Ellipticals, which are aerobic, low-impact machines, can be found in most fitness facilities and home gyms. They work the upper and lower body simultaneously in addition to the core muscles of the abdominals and back. The motion of the pedals of an elliptical trainer move in an “elliptical” pattern that mimics the motions of walking, running and stair stepping.
Choosing the Best Machine
Each machine varies by price, quality and specifications. Your fitness goals are the most important factor to consider prior to purchasing or using an elliptical trainer. In addition, consider the type of drive axle, the stride length and width, the types of workouts you can do, the available resistance levels, and the console.
Ellipticals can be effective for strength, rehabilitation and cardiovascular training. Low- and nonimpact workouts are less jarring on the body than some other cardio machines and are excellent for users with knee, hip, back and other joint issues. While the elliptical trainer workout is a low-impact activity, it facilitates in building bone density.
Elliptical trainers can also help with weight loss. The machine worsks both upper- and lower-body muscles, thus providing the user with a comparatively better workout than other cardio machines. By utilizing the chest, back, triceps, biceps, quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteus muscles during every workout, the elliptical improves the body’s ability to burn fat more effectively.
Elliptical trainers have different drives, or axle locations, each of which offers different advantages for the user. Trainers with a rear drive are the oldest and most favored category. Although more expensive, these machines are often preferred by personal trainers, rehabilitation departments and professional athletes due to their durability. With more inertia in the rear drive, these machines have a smooth, "gliding" feel comparable to the motion of a cross-country ski machine. Back strain is minimized due to the user being more centered throughout the workout.
Front drive elliptical trainers are less expensive and are typically found in big box chain stores. Pedals maneuver with single or double wheels on rails in the rear of the machine. Center drive trainers are the newest type. These machines are smaller in size and are generally sold for in-home use. The center drive supplies the power from the middle of the machine and, in some instances, utilizes a double center drive axle for even more stability and durability. The user's weight being centered assists with balance and delivers a more effective workout.
Stride Length and Width
The stride length is the distance the pedals travel forward and backward. The most common stride lengths vary from 17 to 24 inches depending on manufacturer and machine. Some machines allow for adjustments to the stride length among multiple users. The stride width is the distance between the machine pedals. Distance between pedals is 1/2 to 6 inches depending on the drive axle. The narrower the stride width, the less strain there is on the ankles, knees, hips and back.
Workouts and Resistance Levels
Some elliptical trainers offer only a few preset programs, while others have many, including hills, fat burning zone, cardio zone and cross-training. Resistance is the level of difficulty. Options for resistance include more difficulty moving the pedals, a change in incline, or a combination. Resistance can be varied during the workout through preset programs or manually, based on the machine.
The console displays vital workout information to the user either through a backlit or an LCD display. Common console displays include time, distance, calories burned, heart rate, program and resistance levels. Less expensive models may only display time and resistance levels, whereas more expensive models may also include multimedia docks, fans and user interface programs.
Christina Bhattacharya has been involved in the health and fitness field since 1999. Bhattacharya holds an A.S. in physical therapy from the Community College of the Air Force, a Bachelor of Arts in technical communications from University of Maryland University College and a Master of Science in health management from Lindenwood University. She also holds personal trainer, senior strength training and Pilates certifications.