At peak gym hours, the wait time for the row of elliptical machines may seem to stretch on and on. Elliptical trainers are certainly a popular method of cardiovascular exercise, and for several good reasons. Few pieces of stationary equipment offer the diversity and ease of use that characterize elliptical machines, making them an approachable and accessible option for essential cardio.
Aches and pains aren’t just the domain of the AARP set. They’re a normal -- if unwelcome -- part of most women’s lives. And your choice of aerobic fitness may be helping or hindering you. The Mayo Clinic’s physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist Dr. Edward R. Laskowski says that elliptical machines take stress off the back, knees and hips. Outdoor or treadmill running involves higher-impact movements that can strain those areas of the body. Even for people with underlying conditions that cause muscle weakness, exercise on the elliptical has been shown to hold benefits when approved by a medical professional as part of treatment. A 2011 study in the “Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development” found that patients with multiple sclerosis who integrated elliptical training into their rehabilitation plan reported decreased levels of fatigue and a boost in general quality-of-life ratings.
Aerobic Exercise and Cross-Training
Researchers with the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Nebraska at Kearney found that elliptical training is comparable to using that old gym staple, the treadmill. The findings, published in 2010 in the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research,” note similar rates of energy expenditure and oxygen consumption between the two exercise machines. The researchers concluded that elliptical machines offer an alternative to the treadmill, particularly for cross-training and general cardiovascular exercise. The Mayo Clinic’s Laskowski notes that ellipticals are ideal for cross-training in between sport-specific sessions, because their low-impact nature keeps muscles primed while averting injuries from overuse.
Diversify Muscle Groups
Walking is a great way to get some lower-impact cardio and fresh air, but it won’t sculpt your rear the same way elliptical training does. According to research published in the journal “Clinical Biomechanics,” exercise on the elliptical machine activates the gluteal muscles more than normal walking activity does. And because elliptical machines offer different options for hand placement, speed, incline and length of stride, it is also possible to diversify targeted muscle groups by altering one of those settings. “Clinical Biomechanics” found that certain positions or settings resulted in greater muscle activity of the obliques, extensors in the back and the latissimi, located in the mid-region of the back and sides. Plus, ellipticals can typically be pedaled forward or backward. According to Laskowski, the reverse motion gives the calves and hamstrings a better workout than pedaling forward.
Ellipticals help you target jiggles in the upper and lower body at the same time. Many elliptical machines have handles that are integrated into the exercise experience. Resembling the motion of ski poles, according to Laskowski, these handles allow for a simultaneous upper-body workout. The whole-body approach also helps raise the heart rate to the target zone while expediently burning calories. The “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” study confirmed these findings, noting that elliptical exercise is connected to a higher heart rate during activity compared to the treadmill, even though the perceived rate of exertion is usually the same.
- Mayo Clinic: Are Elliptical Machines Better Than Treadmills for Basic Aerobic Workouts?
- Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development: Elliptical Exercise Improves Fatigue Ratings and Quality of Life in Patients with Multiple Sclerosis
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Comparison of Energy Expenditure on a Treadmill vs. an Elliptical Device at a Self-Selected Exercise Intensity
- Clinical Biomechanics: How do Elliptical Machines Differ from Walking: A Study of Torso Motion and Muscle Activity
Based in Los Angeles, Monica Stevens has been a professional writer since 2005. She covers topics such as health, education, arts and culture, for a variety of local magazines and newspapers. Stevens holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism, with a concentration in film studies, from Pepperdine University.