Losing weight is hard so you want every advantage possible in this battle of the bulge. Burning calories on an elliptical trainer is a good way to help create a calorie deficit -- after all, 3,500 calories burned beyond your consumption equals a pound lost. The best time to put in this session is really up to your personal preferences, energy levels and schedule.
You might like the idea of getting exercise out of the way early in the morning, but if you find yourself hitting the snooze button and never making it to the gym -- this is not the best time for you to do your elliptical workout. Even if you do manage to get out of bed, if an early-morning routine has you dragging at a low intensity the whole time, you're also not doing the most to achieve your weight-loss goals. For many people, the afternoon correlates with a higher body temperature, which is conducive to exercise. Some people are night owls, others are buzzing first thing in the morning. Work with your body's biorhythms and hit the elliptical when you feel you can put in the best effort with a positive attitude. If you choose a time that works against your natural clock, you will most likely not be able to keep a consistent routine with your elliptical-training workouts -- and consistency is key to weight-loss success.
One advantage to exercising early in the morning is that you complete it before the demands of the day distract you and derail you from the best exercise intentions. However, if mornings are already hectic with kids, a spouse and getting to work on time, hitting the elliptical may only add to the chaos and you may not fit in a quality workout. Use a pen and schedule your workout into your planner at a time you know you can do. Some days it might be early, some days it might be noon and others it might be in the evening. The best time of day for you to hit the elliptical is the time you will actually get it done.
Some popular exercise mythology advocates doing cardio exercise on an empty stomach to encourage your body to burn more fat. This would suggest that an early-morning elliptical session would be your best bet for fat burning and weight loss. However, a report on the research published in a 2011 issue of the "Strength and Conditioning Journal" came to the conclusion that your body will burn about the same amount of fat whether or not you eat before a workout. However, if you fail to fuel before your elliptical session, you may not have the energy for a quality workout and your body is more likely to burn valuable lean muscle, along with fat, for fuel. Pedal away on the elliptical first thing in the morning if it fits your schedule, but have a light snack before, such as a banana, a serving of yogurt or half of an energy bar.
More important than when you exercise is how you exercise. The elliptical can be as effective as the treadmill in burning calories and building cardiovascular fitness, according to a study published in the June 2010 issue of the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research." But if you want major benefits, you have to put in serious effort. Researchers from the University of Virginia compared a 16-week exercise program consisting either of five low-intensity sessions or three high-intensity sessions and two low-intensity sessions on weight loss with each of the five weekly workouts burning an average of 400 calories. The findings, published in a 2008 issue of "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise," revealed that participants who did a combination of high- and low-intensity sessions lost more body fat than the consistently low-intensity exercisers. Whatever time you get to the elliptical, make three of your five, or more, weekly sessions at an uncomfortable intensity that makes speaking in complete sentences nearly impossible.
- Forbes.com: Best Time to Hit the Gym
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Comparison of Energy Expenditure on a Treadmill vs. an Elliptical Device at a Self-Selected Exercise Intensity
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Effect of Exercise Training Intensity on Abdominal Visceral Fat and Body Composition
- The New York Times: Really? The Claim: Exercising on an Empty Stomach Burns More Fat
- Strength and Conditioning Journal: Does Cardio After an Overnight Fast Maximize Fat Loss?
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.