Elliptical trainers continue to grow in popularity with gym users and people who purchase a residential elliptical trainer to use at home. Commercial gyms and health clubs continue to upgrade to newer models of elliptical trainers and even get rid of outdated cardio equipment like older model skiers and stationary bikes to make room for more ellipticals. This is in direct demand by club members for quality cardio equipment. But is the elliptical trainer really just a Trojan horse that is lulling us into a false sense of fitness while cheating us out of any real cardiovascular benefits?
When used correctly, elliptical trainers provide a cardio workout that produces results. The explosive popularity of elliptical trainers is due in large part to the low-impact nature of the workout. People who don’t like or can’t tolerate the pounding of their knees and other joints on a treadmill have eagerly migrated to the elliptical. The lower perceived exertion is also a compelling selling point of elliptical trainers. Low impact makes students feel like they are not trying as hard as they really are. However, this last point and the hypnotic elliptical motion of the machine have a tendency to lull people into very low intensity workouts.
Combine all of this with the old advice that to burn fat you need to train in the “cardio zone.” You know, the old formula of subtracting your age from 220 and multiplying the result by 60-70%. Too many people are simply riding away on elliptical trainers, letting momentum do most of the work and having very little to show for it. The elliptical movement is really a double-edged sword.
To position yourself on the right side of this 2-bladed sword, follow the guidelines below:
1. Spend some energy – to burn calories and burn fat, you must eat fewer calories than you need and/or burn extra calories. Your body will quickly adapt to low intensity training and fat loss will slow down and eventually stop. Try training in your cardio zone and see what happens. Increase the intensity of your elliptical workouts by increasing both the resistance level and your pace.
2. Wear a heart rate monitor – to keep your heart rate in your cardiovascular zone, you will need to monitor it. Invest in a Polar(TM) chest strap and wrist monitor. The heart rate monitors on the arms of many ellipticals are not very accurate.
3. Vary your workouts – to avoid getting stale, try mixing up your elliptical workouts. Many ellipticals have several built-in and customizable training profiles. The important thing is to get your heart rate up and keep it up for most of your workout.
4. Keep your workouts short and focused – An intense 20-minute session on an elliptical machine is much more beneficial than a 60-minute sleepwalking session.
5. Use resistance training – Lean muscle burns more calories while at rest. People often forget that elliptical trainers are cardio machines and do little to build muscle. To build muscle and increase your strength, you will need to use progressive resistance training. If you can handle it, you should make an effort to include some weight training in your exercise program. You will be pleasantly surprised by the additional benefits.
Elliptical trainers are wonderful cardio equipment and will continue to gain popularity. In many gyms there are queues during peak hours to get on an elliptical. Get the most out of your elliptical training sessions by following the steps above and you definitely won’t be wasting your time.