Can You Train on an Elliptical Machine for a Half Marathon?

Hop on the elliptical and cross-train for your next race.
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If you're wondering why the heck you thought you'd have time to train for a half marathon when your schedule is already jam-packed, breathe. When nasty weather or late nights at the office kill your outdoor training plans, head to the gym. Running on an elliptical is different than running outdoors, but the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) encourages cross-training because it reduces the risk of overuse injuries. You might even luck out and score a machine with a built-in TV.

Elliptical Basics

    You've probably already heard -- about a million times -- that you need to check with your health care provider before beginning a new exercise program. After you get the go-ahead from your physician, consider having a gym employee teach you to use the elliptical properly. Make sure you stand up straight as you pedal, and hold your head high in the air, facing forward. The two handles aren't your BFF, so don't lean on them for support. Alternate between pedaling forward and backward for optimal muscle-building results.


    Concentrating solely on your calves and thighs doesn't always get your body race-ready; luckily for you, this awesome machine offers a decent full-body cardio workout. Using an elliptical strengthens the leg muscles that you'll need to kick some major butt during your half marathon, but it also tones arms and tightens abs. This increases your overall level of fitness, making it easier to dash through the finish line on race day. Elliptical training is a low-impact workout that helps prevent running-related overuse injuries.


    Many half marathons involve less than ideal outdoor conditions, from severely cracked asphalt to muddy, hill-filled fields. Training inside typically involves a smooth, flat surface and a controlled climate. Try to get outside at least once a week so your body isn't shocked by the uneven ground or extreme temperatures. When you use the elliptical, experiment with different resistance levels that emulate the great outdoors. Alternating between a treadmill and elliptical during your gym sessions may also help better prepare you for the big day.

Battle of the Machines

    Robert Chapman, coach of Indiana University's Brook Team Indiana Elite, reminds athletes that it's important to run a minimum of eight to 10 miles outside at least once a week when you're training, but it's OK to supplement your outdoor race routine with some indoor training. While elliptical workouts offer numerous general fitness benefits, Dr. Edward R. Laskowski of Mayo Clinic finds that the treadmill is typically best for marathon trainers. A treadmill makes it easy to pace yourself and set specific goals for time and distance. Many treadmills have multiple incline adjustments, making the treadmill's surface somewhat similar to the bumpy terrain outside.


    Don't just jump on the elliptical and start hitting random buttons. Training for a half marathon requires planning, and you need to prepare for your race at least 10 to 16 weeks in advance. Begin by pedaling slowly on the elliptical a few days a week. Do not push yourself to go faster or use a higher level of resistance until your body is ready. As the marathon gets closer, mimic your anticipated race day performance by running the same distance and speed on the elliptical. Just remember that an elliptical is no substitute for outdoor runs.

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