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An elliptical machine is a great tool for cardio but much less so for building muscle mass.  They allow you to work out in a way that is easy on your joints and for some people, just more enjoyable than say jogging 5 miles.  But specifically in regard to HIIT workouts, cardio is less of an issue.  Let me explain.

The Trade-Off Between Fat Burning and Endurance

There is a tradeoff between cardio benefits and fat burning benefits of any workout. Generally, continuous exercise provides the greatest cardio benefit, per unit time, the longer it lasts. An example would be jogging 10 miles.  On the other hand, a brief, explosive, exercise provides limited cardio benefit but the greatest fat burning per unit of time.  For instance, jogging 10 miles continuously burns some fat over the course of the 2 hours or so that it takes you to complete it but produces excellent cardio benefits.  Alternatively, only a 20 second, all-out, balls-to-the-wall sprint burns about as much fat as the first 2 miles of your jog but delivers only a small cardio benefit.

So, you’ve got to figure out what is the best option for you.  Maximum cardio benefit or maximum fat burning, because you can’t maximize both at the same time.  However, you can train for both at different times.  Either can be done on your elliptical machine.  Whatever you decide, here is a workout for each that will take full advantage of the benefits each affords but with a reasonable time commitment:

  • For cardio benefit:

Warm up on the elliptical machine for about 5 minutes.  Then, do 45 continuous minutes at about 65% of your maximum heart rate.  Your max heart rate is 220 – your age.  This will provide excellent cardio benefit while only costing under an hour of time.

  • For fat burning benefit:

Warm up on the elliptical machine for at least 5 minutes.  Then do five, 20-second all out, 100% effort rounds.  Rest for 2 minutes between each round.  This will only take about 15 minutes but will burn more fat than #1!

If you mostly care about cardio benefit, do #1 as often as 5 days a week.  If fat-burning is your thing, do #2 up to 5 days per week.  For those that want a combination of both, do #1 on some days and #2 on others up to 5 days per week.