Elliptical trainers offer the cardiovascular equivalent of a combined jog and cross-country ski in the convenience of your home or gym. Whether you're pedaling forward or back, the elliptical touts a low-impact way to get fit. But it's not without its drawbacks. As with any machine that simulates a jog, there's bound to be some pressure on your joints. It's not a surprise that hip joint and muscle pain is a common complaint from new elliptical users.
Tight Hip Flexors
If you practice yoga, you're probably familiar with the hip flexors. Yoga classes focus on hip opening poses, such as Warrior II and Lizard Pose. However, if you neglect to warm up the hip flexors, with yoga poses or basic flexor stretches before working out, tightness and hip pain can result. The hip flexors are three muscles, the iliacus and psoas major and minor, that help the hip flex and the knee move up. If your vigorous sessions strained the ilopsoas -- a tendon that works with the hip flexors to move the leg -- the inside of your hip can ache long after your workout.
The possibility of an overuse injury exists with every exercise. Despite the elliptical's promise of a low-impact workout, it is not immune to this fault. Eagerly pressing "start" on a higher-level elliptical program or ramping up the speed before you're ready can lead to an overuse injury in your hip. Even doing too many miles without enough rest can do you in. You can prevent injuries with cross training. Divide your exercise time into equal chunks, devoted to flexibility, cardio and strength. If your hip is not in pain once you're done and walking, your use of the elliptical is likely fine.
Stand up and toss your shoulders back; put your head up, suck in those abs and stick that chest out. No, you're not prepping for a first date or a job interview; this is the proper posture for spinal alignment, and for protecting your joints on the elliptical. According to American College of Sports Medicine, leaning on the console or relying on handrails is a no-no. Slow down or increase the resistance, which will slow your step rate, if you start to slouch.
Warm up with five minutes of dynamic, or active, stretching. Warm up both the upper and lower body with pushups, and stretch the ilopsoas with leg raises. End your workout with five minutes of static stretching. Incorporate hip flexor stretches, such as the kneeling hip flexor stretch, to reduce hip pain. Hold each static stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
Any hip pain that doesn't go away with rest and self-help measures must be evaluated by a doctor. Certain medical conditions, such as arthritis or a muscle sprain, can cause or aggravate hip pain.
- American Family Physician; Anterior Hip Pain; John W. O'Kane
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Cross Training
- American College of Sports Medicine: Selecting and Effectively Using an Elliptical Trainer or Stair Climber
- ExRx.net: Push-Up
- ExRx.net: Lying Leg Raise (on floor)
- ExRx.net: Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Warm Up, Cool Down and Be Flexible
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images