Ellipticals can provide a more beneficial workout than other cardio machines, though they don’t provide some of the advantages of other workouts. Compared to a treadmill, an elliptical can burn more calories. The lack of upper-body exercise, however, makes it less effective if you’re looking to improve your overall shape and help target problem areas.
The Harvard School of Public Health lists an elliptical as one of the top five gym choices for burning calories, burning an estimated 670 calories per hour for a 155-pound person. You’d have to run slightly faster than 5 mph on a treadmill to get the same calorie burn. The repetitive motion of the elliptical can be challenging, however. You may have a hard time exercising at a high intensity for that long.
Unlike treadmills and exercise bikes, some ellipticals give you an upper-body workout with arm poles. Even if your elliptical comes with poles, you won’t get the same amount of resistance or work the number of muscles that resistance bands, dumbbells, a kettlebell, weight machines or calisthenics would. If your workout goal is toning, consider using an elliptical to burn fat for 30 minutes after you perform targeted resistance exercises. Consider using an elliptical every other workout, so you can include more effective strength training in your fitness program.
An elliptical moves your legs in a pedaling motion during your entire workout. If the machine doesn’t allow you to move backward, your muscle use is even more limited. If you’re looking to target your calf, hamstrings, quads and butt, the elliptical can be an effective addition to your workouts. If you play sports, however, you won’t get the benefit of any lateral footwork and leg movements.
A workout that requires you to perform the same motion nonstop the entire time can create repetitive-stress issues. Depending on how the machine’s foot pedals are configured, you might experience shin, knee and lower back pain. Unlike a treadmill, jogging and aerobic dancing, an elliptical is completely non-impact, which makes it a better choice for some people.
Ease of Use
An elliptical is easy to use and lets you get comfortably numb by reading a book, listening to music or talking on your phone, which can help you get through workouts. Some ellipticals come with electronic programs that warm you up, let you choose from steady-state or interval workouts, and provide a cool-down.
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such Smart-Healthy-Living.net, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.