How to Use an Elliptical Machine Correctly
Elliptical machines, sometimes called cross-trainers or X-trainers, are everywhere. You will find them in gyms, fitness centers, hotels, and homes. Yet, they were only first introduced in the early 1990s. There are many good reasons for the rapid expansion of ellipticals, but in spite of their widespread popularity, many people still are not sure how to use them properly.
If you’ve been thinking about purchasing an elliptical machine or starting a fitness routine on an elliptical, it is important that you know the basics of how to use one effectively.
In this article, we’ll take a look at everything you need to know to get the best exercise routines out of an elliptical machine.
Knowing the “dos and don’ts” of an elliptical can help you prepare to maximize your fitness time, make sure you meet your fitness goals and provide for safe workouts every time you step on the machine.
What to Wear
Let’s start with the absolute basics: what to wear. Most people will find that their normal workout clothes, shorts and a t-shirt will suffice. You should avoid wearing any long or loose pants, like sweatpants, as these could possibly become tangled in the foot pedals depending on the style of elliptical you have.
Most ellipticals won’t have any dangerous parts around your ankles, but it never hurts to be safe!
You might also be tempted, especially if you are using an elliptical at home, to forgo any footwear since there is no impact of the foot against the pedal. However, this can be dangerous because it can lead to your foot slipping off the pedal and cause you some serious injuries. For this reason, you should wear a pair of running shoes/tennis shoes with decent treads which will grip the foot pedals well.
Use the Handles
One common mistake that people make is to try and use the elliptical machine without the handles, most likely because they think they should use it more like a treadmill. But ellipticals come with handles for some important reasons. First and foremost, they provide you with some stability so that you can more easily balance yourself getting on and off the machine, and while you are using it.
So, for the sake of safety, use the handlebars to steady yourself whenever you use an elliptical machine.
But more than that, the handles are meant to be part of the fitness routine to work your upper body. Because the handles are connected directly to the foot pedals, they will move naturally with your foot stride.
Be sure that you do not grip the handles too tightly or too loosely. The exertion of the exercise should come from moving the bars forward and backward in line with your step, not in gripping the handles.
To get on the elliptical safely, always put the pedals at a level position and grip the handlebar as you step on the machine. You should grasp the bars in such a way that your arms are comfortable, neither reaching too high up, nor so low that your elbows are sticking into your sides. The position should feel natural and relaxed.
The Proper Standing Position
One of the first things a good fitness trainer teaches his or her students is the proper position and movement of the body through an exercise or lifting of weights. Failure to use the correct postures and movements can not only result in inefficient exercise, they can also result in serious bodily harm.
The most common improper body position for using an elliptical is for the user to slouch forward during the exercise. If you find that you are slouching, it may be that you have exceeded your exertion level and need to take a break or that the intensity is set too high.
The proper body position involves first, bending your knees slightly. The width of your legs is already set by the width of the foot pedals, so you do not have to worry about that. But, you still need to make sure you do not lock your knees.
Keeping your knees slightly bent, as in a normal walking fashion, is important to ensure that your legs are properly exerting force against the resistance instead of your joints.
Second, your body posture should be upright, back straight. Keep your head up and your shoulders back so that most of the force against the resistance is coming from your legs and upper arms and not your back.
Finally, we all hopefully know by now that the phrase “no pain, no gain” is not to be taken literally when exercising. The most common problem that people experience when using an elliptical is numbness in their feet. This is not normal, nor a good sign. You need to stop. Chances are, you are putting too much pressure on the front of your foot, like your toes. Make sure that you are applying even pressure across your entire foot, neither too much on your heels, nor too much on your toes.
Use the Resistance
A very common mistake that people often make when it comes to using an elliptical machine for the first time is just to get on it and go. You see them whizzing away at the machine, feeling like they are going hundreds of miles an hour, but they are hardly breaking a sweat or are not even out of breath. These people are not getting much, if any, work out.
If you are a beginner, the easiest and best way to get the most out of your workouts is to use the pre-programmed workout routines that come with ellipticals. This is a common feature in all trainers today. Just enter the desired information, like height, weight, etc., and select the kind of workout you want to do.
The console will automatically adjust the resistance at predetermined intervals. If, at the end of the workout, you do not feel challenged enough, just increase the resistance the next time you work out.
The one thing you do not want to do is get on the machine and then start to mess with all the buttons. This can cause you to lose focus and possibly fall off the machine. Determine what kind of a workout you want to do ahead of time, and then you can adjust here or there if you need to.
Use the Incline
Many elliptical machines now come with the ability to incline your stride, much like a traditional treadmill. The incline will not be nearly as much usually, but it can be enough to give you a bit more challenging of a workout.
Like using the resistance, consider using the incline option to give you a more intense workout. Many of the pre-programmed workouts will automatically take care of this for you, so you do not have to worry about it.
But as your elliptical inclines, be sure to maintain proper posture throughout your strides. If you find that the incline causes you to lose your posture, back off and focus more on resistance. It is not worth the added intensity if you end up getting injured.
Vary Your Workouts and Focus
Another way to make sure you get the most out of the elliptical is to vary the kind of intensity routines you do. On certain days, focusing more on high resistance for a shorter time, while on other days going for less resistance over a longer time can be a good way to get the most out of your machine.
And while you are in your routine, try focusing on interval training of your arms and legs. Use mostly your arms against the resistance for a minute, then switch to your legs, then both – alternating where you focus your attention.
These intense bursts can be a great way to make sure you are working out your entire body and not relying just on your strongest part. After all, you want overall health, not just betting toning of what’s already good!
Backpedaling Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be
Some people, thinking that pedaling backward on their elliptical will work a whole different set of muscles, spend far too much of their work out running the machine in reverse. For some reason, the idea has gone around that if you pedal backward, the elliptical machine will work your gluteal muscles more. But this is simply not the case.
While it is true that pedaling backward will work slightly different muscles (and then only when at an incline), the gluteal muscles are not affected.
And while it is also true that elliptical training is a good way to tone your muscles, it is not a strength training machine.
So, doing a little backpedaling won’t hurt anything, but you also are not going to see massive differences, so it is best to just keep things moving forward.
The Final Word
Using an elliptical machine is a smart and effective way to work out. A consistent routine on an elliptical machine as part of your overall fitness program can lead to greater muscle tone, reduced weight, and a better overall sense of well-being. Following our tips here will make sure you use your elliptical machine safely and efficiently so that you can get the most out of your exercise regimen.