Elliptical trainers continue to grow in popularity with both gym users and people who purchase a residential elliptical trainer for use at home. Commercial gyms and health clubs continue to upgrade to newer elliptical trainer models and even get rid of out-dated cardio equipment such as skiers and older model 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 of any real cardio vascular benefit?
When used properly, elliptical trainers deliver a results-producing cardio workout. The explosive popularity of elliptical trainers is largely due in part to the low-impact nature of the workout. People who don’t like or can’t tolerate the pounding their knees and other joints take on a treadmill have enthusiastically migrated to the elliptical. The lower perceived exertion is also a compelling selling point of elliptical trainers. The lower-impact causes trainees to feel as if they’re not exerting themselves as much as they actually are. However, this last point and the hypnotic elliptical motion of the machine, have a tendency to lull people into very low intensity workouts.
Couple all this with the long held advice that in order to burn fat you need to train in the “cardio zone”. You know, the old formula of subtract your age from 220 and multiply the result by 60-70%. Far too many people are just coasting away on elliptical trainers, letting momentum do most of the work and having very little to show for it. The elliptical motion is really a double-edged sword.
In order to get on the right side of this 2-bladed sword, follow the guidelines below:
1. Expend some energy – in order to burn calories and burn fat you need to either take in fewer calories than you need and/or burn off additional calories. Your body will quickly adapt to a low-intensity workout 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 both increasing the resistance level and your pace.
2. Use a heart rate monitor – in order to keep your heart rate in your cardio zone you will need to monitor it. Invest in a Polar(TM) chest strap and wrist monitor. The HR monitors in the arm handles of many ellipticals are not very accurate.
3. Vary your workouts – in order to keep from getting stale try mixing up your elliptical workouts. Many ellipticals have several built-in as well as customizable workout profiles. The important thing is to get you heart rate elevated and keep it there during the bulk of your workout.
4. Keep your workouts short and focused – an intense 20 minute session on an elliptical trainer is far more beneficial than a 60 minute session that you sleep walk through.
5. Use resistance training – lean muscle burns more calories while you’re at rest. People often forget that elliptical trainers are cardio machines and they do little to build muscle. In order to develop muscle and build your strength you will need to use progressive resistance training. If you can manage it, you should make an effort to fit some weight training into your workout schedule. You will be pleasantly surprised by the additional benefits.
Elliptical trainers are wonderful pieces of cardio equipment and will only continue to gain in popularity. At many gyms there are lines during peak hours to get on an elliptical trainer. Make the most of your elliptical training sessions by following the steps above and you will definitely not be wasting your time!