What Are the Dangers of Elliptical Machines?

The elliptical machine has both advantages and risks.
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Many people use elliptical machines as part of their workout without realizing there may be risks. By understanding the dangers and how to prepare for them, you can better ensure your safety next time you use an elliptical machine.

Separation Between Foot and Pedal

    The biggest danger using an elliptical machine is separation between the foot and the pedal. It can cause slippage and lift-off of the foot, according to Cie Scott in "Apparatus and Method for Enhanced Training Using an Elliptical Exercise Machine." In slippage, your foot slides off the pedal; in lift-off, you lose contact between your foot and the pedal -- your foot comes up off the pedal and the inertia of the machine allows the pedal to keep moving. Either could cause you to trip and possibly fall off. Minimize slippage and lift-off by wearing gym shoes that have good tread so your feet can grip the pedals. Set the elliptical at a speed with which you are comfortable -- if it is moving too quickly, it's more likely your feet will slip off the pedals.

Improper Foot Strap Use

    Foot straps help keep your feet from slipping off the pedals. However, improper use of foot straps can lead to injury. If you are able to move your feet more than a centimeter in any direction, the strap could slide off, causing your feet to slip on the pedals. Conversely, if the strap is too tight, you could lose circulation and your feet might start feeling numb. When you strap your feet in, make sure the strap feels snug, but not uncomfortable. Pay attention to the strap during your workout, tightening it if it becomes loose and loosening it if you discover that it is too tight.

Damaged Equipment

    One danger of the elliptical can come from the machine itself. If the machine is damaged, it may move too quickly or too slowly. Additionally, it may stop suddenly, breaking your rhythm and causing you to trip. Carefully look over the machine, ensuring that the bolts seem properly tightened and that foot straps are intact. Alert a fitness center employee if any parts of the machine appear in poor shape. Pay attention to any loud, grinding noises, and notice how smoothly the machine moves. Although these could merely be signs that the machine needs to be lubricated, they could also indicate a more dangerous problem.


    Trying to achieve maximum heart rate on the elliptical can lead to overtraining, according to Diana Avans' 2005 abstract for "Research Consortium Exercise Physiology & Fitness and Health Poster Session." Overtraining -- when you have participated in a very stressful exercise session and have difficulty recovering -- can cause fatigue, decreased physical performance and minor injuries. In Avans' study, she found that to achieve maximum heart rate, experienced elliptical users had to set the machine at a resistance so high that it was difficult to sustain exercise. If you aim for maximum heart rate when you work out, keep in mind that you may not be able to achieve this while using the elliptical. Use other methods of tracking your progress, such as calories burned, speed or distance.


    Just as with any workout, the elliptical can be dangerous if you don't know how to use it. If you don't feel confident that you are using the elliptical properly, speak with a fitness center employee to learn more about its correct use. Always stretch both before and after using the elliptical machine. Limit use to 30 minutes three or four times a week to lower your risk of injury from muscle overuse. Stay properly hydrated. Stop and grab a drink of water if you start feeling exhausted or dehydrated.

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