When it comes to cardio, the elliptical is possibly the most popular piece of equipment on the market and in the gym, rivaled only by the classic treadmill. But while millions of health enthusiasts around the world look to the elliptical for their cardio and weight loss needs, few people actually understand how to use it effectively.

Most people simply hop on the machine and pound away for 20 to 30 minutes hoping to get their heart pumping and their limbs flailing, and while this is an admirable endeavor, it isn't making the most of what an elliptical has to offer.

When you perform an action over and over again, your body becomes accustomed to it and adjusts itself to make the action easier. This means that with each workout session, your body burns fewer calories. If you're going to get the maximum fat loss, you need to change things up.

Use the Proper Form
To get the most out of an elliptical workout, you have to start out by having the proper form. That means standing tall with your head over your shoulders and your shoulders over your hips. Your feet should rest flat on the pedals at all times. Don't simply hold onto the handlebars – actively push and pull them. Perhaps the most common mistake that people make is to lean forward into the machine.

Varying Your Workout
Your goal should be to trick your body into burning more calories by changing up your workout from one day to the next. Here are three different variations that are highly effective:

  • High-Intensity Short Intervals
    This workout involves using little to no incline, but many varied resistance levels.
    After a short warm-up of two or three minutes, start hammering away at the highest resistance level that you can handle, around 8 or 9 on the resistance scale. Maintain this for one minute, then reduce to a much easier level, somewhere around 2 or 3. Alternate between hard and easy for around 27 minutes, and during every third hard interval, pedal backwards. Remember to do a few minutes of cool-down at the end.
  • Hill Climber
    Set the machine to "Hills", or you can manually achieve this through the following steps:
    Warm-up, then go up a series of "hills" by gradually increasing incline and resistance over the course of three to five minutes, at the end of which you drop back to lower levels, then repeat. By the end of each hill, you should be forcing yourself to exert maximum effort.
    Continue this for roughly 40 minutes, then cool down.
  • Mile Repeats, Long Intervals
    Warm up, then start by doing low incline, low resistance for five minutes. Follow this with five minutes of medium incline, medium resistance. Then five minutes of max incline, max resistance. Work your way back down with five minutes of medium incline and resistance, then five of low. Cool down.