Do Elliptical Trainers Really Work?

You can use the elliptical machine to get an effective cardiovascular workout.
i IT Stock/Polka Dot/Getty Images

You may have noticed that some people who religiously spend countless hours on the elliptical don't seem to have much to show for it. The elliptical can be an excellent machine for cardiovascular and total body conditioning, but you'll only get out of it what you put in. If you ramp up the resistance, increase available incline settings and maintain moderate intensity, then it is very effective for increasing fitness and burning calories.

Benefits of Ellipticals

    The biggest benefit of elliptical trainers is their gentleness on the joints. Someone with aging joints or an injury may not be able to handle high-impact activities, but they can still get their heart rate up on an elliptical. Ellipticals also provide a cross-training option for other sports. According to Angela Smith, an orthopedic surgeon in Philadelphia, ellipticals are also superior for posture. The placement of the hands on the arms of the machine encourages users to stand up straight. If you use a machine with moving arms that you can push and pull while pedaling, the elliptical can also provide a little upper-body workout -- a quality you won't find in most cardio machines.

Regular Use

    Ellipticals run on the momentum of a user's movement, so you must focus on keeping your intensity up to get a worthwhile workout. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderately intense cardiovascular exercise five days a week. Moderate intensity places your heart rate between 50 and 70 percent of your maximum heart rate, which you can find by subtracting your age from 220. Wear a heart rate monitor to keep an eye on your heart rate. If your pulse starts to drop below your target, bring it back up by increasing resistance, incline or cadence.

Maximizing Effectiveness

    To maximize your elliptical workout, use the moving arm handles, which you push and pull, to integrate your upper-body muscles and increase calorie burn. Increase the resistance level enough that you are able to get your heart rate to your targeted zone. Some ellipticals have incline settings, which are great for working different parts of your legs. A low incline will simulate a cross-country ski, a medium incline is similar to a bike ride and a high incline will mimic the motion of a stair climber.

Potentially Misleading

    You should know that the elliptical might be a liar, though. According to the National Council on Strength & Fitness, these machines are notorious for overestimating a user's caloric expenditure. A 2010 study conducted by the Human Performance Center at the University of California at San Francisco revealed that ellipticals can overestimate calorie burn by as much as 42 percent. Believing these false estimates can sabotage your weight-loss efforts. Instead of focusing on the number of calories you burn, focus on keeping your heart rate in the zone.

the nest