6 Elliptical Benefits & 4 Disadvantages

At-home exercise is becoming more popular than ever. Especially with the onset of COVID-19 and the shutdown of public gyms, workout out at home has become the new normal. Fortunately, there are now a fantastic variety of different exercise machines that one can use at home. Rowing machines, treadmills, indoor cycling bikes and home gym machines are all perfect ways to keep healthy without actually having to leave the home. However, the method that we think truly has some prime benefits and the one that we will be looking at today is the elliptical.

From improving your cardio skills to making sure that your joints are significantly less stressed than traditional treadmills or running, these machines can really provide some of the best workouts today. The benefits of using an elliptical are rather hard to overlook, as they have become such a force in the personal fitness equipment market over the past few years.

We’re going to look at these elliptical workout benefits and compare them to some other workout machines. That way you can see what sort of personal exercise machine you think would work best in your home (SPOILER: We’re still leaning towards the elliptical here). We’re also going to look at some disadvantages to elliptical workouts. After all, no workout machine is perfect. Once it is all said and done, we will answer a few frequently asked questions in order to satiate that last little desire for all types of elliptical knowledge. With all of that out of the way, let’s get into our discussion on the elliptical trainer benefits.

Elliptical Workout Advantages

Low Impact Exercise

low impact workout

The biggest advantage that good ellipticals have over other exercise equipment is their ability to allow the user to workout without causing too much stress on the joints and overall strain on the legs. Because your feet never leave the pedals, the shock of the impact from your feet repeatedly hitting the ground is absent. Some people might think that because the feet don’t leave the ground, the workouts are less intense. This simply is not true. Elliptical workouts can get quite intense on the upper resistance levels and on some of the more advanced programs that are included on upper tier machines. The knees, ankles and hips are just some of the joints that will definitely benefit from a workout on an elliptical.

Upper and Lower Body Exercise

upper and lower body exercise

The second most common benefit of elliptical machines is that they often have the ability to work both the upper and lower body. Even many of the cheaper and “lower tier” ellipticals have arms that move, allowing you to get both an upper and lower body workout at the same time. That is why many people (and Wikipedia) often refer to an elliptical as a cross trainer. When used correctly, the elliptical can engage the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, chest, back, biceps, triceps, and core muscles all in a single workout. The key to getting this entire workout is working just as intensely at moving the arms as you are at moving the legs. Many people just go through the motions of moving the arms, instead of actually putting effort into pushing and pulling the handlebars. This actually turns out to be less effective for the general workout. Instead, by pumping the arms just as much as the legs, you can get an absolutely spectacular full body workout all in one go. Which leads us to..

The Calorie Burning

calorie burning

Compact ellipticals can be an excellent way to tear through calories if you exercise regularly and with a good intensity. Depending on how much you weigh and how intense the workouts are, elliptical machines can burn between 270 to 400 calories in 30 minutes. If you are someone who is looking to lose weight, this extremely effective burning method of calories can really help get you towards that goal.

Recovery

good recovery exercise

Ellipticals are an excellent way to come back from an injury. Because of the aforementioned relief on the various joints and parts of the body, ellipticals can be terrific for those who want to continue their recovery. It allows for you to get back into a full range of motion without going through the actual impact of regular running. It is similar to how bikes are often used for injuries to the lower body. Because there isn’t the intense jolts of impact that comes with running, it makes for a much smoother path to recovery for those who are injured.

Low maintenance

low maintenance

The maintenance requirements are almost nonexistent (if you buy a high-quality elliptical). When people think of home exercise equipment, they usually wince at the thought of having to regularly check and maintain one. Fortunately, many ellipticals require little to no maintenance outside of the occasional wiping down. The only time that maintenance might be required is if you start to hear some noise or feel something wrong in the way that the machine is working underneath you. If the machine has a quality manual or warranty, these problems could also end up being extremely minor issues.

The Versatility

Versatility

Another key aspect of the many ellipticals available today is just how many features they have. On the cheaper side, there are those that do little more than allow you to hop on and get moving. These are perfectly valid and will do the job just as well as any other elliptical. They also usually come with a console/monitor that does little more than tells you how long you’ve been going, the estimated calories burned, the distance you have travelled and maybe one or two other statistics. Some examples of these solid elliptical machines would the (INSERT EXAMPLES).

Thanks to modern technology, however, these are not the only kinds available. Now there are more advanced types that can offer all sorts of different features, programs and anything else that can be imagined. Mid-tier ellipticals like the (INSERT EXAMPLES) generally offer more sturdy workouts alongside some more advanced monitors. These monitors can offer pre-programmed workout sets, Bluetooth connections to tablets or phones, and perhaps the ability to fold or be more maneuverable. They also generally have better warranties than the cheapest machines due to their better material make-up. The higher tier ellipticals are where the technology really shines. These will come with advanced consoles and monitors that will not only offer just about every workout statistic you could ever desire, but they will also provide entertainment alongside.

Whether that is the ability to connect to the TV or speakers, it’s own subscription to iFit workout programs, a space for a tablet, or any other sort of entertainment feature you could think of, these ellipticals attempt to act as more than just fitness machines. They also tend to come with an absolute host of advanced workout programs already installed on the monitor, so it allows for all sorts of workouts. You most certainly will not be getting bored when using these upper level machines. Some of the top ellipticals in this area include the (INSERT EXAMPLES). Finally, there are those that look like they are coming straight out of a cyberpunk or Matrix-esque setting. These are the absolute, top of the line, machines that only those who are obsessed with their personal fitness will be looking to get. They offer multiple types of exercise, screens that offer the ultimate types of exercise and even more luxury features that are too numerous to list. Usually the best way to go about getting these is to acquire them used.

Elliptical Workout Disadvantages

The cost

cost

While there are cheap ellipticals, a great deal of the ellipticals that actually provide workouts that are worth the time (such as these ellipticals under $5000) can cost a pretty penny. Especially those that offer advanced technology and customized workouts are ones that will take a chunk out of many people’s wallets. Normally this wouldn’t be a concern at a public gym or fitness club, but to actually bring home one might actually bring it to the forefront of the mind. If all you are looking for is a way to practice cardio (and you are not focused on the low impact effect), you might just be better suited to buying a pair of running shoes and go for a run around the block.

Can’t train certain sports

only does one workout

If you are attempting to train for a certain type of sport, ellipticals can be somewhat less than helpful. If it is just running, they will definitely help you out. But if it is a sport like association football, American football, basketball and cycling, then there is not a whole lot of positives that can be gained from workouts on the elliptical. That is because the motion used for the elliptical is different than that which is used in those examples. Don’t even get us started on how useless the elliptical is for swimming training.

Doesn’t build muscles

doesn't build muscles

It is not a machine that will build a lot of muscle. Yes, it will get some excellent movement and use of the legs (and arms if it has moving handlebars), but the actual build-up of muscles is sorely lacking. To get some prime abs or bulk muscles, you will have to make use of some other machines and exercises.

Stride length

stride length

The stride lengths of ellipticals can also be an issue. Because many of these machines are built with fixed stride lengths available, it means that only certain people will feel fully natural while using it. Those that have knee issues or injuries can even find themselves irritating those injuries further by using ellipticals due to this fixed stride length. There are ellipticals that have adjustable stride lengths, but they also tend to be the more expensive variety.


Elliptical Workouts Compared to Other Workouts

Now we’re going to look at the elliptical workouts compared to the other most common pieces of exercise equipment. The three main ones that we will be comparing it to are those workouts you can get on treadmills, the workouts that you can get on spin bikes and the workouts that you can get while rowing.

Elliptical vx Treadmill

elliptical vs treadmill

First up is the treadmill workout. This and weightlifting are probably the two most common workouts that people think of when they think of working out at the gym. There is a reason for it, as treadmill running is extremely popular. It takes the natural running motion and gives you a great deal of control over it. You can raise the intensity, incline or your own tempo of running at will, allowing for just about any sort of cardio workout that is done outside to be done inside on a treadmill. This makes them great for high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, which are great for burning calories and improving that cardio fitness.

Compare this to elliptical equipment. While the ellipticals are better at being easier on the joints, they are unable to provide the same sort of intense workouts that treadmills provide. This equates to being slightly less effective at losing weight and building muscle in the legs. Specifically, your quadriceps, hamstrings and calves all have a much better chance of being strengthened when they are being worked on a treadmill. Ellipticals can also take a lot more time and practice to get used to. The motion of running comes quite naturally to a lot of people, making treadmills a more natural experience. Ellipticals offer a different motion, therefore offering a slightly higher learning curve to becoming an expert.

Of course, treadmills are not perfect. They are more intense on the joints than ellipticals. Therefore, if you are nursing or coming back from an injury, a treadmill should probably not be at the top of the list for home exercise equipment. Another issue that the treadmill has that ellipticals can avoid is the issue of only working out one muscle group. Treadmills simply do not have the same moving arms that ellipticals are able to support. Therefore, treadmills cannot offer the same sort of full body workouts that you can get on an elliptical. This might not matter for those who are solely focused on the lower body or simply want to strengthen the lower body, but it is something that should be noted.

It is hard to choose an overall winner between the two. They are so similar, yet at the same time quite different. For those who are looking to really push themselves with some high intensity interval workouts and have full control over their exercise, treadmills definitely have the advantage. They allow the user to simulate running outside without needing to face any of the elements like extreme heat or cold. Treadmills also allow for quicker weight loss due to their intensity of workouts. However, for those who are nursing injuries or want less stress on their joints while they exercise, ellipticals are definitely the better option. They can allow the user to get full body workouts and maintain fitness for those who aren’t necessarily able or willing to go all the way with regular cardio workouts.

Elliptical vx Spin Bike

elliptical vs spin bike

Up next are the spin bikes. It might seem obvious, but it should be noted that the spin bikes are meant to replicate the experience of riding a bike. Just like how a treadmill is meant to replicate running outside without any of the elements interfering, the spin bike does the same for bikes. Spin bikes are another example of a piece of exercise equipment that is meant for more intense workouts. Obviously, you can still do more intense workouts on ellipticals, but spin bikes are generally regarded as the way to go if you intend on performing these frequent intense exercise routines. The costs of both spin bikes and ellipticals tend to be similar in that they (mostly) range from $300 to $3000. Of course, this can drastically change if you are desperate for the highest tier of exercise equipment.

Similar to the treadmill, the spin bike does only tend to work out the lower body. Occasionally there are those higher tier bikes that come with dumbbells in order to allow the user to work the upper body, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Specifically spin bikes focus on the thigh and calf muscles. Again, like the treadmill, spin bikes do tend to be better at making high intensity interval workouts more effective at burning calories. As with the treadmill, the riding motion on a spin bike is a lot more natural than the actual movement on the ellipticals. Therefore, it can be a bit harder to get used to the movement on the elliptical compared to the spin bike.

It is actually rather surprising just how similar spin bikes and ellipticals are in how they help us stay fit. Spin bikes are often used for those who are injured and attempting to recover, just as ellipticals are. They can both provide some excellent exercise as long as it is regular and the correct intensity is used. Both will tone the muscles of the lower body, but won’t exactly be building any more mass. Spin bikes definitely have the advantage when it comes to those HIIT workouts that we have talked about, as all that is needed to change the resistance on most spin bikes is just the turning of a resistance knob. Meanwhile, on many ellipticals it is a slower and more involved process that can include using the console.

Ellipticals still take the cake when it comes to full body workouts. After all, you aren’t flinging your arms around when riding around on stationary bikes. Technically, you can get a form of strengthening by keeping your arms in place during intense bike workouts, but it doesn’t come anywhere near the exercise that you get with the moving arms that many ellipticals offer. Indoor cycling does have the advantage when it comes to burning calories, though it is only a marginal one.

Both of these machines are low impact on the joints and can be used when recovering from injuries. Since there is no actual impact with any ground, both provide the ability to not strain the joints that do take the impact from those running sessions.

Both also require minimal maintenance. Make sure that you wipe down the machines after use, since the sweat can deteriorate the material after a long period without any sort of cleaning.The only issues you have to look out for is if there are any strange noises coming from the machine. Usually both come with solid warranties if there is some deeper level of damage.

Elliptical vs Rowing Machine

elliptical vs rowing machine

Finally, we have rowing machines. This is where the difference really shines. Rowing machines are one of the best pieces of exercise equipment on account of their ability to workout the entire body. Because of the motion of rowing, it can allow the user to exercise up to 86% of their muscles all in one go. While the ellipticals do allow the user to work the entire body thanks to their moving arms, they are primarily focused on the lower body and do not deliver as intense a workout to all of the same areas that rowers do.

While ellipticals focus more on the losing weight aspect of exercise, rowing machines come with a double benefit. They allow the user to build muscle and burn a significant amount of calories at the same time. In this regard, the rowers definitely have the advantage. After all, it is much better to have the ability to both burn calories and build muscle than only have the capability to do the former. Then again, if you are solely focused on burning calories, according to this Harvard study, ellipticals are better at that feat. So it depends on what you are looking for.

In terms of how easy they are to use, the elliptical will most likely win. While it isn’t as natural as biking or running on a treadmill, a great deal of people have never even touched a rowing machine and do not know how to properly use it. The technique required to properly use one of these rowers usually contains about four steps: pushing with your legs, pulling with your arms and back, relaxing the arms and back to bring the bar back to the starting position, and finally relaxing the legs to bring your body back to the starting position. That’s a lot to keep in mind while simply trying to go about a workout. Meanwhile, on the elliptical, all you have to do is hop on and move in sync with the pedals and arms. The elliptical wins this round.

Both the elliptical and rowing machine offer relatively low joint impacts, as you aren’t repeatedly hitting the ground (or belt if you are on a treadmill). The biggest fear that you could have about the rowing machine is if you have had knee injuries or problems in the past, since the knee is moving from a fully stretched to fully bent position. The elliptical has a higher chance of injury if you have had back problems in the past. Again, hard to pick an outright winner here. It simply depends on if you have had problems in the respective areas.

All three of these machines offer good workouts in their own special ways. Whether it is the full-body pumping that air rowing machines offer or the traditional running method given by treadmills, they can all give a workout if used regularly and intensely. Ellipticals do have a lot in common with all three of them, which you can really see when we break down the comparison like this. The elements that ellipticals offer makes sure that you are getting the most calories burnt out of all of the workouts, all while being much easier on the joints.


FAQ

Q: What is the difference between front and rear drive ellipticals?

A: Rear drive ellipticals are ones that have the flywheel and drive axle located in the back of the machine. This can lead to a smoother feel from the ride and on the pedals. These machines can sometimes be more expensive. Front-drive ellipticals are cheaper but provide a mildly rougher ride. It’s not a universal truth, but it is what the trends lean towards.

Q: What kind of resistance system is the best?

A: The most common resistance system that the middle and upper-tier ellipticals come with nowadays is that of magnetic resistance. The system is powered by magnets and is positioned near the flywheel within the machine. This resistance is changed by moving to magnets away and closer to the flywheel. It results in a nice, quiet, and smooth workout with an easy way to transition between resistance levels.

Q: How do I measure my stride length?

A: The best way to determine your stride length is to judge it by your height. For example, an approximate ideal walking stride length for someone who is 5’5”-5’8” (165-172.7 cm) would be 20.5 inches. A jogging stride length for the same person would be 21.5 inches and a running stride length would be 23 inches. A good way to test a comfortable stride length is to test ellipticals at a local gym and see how comfortable the workout feels.

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