Does the Elliptical Strengthen the Hamstrings?

Some elliptical trainers also give your arms a workout.

Some elliptical trainers also give your arms a workout.

Elliptical machines are called that because they make you move in an oval path. As they mimic cycling, skiing and walking, they also give your heart a workout with little impact on your joints. But it's not only your cardiovascular system that benefits: In their 2007 book “Morning Cardio Workouts,” June Kahn and Lawrence Biscontini say you come away from a session on an elliptical trainer with the feeling you have exercised your whole body.

About Weak Hamstrings

No matter how young you are, don’t be surprised if your hamstrings are chronically tight. Kids as young as 6 can suffer from tight hamstrings. The most common reason for lack of flexibility is a sedentary lifestyle. Your hamstrings respond to endless hours of sitting at a desk job or in a classroom, for example, by becoming contracted and causing the uncomfortable sensation of tightness. Unless you take steps to work your leg muscles regularly, you may begin to have secondary problems like back pain. The elliptical trainer is an option you have to strengthen your hamstrings.

Warming Up

You can use the elliptical trainer during warm-up to condition your hamstrings. While exercise scientists haven’t come to a firm conclusion on the benefits of warming up prior to working out, MayoClinic.com recommends you do so to gradually increase your heart rate, raise your body temperature, direct blood flow to your muscles and reduce your chances for injury. If you’re starting out with tight hamstrings, it makes sense to ease into the exercise session gently to prevent soreness and injury. Sabrena Merrill, a curriculum developer for the American Council on Exercise, says that five to seven minutes on the elliptical trainer is enough to get your hamstrings ready for what comes next.

Main Session

To strengthen your hamstrings after the warm-up, pedal backward on the elliptical machine. Press your heels on the pedals to keep the hamstrings engaged and working. Gradually increase the incline to intensify the activity in the back of your thighs. Spend the next 30 to 35 minutes alternating different levels of resistance and incline. Start at an easy level and gradually increase the demand the machine puts on your muscles. If you feel pain or discomfort, reprogram the elliptical to run a gentler exercise set. For the last three to five minutes of the session, reduce the intensity of the workout back to where you started to cool down before stepping off the elliptical.

Avoiding Injury

Read the owner’s manual of your home elliptical trainer or make arrangements for a trained staff person at the gym to show you the machine’s functions before you get on it for the first time. Maintain an erect posture, with your shoulders back and your head up as you look straight ahead. Tighten your abdominal muscles and distribute your weight throughout your body -- don't rely on your arms to hold you up. Wearing comfortable exercise shoes, keep your feet in constant contact with the machine’s pedals and let your body move with the machine’s flow. Resisting going where the pedals take your legs causes stress on the knees and it may result in injury. If you already have an injury, consult a doctor before exercising. You may need to wait until your leg muscles heal before you can safely enjoy the elliptical trainer’s benefits.

 

About the Author

Emma Watkins writes on finance, fitness and gardening. Her articles and essays have appeared in "Writer's Digest," "The Writer," "From House to Home," "Big Apple Parent" and other online and print venues. Watkins holds a Master of Arts in psychology.

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