A blog by runners. For runners.

All about the elliptical

all-about-the-ellipticalOverwhelmed by all the gym options? You’re not alone. Our new series will help you understand what all those random things are — and how to use them.

I’m sure many of us have hopped on that other popular cardio machine interspersed in with all the treadmills. The elliptical, whether used during injury or just while bored of outdoor winter running and walking, at least for me is a love/hate relationship. The machine has helped me keep active during IT-band flare-ups, but at the same time can feel incredibly monotonous and trapping.

The good news, though, and reason to stick with the elliptical is that it “closely mimics running form, but without the impact, and you can easily monitor and change your intensity level” (Source). For those still skeptical about the similarities, studies have shown that “while heart rate was slightly higher on the elliptical, oxygen consumption and energy expenditure were similar on both machines” (Source).

The elliptical, sometimes also called an X-trainer, started its popularity in the mid-1990s when it was introduced by Precor. It is used to simulate stair climbing, walking, or running — all without the added impact on joints many of these activities typically involve. These machines encourage movement of both the upper and lower body, utilizing handles to keep those arms in action. 

If you’re looking for a new outdoor activity, there are even mobile elliptical-like devices that are similar to bicycles called ElliptiGOs. (Source)

I suppose the best way I can describe the way you “should feel” on the elliptical is a cross-country ski stride motion, while also climbing a gentle staircase. Lifting the knees versus pushing the feet down is key. Pumping arms along with this lower-body move — all while keeping a neutral spine — keeps the entire body in motion. If it feels too easy, up the incline or resistance to increase intensity.

You should have a similar perceived exertion as you do while running or walking.

I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t respected this machine in the past. From poor posture to not using any resistance to not warming up correctly, there are many mistakes exercisers can make on this potentially fantastic cross-training machine. And don’t forget to change direction and move legs backwards to get benefits for a whole new muscle group — of course, you can do something similar on the treadmill, but you’ll probably get some strange looks!

It’s true that the elliptical can be a great source of change during injury, but it can still aggravate aches and pains. Treat your body with care. If something still hurts, take it as a sign to back off all activity.


Written by  Ashley Marcin.

More about the gym Kettlebells