The Advantages of the Elliptical Trainer

The elliptical trainer is fast becoming the preferred machine for aerobic weight-bearing exercise. Elliptical trainers have several important advantages over other types of exercise equipment like stairsteppers and treadmills. In this article we’ll discuss the features and benefits of ellipticals and explain why this machine should be included in your home fitness equipment. We’ll also tell you features to look for when shopping for the best elliptical trainer.

How an elliptical trainer works

The elliptical trainer has long, flat, oversized pedals that fit the entire length of the foot and then some. One end of the pedal, the front end, is attached to a crank like on a bicycle. Pressure on the crank rotates the front of the pedal in a circular motion. The back end of the pedal has linear motion during crank rotation. This combination of linear and circular motions results in overall elliptical movement patterns that vary depending where on the pedal the motion occurs. Toward the front of the pedal, the ellipses are wider and more circular. Toward the back of the pedal, the ellipses are longer and flatter. Studies have shown that this elliptical motion closely approximates leg and foot motion during walking, jogging and running. Attached to the front of the machines are long poles that move forward and back in a motion similar to using ski poles. In fact, the elliptical can be thought of as simulating cross-country skiing.

The elliptical trainer further explained

Elliptical machines are relative newcomers on the fitness scene. Combining the motion of walking with that of stair climbing, ellipticals offer a low impact full body workout because of the arm levers or handles. You stand in an upright position when using an elliptical. Because the elliptical closely mimics the natural foot motion of walking or jogging but doesn’t require lifting the foot, its motion is completely fluid and non-jarring. The elliptical machine minimizes stress on the user’s knees, hips and back. Because you don’t have to lift your feet during the workout – they stay securely on the pedals -- the risk of injury is minimized. The elliptical works arms and legs together, so your workout will be more intense in a shorter span of time. To see the advantages of an elliptical, let’s compare it to the treadmill, currently the most popular piece of home exercise equipment.

Elliptical versus treadmill

The treadmill concentrates strictly on the lower body while the elliptical exercises both the upper and lower body. Although walking on a treadmill has less impact than walking outdoors, there is still significant effect on the joints. Although both the treadmill and elliptical offer adjustable resistance and incline, only the elliptical can be pedaled in reverse motion, adding significant variety to the workout. The reverse motion also works different muscles. You can also choose to use the levers on an elliptical in order to vary the workout so you don’t get bored. Many treadmills come with computers, pre-programmed workouts and heart rate monitors. Most ellipticals have similar features. An elliptical is quieter in operation than a treadmill and takes up less space. Although it’s too soon to tell, the elliptical seems destined to displace the treadmill as the top form of aerobic exercise. While the elliptical and treadmill are about equal in health benefits, the elliptical provides these benefits with less risk of injury, shortens the workout’s duration and allows you more flexibility in your fitness routine.

Features to look for when shopping for an elliptical

• Stride length – Look for a stride length of about 21 inches. Less expensive models will offer 14 to 16 inches, a stride length too short for most people.

• Adjustable incline – Like a treadmill, your elliptical should adjust in the range of 0% to 10%.

• Smooth motion – The machine should have an even, stable motion through all parts of the ellipse.

• Silent operation – No clanking, banging, or loud noise of any kind. This is important if you plan to watch TV or listen to music during the workout; or if you work out while others are sleeping.

• Upper body motion – Even if you don’t plan to use arm levers right away, choose a machine that has them. The handrails and arm levers should provide stability and aid in balance but not get in the way.

• Adjustable resistance – An absolute must have if you want your elliptical trainer to keep pace as you get stronger and fitter. Resistance adjustment that is motorized is best, so you can change the settings on the fly.

• Warm up and cool down – To minimize the risk of injury and stress on the muscles and joints, the machine should have built-in warm up and cool down

• Console and computer – The console should be easy to read and at least show time, distance and calories burned. If you can afford a machine with pre-programmed workouts, be sure there is a fairly wide and challenging range -- from easy to hard -- so you won’t outgrow the programs or get bored.

• Heart rate monitor – Available on better ellipticals, this is an interactive tool that displays your heart rate so you can be sure you’re exercising in the right zone for maximum cardio and muscle-working benefits. Some machines tie the heart rate monitor into the computer, so the trainer can adjust as needed to keep you in your target heart rate zone. This makes for a very efficient workout.

• Warranty – An indicator of initial quality and of the confidence the manufacturer has in their product, the warranty is often overlooked. Don’t settle for anything less than 1 year for labor and 1-3 years for parts. Be sure you can have the machine serviced locally if something goes wrong.

Other tips and suggestions

Measure the space where you plan to put your elliptical trainer. Allow at least 25 square feet. Check the Internet for backgound information and user reviews on various brands of ellipticals. Visit a retailer that specializes in fitness equipment and "test drive" several modes. Don’t just hop on and hop off – spend a few minutes on each machine to make sure it is comfortable, smooth and easy to use. Finally, don’t cheap out – instead of buying a bargain brand that won’t last, save up the money if you have to and buy a better model that will give you years of reliable service.

About the Author:

Rita Liotta is a successful freelance writer offering guidance and suggestions for consumers regarding fitness equipment

Her many articles give information and tips to help people save money and make smarter decisions.

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  • Name: Rita Liotta
  • Date: 03/7/05
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