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Elliptical Cardio for Fat Loss: Are Elliptical Cardio Workouts Really the Best Cardio for Burning Fat?

  Dec 6th, 2011

I received an email from a follower of in which I was asked about the fat burning effectiveness of elliptical cardio workouts.


This question is one that comes up quite a bit, so I thought I would share my email correspondence for all of my visitors to read.


Here it is…






I was reading your piece on elliptical machines and I have to say, I’m a bit skeptical. I’ve used them plenty of times before and I’m not sure if they are a very effective fat-burning form of cardio.


Sure, you’re drenched in sweat by the end of your workout, but you don’t really achieve that elevated heart-rate like you would when running outside.


Also, it seems to me that because running out in the streets is a lot more exhausting than using a machine, you’re not getting as good of a workout.


Perhaps I’m doing something wrong. I would really like to be able to use the elliptical as an effective alternative to running.




My Answer:


Hello Stephen!


I want to thank you for reading my article and I commend you for taking the time to write me to let me know your concern. I think I can help you by clarifying my stance on elliptical cardio workouts and by providing a few additional comments to the information I shared on my elliptical workouts article.


First, I would like to say that your opinion that elliptical machines are not a very effective fat burning form of cardio is flawed, according to my experience.


In fact, I was able to shed almost 30 pounds of fat by using nothing but elliptical workouts for my cardio. I would contend that if you have used elliptical workouts with less than satisfactory results before, you were probably failing due to one or more of the following elements:


1. Your nutrition plan was not adequate for fat loss (i.e. you were consuming too many calories and were failing to achieve a daily caloric deficit)


2. You were not using a level of intensity that was high enough to significantly elevate your heart rate for a prolonged period of time


3. Your cardio workouts were too short (your goal should be 25-35 minutes at a time)


4. You were not performing your elliptical cardio workouts frequently enough to stimulate significant fat loss.


My experience has been that five or more 30 minute elliptical cardio workouts each week enables me to shed measurable amounts of stomach fat on a weekly basis.


It is important to remember that cardio, regardless of which form you are using, is only going to be truly effective if you are following a diet plan that is placing you in a caloric deficit. Always remember that you simply can’t out-train a bad diet.


If you are eating more calories than you are burning in a day you will not burn off significant amounts of body fat, period.


If you are not in a state of caloric deficit, your cardio workouts may help to mitigate your gains in body fat, but they will not enable you to burn off unwanted fat.


Nutrition is probably the least understood aspect of building lean muscle and/or burning off body fat. It is also the most difficult to commit to.


As such, I am actually working on putting together a book, now available here, in which I provide detailed instructions on how you can construct a simple to follow customized fat loss nutrition plan that, when combined with regular cardio workouts, will lead to measurable fat losses each week.


On to your point that running in the streets is more exhausting…


I agree that running typically leads to a greater feeling of exhaustion afterwards. However, exhaustion is not necessarily the best gauge to use for deciding which cardio workout is the best for fat loss.


Because elliptical machines allow you to incorporate a certain level of resistance on your arms and legs simultaneously (and your abdominal muscles if you use the technique that I describe in my elliptical workouts article), you are essentially able to integrate more muscles and greater muscle contractions into your cardio workouts than with running, which could arguably lead to a greater number of calories being burned.


If you aren’t feeling exhausted enough for your liking when using elliptical workouts, I recommend ramping up the resistance on your elliptical machine until you reach a level of resistance that enables you to more significantly increase your heart rate.


It is also important to note that more resistance equals more work, which equals more calories burned and a greater amount of fat loss over time.


If you aren’t sure if your workouts are intense enough, I recommend checking out my article on fat burning heart rates.


As I explain in my elliptical workouts article, I also prefer elliptical workouts over running because I have some residual wear and tear on my joints from running track in high school and elliptical machines are much less “damaging” to my joints.


When I run for extended periods of time my knees and left ankle will bother me for a day or two. This forced me to look for an alternative to running and I found elliptical workouts to be the least abrasive on my joints as they do not cause any residual pain after my workouts.


You have every right to be skeptical of bodybuilding and fitness information that you find online these days. There are far too many people out there who only exist to sell a low quality product or program, or push an ineffective stack of supplements on you.


However, while I am working on a book that I will be selling (for a profit, of course), my primary intention is, and always has been, to help others transform their bodies.


As someone who used to weigh almost 240lbs, I know what it feels like to be hopelessly unhappy with my physique and the feeling of desperation that accompanies being overweight, unhealthy and unsatisfied. I now know the incredible life-changing benefits that go along with finally getting a body that you can be proud of and I want others to experience that same type of transformation for themselves.


That is why I started and is also why I am writing my book – to help others – first and foremost.


I hope that this response is helpful to you and wish you the best. I am living proof that you absolutely can use elliptical workouts as an effective cardiovascular workout option – as long as you are sure to address the 4 points I describe above.

To Your Muscle Building and Fat Loss Success,


Craig Leonard –



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