If you typically need to wait in line to use your gym’s elliptical machine during peak hours, you’re not alone. The elliptical trainer is one of the most sought-after cardio machines at fitness centers. It’s also a top choice for home exercise equipment.
So what is it about this low-impact machine that makes it so popular? Check out these 10 benefits and decide for yourself.
1. Boost your stamina and cardio capacity
Aerobic exercise, also known as cardio, is a key part of a balanced exercise routine. When you do aerobic exercise, your heart and lungs need to work harder to provide your muscles with more blood and oxygen.
The elliptical machine allows you to get a good aerobic workout, which can strengthen your heart, lungs, and muscles. This, in turn, can help build your stamina and endurance.
With an elliptical, you can perform both high-intensity interval training as well as steady-state cardio workouts.
2. Burn a lot of calories
If you’re looking for a way to crush your calorie burn in a short amount of time, jump on the elliptical. Depending on how much you weigh, this cardio machine can burn about 270 to 400 calories in 30 minutes. The lower end of the range represents a person weighing 125 pounds, while the higher end is for someone weighing 185 pounds.
Burning more calories than you consume can help you lose weight. To boost your calorie burn, consider increasing the intensity of your elliptical workouts.
3. Put less stress on your joints
When the elliptical hit the cardio machine scene back in the 1990s, runners with achy joints and overuse injuries rejoiced at the thought of being able to train their cardiovascular system while relieving some of the pressure on their joints.
Your knees, ankles, hips, and other joints can take a beating when running or doing other high-impact cardio exercises. Since your feet never lift off the pedals with an elliptical, this machine offers a low-impact type of cardio workout.
A 2014 study showed that an elliptical workout can significantly reduce weight-bearing compared to running, jogging, and similar workouts. In other words, with an elliptical, you can continue training without the wear and tear that comes with high-impact exercise.
4. Get both an upper and lower body workout
An elliptical machine with handles is one of the few cardio machines that can provide you with both an upper- and lower-body workout. The key to maximizing the upper-body benefits is to distribute your weight and resistance evenly. In other words, pump your arms just as fast as you’re moving your legs.
When done correctly, the elliptical can target your glutes, hamstrings, quads, chest, back, biceps, triceps, and core muscles.
5. Burn body fat
Due to its high-calorie burn ability, an elliptical can help you lose body fat and tone up your muscles in a shorter amount of time, especially if you focus on interval work. To maximize fat burning, you’ll need to focus on the intensity of your workouts.
Consider adding interval training to your elliptical workouts with a 2 to 1 ratio: 30 seconds of high-intensity work, followed by 15 seconds of recovery, or 60 seconds of high-intensity work, followed by 30 seconds of recovery. Do not stop moving your legs during the recovery periods. Continue to move the pedals, but at a slower pace.
6. Target specific leg muscles
You can change both the resistance and incline of the foot pedals on an elliptical. By doing this, you can target different muscles in your lower body including your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
By increasing the incline, you may feel the backside of your lower body burning. If you adjust the foot pedals lower, you may feel your quads working harder. Plus, since the foot pedals go in reverse, you can change the direction of your stride and focus more on your hamstrings and glutes.
7. Improve your balance
Weight-bearing exercise can help strengthen your bones. But did you know it can also improve your balance? If you stand up straight and let go of the elliptical handles, you can target your core muscles and work on your balance.
Just make sure the resistance and incline are set at a manageable level so you can use the elliptical machine safely without using the handles.
8. Maintain fitness after injury
If you’re nursing an injury and can’t participate in your regular physical activities, working out on an elliptical can be a great way to build or maintain your fitness. Since it’s a low-impact exercise, it puts a lot less stress on your joints than high-impact workouts, like running, jogging, or jumping.
Working out on an elliptical after an injury may help you regain full range of motion. It can also help strengthen your muscles and joints while taking the stress off of the injured area.
9. Enjoy a variety of options
Elliptical machines usually offer a variety of pre-programmed exercise routines that mimic hill-climbing, internal training, and other customizable options that help you get the type of workout you want.
10. Learn quickly
One of the advantages of an elliptical is that it doesn’t take long to learn how to use it. Although the learning curve with this machine is fairly easy, you may want to ask a personal trainer for guidance if you haven’t used one before. They can give you tips on how to use it correctly and the type of workout that may be best for your fitness goals.
When starting out on the elliptical, you may want to only use the foot pedals. Once you get used to the movement of the machine, you can add the handles.
Nothing is ever as perfect as it seems, and this includes the fitness world. With all of the pros that come with using the elliptical, there are some cons to keep in mind.
“The motion on the elliptical is slightly different than running or walking, so leg and core muscles are activated differently,” says John M. Martinez, MD, primary care sports medicine physician at Pain-Free Running. “This difference in muscle activation may potentially lead to injury if the body doesn’t adapt to the new muscle firing patterns and movement patterns.”
He also points out that since the elliptical is lower impact than running or walking, you may see fewer gains in leg strength due to less stress being placed on the legs.
Because of this lower impact, Dr. Martinez says you may also see less improvement in bone density compared to running or weight lifting. This is due to the fact that higher loads or impact tend to increase and improve bone density of the lower body.
Including the elliptical machine in your fitness routine can help strengthen your heart, lungs, and muscles, while boosting your stamina, improving your balance, and burning a lot of calories. It’s also a great option if you have joint issues or want to build or maintain your fitness after an injury.
While this low-impact trainer is a great choice for most fitness levels, it’s important to also include other exercises in your routine if you’re looking to strengthen your legs and build bone density. This is especially important for runners and competitive athlete.