Are Ellipticals Good Exercise?

Men running on treadmills in gymnasium

Elliptical machines might look funny if you are not used to them, but you will probably stop laughing when you learn about their benefits. A cross between a treadmill and a stair-climbing machine, elliptical machines offer a workout that falls into the category of good exercise -- although they are not necessarily suitable for everyone.

Cardio/Muscle Benefits

Elliptical machines provide an aerobic workout that increases your heart rate and works large muscle groups for an extended period of time. Ellipticals particularly strengthen your lower legs while they also tone your buttocks. The machines have a smooth, gliding motion that is less jarring on your bones and joints than high-impact aerobics such as jogging or jumping rope, especially important if you have joint issues or are recovering from injury. The gliding motion also lets you work harder than you would on a treadmill or stair climber without feeling as if you are putting in more effort.

Additional Benefits

Many machines have moving handles that provide an arm and upper-body workout at the same time as you work your legs. Ellipticals provide a workout that combines the forward motion of the treadmill and the vertical motion of the stair climber, which is effective for cross-training. The machines include a variety of pre-programmed workouts to help stave off boredom, and you can easily intersperse vigorous bursts of movements throughout your routine.

Calories Burned

Elliptical machines burn more calories than jogging, jumping rope or high-impact step aerobics. Calorie counts vary depending on your weight and your workout’s intensity and duration. On average, using an elliptical machine burns 13 calories per minute, which computes to 390 calories during a 30-minute workout. You can increase the calorie burn even further if you use vigorous arm movements to match your leg movements.


Even though ellipticals offer a smooth, gliding workout, that workout can be intense, Cleveland Clinic warns. The level of intensity, even at the machines’ lowest levels, can be too great if you are just starting an exercise program or severely out of shape. Perform a short test run on the elliptical to determine if you can still talk while you are working out, a way to gauge if the exercise is too extreme.