A Smooth Move: Learn How to Use an Elliptical Machine Correctly

How-to-use-an-elliptical-machineElliptical machines can be excellent cardio trainers: They’re low-impact and support fast calorie burn. Ellipticals are easy to use too — correctly or incorrectly! This article explains how to use an elliptical machine correctly for safe and effective workouts.

Get in Position

Effective workouts on an elliptical machine begin with correct body positioning. Here’s what to do:

  • Get on board. Be careful when stepping onto the machine; some people are surprised that the pedals move right away. Grasp the stationary handlebars, then place a foot on each pedal.
  • Align your feet. Most elliptical trainers have oversized pedals. The extra space around your feet can promote comfort, but with all the roominess you might tilt your feet the wrong way. To avoid straining your hips, keep your feet parallel with the edges of the pedals.
  • Straighten your back. Keeping your spine straight is a big part of using an elliptical machine correctly. Tuck in your abdominals and push your pelvis forward a bit. Keeping your head upright and facing forward helps with posture too. You might find it helpful to imagine that a string connects the top of your head to the ceiling.
  • Position your arms. Elliptical machines generally have two sets of arm bars. You can grasp the stationary handlebars for balance or you can hold onto the moving handlebars for upper body exercise. In either case, take care to grip lightly! A common mistake is holding on too tightly. Pull your shoulders slightly down and back. Bend your elbows a bit to ensure smooth motion.

Start Moving

  • Pedal forward. Bend your knees slightly. If you let your knees lock, the exercise might feel uncomfortable and could even hurt you. As you pedal, your legs will move along an oval-shaped or elliptical path.
  • Set your challenge. Elliptical machines let you adjust their resistance. Some have incline controls too. It’s important to not strain yourself, but you’ll want to feel as if your muscles are getting worked. Increasing the resistance is especially helpful for working your calves. Increasing the incline helps target your hamstrings and glutes. When making adjustments, aim for very smooth motion. If you are leaning into the handlebars, then the resistance is probably too powerful. With some elliptical trainers it’s best to adjust the incline and resistance before your session is full-blown; fiddling with controls could slow you down and might even be unsafe. But with other elliptical machines, making adjustments in the midst of a workout is easy thanks to controls built right into the handlebars.
  • Keep going. An effective elliptical training session lasts about 20 to 30 minutes. You can exercise for the same amount of time each session, but adjust the intensity as your body acclimates to the exercise. A general recommendation is to exercise three times per week.

Use the Special Features

  • Track your heart rate. Most ellipticals are equipped with heart rate monitors. Cheaper elliptical machines tend to have contact grips, which are pulse sensors built right into the handlebars. Other elliptical machines have wireless heart rate monitors that work with chest straps. Tracking your heart rate and responding to the data can help you use an elliptical machine more effectively. By exercising within your target heart rate zone you can make the most of each exercise session.
  • Use the programs. Most elliptical trainers have preset workouts built into their consoles. These programs automatically change the resistance and incline. Additionally, some elliptical machines can be taken online for new workout downloads and interactive training sessions. One of the most popular interactive platforms, iFit, is available on NordicTracks and other elliptical machines made by ICON Health & Fitness.  You’ll probably end up having some favorite programs, but take care to vary your elliptical workouts. When you “surprise” your body, you can get better effects.
  • Pedal backward. Many elliptical trainers have both forward and reverse motion. Using the machine in both directions is a great way to build muscle definition.

The above tips explain how to use an elliptical machine in general. Learning the specifics for your own machine is recommended. There’s a lot of variety between different brands and models; products differ in terms of safety features, data tracking and programming. If you own an elliptical machine, it’s wise to actually read the manual! And if you visit a gym, don’t feel shy asking for a demo. You can only benefit from this popular exercise if you learn how to use an elliptical machine correctly.