precor, a fitness equipment manufacturer, and it was off to the running-on-air races.

The University of Oregon then got involved to help improve on the invention’s mechanics and safety. This is when the development team realized that the elliptical workout offered more than just a great way to get low-impact cardio. Exercise volunteers reported that they weren’t getting as fatigued as they usually would during other workouts. They also noticed that in the days following their elliptical workouts, their bodies didn’t feel as achy and they didn’t have much, if any exercise-related joint pain, regardless of their fitness level.

This revolutionary invention was clearly going to be a success. In fact, ellipticals turned out to be such a fitness favorite that when they first hit the scene, any gym that carried them had a waiting list and a time limit for each one.

Users seemed to love that they could dial the resistance up and down, as well as manipulate the incline, making it a workout as efficient as it is effective.

And when you add a power packed plan of attack like HIIT, you’ve got yourself a winning combination worth its weight in workout gold.

Interested in bringing an elliptical home? Allow us to impart some important information. When shopping for a home elliptical trainer, be sure the bar between your legs allows you to keep them as close together as possible, forming two parallel straight lines rather than a V shape. The right leg positioning will go a long way toward preventing injury caused by misalignment in your lower body.

It's a HIIT

Believe it or not, HIIT dates back to the turn of the last century. Medalist runners Paavo Nurmi and Hannes Kolehmainen, an Olympian, both used training programs that featured intervals, each with a different level of intensity, to boost stamina and strength. 

When professional trainers got wind of their unique and highly successful methods they added them to their athletes’ programs as well. Swedish trainers are credited with naming the workout style Fartlek and German trainers got in on the act too, developing a version that closely resembles what we know today as interval training by using more contrast between the speed during the fast and slow paced segments.

In the late 90s, a Japanese study showed that HIIT training improved aerobic and anaerobic levels by almost 30%. Dr. Izumi Tabata even created his own protocol of 4 minute workouts that consisted of eight sets of 20 seconds of exercise at full speed, with 10 seconds of rest in between. The method became so popular there is even a library of music consisting of what is known as Tabata Songs, which are 4 minute workout songs that guide you through the process. But we’ll save the Tabata method and Tabata songs for another post. Suffice it to say, it’s no surprise that the endurance of HIIT is as strong as the endurance it brings to its takers.

And if that’s not enough HITT has been shown to burn fat after a workout for up to 24 hours, create a beneficial hormonal response that battles belly fat, and you can speed your way through it in minutes.

Does it get any better?

Combine it with the elliptical machine and you’ve got a fast and fierce interval training routine that burns calories, builds muscles in your upper body, lower body and core, whips you into shape with a shorter recovery time, while protecting your joints. And people say they notice changes in both their body fat and body weight in as fast as weeks. Perfection!

Power Couple

This 20-minute HIIT workout on the elliptical trainer is a combination of one- and two-minute intervals. Give an all-out effort during the one-minute segments (that’s the “high-intensity” part) and then ease up to recover during the two-minute segments.

It might help to think of this as just 20 minutes out of your entire day. You can do anything for 20 minutes. But the coolest part of this 20-minute session is that the benefits will last into tomorrow, making it one of the best elliptical workouts for weight loss on the planet.

NOTE: If you find a resistance level too difficult, just repeat the level from the previous interval. Never be afraid to modify a workout to make it work for you. You can also try to conquer those moments by simply observing your body in motion, focusing on the action of your arms and legs rather than the feeling, like so…left leg, right leg, left foot, right foot, left arm, right arm, left hand, right hand, etc. It works like a mantra and it can really help you push through to a new level. Whether you use mental or physical tricks to ease up or go hard, the goal is to make things attainable and sustainable so you keep coming back for more.

Okay, let’s get off the floor, up onto that elliptical trainer, and get gliding!

The Full-Body, Elliptical HIIT Routine

A 20-minute HIIT workout that packs a punch!

Warm Up: 3-5 minutes, easy incline and resistance

  • Min 0-2: Resistance 5, Incline 5
  • Min 2-3: Resistance 10, Incline 5
  • Min 3-5: Resistance 5, Incline 7
  • Min 5-6: Resistance 10, Incline 7
  • Min 6-8: Resistance 7, Incline 9
  • Min 8-9: Resistance 12, Incline 9
  • Min 9-11: Resistance 7, Incline 9
  • Min 11-12: Resistance 12, Incline 9
  • Min 12-14: Resistance 9, Incline 11
  • Min 14-15: Resistance 14, Incline 11
  • Min 15-17: Resistance 9, Incline 9
  • Min 17-18: Resistance 12, Incline 9
  • Min 18-20: Resistance 7, Incline 9

Cool Down: 3-5 minutes, easy incline and resistance

We hope this workout made you a fan of interval training because it can take your elliptical workout to new heights and your waistline to new lows. In fact,  Dr. Steven Wivott, a professor at Harvard Medical School notes “There’s a growing consensus that interval training helps people lose weight…” What’s more, Dr. Wivott, a long distance runner himself, did his own HIIT cardio workout research and was floored that interval training gave him better results than his typical workout, “Even though I was exercising for shorter periods of time, I lost body fat and felt better,” he said. Because, “Compared with doing moderate exercise, pushing your muscles and heart to work extra hard for short time periods burns calories at a higher rate after you stop exercising, he explains.” 

Basically, pound for pound, a HIIT workout on the elliptical is a calorie burning beast. It will get you a higher caloric burn than a typical elliptical session, and because of the “afterburn” you get with HIIT, or the residual benefits, you might notice that you lose pounds even with the same calorie intake, because the number of calories you consume post workout will be subject to the sustained calorie burning effects of HIIT.

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