Elliptical trainers are awesome machines that have some really awesome benefits. They’re great for cardio, endurance, burning calories, etc. But there are also a few drawbacks to using elliptical trainers. Here are the 7 biggest ones.
1. Different movement pattern than running
One of the biggest drawbacks to be aware of is the slightly different movement pattern than running outside or on a treadmill. That can be a benefit but also a drawback. The benefit is that you train slightly different muscles in a different way with very low impact.
There are two scenarios where you have to be a bit careful;
- You are used to running outside/on a treadmill.
- You start running outside/ on a treadmill after training on an elliptical for a while.
Both those scenarios means you suddenly change your movement pattern and the muscles you use. If you go hard from the beginning since you are ‘used to it’ you have a higher risk of injury. That’s because your body is trained to use certain muscles in a certain way. When you suddenly change this, there might be some ‘missing links’ in your physical development.
There are quite a few muscles that overlap between running and using an elliptical. Those muscles get stronger. Then there are muscles that get used in one form of exercise while they barely get used in others. Now when you change the exercise, the strong muscles that overlap will be fine. The ones that are undertrained can be overwhelmed by the stronger muscles and that’s where problems can start.
If you want a fully developed body and muscular structure, it’s a good idea to do a variety of exercises since they all target different parts of your body.
2. Big piece of equipment
For people that want an elliptical trainer in their home gym, it’s important to make sure that it fits. It’s a pretty big piece of equipment so measure your space and look up the measurements of the trainer before you buy. It would be pretty irritating if your machine couldn’t actually be used where you want it.
A thing to keep in mind is that the pedals and the other parts that are connected to the flywheel move around. And when they move, they can move outside the quoted dimensions you get from the manufacturer. Depending on the specific machine you buy, you might need some extra space in front and/or behind it.
Also, it’s not very fun to put the front of the machine and therefore the direction you look in, against a wall. Just staring at a wall isn’t very inspiring. It’s good to have at least a couple of feet of free space in front of your cardio machine.
3. Not good for low ceilings
If your home gym has a low ceiling (7’ or less), an elliptical trainer might not be the best choice. Especially if you’re a taller person. If you’re too tall, you might hit your head on the ceiling. This isn’t something I’d recommend. You want to have enough headroom while using the machine not to worry about it.
To be able to use an elliptical trainer without any issues (hitting your head on the ceiling) you’ll want your ceiling to be about 1.5 feet higher than your height. Not all ellipticals are the same and some have a taller step up height than others. The higher the step up height, the higher your ceiling has to be.
For more information, check out this post; The best cardio machines to use under low ceilings.
4. Bone density
An elliptical trainer has very low impact on your joints and also your bones. That’s great for people with joint problems or to prevent overuse injuries. It’s one of the biggest benefits of working out on an elliptical.
However, that lack of impact also means that you don’t have the bone density benefits of other exercises. So called ‘load bearing’ exercises are shown to increase bone density. The impact, tugging and pulling on the bones is what actually cause the bone density to increase over time or at least slow the density loss.
The trade-off between impact and bone density is one you’ll have to make for yourself. Everyone has different needs, previous injuries etc. Also at different stages of life you might need different things.
5. Always the same view
This is really a problem of all indoor cardio exercise but it’s still a drawback. The view is always the same. This can get pretty boring after a while and could cause you to not do a workout because it’s not very mentally stimulating. If you run outside, there are always some changes however small they might be. Change makes life and your workouts a bit more interesting.
This is possible to solve by putting a screen in the direction you’re facing. You can do this in different ways. Many modern elliptical trainers come with a little perch or holder for a phone or tablet. Alternatively, on some models there is an accessory available that allows you to attach a phone or tablet. This is the easiest solution for most people. 99% of people already have a smartphone and/or tablet so you don’t have to spend any time and money on something new.
The other solution is to mount a TV on your wall. You will need a little bit of space in front of your trainer so you’re not too close to the screen. TV’s aren’t made to be viewed up close like phones and tablets.
If you want to know more about mounting a TV in your home gym, I’ve got two posts for you;
6. Not one size fits all
Different elliptical trainers have different stride lengths. Simply said this is how far the pedals go back and forth. This stride length should be within a certain range of your natural stride length as if you were running on a treadmill or outside.
If the stride length is too long or short it can feel very strange.
Many elliptical trainers have an adjustable stride length. It still only adjusts in a certain range though. If you and the other people that want to use the machine are of average height, this isn’t really a problem. Most machines are made to fit the average person.
If you or someone else in your household is shorter or longer than the majority of people, it’s good to check the stride length on the machine you intend to buy.
If you want to know more about the stride length, how to determine yours and what that means for your machine, I’ve written a separate post about that. Click here to go there.
7. Not beneficial for every sport
Elliptical machines are great for training cardio, burning calories, losing body fat, training your endurance, etc. and doing all that in a very safe way.
However, the movement doesn’t always translate into better performance in all sports. It’s pretty simple; If you want to become better at a certain sport, you have to train that sports. Those exact movements, the team play, etc.
Of course that isn’t to say there isn’t a time and place for any other type of exercise except the sport you want to play. Having better cardio improves your performance in most sports. Having stronger muscles also helps with the majority of sports. It’s just a question of where your efforts are best spent.
All in all, the drawbacks aren’t anything dramatic. Most of the drawbacks are able to be fixed or worked around. Some of the other drawbacks, you should just be aware of. Other things are drawbacks in some ways but if you’re aware of them, you can choose what’s best for your situation.