For many, thoughts of losing weight inevitably turn to running, and for quite a few, running equals a painful coat of many colors. Hip pain, lower-back pain, ankle pain and of course, knee pain.
"It is all about impact. When you run, you are talking about impact of three to five times your bodyweight," says Tim Moore, PhD, CSCS, a Los Angeles-based health and fitness consultant who has spent the last 25 years training elite athletes, Hollywood celebrities and Fortune 500 CEOs. "An elliptical trainer cuts that impact in half."
Elliptical trainers started appearing in commercial gyms six or seven years ago, and lines have been forming for them ever since. Running outdoors or on a treadmill is great exercise, if your body can handle it. But if you are returning to fitness after a long lay-off, or are carrying a few too many pounds on your frame, an elliptical trainer can help you burn calories, improve your cardiovascular fitness and stave off disease without making your joints pay unwarranted dues.
In fact, elliptical trainers enjoy the benefits of the best cardio workouts with none of the downsides. It is a weight-bearing activity, like running, so you get all the same bone-strengthening osteoporosis-fighting benefits you do from power-walking or jogging. But elliptical training is non-impact, so it is as gentle on your body as riding a recumbent bicycle.
If your old school mindset is telling you that no pain means no gain, it's time to graduate out of that learning institution and get some higher education. A recent study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, followed 22 moderately-trained female subjects for 12 weeks as they exercised on either a treadmill, stairclimber or elliptical trainer. The physiological improvements and calorie-burning benefits produced by the three different machines were almost identical.
Joining the Revolution
Don't be intimidated by the egg-shaped motion of the George Jetson-inspired elliptical machine. Its stride is easier to master than a stairclimber and more comfortable than an exercise bike. "The elliptical motion is a nice natural motion, for flowing and keeping things going," agrees Moore.
For beginners, Moore recommends eschewing the mobile handgrips and using the stationary handlebars. "If someone has poor body awareness — which tends to come with being overweight — they start to use the arms to stabilize, like they are doing a bench-press, and their hips tend to come out of alignment," says Moore.
Dr. Moore holds the same opinion for the popular reverse stride gym-goers often employ when they are on elliptical trainers. Moore recommends starting out with a conventional forward stride until balance and coordination adapts to the elliptical motion. After some use, a reverse stride and handgrips can be utilized to work different muscle groups and add variety to longer workouts. Make sure to switch up your longer, slower cardio workouts on the elliptical with shorter more intense interval sessions. Interval training is crucial for losing body fat, because it not only burns calories during the workout but for several hours afterwards.
"With interval training, your metabolism stays elevated for 24 or more hours after exercise," says Moore, who claims that interval training is scalable to any level, so much so that he has even used it with cardiac rehabilitation patients to successfully speed their recovery after a heart attack.
Beginners can test the interval waters with 5 to 10 minutes of warm-up followed by three to four sets of 30 seconds at a strong effort and 90 seconds at a slower, restful pace. Finish with another 5 to 10 easy minutes to cool down.
Learn more about Horizon Fitness ellipticals here.