With workout equipment, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The elliptical cross-trainer defies this rule. High-intensity yet low-impact, this favorite piece of aerobic equipment should come with a label that reads: "Warning, exercising on this machine can be habit-forming." Fortunately, the benefits of elliptical training make it a healthy habit to develop.
The elliptical cross trainer blends the movement mechanics of stair climbing with the motions of cross-country skiing. Its ability to enable forward and backward movements allows you target different muscle groups. Many elliptical cross training models feature a set of two alternating, push/pull resistance bars, which adds an upper-body workout as you stride. Other machines allow you to increase the incline and simulate hill climbing. Top-of-the-line elliptical cross-training machines offer both the upper-body handles and the incline feature.
Calories and Coordination
The lean, svelte bodies of the cross-country skiers featured in the Winter Olympics always inspire envy. There's definitely something to be said for working the upper and lower body simultaneously. In fact, the results of a study published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" indicate that working out on the elliptical cross-trainer burns as many calories as running on the treadmill at the same level of intensity. Oxygen consumption was also similar on both machines. Aside from burning calories, the elliptical trainer requires coordination, which might enhance your sport-specific skills.
Exercisers who use backward-locomotive movements on the elliptical cross-training machines show greater improvements in quadriceps and hamstring strength than those in the forward-locomotive group. That’s the result of a research paper presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 58th Annual Meeting. Lead author Elmarie Terblanche reported that the backward-moving group also showed better aerobic capacity than the forward movers. The 39 subjects -- all suffering from knee injuries -- were divided into two groups and were required to participate in 24 sessions. While some physical therapists use the elliptical trainer for rehab, be proactive and use it for injury prevention.
The term "rate of perceived exertion" describes how hard you think you're working while performing a specific type of exercise. Some exercise physiologists use what's called the Borg Scale to assess their clients' perceived exertion. The scale ranges from 6 to 20. A 6 rating means that you're not working. A 20 indicates that you're working extremely hard. The sweet spot happens between 13 to 15, which usually corresponds to a 70 to 80 percent effort. Researchers at Eastern Washington University tested subjects on the elliptical cross trainer, and reported that oxygen utilization and heart rate were significantly higher than the corresponding rate of perceived exertion. No wonder people love this machine.
- American College of Sports Medicine: Selecting and Effectively Using an Elliptical Trainer or Stair Climber
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Comparison of Energy Expenditure on a Treadmill vs. an Elliptical Device at a Self-Selected Exercise Intensity
- American College of Sports Medicine: Moving Backward Helps Injured Knees Move Ahead
- Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness: Physiologic Response to a Prescribed Rating of Perceived Exertion on an Elliptical Fitness Cross-Trainer
- Brian Mac Sports Coach: Borg Scale
In 1999, Lisa Mercer’s fitness, travel and skiing expertise inspired a writing career. Her books include "Open Your Heart with Winter Fitness" and "101 Women's Fitness Tips." Her articles have appeared in "Aspen Magazine," "HerSports," "32 Degrees," "Pregnancy Magazine" and "Wired." Mercer has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the City College of New York.