Elliptical machines are a huge part of the fitness realm. They populate the length and breadth of gyms and have become a staple in most homes. Fitness enthusiasts and experts have long touted its amazing benefits, urging everyone to use or buy one. But the question is; are they effective as they are said to be? Do they actually work? Well, we are about to find out! But first, let’s take a look at what ellipticals are.
The Elliptical Machine at a Glance
An elliptical trainer or machine is a stationary piece of exercise equipment that replicates stair-climbing, running, and walking motions without exerting excessive strain on the joints — thus minimizing the risk of impact-associated injuries. Because it is as low-impact as can be, avid exercisers can use the machine to stay fit even when injured or recovering from surgery.
Elliptical trainers were invented by Precor and were introduced to the market in the 1990s. They primarily offer impact-free cardiovascular workouts that vary between light, moderate and intense. The workout intensity on an elliptical is determined by the user’s speed and resistance settings. Typically, elliptical trainers are geared to work the upper and lower body by virtue of their integrated moving handles ( very few ellipticals lack mobile handles). In addition, elliptical-based workouts are considered a form of weight bearing exercise.
Elliptical machines are categorized into three based on the location of their “drive” or “motor”. The pioneer and oldest elliptical machine type are the rear-drive elliptical, followed by the second-generation elliptical, the front-drive elliptical, while the recently upgraded version is the center-drive elliptical. While most elliptical machines lack an adjustable ramp or incline, few include this feature. With such models, the incline takes the form of a sloping ramp beneath the pedal links. Exercises can manually or automatically (depending on the model) adjust this ramp to simulate various motions. These adjustments can alternate the stride length or vary hip actuation.
The Upsides of Using an Elliptical Machine
The biggest benefit of using an elliptical machine is the low-impact workout it provides. This means the chances of getting hurt or worsening existing injuries is slim, making it incredibly safe for use. But besides being safe, ellipticals have long been associated with many other benefits (both physically and mentally). For one, they are second only to treadmills in working the leg muscles and the heart. But what makes an elliptical machine truly one-of-a-kind is its ability to engage/work the whole body by offering upper and lower body workouts. It is for this reason that it is also called a cross-trainer.
When used right, the trainer can activate a wide range of muscles including the hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, triceps, biceps, chest, and back. To get this full-body experience, it is important to evenly distribute the resistance between the upper and lower body — by occasionally letting go of the moving handlebars. As earlier mentioned, ellipticals provide weight-bearing workouts which serve to strengthen the leg and hinder the development of osteoporosis in elderly individuals. They are also versatile as they are engineered with various challenging workout programs including hill-climbing and interval training. Modern-day ellipticals also feature heart rate control integrations, allowing users to track their heart rate for optimum performance. You can also track other metrics like speed, cadence, distance, and time to make the most of your workout.
Elliptical-based workouts can lead to many health benefits especially with these elliptical exercise hacks. Working out on an elliptical can improve cardio and aerobic stamina for optimum heart health. High to moderate-intensity sessions on an elliptical cause the lungs and hearts to work harder than usual in pumping oxygen and blood to all parts of the body. Proper blood circulation helps boost immunity which in turn minimizes the development of chronic diseases and illnesses. Spending as little as 5 minutes on an elliptical machine can significantly reduce your blood pressure levels — because exercising stimulates the release of serotonin, a feel-good hormone that has anti-hypertensive effects. All in all, elliptical trainers can improve physical and mental health quality.
The Downsides of Using an Elliptical Machine
Elliptical machines are not flawless; that is, they also have their drawbacks! While they have many perks, they are not free of imperfections. For starters, elliptical workouts have lower perceived exertion, meaning it gives a minimal challenge for professional exercisers looking for some “heat”. While this might be a pro for beginners, other skilled fitness fanatics may consider elliptical-based workouts boring and non-immersive. Another drawback is that it strengthens lesser bone and muscle mass as compared to running. This is because the feet are secured to ellipticals and will keep driving momentum even when you put in zero or minimal effort.
Also, the core is relegated to the background when you hold on to the handlebars as opposed to when they swing on your sides. As such, your abs gets little exercise than it should. Using the handles also lifts the weight from your legs to the handrails, giving little opportunity for leg work. However, you can counteract this downside by occasionally letting go of the handlebars when exercising.
The trainer also presents a bit of a learning curve. Though the elliptical motion is nothing short of innovative and fantastic, it can take some getting used to. Many people report feeling very awkward when using the elliptical in the beginning phases — the motion appears unnatural and tends to be disconcerting but with constant practice, it becomes as natural as can be. Lastly, elliptical machines are not size-inclusive. They are typically designed for exercisers of average height and may be uncomfortable for certain body types. As opposed to treadmills and stair climbers that sport a more flexible design, ellipticals require that the arms and feet stay put in particular locations. So if you are too tall, short, or wide, an elliptical trainer may be uncomfortable to use.
Do Ellipticals Provide High-quality Workouts?
Here comes the question of the century! To satisfy your curiosity, yes ellipticals make for high-quality workouts. For starters, their pros outweigh their cons, hence optimizing workout quality. Considering that joint issues are oh-so-common and the biggest obstacle to reaching fitness goals, elliptical machines are a dream come true for many.
No questions asked ellipticals are one of the very rare exercise machines that provide low-impact workouts. As a result, everyone has a chance at taking their fitness game to the next level, regardless of health status. You can get as good an exercise as any on an elliptical machine, not minding its low-impact design.
Secondly, ellipticals have a proven track record of burning calories. You can burn up to 450 calories in 30 minutes when using the trainer ( these specifics apply to moderate-intensity exercises done by an average-weight person). So if your goal is to lose some pounds, then the elliptical can be your knight in shining armor.
What is the Estimated Time length for Elliptical Workouts to Produce Results?
No exercise or exercise equipment guarantees result within a short time frame. However, some trainers do exhibit a noticeable impact quicker than others. But here is the thing, an elliptical trainer won’t provide lightning-quick results as exhibited by more intensive exercises.
Truth be told, It takes consistency and commitment to gain noticeable results when using an elliptical trainer to perform workouts. Generally, cardiovascular health improvements usually take one to three weeks of consistent workouts. But changes that have to do with physique tend to take a longer time to appear. On the whole, you should expect to see significant results in six to eight weeks or thereabout.
For exercisers looking to improve their physique within a short period, other cardio workouts can get the job done. For instance, treadmills are much quicker at burning calories than an elliptical. Magnetic spin bikes also make high-intensive exercises that target physique modification. And guess what? A simple jump rope can get you your dream body in record time.
How to Maximize the Effectiveness of Elliptical Workouts
To make the most out of your elliptical workouts, leverage the moving handlebars — pushing and pulling the handles will activate your upper body muscles for increased calorie burn. However, do not abuse this recommendation, as doing so will leave your leg muscles at a disadvantage. Secondly, ensure to amp your resistance levels so your heart rate can reach its target zone. And if you are lucky to have or use an elliptical with an incline, maximize this to the tee! (and watch your leg muscles thank you). Finally, use the elliptical religiously for best results!
The Bottom Line — are Ellipticals Effective?
Elliptical trainers have advantages and disadvantages and are as effective as the effort you put into them. While they’ve been developed to facilitate high-quality workouts with minimal injury risk, a user will only record noticeable results if they use the equipment properly and consistently. Admittedly, they may not show significant results as fast as some other cardio workouts, but they deserve some credit. If not anything, they give all fitness enthusiasts a chance at working out with or without joint issues or injuries!