Elliptical Help


Since bursting onto the fitness scene in the 1990s, elliptical trainers have become a common and popular feature of both public and home gyms. These stationary exercise machines give your heart, leg and arm muscles a workout all at the same time. They come in a number of forms, however, so before you climb aboard, make sure you know how to use it properly to complement your exercise regimen.


Elliptical trainers, sometimes called cross trainers, are so named because of the motion your feet make when you use them. They simulate the strides of running, but your feet remain perched on the pedals as you move. Many elliptical trainers also feature poles, similar to cross country ski poles, to give your upper body a workout in addition to your lower body. More advanced machines can change the length and height of your stride, vary resistance levels and monitor your heart rate and the number of calories burned.


Several companies manufacture elliptical trainers, including Precor, NordicTrack, Life Fitness, Smooth Fitness and Ironman. They can range in price from a few hundred dollars for bare bones models to several thousand dollars for advanced models. Cheaper models rotate at the front of the machine and generally give you a less intensive workout. The most important factor, however, is your comfort. Whether you plan to buy an elliptical trainer from a retailer or online, make sure you can first get on the machine and try it out.


Your machine should come with a manual detailing setup, adjustment and programming instructions. When you mount the machine, keep your shoulders back, your chin straight and your abs tight. If the machine includes poles, hold them loosely. Keep your head up and don’t look at your feet. Don’t lean on the poles; let your legs support your weight. Move in even, steady strides. If the machine allows it, alternate between backwards and forward motion, as this works different muscle groups. Make sure to test the emergency stop button before using the machine for the first time, and stop exercising if you feel dizzy or faint.


Elliptical trainers are popular because they provide a solid aerobic workout and work several muscle groups but have a low impact on the body. Unlike a treadmill or step machine, your feet remain on a solid surface rather than constantly pounding against a surface, making little impact on your knees. If you live in an apartment building with downstairs neighbors, they also will appreciate this lack of pounding. Because you’re working both the upper and lower body, elliptical trainers generally burn more calories than treadmills, bicycles or stair machines.


While it’s a great all-around machine for fitness, don’t rely solely on the elliptical trainer for your exercise needs. Don’t neglect sufficient strength training to target muscle groups not reached by elliptical trainers, and be sure to add a flexibility component to your workout as well. If a firm bottom is your goal, you might see better results from a stair machine.

About this Author

Michael Baker is a travel industry writer in based in New York. He works full-time providing content for two travel publications and previously worked for daily newspapers in Texas and New Jersey. He holds a Masters of Science in Journalism from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.