Why Do I Get So Tired on the Elliptical?

If you’ve recently started working out on one of the gym’s more daunting pieces of equipment – the elliptical – you might be asking yourself, why do I get so tired on the elliptical?

Don’t worry, you’re not the only person asking yourself this question! In fact, many people find it more tiring than almost any other form of cardio exercise.

So, let’s look at why you get so tired, even on the best elliptical, and what you can do to last longer.

Why Do I Get So Tired on the Elliptical? The reason why you get so tired on the elliptical is that it’s a fairly intense full-body workout. Unlike running, exercising on an elliptical involves your whole body, which means you expend more energy. Sure, you should move your arms while running, but an elliptical adds resistance into the mix.

Here are some of the factors that contribute to feelings of tiredness on an elliptical machine.

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Why Do I Get So Tired on the Elliptical?

Intense Workout

An elliptical can provide a surprisingly intense workout, which, in turn, causes your heart rate to increase. One study found that it leads to greater increases in heart rate than a treadmill. Another found that users felt more tired in their legs after using an elliptical.

So, the bottom line is that it’s pretty normal to feel tired after using an elliptical, even if you’re an otherwise fit person.

Experience Level

Another factor, which we’ll discuss in more detail below, is experience level. If you’re new to exercise, your stamina levels won’t be very high. In turn, it means you won’t be able to last very long when you first get on the elliptical machine. This is completely normal, so don’t worry about it.

Diet and Fluid Levels

If you’re not eating properly or drinking enough water, you’re going to feel fatigued more quickly. Consuming protein before and after exercise helps repair your muscles, and carbs provide energy. Water is a given, as you’ll lose plenty as you sweat.

Health Conditions

Various health conditions will impact your ability to exercise, regardless of your skill level and intensity. If you suffer from muscular conditions, your body will have difficulty completing the required motions. Similarly, some skeletal conditions can impact your energy levels when exercising.

If you know you have a pre-existing medical condition related to anything from your heart or breathing to muscles or bones, make sure you consult a doctor first. They’ll advise the best kind of exercises or how to work within your ability range.

Factors Outside of Your Control

Some level of muscle fatigue is entirely natural. We used to think it was related to lactic acid, but a Columbia University study found it’s actually caused by leaky cells. In short, as you exercise, your cells release an enzyme that attacks the muscles, affecting their ability to contract.

It fades with time, and there’s essentially nothing you can do about it. However, it’s worth pointing out because even the fittest athletes experience this, so don’t be concerned that you feel tired!

I Can Only Last 2 Minutes on the Elliptical

If you find yourself saying this in the early stages of your workout, don’t worry. As mentioned, an elliptical trainer is quite an intense form of exercise, and you’ll need some level of strength in your legs to progress.

If you can only do 2 minutes on the elliptical, the most important thing to understand is overexertion. The burning sensation in your legs is a sign that it’s approaching, but you must know when to stop. If you’re a beginner, watch out for this feeling and make sure you finish there. Going too far can have knock-on effects, such as preventing you from exercising for a while.

Although it’s unlikely you’ll do any major damage by going too hard on an elliptical, one of the first things you should do is become familiar with your limits. It’ll help you pace yourself more effectively in the future, which in turn allows you to gradually build up your strength. So don’t worry too much if you can only do 2 minutes on the elliptical, this will improve very quickly!

How to Last Longer on Elliptical

So, what can you do to last longer on an elliptical trainer? We’ve already hinted at some options, but let’s go over them in detail for clarity.

Build up your stamina

The most obvious place to start is by building stamina. There are a few ways you can do this.

First, gradually increase the length of your exercise. It can be just a few minutes every week or so. Once you reach your previous best and don’t feel fatigued, push yourself a little more. Make sure it’s a gradual increase, though, and be aware of your energy threshold.

The next thing is to take rest days. At the very least, it should be one a week. But for beginners, one every 2 or 3 days is better. Rest days give your muscles a chance to repair themselves, meaning they’re in better condition next time you work out.

Finally, you can play around with the machine’s resistance levels. These make the workout harder, so don’t go too intense too quickly. Just pace yourself and move to a level that feels just difficult enough.


Eating a balanced diet is vital for decent energy levels. Protein helps your muscles repair themselves, so aim to eat protein-rich food within an hour of exercising. Carbs and healthy fats are also vital for stamina, so fit these in too. Of course, if you’re unsure what foods work best, speak to a fitness professional.

Then there’s the most obvious factor: water. Make sure you drink before, during, and after your elliptical workout. Stop for a drink every 20-30 minutes during a workout, as your body needs it for proper cellular function. Without enough water, you’ll feel a lot more tired than you should.

Final Thoughts on Feeling Tired on an Elliptical

Hopefully, this article should answer some concerns about feeling tired on an elliptical. It’s perfectly normal for people of all ability levels to feel the effects, as it can be an intense workout.

Of course, if your stamina levels don’t improve over time, consider speaking to a healthcare professional for an explanation.

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An ex-triathlete, fitness coach and writer with a Masters in Sports Physiology. Fitness is my passion and I've had my fair share of home fitness equipment tried and tested!

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