I love using the elliptical machines as a form of cross-training. They closely mimic my primary activity (running), and offer an excellent workout without the pounding that comes from hitting the road, track, or trail. At the gym, I usually spot someone on a nearby machine casually reading the paper, while I'm chugging along, drenched in sweat. To the e-machine cruisers, I offer some gentle advice: pick it up! If you want to get the most out of these machines, and recharge your workout and burn more fat and calories in the process, you gotta up the effort.
First, don't let the machine do all of the work; use your leg muscles to move the pedals. And rest your hands lightly on the rails-don't lean on or tightly grip them or you'll lose a lot of the fruits of your labor.
Secondly, incorporate intervals. After ten minutes at a steady pace, ramp up the intensity to an all-out effort for about three minutes. Continue that on/off cycle for the remainder of your workout. By alternating the pace, you considerably boost calorie burn. Wanna tone up? Increase the resistance.
Third, focus on keeping your arms and core muscles engaged. If you're on a machine that only works the lower body (the handles don't move), keep your arms in runner's position-elbows bent, elbows close to your ribs-which will also work your core. Also, alternate forward and backward strides (I usually switch directions every five minutes). Lastly, as a safety measure, make sure your knees don't angle inward. By keeping your knees in line with your toes, you'll spare your precious ligaments undue stress.
Oh, and most importantly, save the reading for after your workout. You wouldn't want your sweat dripping all over the pages, anyway, right?