What Are the Different Settings on Elliptical Machines?

Most ellipticals have the same basic settings, which allow you to control workout intensity.
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Whether you've only worked out on one brand or model of elliptical machine or had the opportunity to use a number of different ones, they're all basically the same. Different elliptical machines might offer different preprogrammed courses that simulate climbing, going downhill or running on a cross-country course, but they all have four main settings you can adjust to get the most out of your workout.


Elliptical machines have a resistance control setting that allows you to increase or decrease the resistance against which you're working. The higher you set the resistance, the harder your leg muscles work. This helps build muscle power and strength.

Ramp Control

One of the settings on elliptical trainers is the ramp control. It's essentially the incline or decline control, allowing you to simulate running up or downhill. When you adjust the ramp up or down you're altering the pattern your foot moves in, also changing which muscles you're working. For example, higher ramp settings will focus on your quadriceps, glutes and ankles.

Steps Per Minute

The steps per minute is a speed setting, but on an elliptical speed affects more than just your heart rate or how quickly you get through your workout. It allows you to set a tempo or cadence, which can be beneficial for runners who are using an elliptical to cross-train. If you set the steps per minute high to do a speed workout on an elliptical, you should monitor your heart rate during the workout. In the January 2006 "Runner's World" magazine, fitness director Chris Johnson notes that it's essential to keep your heart rate in the upper end of your aerobic training zone during a speed workout.

Program Settings

Simulating a run through various courses is the purpose of the assorted program settings on elliptical trainers. Different brands and types have different programs and levels of difficulty. You will find a variety of simulations, including running on a cross-country track, through a valley or uphill and downhill.

Time or Distance

You still need to determine whether your workout will be for time or distance, regardless of whether you choose a preprogrammed course on an elliptical or decide to stick with the manual setting. If you've got a limited amount of time for your workout, you'll choose a course and set the elliptical for the number of minutes you want. If time isn't the issue but you want to train to go a certain distance, you can set the elliptical for the number of miles or kilometers you're aiming for before you start working out.

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