Elliptical trainers are really cool machines for a ton of reasons. Here’s why you should consider working out on one and maybe even get one in your house.
Elliptical trainers are a great tool to build up your cardiovascular health, burn calories in a safe way. An elliptical can build muscle in the lower body but also provide a light workout for the upper body, integrating the whole body. It’s a safe way to get into shape for almost everyone.
All the separate benefits and why they are a benefit are explained below.
1. Elliptical trainers improve cardio and endurance
Working out on an elliptical machine is a great way to improve your cardiovascular health. It’s one of the most important things you can do for your health and fitness.
An elliptical machine makes you use many muscles in your body. All those muscles moving need blood with oxygen. To get enough oxygen and other things to those muscles, your body needs to breathe more and pump more blood around.
That’s why your breathing becomes faster and your heart rate goes up. Especially your heart is just a muscle that can become stronger just like other muscles. You just have to train it indirectly. Your lungs can become more efficient in absorbing oxygen as well.
The fact that on an elliptical, you need to use many muscles makes it very effective in improving your heart, lungs and as a result your health.
With improving all those things, you’ll increase your endurance dramatically as well. More endurance is always good. For most people the biggest difference will be that they won’t be out of breath during normal daily activities anymore. Playing with your kids, walking up the stairs, etc. will be much easier.
2. Burn calories with full body exercise
The next big benefit and the reason people use an elliptical machine in the first place is that it burns a lot of calories. You’re using your whole body and the resistance can get pretty intense. The more muscle you use and the harder you use it, the more calories are burned.
Burning more calories can help you lose weight and lower your body fat percentage. How much you burn depends on your weight and intensity but a 185 lbs. person working out at an average intensity burns about 400 calories in 30 minutes on an elliptical.
Typically working out on an elliptical burns slightly more calories per minute than jogging outside or on a treadmill. This is likely because you’re using more muscles in your upper body.
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Also, many people perceive it to be easier to burn a certain amount of calories on an elliptical than on other types of cardio machines. If it feels easier, you’re going to be able to do it for longer. Unless you’re looking to make it as hard for yourself as possible, making it easier for yourself to burn calories makes it much more likely to actually reach your goals.
3. Elliptical trainers tone muscle
Besides the cardio benefits, your muscles will also benefit. Elliptical machines use many muscles in your lower and upper body. Especially at higher resistance levels, you’ll be able to feel a decent burn in many of the used muscles.
While you won’t turn into a bodybuilder from just working out on an elliptical machine, especially beginners can see some muscle gains. Going from not using a muscle to using it is bound to grow it to some degree. Just don’t expect to gain 5 inches on your legs because it isn’t going to happen.
But, combined with the possible weight loss effect of working out, you might see pretty big differences over time. Most of the time muscles are invisible because we have a layer of body fat on top of them. Reducing this layer and combine this with modest muscle growth and you’ll certainly get a better toned body.
Also, if you lift weights as well, the better cardio and endurance you get from working out on an elliptical machine can also really help you with your weightlifting. You can do more reps and sets which help you grow more muscle.
4. Choose which leg muscles you target
Many elliptical machines have an adjustable incline. This doesn’t work the same as on a treadmill where you just push a button and it moves. On an elliptical trainer, you have to change the angle of the pedals.
When you raise the incline, it means you raise the front of the pedals. This will target the backside of your legs more i.e. your hamstrings and glutes. And inversely when you lower the incline, you’ll feel the front/quadriceps more. This way you can choose to grow certain muscles more than others.
Also, you can choose to move the pedals the other ways which makes you your muscles slightly different again. Experiment and see for yourself what happens and what you prefer. Keep in mind, if something is difficult, it might be a sing you have to train that muscle a little more.
5. Get an upper body workout
Where most cardio machines just work out your lower body, an elliptical machines also uses your upper body. The pedals you move with your legs and the levers you move with your arms are all connected to the flywheel. That means you can divide the load over your upper and lower body.
Most of the time, your lower body will do the bulk of the work but if you want it’s possible to do more with the upper body as well. It’s a conscious choice you can make. If you’re choosing to involve more of your upper body, you can likely increase the resistance a little because you’re using a more muscle mass.
6. Makes your whole body work together
Often we use different exercises to train different muscles. Curls for biceps, Leg curls for hamstrings, etc. While those exercises are good to strengthen and grow those muscles, they aren’t great for creating a body that works well together.
On an elliptical machine, you use so many muscles all at the same time, the muscles have to work together in a single movement. Sure, an elliptical machine is not the only way to do this but it’s good to integrate into your weightlifting program as cardio and integrative exercise at the same time.
And even if you’re not lifting weights, the full body exercise of an elliptical machine really helps to get your whole body to move in a better way.
7. Cross trainers provide low impact exercise
Compared to running outside or on a treadmill, an elliptical machine creates really little impact on your joints.
An elliptical machine makes you move in a smooth motion which means the joints don’t get beat up like they do during running on pavement for example. You don’t hit the floor or belt at speed because your feet stay in contact with the pedals. That means there is no impact to your knees, hips and spine.
This makes it less likely you’ll hurt and/or injure yourself. Lower injury risk means that you can do it more often and longer than other things. That in turn makes it more likely you’ll reach your fitness goals.
Injuries often put a stop to the workout program you were following and consistency is one of the most important things to reaching your goals.
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8. Good for recovery after injuries
The low impact makes it also a good way to exercise for people that already have some injuries. In some cases you shouldn’t do any exercise with an injury but in other cases it’s good for recovery.
Elliptical trainers make you move in a smooth motion that can help you strengthen the muscles around your injuries supporting and protecting that injury in the future. It can help you regain range of motion. And because you have the option to put more load on your upper body and use that for stability, you can easily take load off a certain joint to easy back into using it. This is much easier on an elliptical than many other forms of exercise.
Especially for people that have knee or hip injuries an elliptical machine can be a great way to stay in shape and even recover.
9. Improves your balance in a safe way
If you’ve got balance issues an elliptical trainer is actually one of the safer ways to train and maybe even improve your balance.
Because you’ve got handles to hold on to and your feet stay on the pedals, it’s unlikely you’ll fall. Once you feel comfortable with this, you could try to use the machine without holding on to the handles.
Just make sure you reduce the resistance significantly when you try this for the first time to make sure you can handle it. Using the trainer without the handles can improve your core strength as well since your core plays an important role in keeping your balance.
10. Allows you to multitask
On an elliptical machine, your body doesn’t move around as much as on something like a rowing machine. Combine this with the fact that most ellipticals are relatively quiet and you have a combination that allows you to do something else during your workout.
OK, you’ll have your hands full (literally) so anything you do besides your workout will mainly take place in your brain.
But that means listening to podcast, audio/video courses, watching movies, catching up with friends and family, etc is all possible. During a long cardio workout, it’s good to be distracted. I personally get pretty bored during steady state cardio workouts so I love it when I can do something else that keeps my mind off it.
Learning something during your workout is actually a pretty good idea. Physical activity has been shown to actually improve learning capabilities
11. Doesn’t require skill
Other forms of cardio exercise can require a bit of skill and training to get right. Doing them wrong can lead to pain and injuries.
Running on an elliptical is pretty difficult to get wrong. Of course it’s not impossible but much less likely than with running outside for example. Even rowing requires close attention to form to keep it safe.
Put someone who can walk on an elliptical machine and they’ll have the movement figured out in 15 seconds. It probably takes longer to figure out how to work the console.
12. Good for everyone in your family
Maybe you don’t feel great about buying an expensive piece of equipment just for yourself. Your health is probably worth it to begin with but you also don’t have to be the only one that uses it.
See it as an investment in the health of your whole family. Your spouse and/or older children might not immediately like it but maybe when they see you getting working hard and getting in a better shape and improving their health, they’ll be interested too.
Because of the low impact, low risk of injuries and the fact that you don’t need a lot of skill to use the trainer, many people can get a good workout done without many risks.
One thing to keep in mind is that different people could need different stroke lengths on an elliptical trainer. I’ve written a post about stride length you can find here (click).
13. Always available
If you’ve got an elliptical at home, nothing and nobody can stop you from getting a good workout done except yourself. Ellipticals are usually pretty quiet so you won’t really disturb anyone as long as they’re not in the same room.
If you’ve got a decently thick rubber mat under the trainer, vibrations should be absorbed by this so other people in your house and/or neighbors won’t be bothered.
The weather also doesn’t matter. Especially if you’ve got one at home, you don’t have to go outside at all for your workout. Rain, heat, snow, etc. it doesn’t matter. You can always do your workouts and it’s always consistent.
14. Don’t have to go outside
If you’ve got an elliptical machine in your home gym, you’ll never have to leave the house to get your workout done.
Think about it; how much time does it take to get to the gym and go back. Is it more than 30 minutes in total? That’s not unlikely. In 30 minutes you can actually burn around 400 calories on an elliptical machine. And that’s just in the time you’d otherwise have to commute to the gym.
Also, for many people it’s difficult to avoid all food temptations on the way back from the gym. You’re feeling good about yourself after you finish a workout and you allow yourself to get some fast food or a snack. Once isn’t that bad but if it turns into a habit, you’re probably better off just staying at home.
If you don’t leave the house and still work out, you’ll burn the calories and improve your health AND have fewer temptations because there is no extra food on your way home.
Of course there are also benefits to going to a gym and training there like social contacts and personal trainers.
15. Become a better runner
On top of all of that, you actually become a better runner by practicing on an elliptical. Sure, the movement and muscles you use aren’t exactly the same, but it’s still close enough to give you a noticeable improvement if you’re not a world class runner.
Because of the low impact, it can be a great way for runners to train something that is pretty similar to running but without the risk of injuries. Yes, you use slightly different muscles and movement pattern but the overlap is enough that you can see benefits without the risks of overuse injuries.