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Should You Use an Elliptical?

Over the past months I have been writing a series of “How to use X’ blogs, covering everything from the treadmill, to the bike, to free weights, to my personal favourite — the foam roller.

Today, the elliptical!

But first, a critical point that I have thus far failed to hammer home — not all pieces of equipment are appropriate for all people. My mom taught me growing up that “just because a boy wants to date you, doesn’t mean you have to date him.” The same can be said for pieces of exercise equipment and workout styles; just because the product or company is trying to “court you” does not necessarily mean you want them.

Put another way, just because you read one of these blogs or watch a “how to” YouTube video, etc — and thus know HOW to use something — does not mean you SHOULD use it. Just because you have access to equipment or a certain type of class does not mean you have to use it.

Why? The benefits of any workout are moot if you can’t make yourself do it or it injures you. When it comes to reaching any fitness goal, consistency is key. The trick is to find YOUR FIT — i.e., the workout that works for YOU. Look for four main things. Find the workout that you’re comfortable doing. (Note: this will change as your fitness level changes.) Find a workout that is appropriate for your fitness needs and level (high impact vs low impact, etc). Find a workout that is convenient. Last, find a workout that you enjoy (or at least don’t hate) so that you can do it consistently. Yoga might be good for me, but I don’t like it. Since I can’t make myself do it consistently, I opt for other forms of flexibility and mobility training.

So … is the elliptical right for you?

When it comes to cardio, many people think that running is the “gold standard.” Thus, when they can’t run, they often opt out of cardio altogether. I love running. The elliptical is not my jam, but for many the elliptical offers a low-impact, joint-friendly, slightly less intimidating cardio option.

Pros

-Excellent if you require a low-impact cardio option (arthritis, problem knees or hips, etc)

-Fairly unintimidating — a plus if you are new to exercise and need a “friendly” introduction to cardio.

-Many elliptical machines involve both arm and leg movement. This is nice if you want a “full body” feel.

- If you predominantly use the treadmill (or spin or row, etc), mixing things up with the elliptical is a good thing. Adding variety to your workouts will help stave off boredom, guard against overuse injuries, and ensure you are continuing to push your body so that it does not adapt and stop showing results. Plus, cross training helps to avoid injury.

Cons

-An elliptical machine requires space and can be expensive for a higher end model. However, there are options that can fit your budget (see this Progression elliptical). If you work out at home, a bike might be more cost and space efficient. Or consider using your own body weight for cardio. Try YouTube videos, skipping, body-weight intervals, or simply running or walking outside.

-The elliptical is not overly athletic. I personally HATE the elliptical. I feel like a hamster — I despise the robotic, unnatural feel. Running is my bliss. When I am opting for a low-impact cardio option I bike or swim; both feel athletic and natural for me.

Note: Any form of cardio can provide a good workout, as long as you are keeping your heart rate up over roughly 60% of your max. You can determine your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Also, if you really hate the elliptical machine — but know you need to cross train — try sandwiching it between bouts on the treadmill to make the activity feel more manageable. Do 15 minutes on the treadmill, 15 minutes on the elliptical, and then finish with 15 minutes on the treadmill.


A few sample elliptical workouts

Option 1

  • Progressive warm-up. For 10 minutes, increase your level every two minutes.
  • Then, hold the final level for 10 minutes, alternating 30 seconds at an increased speed with 30 seconds at regular speed. Recover for three minutes at regular speed.
  • Increase your speed one more time, then hold your fastest speed for two minutes.
  • Cool down for five minutes.

Option 2

  • Warm up for five minutes, increasing the level every minute.
  • Then, for 10 minutes hold the level but increase your speed every two minutes.
  • Recover for three minutes.
  • Then hold a regular speed and build your resistance — increase your level every minute until you can’t go any higher or ten minutes have gone by. Increase your speed and hold your highest level for two minutes.
  • Cool down for five minutes.

Option 3

  • Warm up for five minutes, increasing your level every minute.
  • Alternate two minutes where you concentrate on speed with two minutes where you increase you resistance.
  • Repeat three to five times.
  • Cool down for five minutes.


Kathleen Trotter is a personal trainer in Toronto who loves audiobooks, planks and having a growth mindset. You can follow her blog or find her on Facebook.