Ellipticals occupy somewhat of a grey area in the realm of fitness equipment. Neither iconic as the treadmill nor modern like the rower and aerodyne bike, the elliptical is often approached half-heartedly by people who have little clue as to what its purpose is or how to use it. However, training with an elliptical can be an eye-opening experience when done properly.
Ellipticals look like they were born out of wedlock between a stationary bike and a pair of ski-poles. They're also sometimes referred to as “cross-trainers”. As the name implies, its function is to stimulate both the aerobic (cardiovascular) and anaerobic (muscular) systems.
When it comes to aerobic training, studies have shown that the use of ellipticals creates a physiological response very similar to that of a treadmill. Furthermore, since the user's feet don’t leave the foot pedals, there is little to no impact on the joints, making it a perfect choice for people who experience joint pains, are overweight, or recovering from an injury. The lack of footfall noise is also a bonus for those who are prone to being self-conscious about it.
Ellipticals also allow you to vary the stride length and have it affixed, as opposed to a treadmill where your stride is determined by your own conscious effort. As a greater stride length results in the recruitment of more muscle groups, this feature makes for a great way to ensure constant stimulation at the desired threshold. This is extremely useful for training strength, muscular endurance, or even speed.
As with regular running, proper technique is crucial in ensuring that you get the most out of your elliptical session. So make sure that you remain upright and look ahead while keeping your shoulders, back and hip vertically aligned. Since elliptical training is a full-body venture, feel free to experiment with different modes to focus on different parts of your body; set it on an incline to target your lower posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings and calves), or try foregoing the handles to increase the workload done by your lower body while staying stabilised.
So the next time you step into the gym, only to find that the treadmills are all taken up, don't fret. Remember that your funny little friend, the elliptical, might just be able to hand you a workout that will still end up kicking your butt!
- Althena, T. (2002), “Treadmills vs, Elliptical Trainers”, American Fitness, 20(4), 9
- Browder, K. D. & Dolny, D. G. (2002), “Lower extremity muscle activation during elliptical trainer exercise”, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 34(5), 35