On the fence about whether you should choose an elliptical machine over a treadmill for your home gym?
Or do you already have a gym membership, and you’re thinking about reaching for one of the empty elliptical machines instead of waiting in the never-ending lines leading to the treadmills?
For some reason, people often think that elliptical trainer exercises aren’t as rewarding as the treadmill and exercise bike. Perhaps that’s because the elliptical movement is neither running nor cycling. It’s something in between, and because of that, you might think it won’t work your body enough to lose weight and increase your physical fitness.
While it’s true that the elliptical machine isn’t for everyone, it might be the most suitable one for your current fitness level and health. To be able to decide on that, you should know the elliptical benefits and disadvantages first. So let’s see what this exercise equipment does for your body and overall health.
Benefits of Elliptical Machines
1. Aids in Weight Loss
As a cardio machine, what the elliptical trainer does the best is burn calories. And it’s so good at it that it’s comparable to the treadmill in its effectiveness and efficiency.
Depending on your weight, the number of calories you burn in each elliptical training differs.
According to a study published by Harvard Medical School, a person weighing 125 pounds would burn 270 calories per 30 minutes by exercising on the elliptical machine at moderate intensity, while a 155-person would lose 335 calories by exercising for the same amount of time and intensity. A 185-pound individual would burn even more, reaching 400 calories per 30 minutes.
That means you can shed 1-2 pounds per week if you cut around 500 calories from your diet and exercise on the elliptical machine for 30 minutes, five days a week. This is considered a healthy weight loss rate since anything higher than that could cause lower metabolism, muscle loss, and nutrient deficiencies.
And even if you reach a weight loss plateau, you can find your way out of it by varying your exercise routine and incorporating HIIT workouts, which the elliptical allows for thanks to its varying resistance and incline levels.
2. Burns Fat
Burning calories and shedding fat aren’t the same things. Just because you’re burning calories doesn’t mean you’re actually using the fat storage in your body to fuel your movements. You could be losing weight by burning your muscle mass instead of the fat.
To lose weight using your fat reserves, you need to exercise in your fat-burning zone, where you’re training at around 70% of your maximum heart rate. You can achieve that by doing short bouts of high-intensity training on the elliptical machine followed by low-intensity periods.
3. Low-Impact on Joints
One thing that makes elliptical machines stand out from their counterparts is that they provide cardio workouts that are as effective as those of treadmills while remaining low impact. They pose less stress on the joints, including the hips, knees, and ankles, making them suitable for people with joint pain or any other medical condition like arthritis.
A study performed by a team from the Lerner Sports Center compared the effect of treadmill jogging and walking with elliptical training on the joints. It concluded that elliptical training is much safer for people with joint pain and injuries since it’s less weight-bearing.
Unlike running on the treadmill, your feet never lift off the pedals when you’re doing an elliptical machine workout. You don’t strike the ground with every stride, so your joints aren’t strained with your weight with every movement.
4. Works Both the Upper and Lower Body
Another advantage that gives the elliptical trainer an edge over the treadmill and stationary bike is that it works the entire body.
The elliptical motion mainly provides a lower body workout, targeting the hamstrings, calves, quads, and glutes. However, since your arms move as well to push on the elliptical handles, your shoulders, chest, triceps, and biceps muscles are also engaged.
Additionally, because your upper and lower body are moving simultaneously, your core and back muscles are incorporated automatically into the workout. So the result is a low-impact full-body workout.
5. Boosts Cardio Stamina and Endurance
When you exercise on the elliptical machine, you move all your muscles, from head to toe. That translates into extra hard work for your heart and lungs to be able to provide your muscles with adequate oxygen and blood.
This doesn’t only improve your cardiovascular health but also increases your stamina. The more your lungs and heart are trained to keep up with your increasing oxygen consumption, the more you’ll be able to exercise for longer durations and at higher intensities.
6. Enhances Balance and Mobility
Another perk of working your entire body with elliptical machines is that you improve your balance and overall mobility as well. Now you must be wondering how an elliptical machine works your balance while it supports your whole body. Here’s the trick: let go of the handles.
When you take your hands off the handles, you involve your core more in the workout. With your arms free, your legs bear your whole weight, while your core, back, and glutes work more to support your body during cycling.
To gain even more benefit from this trick, try to draw your belly in and relax your shoulders while moving. This will improve your functional activities and overall balance.
7. Various Workouts and Programs
Boredom kicks in quickly with cardio machines. Yet, with the versatility of the elliptical machine, you’ll hardly face any boring periods. Most of the elliptical machines on the market come with pre-installed workout programs, which allow you to exercise in different sceneries and customize your workouts according to your fitness goals.
Plus, they come with many options that enable you to diversify your exercises. For example, you can adjust it to sprint training to lose weight or add resistance to activate certain muscles. You can also amp up the incline to imitate climbing hills.
8. Easy to Learn and Use
Finally, although it has a lot to offer, there is no learning curve to the elliptical machine. You can easily figure it out without the help of a fitness trainer or even a manual. That’s a great benefit, especially if you’re looking to buy exercise equipment for home use where no one is around to provide tips on how to operate it.
Disadvantages of Elliptical Machines
1. Could Do More Harm Than Good
Your body is used to running and walking because these are movements that you frequently do and with complete control over each muscle. The elliptical motion, on the other hand, is more of an unnatural movement that can cause you injury if not done right.
Pushing on the pedals and handles simultaneously can cause your waist to twist unnaturally. Also, it could be hard to keep your hips, knees, and ankles aligned at all times, which, if not done, will cause your weight to be distributed unevenly, causing you pain in certain areas.
2. Not Bone or Muscle-Strengthening
Although elliptical machines provide great cardio workouts that train all your body muscles, you can’t rely on them solely in your training program. That’s because they neither strengthen your muscles nor increase your bone density.
To increase your muscle mass and shape your body, you’ll have to perform extra weight-bearing exercises to compensate for what the elliptical machine lacks.
3. Not Right for Everyone
Depending on your reasons for exercising, you can determine whether the elliptical trainer is the right fit for you. If the plan is to shed extra pounds or enhance your endurance, then the elliptical will be fine. However, if you’re training for a marathon or race, the treadmill would be a better choice then.
Verdict: Should I Use the Elliptical Machine?
Although the elliptical trainer doesn’t always look inviting, it has many benefits that make it a “must-be” in your routine. It helps strengthen your heart, work your muscles, and burn a great amount of fat. And best of all, it’s a great alternative to treadmills for those who have joint or mobility problems.
Emma James, 29 years old professional fitness trainer with Bachelor’s degree in Physical Fitness Technician from Boston University.