From recumbent bikes to stair steppers to treadmills, the number of cardio machines at the gym can be overwhelming. Which one should you choose for a solid workout? Consider the elliptical machine, particularly if you have any problems with your knees, hips or back. It’s a low-impact workout, but it works your lower and upper body if the machine has moveable handles. Aim for 30 minutes a day, five times a week, to meet the minimum amount of exercises prescribed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Like a treadmill, you can’t just step on an elliptical machine and expect it to give you the best workout possible. Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with all of the buttons and settings. According to “Shape” magazine, setting the elliptical at a low incline means the movement will be similar to being on a cross-country skier machine, while a medium incline means it’s closer to being on a bike. At a high incline, the movement is like being on an incline. The resistance matters, too – if the machine is set to zero, you’ll be spinning your wheels without any results. Use enough resistance that you feel like you have to work to push and pull through the stride.
Don’t slouch – it hurts your posture and your elliptical trainer workout. The proper form on this machine means keeping your shoulders back, head up, ab muscles tight and arms relaxed. If the handles don’t move, rest yours hands lightly – or not at all -- rather than leaning forward or gripping the bars tightly.
Change things up by switching between spinning forward and backward on the elliptical. It not only stops you from being bored, but it also changes the targeted muscle groups. When spinning forward, you’re mostly working your quads, while going backward targets your hamstrings and butt.
If the elliptical trainer offers moveable handles, use them. Pumping back and forth with your upper body gets your heart rate up faster. Switch focus between your arms and legs by pushing with your arms for one minute and then with your legs for four minutes. Repeat throughout your workout session.
Intervals aren’t just for running – you can do this quick workout on an elliptical, too. Complete a five- to 10-minute warm-up, and then bump up the resistance level until you’re working at 80 percent of your maximum effort. Push through for two minutes, and then lower the resistance for recovery. Alternate every two minutes for a total workout session of 20 minutes.
- Shape: How to Use an Elliptical Trainer in your Cardio Workout Routines
- Fox News: Top 10 mistakes you make on the elliptical trainer
- MayoClinic.com: Are elliptical machines better than treadmills for basic aerobic workouts?
- American College of Sports Medicine: Selecting and Effectively Using an Elliptical Trainer or Stair Climber
- Men's Health: Blast Fat with Exercise Machines
- American Society of Biomechanics: Comparing Muscle Activity During Forward and Backward Striding on an Elliptical Trainer
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?
Kelsey Casselbury has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Penn State-University Park. She has a long career in print and web media, including serving as a managing editor for a monthly nutrition magazine and food editor for a Maryland lifestyle publication. She also owns an Etsy shop selling custom invitations and prints.