Elliptical Trainer: Techniques, Benefits, and Common Mistakes

Elliptical Trainer or Cross Trainer - Sharp Muscle
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Updated: February 15, 2023

The elliptical trainer is low-impact, cardio training for any fitness level, whether you’re recovering from an injury or just want a great workout.

An elliptical trainer (sometimes called a cross trainer) is another piece of equipment readily found in nearly every gym and a machine that can perform many aerobic exercises, including walking or running, stair-stepping, or cross-country skiing.

What is Elliptical Trainer?

An elliptical trainer is a stationary exercise machine that provides a low-impact, cardiovascular workout. It is designed to simulate walking, running, and climbing stairs without putting excessive pressure on your joints, making it a popular choice for people who want to exercise without risking injury.
The elliptical trainer features two large pedals that move in an elliptical motion, which is why it’s called an “elliptical” trainer. It also has two handles that move back and forth in coordination with the pedals, providing a full-body workout.

Benefits of Elliptical Trainer

Elliptical machines offer excellent work on every muscle group in the legs, arms, abs, glutes and back.

If someone is injured and cannot participate in regular physical activities, working out on an elliptical trainer can be a great way to build or maintain fitness.

On an elliptical machine, you can do both high-intensity interval training and steady-state cardio workouts.

With this exercise, you can continue training without the wear and tear that comes with high-impact exercise.

Working on the elliptical can help you regain full range of motion after an injury. It helps to strengthen the muscles and joints while taking your stress off the injured area.

Weight-bearing exercise not only helps strengthen bones but also improves balance. If you stand up straight and let go of the elliptical handles, you can target the core muscles and work on balance.

Since it is a low-impact exercise, the elliptical trainer places less stress on the joints than high-impact workouts such as running, jogging or jumping.

To maximize fat burning, try to focus on the intensity and duration of the workout. One study found that while both high- and moderate-intensity workouts helped with fat loss, high-intensity intervals allowed you to achieve more in less time. 1

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The calorie burn associated with an elliptical machine is higher than that of some other cardio machines such as a stationary bike, it can help you lose body fat in a short amount of time.

Depending on your weight, this cardio machine can burn around 270 to 400 calories in 30 minutes. The lower end of the range represents a person weighing 125 pounds (56.70 kg) while the higher end is for a person weighing 185 pounds (83.90 kg). 2

While burning more calories than you consume can help you lose weight, consider increasing the intensity of the elliptical trainer to boost calorie burn.

The knees, ankles, hips and other joints can throb when running or doing other high-impact cardio exercises. Since the legs never lift off the pedals with the elliptical, it offers a low-impact cardio workout.

A 2014 study showed that an elliptical trainer carries significantly less weight than other cardio exercises such as running, jogging and similar workouts. 3

The elliptical machine allows you to have a good aerobic workout, which can strengthen the heart, lungs and muscles. This, in turn, can help build stamina and endurance.

Elliptical Trainer Technique and Common Mistake

In elliptical machines the pedals are suspended above the ground and are moved back and forth, or up and down, on a track. On the elliptical trainer your foot never hits the ground, so the jarring effect of walking or running on a hard surface is eliminated. It can serve as a low-impact alternative to the treadmill and is beneficial to many back pain sufferers.

Suspended pedals run on an oval-shaped (“elliptical”) track and provide a workout for the legs, and most trainers are designed to vary the resistance to make the workout easier or more strenuous. Since the elliptical motion is fluid, the movement on the trainer does not put pressure on the structure of the spine.

Technique

On a scale of 1 to 10, run 10 as fast as you can, stay at a pace that puts you around 4 for 25 to 35 minutes.

  • In the elliptical trainer or cross trainer, the power is shared between the upper and lower body.
  • Stay tall while doing this exercise.
  • Don’t just use the feet, also use the arms to push and pull the handles.
  • Stay straight, keep abs engaged and pump arms back and forth at a 90-degree angle, as if you’re running.
  • Actively push and pull the levers while maintaining an upright posture, pulling shoulders back and abs engaged, otherwise arms are just along for the ride.
  • Another option is to work on the machine without holding the handrails. In this case, most of the power comes from the lower body, which requires more core activation and balance.
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Common Mistake

Poor form is disabling and can contribute to lower back pain and muscle imbalances. With the handrails on the machine, it can be tempting to hold it and lean forward as the legs do all the work. But leaning forward will only make the workout easier, so it’s not going to give you any benefit. Instead, stay straight with your firm core, without bending over.

Plus, the handles aren’t going to make your workout feel easy. All you are doing is fooling the elliptical machine. If you support the weight on the handrails, the machine will tell you that the caloric expenditure is higher than it actually is.

Training Tips

It is important to constantly change the exercise variable. Doing the same workout day after day may be effective at first, but it will eventually lead to hit a plateau.

Our body is an evolutionary machine programmed to adapt to new stressors in about 4 to 6 weeks.

Diversifying the elliptical trainer workout will keep your body in top shape – plus, it’s more fun!

Here are some tips to switch up the routine:

  • Do an interval of 5 minutes each time increasing the resistance.
  • Start and maintain with a constant speed, base speed rate, and increase the incline or decline setting of the machine.
  • Proceed at the original pace for 2 minutes, then double the speed for 2 minutes (keeping the incline constant) and recover for 1 minute.
  • Repeat the process as many times as you want.
  • See if you can improve your distance or stamina level each time you hit the machine.
  • Compete with yourself to be strong and lean.

When and how to incorporate

You can incorporate Elliptical trainers into your workout routine in various ways, depending on your fitness goals and preferences. Here are some suggestions on when and how to use it:

  • As a warm-up: Start your workout with a 5-10 minute low-intensity elliptical session to warm up your muscles and get your heart rate up.
  • As a cardio workout: Use the elliptical trainer for a 20-30 minute cardio workout to burn calories and improve your cardiovascular fitness.
  • As a low-impact alternative to running: If you’re recovering from an injury or looking for a low-impact alternative to running, the elliptical trainer can provide a similar workout without putting as much stress on your joints.
  • As a full-body workout: Use the handles of the elliptical trainer to work your upper body along with your lower body, providing a full-body workout.
  • As an interval training tool: Adjust the resistance and speed on the elliptical to create intervals of high-intensity and low-intensity exercise, which can improve your cardiovascular fitness and help you burn more calories.
  • Combine with other exercises: Elliptical trainers are a great standalone workout, but you can also combine them with other exercises to create a more well-rounded workout routine. For example, you could do a strength-training workout followed by 20-30 minutes on the elliptical for cardio.
  • Vary your workouts: To prevent boredom and challenge your body in different ways, vary your elliptical workouts by changing the resistance, speed, and incline settings. You can also try different workout programs that come pre-programmed on some elliptical trainers.
  • Use proper form: When using an elliptical trainer, it’s important to maintain proper form to avoid injury and get the most out of your workout. Keep your back straight, shoulders relaxed, and engage your core muscles throughout the workout. Also, avoid slouching or leaning on the handles too much, as this can reduce the effectiveness of the workout.
  • Track your progress: Use the digital display on the elliptical trainer to track your progress over time, including your distance, time, and calories burned. This can help you set goals, track your progress, and stay motivated to continue your workouts.
  • Incorporate intervals: Intervals can be a great way to add intensity to your elliptical workouts. For example, you could do 30 seconds of high-intensity exercise followed by 1 minute of low-intensity exercise, and repeat for 20-30 minutes. This can help improve your cardiovascular fitness, burn more calories, and break up the monotony of steady-state cardio.
Note:
When incorporating the elliptical trainer into your workout routine, aim to use it for at least 20-30 minutes per session, and try to use it at least 3-4 times per week for best results. Also, make sure to adjust the resistance and incline settings to match your fitness level and gradually increase the intensity over time.
Sources

  1. Obes Rev. 2017 Jun;18(6):635-646. DOI: 10.1111/obr.12532. “The effects of high-intensity interval training vs. moderate-intensity continuous training on body composition in overweight and obese adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Available here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28401638/.[]
  2. March 8, 2021. “Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights.” Available here: https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/calories-burned-in-30-minutes-for-people-of-three-different-weights.[]
  3. Gait Posture. 2014;39(1):558-62. doi: 10.1016/j.gaitpost.2013.09.004. “Referent body weight values in over ground walking, over ground jogging, treadmill jogging, and elliptical exercise.” Available here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24095267/.[]

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