is the seated elliptical a good workout

Is the Seated Elliptical a Good Workout?

Hi friends!

Today I want to talk to those of you who have problems getting in enough exercise due to health issues.

No, I am not a doctor, and I’m not giving you medical advice. Instead, I’m sharing my personal experience and good advice among friends.

Anyone who has read any of my previous posts or who knows me will surely remember that I injured my back a few years ago. I was heartbroken to discover that I couldn’t use my trusty treadmill or the elliptical at the gym. My only options were swimming, rowing, and a seated elliptical.

So you’re wondering whether a seated elliptical provides a good workout.

It does. A seated elliptical gives all the benefits you can derive from a good cardio exercise and full-body workout without aggravating the pain in your knees, back, hips, or other joints. It’s like working out on a stand-up elliptical, except that you’re seated and your joints are not bearing your full weight.

If you’ve got some health problems that make typical exercise machines or floor exercises painful or impossible, you’re not alone. My mother had terrible arthritis that made most pieces of exercise equipment a painful experience. I’ve got friends who have degenerative disc disease, neuropathy, and a lot more friends who need knee replacements!

Whatever your reasons are for finding the typical pieces of exercise equipment painful or downright impossible to use, today’s article is for you.

Let’s talk about those seated elliptical machines, what they can do and what they can’t do. And oh yes, for all you office workers, should you spring for an under-desk elliptical trainer?

Keep reading because I’m going to tell you everything I’ve learned about these machines so you can make the right choice.

Is a Recumbent Elliptical a Good Workout?

does a seated stepper machine offer a good workout?

The short answer here is YES! They really are! A seated elliptical machine combines all the movements of an elliptical, but you get to sit down while you use it. Your arms and legs are moving and using resistance to get your heart rate up, but you don’t have to stand.

Remember the good old days when you could ride your bicycle without any pain? You certainly weren’t standing up when you were riding, and you used to sweat like the dickens, right? Being in a seated position doesn’t mean you aren’t getting a good cardiovascular workout!

Join Us as We Explore the Teeter Power10 Elliptical Rower:

How Good Is a Seated Elliptical?

You’ve probably seen seated ellipticals at your physical therapist’s office. Sometimes called a recumbent bike or a recumbent elliptical, these machines are designed to give you the best possible full-body workout even when you’re sitting down.

If you’ve got painful hips, a bad back, or messed up knees, you are SO going to love using a seated elliptical. That’s how good a seated elliptical – it gives you the whole-body workout you need without causing you pain because your full weight doesn’t impact on your joints.

Seated ellipticals are like bicycles with moveable handlebars. The handles move back and forth, most times making you push and/or pull on them. This is the same movement that you get when you do aerobics or when you dance in the kitchen, except that you do it sitting down.

Learn How to Maximize Your Workout with the Teeter FreeStep LT3:


Elliptical trainers are machines that will allow you to use only the pedals, only the handles, or both. This means that if you have developed tennis elbow, for example, and you need to rest your arms, you can still use the pedal portion and get your workout that way.

Ellipticals are terrific because they work your leg muscles like a bicycle, but they also work your upper body muscles! An entire body workout in a single machine – wow – that sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

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How Many Calories Can You Burn on a Seated Elliptical?

Technically, trying to figure out calorie burn is a bit complicated since so many factors will go into the equation.

Your calorie burn, no matter what type of exercise you do, depends on your age, sex, current weight, and how hard you work out.

You can use some of the online calculators to determine your calorie burn, like this one.

Generally, a 185-pound person can burn about 400 calories in 30 minutes on a seated elliptical. Now you would need to work up a sweat to burn that many calories, but isn’t that what exercise is all about?

Of course, you can burn more calories if you were to do a HIIT program on an elliptical or even a lower-intensity routine but for longer, say 60 or 90 minutes.

Keeping your body guessing as to what type of exercise, level of intensity, and length of time you’re going to exercise is the best way to burn the maximum number of calories.

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What Type of Seated Elliptical Machine Should I Buy?

This is going to depend on your needs and your budget, of course.

Some seated ellipticals have seats but no backrest. Others have a backrest that may or may not be adjustable.

First, decide if you need or want a backrest. Most people with back pain will want an elliptical with a backrest.

Personally, I think the best machine is the one you have probably seen or used at your physical therapist’s office, like the Teeter FreeStep LT3. This is exactly like the machine you used in rehab, only much less expensive. Everything on the Teeter FreeStep is adjustable, including the handlebars, the seat, and the backrest. This is the most comfortable seated elliptical you will ever use!

If you don’t need an elliptical with a backrest, Teeter also makes a real powerhouse of a machine called a rowing elliptical. The Teeter Power10 is the ultimate in seated workout equipment, and you may never want to use another machine after you try this one!

For those looking for a more budget-friendly option, I like the seated elliptical trainers from Xterra Fitness. These might be inexpensive, but they are good quality machines that will give you several years’ worth of use.

There are lots of other options. Check out a full list of Kathleen-approved seated ellipticals here.

Decide whether you need a backrest and what you can afford. That will go a long way toward helping you make a sound decision.

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Why Should I Invest in a Seated Elliptical? What Are the Benefits?

I think you most likely already know that any type of exercise is better than sitting on your butt. Even those under-desk ellipticals offer some benefits.

Pedaling has long been a means of exercise, and there are many good reasons to pedal your legs off!

The Mayo Clinic says that even mild exercise can:

  • Help prevent or control diabetes, stroke, depression, and anxiety
  • Help manage weight more easily
  • Give you a better night’s sleep
  • Boost energy levels
  • Give you a social outlet (if you go to the gym or do your exercise with friends)
  • Improve you mood
  • Improve your sense of balance
  • Help you look better naked

OK, so the Mayo Clinic didn’t say the last one; that came from little old me because, heck, I think that’s a great motivator!  If you want to learn more  head across to my article what is a recumbent cross trainer machine, where I go into a lot more details

Does a Sit-Down Elliptical Work?

You would be amazed at the number of people who think that seated ellipticals don’t work or are “not real” exercise equipment. There are even those who think that sit-down ellipticals are only for lazy people who want to avoid exercising.

elliptical machine with seat

Folks, if I didn’t really want to exercise, you would find me on the sofa watching Breaking Bad again because I love that series. I wouldn’t be huffing away on a recumbent elliptical machine! I want to slash and burn all those ugly myths about these machines!

Sit-down ellipticals are designed to work the arms, back, chest, core, glutes, hamstrings, and quads even from a seated position. Like all workouts and fitness machines, you need to perform the movements correctly so that everything works and you attain your fitness goals.

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What about an Under Desk Elliptical Trainer?

Under-desk elliptical trainers are another great way to get in some exercise when you spend most of your time sitting.

Even if you don’t work at a desk but spend a great deal of your day sitting down – or you’ve been injured and you really need to take it easy but want to get all the exercise you can – an under-desk elliptical trainer can be super helpful.

seated elliptical machines benefits

You can undo a great deal of the damage that sitting for hours can do simply by using an under-desk elliptical. Think of these little machines as pedals without the bicycle.

Elliptical exercise from these devices won’t give you a total body workout, but they do burn at least some calories and increase your heart rate slightly.

I wouldn’t count on a desk elliptical for losing huge amounts of weight, for core exercises, or for building more muscles, but to counteract sitting, these are wonderful.

The Final Takeaway

The TL:DR version is that:

  1. A seated elliptical cross trainer will give you a really good full-body workout without standing up
  2. You should decide if you want one with a seat only or a seat and backrest before you buy
  3. Desk ellipticals won’t take the place of the gym, but they offer at least some exercise when you can’t do anything else

A seated elliptical cross trainer is the answer for anyone who finds standing exercises difficult or painful or who has suffered an injury that prevents using other types of machines or doing other workouts.

Don’t let anyone tell you that an elliptical machine isn’t “real” exercise. If an exercise bike is exercise, then a seated elliptical is more so!

Live healthy and happy friends!