While you may be proud of yourself for making it to the gym and squeezing in some cardio (and you should be!), taking a lackadaisical approach to your elliptical workout and casually spinning your legs while reading a magazine or watching TV isn’t doing your any favors. Here, 10 mistakes you frequently make on the elliptical and how to fix them so you maximize calorie burn while adding fun to your ho-hum routine.
1. Your resistance is zero
You might feel like a million bucks stepping a mile a minute, but without resistance, you’re not going to see results. Make sure that you’re using enough resistance to push and pull through the stride. Then, continue at a moderate pace until you feel like you’ve done all you can do. You shouldn’t feel like you have even 5 minutes left in you when you step off.
2. You’re a sloucher
Standing up straight helps to lengthen your abs, giving you a chance to engage your core and even work your upper body muscles. Try hopping on a machine with an upper body component so you can engage even more muscles—and blast more fat. Can’t find a machine that lets you pump your arms? Let go: Some research suggests that leaning on machine armrests during exercise reduces calorie burning.
3. You don’t enter your information
Make sure you enter your info on your elliptical before working out. Most machines are calibrated for a 150-pound person—but personalizing your stats will help you get a more accurate calorie read. Aim to burn around 100 calories per 10 minutes.
4. You don’t change directions
Going backwards doesn’t just stop you from getting bored, it also changes which large muscle groups are working hardest. While moving forward fatigues your quads, backwards puts emphasis on your hamstrings and glutes. To max out the effect, sit back slightly, keeping your knees at a 90-degree angle as you stride.
5. You haven’t changed your workout in months
Intervals are a great way to break up the monotony of the machine and boost your calorie burn. You can do this in one of two ways: Leave the resistance steady and change your pace (fast for 1 minute; moderate for 4) or maintain your speed and change your resistance (challenging resistance for 1 minute; moderate for 4).
6. You go until you can’t feel your feet
One of the most common elliptical mistakes is putting too much pressure on your toes, which can make your feet go numb and cut your workout short. Instead, sit back into your heels, which allows large muscle groups to work harder and gives you the stamina to go for longer.
7. Your machine sounds like it’s going to take off
If you can hear the purr of the machine while you’re exercising, it means that you’re going too fast without enough resistance—which means you’re not getting the most calorie burn out of your time. Keeping a steady, moderate pace at a resistance that forces you to use your muscles will get, and keep, your heart rate up.
8. You don’t work your upper half
Incorporate the moving handles two days a week to put your upper body to work, and hang on to the stable handles on the others. When you’re working your arms and legs, try intervals—focus on your arms for 1 minute, then pump your legs for 4, and repeat through your workout.
9. You spin your way up a hill
Some models have a ramp incline, similar to a treadmill. But, unlike a treadmill, a large incline won’t increase the difficulty—instead, it’s easier for your legs to push and pull through the stride.
10. You’re an elliptical junkie
As tempting as it may be to shoot straight to the elliptical every time you enter the gym, you should never be using one machine exclusively. Supplement your routine with weight training and other cardio equipment, such as the rower. Making sure you incorporate variety keeps your body from getting used to a single movement and also continues to help you build muscle mass—which, in turn, will keep your metabolism boosted.