How To Use Elliptical Exercise Machines — Exercise Equipment

Discover How Elliptical Workouts Increase Your Exercise Intensity

Middle aged man working out

The elliptical trainer, sometimes still referred to as a crosstrainer by exercise veterans, combines the fluidity of running with the low-impact motion of bicycling. The elliptical trainer puts a minimal amount of strain on your joints, yet provides one of the best workouts available today.  Elliptical trainers are the cornerstone of most home gyms.

Here's how to use elliptical exercise equipment.

  1. Leg Movement. The elliptical trainer has a pair of foot pedals for your feet. As you get on the exercise machine for the first time, pay careful attention to your foot placement. Each foot needs to be securely placed on its pedal; optimally, this will be on the center of each pedal. Your stride length should feel natural. A stride length that is too long and wide makes for an uncomfortable workout (and we all know that's the fastest method for quitting an exercise program).

    On the flip side of this, a stride length that is too short is apt to create an unpleasant jerky movement. Exercising on an elliptical trainer is not supposed to feel like you're a participant in a bunny hop contest. Some newer machines now offer an adjustable stride length. This is great news for gym owners and others who need to share their equipment with people of different stature.

  2. Arm Movement. Most ellipticals have a pair of handles connected to your foot pedals. As your feet move, so do the arm handles. Moving your arms is optional on elliptical machines; you may choose to lightly grasp the stationary handlebar found in-between the two swinging handles, instead.

    A third choice is not to hold onto anything at all. Moving your arms in a manner similar to that of a runner or speed walker is the best option for increasing the intensity of your workout. Not holding onto anything causes the stabilizing muscles of your midsection (known as the core) to work harder, thus maximizing your calories burned. This is one of the advantages of elliptical exercise machines over other types of fitness equipment.

    If you choose to hold onto the handles of the elliptical trainer, whether they are movable or stationary, take care to do so gingerly. Leaning with your bodyweight on the handles will only decrease the intensity of your lower body workout, slowing the calorie burn.

  3. Digital Readout. Your elliptical exercise machine may have a digital console that displays goodies like calories burned, steps-per-minute taken, and the elapsed workout time. It may even have a built-in pulse-taking mechanism. The digital readout is certainly a motivator for many exercisers (including me). Be aware that the console may not be 100% accurate, especially with regard to pulse rates and calories burned. Readouts are usually programmed using a preset model exerciser, say, someone who is 150 lbs and has 20% body fat. If you weigh 130 lbs and are a sedentary female, your decreased weight and (likely) higher body fat means you'll burn fewer calories than what's actually displayed on the digital readout. The information provided is best used as a guide.

Don't feel bad if you can only stay on for a few minutes your first time on an elliptical trainer. It takes time for muscles to get used to a new exercise. Gradually work your way up to at least a 20 minute workout. Increase your machine's resistance (if there is any) gradually. Upping the resistance too soon will increase your probability of getting an injury. Maintain good posture -- back straight, neck neutral, and shoulders down and relaxed -- throughout your workout. There are many ways to incorporate elliptical workouts into your daily exercise routine. Feel proud knowing you're on your way to a healthier lifestyle.


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