Why Is The Elliptical So Hard? 12 Ways You’re Doing It Wrong

Why is the elliptical so hard? The elliptical is typically thought of as one of the easier cardio machines in the gym, but the truth is that it can be hard to use, especially when you're unfamiliar with the machine.

We cover the reasons why the elliptical can be so hard and how to combat those difficulties throughout your workout. Our goal is to help you sweat, increase your cardiovascular fitness, and build muscle using the elliptical machine in your home gym.

1. Not Entering Your Correct Personal Information

When you fail to enter your correct personal information, you are not given accurate tracking data. This can lead to overworking your body trying to hit goals that end up being far more difficult than you can handle. The personal information (age and weight) entered is used to calculate your calories burned.

2. You Are Trying to Do Too Much, Too Fast

When you try to work out by doing too much, too fast, you can make routine exercises feel more taxing. Your body does best with slow acclimation to cardiovascular workouts. Think about running 5 miles. You wouldn’t go from running 0 miles each week to suddenly running 25 miles per week with 5 mile workout days. It’s too much, too fast, and it's going to make running feel hard.

Start slowly and increase your daily workouts by 30 seconds to 1 minute each week until you hit your goal. Consistency is the most important part of fitness, and as long as you are consistent with your small improvements, you’ll end up where you want to be.

Why Is The Elliptical So Hard

3. Not Breathing Properly

It's challenging to work out for an extended period of time if you are not breathing properly. Your body needs you to breathe fully, deeply, and continually throughout your workout. When you hold your breath or breathe at a shallow rate, you limit your ability to use your muscles.

Your muscles need oxygen, and when you limit how much oxygen they get, the workout feels more difficult. You will feel yourself becoming tired more quickly. Pay attention to your breathing while exercising on the elliptical. 

4. Not Using Other Machines Other than Elliptical

If you only work out on the elliptical machine, then you may find that you tire faster than usual because of the mental component of working out on the same machine over and over again. Using other devices outside of the elliptical can help you increase your cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance.

It can also make it seem more “fun” and less of a chore to use the elliptical because you don’t work out on the machine every day. Most people benefit from a variety of cardio machines because the variety keeps it more interesting mentally and helps to limit the workout dread that people can feel.

Check out these related articles to see the differences between these types of cardio machines:

5. Keeping The Same Pace & Distance

Keeping the same pace and distance for every elliptical workout can create a sense of dread, making the movement feel hard even though it is routine.

Boring workouts can feel monotonous and add additional stress to the mind, making it harder to finish the workout. Try switching up the pace or the distance to give your body and mind a new experience.

6. Not Maintaining The Correct Speed & Balance

If you feel off-balance while using the elliptical, the workout can feel frustratingly hard. One of the easiest solutions to this problem is to use the elliptical handlebars.

These handlebars exist for a reason, and it makes sense to use them to steady yourself if you do not have strong balance while working out on the elliptical machine. If you move too slow or too fast, the elliptical can also feel difficult. As you start with this machine, try to work out at the pace that feels best for you.

7. Not Using Proper Form

Proper form on the elliptical is important and often overlooked.

This is a quick fix that can help make your workout feel more comfortable and minimize injuries. 

To use proper form on the elliptical, stand upright and keep your back straight. 

woman using elliptical with proper form

Engage your core by pulling in your ab muscles and then cue your body to cycle through the motions by using your legs for forward motion.

Try not to use momentum. If it feels easy, add in resistance or an incline. Do not lean forward when using the handlebars. Maintain the upright position.

8. Putting Too Much Pressure On Your Toes

When some people use the elliptical, they put pressure on their toes and lift their heel off of the foot pedal. This is not proper elliptical form, and it will place unnecessary pressure on your joints. Ease up on the toes and let your feet stay planted. You want your feet to be connected to the pedals at all times.

9. Leaning On Static Handles

When exercisers use the static handles, they can sometimes get into a habit of leaning forward on them. This is problematic because it creates poor form and takes the work away from the lower body. Now you're able to move through the workout without using the lower body muscles in the way that you should be using them.

You’re also going to create lower back pain by hunching over throughout the workout. Leaning on static handles can create a “heavy feeling” as well. Working on your form and maintaining an upright posture will help solve this problem. 

10. Going Too Fast Without Enough Resistance

If you push through your elliptical workout with a lot of speed and little resistance, the workout might feel easy, but results will be hard to come by. Moving too fast without enough resistance will make it seem that the elliptical isn't working, and no matter how hard you try, you cannot get the fat loss or muscle-building results you want.

In reality, by making the workout so easy, you’re cruising along with little effort required and therefore not getting the gains you want.

11. Elliptical Resistance Too Hard

If you set your resistance level too high, you will exhaust yourself quickly and usually before you truly want your workout to end. Try setting a resistance level that challenges you but that you can maintain for 10 minutes or more to keep yourself from feeling too burnt out.

You can also alternate between higher resistance levels and lower resistance levels while working out if you want to challenge yourself without making the workout too hard.

12. You’ve Fatigued Your CNS and Aren’t Recovering Well

CNS (Central Nervous System) fatigue happens when you put your body through high-intensity workouts and do not give your body enough time to recover. Your body must be given the time it needs to recover properly. In recovery, your body not only recovers but it increases its ability to work hard during workouts.

If you do not take the time to recover, it can make your elliptical workouts feel hard. It's also important not to perform high-intensity activities too often, especially if you are a beginner. Work your body up to that level, slowly, over time. 

people exercising on ellipticals

Why Is The Elliptical Harder Than The Treadmill? 

The elliptical is harder than the treadmill because it is an unnatural movement, and the treadmill is a natural movement. This doesn't mean that the elliptical is a harder workout, but the motion itself can be more challenging to perform.

Most people who perform sprints on an elliptical and then perform sprints on a treadmill will find that the treadmill is more taxing from a cardiovascular perspective. However, when it comes to light jogging or walking on a treadmill and the equivalent on an elliptical, the elliptical feels harder.

The movement performed on the elliptical is different than many exercise machines because it is an unnatural movement. Because the feet remain planted to the pedal, exercisers have an unnatural gait.

As a result of the unnatural gait, the movement can sometimes feel difficult and weird to exercisers. The more often you use the elliptical, the more natural the movement will feel. It is also important to use the correct form with the elliptical.

Do not slouch or lean forward, but instead, stand upright and focus on cycling your lower body through the movement without moving your upper body forward.  

woman on elliptical machine

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Does the elliptical ever get easier? 

Yes, the elliptical machine does get easier to use over time. It becomes easier to use the elliptical machine as you learn the proper form, build cardiovascular stamina, increase muscle strength, and become more familiar with the movement itself.

Why is my elliptical stiff?  

If your elliptical machine feels stiff, it may be due to lubrication issues or the type of elliptical you purchased. If you purchased an elliptical machine with front-wheel drive, you might feel a more unnatural or stiff movement. The only way to solve this concern is to purchase a back-wheel drive elliptical. We did a complete review of front drive vs rear drive ellipticals, so you can make an informed decision.

If the reason the machine feels stiff is that it is jerky or gets stuck while working out, then lubrication is the issue. Most elliptical machines need to be lubricated every four to eight months. Check your manufacturer’s instructions for more information. Then lubricate your machine.

How do I fix the tension on my elliptical? 

To fix the tension on your elliptical machine, you will need to remove the outer flywheel cover and then look for the metal and plastic arm within the wheel. There is a small plastic piece on ProForm ellipticals and most other brands that must be moved further upward to create a greater resistance feel. This manual tension adjustment will give you the tension you want with your elliptical machine.

Does an elliptical need to be lubricated? 

Yes, elliptical machines need to be lubricated every four to eight months. The specific lubrication timeline depends on the type of elliptical and the brand. Refer to your instruction manual for detailed information.


The elliptical can be difficult for some gym users to properly use, and it can feel hard compared to other exercise machines. The best way to combat this "so hard" feeling is to focus on learning the proper form, building cardiovascular endurance, building muscular strength, and practicing the movement by working out weekly on your elliptical.

Last Updated on January 23, 2023

Paul J

Paul J

Paul J is is an ex-professional footballer who has seen a gym or two and is an expert at knowing what is required for home gym setups. When he isn’t testing out products for his readers, he’s usually going for a run in the park or out for coffee.