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How Effective Are Elliptical Workouts?

iFIT Team

READ TIME:9 min.

These days, it seems like everyone knows an avid cycle enthusiast or a fervent treadmill trekker, but an ardent elliptical devotee? Chances are slim. Long considered a generic gym staple reserved exclusively for beginners, the elliptical hasn’t always gotten the accolades it deserves—and it does deserve them. Despite its less-than-invigorating reputation, the elliptical is a calorie-torching machine that works the upper and lower muscles for a total-body workout that few other machines can match. The elliptical is ideal for those who crave a workout that echoes everyday movements and delivers well-being benefits that resonate long after a workout has wrapped.

If you’re not among those that have been clued into the elliptical machine’s prowess, don’t fret; merely read on. We’re spotlighting the wide array of benefits of elliptical workouts and divulging pro tricks and tips on how to best hit your stride.

How effective are elliptical classes? | iFIT Blog

How does an elliptical machine work?

The key to the elliptical machine’s appeal is how easy it is to use. Elliptical machines come with foot pedals and stationary and moveable handlebars. On many machines, including NordicTrack iFIT elliptical models, the foot treads automatically change with your stride. This means that you can easily adjust how you walk to target different muscle groups. In addition to the foot pedals, the handlebars can be used to provide variation to a workout. Grip the stationary handlebars to isolate and work on stabilizing your lower body. Switch to the moveable handlebars (which increase in resistance along with the foot pedals on NordicTrack machines) to train your upper body.

To increase the caliber of a workout, most elliptical machines can change the cadence, resistance, and sometimes even the incline. Generally, you want to feel your muscles work as you push the elliptical machine’s pedals. You can also ramp up the incline on your elliptical to enhance calorie burn and muscle growth.

All ellipticals are self-propelled. This means that the user has to generate speed themselves. Moving along at a fast pace is a good way to increase your heart rate. Increasing your heart rate will also improve cardiovascular endurance. Resistance and incline work with speed to maximize training effects. As the pedals and handlebars become heavy, your muscles will be challenged more.

Worth noting is that on some elliptical machines, including NordicTrack’s iFIT ellipticals, you can move the foot pedals backward. Machines with this feature are good for those who want to increase leg muscle. It is also great for those who want to build their core. If you’re looking for a way to naturally incorporate forward and backward elliptical exercises, consider checking out iFIT’s online elliptical classes.

4 reasons to use an elliptical in your home gym

Now that we’ve talked about why elliptical workouts are effective, the question is: Do the benefits of an elliptical outweigh other machines? While there may not be any end-all answer (given that much of the answer relies on personal preference), we’re spotlighting four benefits.

1. Ellipticals offer a no-impact workout

Not exercising because it will wreak havoc on your joints is usually a good excuse. Thankfully, with its ability to procure a low-impact workout, the elliptical challenges that. Traditionally, exercises like running or cycling require you to press down on a hard surface (like pavement) to create momentum. The secret to the elliptical’s gentle approach is its suspended foot pedals. The elevated pedals don’t require you to exert your full weight against a solid surface to maintain momentum. This prevents a jolting sensation. Essentially, an elliptical allows you to walk mid-air. This is the reason you’ll hear some enthusiasts deem an elliptical workout as “cathartic.”

Some people may not be excited by the notion of a no-impact workout. However, for those who have health issues or are or troubled by an injury, the concept of a low-force workout might be beneficial. Thankfully, ellipticals are ideal for those recovering from things like knee injuries or arthritis. They’re also helpful when individuals have osteoporosis. Given that it’s estimated that the average runner experiences an impact several times that of their body weight during a run, opting for a no-impact workout prevents a lot of wear on the body.

Since ellipticals create zero impact, users frequently report that elliptical workouts feel easier than treadmill or cycling workouts. One thought behind this phenomenon is that the lack of repeated impact during an elliptical routine makes you feel less tired than you would otherwise. For anyone looking for a calorie-burning cardio workout, elliptical workouts are ideal. HIIT workouts may be just the thing for maximizing training effects in a short period of time. However, it’s not recommended that you do a HIIT routine every day. In contrast, elliptical workouts are low impact enough to be done every day, if you’d like.

Man takes an iFIT elliptical class

2. Weight-bearing exercise with improved balance and mobility

As mentioned above, the elliptical is commonly used in rehabilitation routines. The main reason doctors love using the elliptical for injuries is in comparison to machines like a stationary cycle, the elliptical provides a weight-bearing exercise.

To envision the weight-bearing difference between a cycle and an elliptical, think about the pedal mechanism on a bike. When you push down on the pedal, your leg isn’t buoyed up by a resisting force. In contrast, when you step down on an elliptical pedal, you are met with a weighted force. In addition to rehabilitating existing injuries, weight-bearing exercises are crucial in warding off degenerative bone issues like osteoporosis.

Injuries also benefit from the fact that the ellipticals mirror one of our most essential movements: walking. The elliptical machine’s repeated walking motion can help users get used to the motion of walking again, plus help their balance. Since you stand on the elliptical, it forces you to use your core. Your core is a major player in maintaining balance and equilibrium. To target your abdominals more, hover your hands over the stationary handlebars while moving with some resistance. Adopt a slower cadence for stabilization. Safety always comes first, so do what feels best to you.

3. Ellipticals work your whole body

If you’ve ever questioned the intelligence of buying an entire machine to work just your glutes or arms, an elliptical may be for you. In contrast to machines that work only one part of your body, ellipticals are called cross trainers. They are called this because they tone both your upper and lower body simultaneously. Physiologically, the more muscles you work, the more calories you’ll burn.

Typically, the elliptical will work your glutes, hamstrings, quads, chest, back, triceps, and biceps. Modifying your movements can increase the positive effect your workouts have on certain muscles. For instance, to fire up your glutes, hold the stationary handlebars to anchor your upper body and isolate your legs. To kick things up a notch, drop down into a squat. Push your hips back and your chest upright. Next, increase the resistance or incline.

Want to work your arms? Focus on your posture. Stand up erect and pull your shoulders down. Next, keep your back straight and open your chest. Since the moveable handlebars on ellipticals are connected to the foot pedals, engage your legs in the fullest range of motion possible. Push through with your chest and pull with your back. By doing so, you will ensure that your arms are both fully extended and flexed along with each stride.

4. Ellipticals are ideal for multitasking

Of course, you can sneak in a few pages of an e-book on a treadmill or binge-watch your newest Netflix obsession while atop a stationary cycle. However, the elliptical may be the easiest machine of all on which to do so. Since ellipticals mirror a movement we already know well (walking), it doesn’t require any extra attention to engage in it. Essentially, our bodies can go on autopilot. This permits our brains and senses to become preoccupied with an alternate activity like reading or watching.

For those who want to mentally transport during a workout, iFIT has no shortage of Global Workouts to fit the bill. With the iFIT’s elliptical classes options, you can explore an underground city in Cappadocia, Turkey. You can walk the Scottish Highlands. You can even build endurance while exploring Africa.

Woman takes an iFIT elliptical workout

How do you make elliptical series and workouts more effective?

The elliptical machine’s sometimes-lackluster reputation more than likely stems from how easy it is to coast on one. Nudge down the incline and speed, and you can achieve a workout that’s the equivalent of a walk to your car in the parking lot. However, a few modifications can increase an elliptical routine’s effects. To help you make the most of your elliptical workout, try these tips:

Increase the resistance

The fastest way to squeeze in a workout on an elliptical? Increase that resistance. Increased resistance will not only boost your heart rate but will have all of your lower-body muscles working, as well. If you’re not ready to do an entire workout at the maximum incline, try increasing the resistance for 30 seconds. You can decrease the resistance as you gain speed. Try alternating between resistance increases and speed increases until you’ve completed your session. For even more of a challenge, check to see if your elliptical possesses the ability to go backward. Adding in a few minutes of backward revolutions can really work your hamstrings.

Add intervals

Add HIIT to your elliptical workouts to make them more effective. HIIT is short for High-Intensity Interval Training. It is a training method that switches between periods of intense physical activity and periods of low activity or rest. Many gym-goers take a minimalist approach to HIIT and use little-to-no equipment. However, performing HIIT intervals on an elliptical is also an option.

“Some people think of recovery as a form of ‘slacking’ or ‘cheating a workout,’ but this is simply never the case,” explains iFIT Trainer Bryn Knowles. “Recovery allows for the regeneration of energy stores which will then allow you to maximize each and every push. Recovery essentially enhances performance.”

To do HIIT intervals on an elliptical, increase your cadence or resistance. Work out for a certain amount of time, then slow down for an extended recovery.

“Start out with a 30-second push, then a 2-minute recovery,” says Bryn. “A good way to gauge your effort during each push is by making sure you are not able to say more than a sentence at a time or even a word or two at a time. The possibilities with HIIT really are endless.”

iFIT elliptical exercises

Perfect your form

Poor form can hurt any workout. To ensure that your elliptical workout delivers results, relax your shoulders. You’ll also want to open your chest. Next, engage your core and push down fully on the footpads. Concentrate on effectively pushing and pulling with the handlebars. Be sure to keep a light grip. You’ll want your legs to do most of the work.

Make it a closer

We’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: Elliptical users report feeling less tired after a workout than treadmill users. When you consider this, adding 10 to 20 minutes of elliptical walking to an already solid routine can make it even better!

Try iFIT’s elliptical workouts today!

Convinced that the elliptical is right for you or ready to interact with your elliptical in an entirely new way? Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, iFIT has countless elliptical series to keep you engaged. Looking for an elliptical app? Discover programs that focus on intervals, weight loss, bootcamps, and more. Let’s not forget about gorgeous global walking tours! Download the iFIT app to get elliptical classes when you’re on the move and get moving today!

Sign up for your free iFIT 30-day trial to start an elliptical workout today!

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. iFIT assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article. Always follow the safety precautions included in the owner’s manual of your fitness equipment.

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