The elliptical, named for its circular movement, provides a low-impact, lower- body workout. Depending on the type of elliptical, it may let you mimic walking, running or climbing; some ellipticals also get your arms involved. Experiment to see which type of elliptical meets your exercise needs -- whether you prefer a flat or inclined workout, low or high resistance, and centered or off-center balance.
An elliptical is a piece of stationary exercise equipment that provides a cardiovascular workout while placing little stress on the joints. Ellipticals work the lower body, and some have movable handles that allow you to simultaneously work the upper body. Most elliptical machines allow you to adjust the resistance, and some have an adjustable incline.
The three types of ellipticals are front-, rear- and center-drive. Front-drive machines mimic a stair climber workout, as the placement of the seat and pedals causes you to lean forward. The axle is in front of your body, the pedals are situated on rails near the rear of the machine and there are single or double wheels. Rear-drive machines, the oldest elliptical design, more accurately simulate walking or running, as the placement of the seat and pedals allow you to remain upright. The axle is behind your body and the machine has ramps, rather than wheels, allowing for a smoother workout. Center-drive ellipticals are newer and more expensive; you may not find them in your gym. These machines ensure that your weight is centered, and they have either one or two axles, located in front of or behind your body or both.
Step onto the pedals and grab the handlebars of the elliptical machine. If there are foot straps, tighten them so they feel snug but not uncomfortable. Adjust the resistance, incline and computerized settings, if applicable, to a level you feel comfortable with. To begin the workout, press down on the foot pedals one at a time in a forward walking or climbing motion. For variation, most machines also allow you to walk in a backward motion. Adjust the resistance and incline, if necessary, to maintain a level that is challenging but manageable.
In addition to providing a cardiovascular workout, the elliptical works the quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. According to an article published in 2012 in "Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport," elliptical movement also works the ankle flexors, knee flexors, hip extensors and glutes. Elliptical machines that have movable handles allow you to work the biceps, triceps and shoulders.
Make sure you are fully familiar with the use of elliptical machines before you incorporate one into your workout. Begin an elliptical workout on a low resistance and try using the machine for just 15 minutes at a time until you feel comfortable with it. Once you feel confident on the elliptical, increase the resistance and workout time, but try not to exceed 30 minutes and three to four workouts per weekto avoid muscle strain. Stretch before and after your workout, and drink plenty of water before, during and after exercising.
Natasha Hochlowski holds a dual B.S. in chemistry and writing from Loyola University Maryland. She has been writing professionally since 2007, frequently contributing to "The Journal of Young Investigators," and has worked as a technical writer/editor for several major pharmaceutical companies.