Is an elliptical trainer a good choice for getting in shape?
Elliptical trainers are a superior choice for many people. An elliptical provides a vigorous, aerobic workout comparable to jogging, but with far less stress on the joints. It works a wide variety of muscle groups, including your back, shoulders, chest, arms, and abdominals. All those muscles working at once means that the heart rate rises rapidly to the target range, the hallmark of an effective, efficient workout. And because it's a weight-bearing activity, exercising on an elliptical trainer will build bone density.
How do I use it?
Good form is important, as it is with most forms of exercise. This equipment is fairly intuitive, but learning to use it properly will lower the risk of injuries. Each foot should be placed firmly on the center of a pedal. Your posture should be upright and relaxed. When you feel secure and balanced, start moving. Rely on the stationary handgrip until you have found your pace and rhythm, then you can use the moving hand grips for an upper body workout. Your whole body should be moving fluidly, with your feet following a smooth, elliptical path. A jerky, stop-and-start motion is a sign that the machine needs to be adjusted -- the resistance may be set too high or the pedals may need to be positioned differently to fit your stride.
Ideally, your experience using an elliptical trainer should be both comfortable and challenging. Many people actually enjoy the workout because the gliding motion is pleasant. That enjoyment can translate to more frequent or longer workouts -- a definite bonus.
After you are comfortable using the machine, you can increase the resistance or opt for a programmed workout that varies the resistance and speed. You can even bring different muscle groups into play by moving backwards as often as you move forwards.
What are my options if I decide to buy a home version?
Ergonomics should be your first concern. Make certain that the position of the pedals and handgrips doesn't force your body into an awkward position. When you're using the moving hand grips, you shouldn't have to over-extend your arms. And when you're holding the stationary handgrip, you shouldn't have to worry about bumping your elbows on the moving grips. For safety's sake, the pedals should be designed so that your feet don't slip.
Although they tend to be more expensive than some other exercise machines, elliptical trainers are readily available in a wide ranges of prices. Electronic programming may seem like a frill, but quick adjustability and the variation in resistance can keep boredom at bay and encourage more frequent exercise.
Another important consideration is stability and sturdiness of construction. Beware of noise; a smoothly operating machine is relatively quiet. And keep the footprint of the machine in mind. An elliptical trainer can require a lot of floor space.
Consumer Reports.org. Ellipticals. 2010.
American College of Sports Medicine. Selecting and effectively using an elliptical trainer. 2005.
Comparing Muscle Activity During Forward and Backward Striding on an Elliptical Trainer (2005) Heather L. Clifton and Julianne Abendroth-Smith, Ed.D,