Elliptical Trainers: Ur Doing It Wrong



For those of you who haven't been to a gym in a decade or so, ellipticals are those popular contraptions that people pedal on standing up, with their feet moving in—you guessed it— an “elliptical” shape.

They are sort of a cross between a Nordic-track ski machine and a stair climber. (Though how the equipment breeders ever got the two machines to mate remains a mystery. Nordic-Tracks are notoriously chilly and unapproachable).

Some ellipticals have swinging arm handles that you pump back and forth as you move, as if you were cross country skiing. Others have stationary rails that you can ignore if you have good balance, or that you can grasp onto to keep from flying off the machine and making an ass of yourself.

Even though ellipticals are one of my favorite machines at the gym, I had no idea there was a “right” way and a “wrong” way to use them. Did you?



A while back I came across some helpful advice on proper elliptical form over at Girl At Gym. Then, inspired to do some further research, I interviewed dozens of personal trainers and exercise physiologists consulted Dr. Google and discovered there was all kinds of advice out there about ellipticals!


Swinging arm handles? Handrails? Or Hands-Free?

Here was the place I found the most diversity. Several fitness advisors seemed to like the swinging arm things. However, it was suggested one grab them at shoulder height, not higher.

And everyone seemed to agree that if you’re holding onto the stationary handrails for balance, you should not lean into them. That’s cheating.

But several trainers suggested going hands-free, to work your core muscles and improve your balance.

And for me, this was great news! I love going hands-free. When I try to hold onto swinging arms as I pedal, I am as graceful as a hippopotamus on roller skates. Even worse? If I get stuck using one of these machines and try to ignore the handles, which are moving fast whether I’m holding on to them or not, inevitably I space out and forget. I move right in front of them to grab my water bottle and… SMACK-SMACK-SMACK! #@$%!!


Go backwards as well as forwards.

This is a great advantage of the elliptical over many other machines. The reverse motion recruits different muscles and can help prevent injuries. Going backwards is also an awesome core/balance trainer if you do it with no hands.


Don’t put all your weight on your toes.

Some experts suggest you put most of your weight on the back of your foot, and assume almost a sort of “squat” position; others suggest you start on your heels and roll through your whole foot. Many of us lean too far forward on our toes and don’t use enough of our quad muscles.


Don’t slouch or sway.

Stand up straight, relax your shoulders, keep your back in line with your hips, and try not to move side to side.


Don’t slack off too much.

Unlike a treadmill, which will punish you by flinging you off the back if you forget to run fast enough, an elliptical is all mellow and forgiving if you start dawdling. So check your pace periodically or you may not be getting much of a workout.


Don’t bounce.

Oh Noooo! I hate this advice. I always bounce!

That’s the whole reason I love the elliptical machine in the first place: I crank up my tunes and FLY on that thing like it’s a playground ride. Wheee! And when a really good song comes on, I also dance a bit, bobbing my head, swinging my hips in violation of the no-swaying rule, even tapping out the beat using an imaginary drumstick or tambourine. I am no doubt known around town as “that dork from the gym who thinks no one can see her,” and concerned citizens are probably taking up a collection at this very moment to buy me some home exercise equipment.

But bouncing is considered cheating. You're letting gravity do too much of the work for you.

So all this time I have been doing the ellipitical all wrong.

It’s smart to correct bad form.

Even though bouncing makes my workout way more fun, I’d do less damage to my knees and get a much better workout using a steady motion rather than launching myself up in the air with each step. It’s an elliptical machine after all, not a pogo stick! So there’s really only one conclusion I can come to about the “no bouncing” rule:

I think I’ll pretend I never read about it.

Do you folks pay a lot of attention to using proper form when you work out, or are you more "what the hell, at least I'm exercising?"

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