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

Now that you’re set up and ready to go, it’s time to get the action going and learn how to use an elliptical.

  • Pedal Forward. To begin pedaling forward, bend your knees slightly and keep them bent throughout the entire movement pattern. Locking your knees straight will make the entire movement feel awkward and uncomfortable. This also keeps constant tension on the quads, maximizing the muscle strengthening benefits you see. As you continue pedaling, your legs should move around in an oval shaped manner. Generally speaking, the more you bend your knees, the faster you can go.
  • Set Your Challenge. Now you’ll want to adjust your resistance level so that it’s challenging you as you wish. The particular elliptical you are using may also have an incline feature, so you can set that as well. Note that as you increase the incline, you’ll also transfer the stress onto other muscles more. You’ll hit the calves, glutes and hamstrings more with a high resistance and hit the quads to a larger degree with a lower resistance level. As you make these adjustments, try and keep your movement pattern smooth and continuous. Some machines work better to just get everything set to how you want it before you begin while others, usually the more advanced machine support you changing it as often as you want during the workout session. If the handlebars have controls, you’ll have no problem adjusting the controls from there. Make sure that as you increase the resistance you aren’t leaning into the handle bars at all. Some people try and cheat the exercise by doing so but you really aren’t doing yourself any favors. You may think you’re working harder because the resistance is more but really, you are just taking a good amount of weight off the body by using those to assist you.
  • Keep Going. Once you’ve found your groove, try and keep at it for 20-30 minutes. Most sessions should last this long – or longer, so don’t stop yourself short. Unless you are doing very high intensity interval training, 20 minutes is the minimum you should aim for. This said, do remember that some is always better than none so if on any particular day you can only do 15 minutes, so be it.

Use the Special Features

Many elliptical machines come with special features, so it’s also a great idea to familiarize yourself with those so that you can incorporate them into your workout program as well.

  • Track Your Heart Rate. If your machine comes with a heart rate tracker, you should place the monitor on your chest (if it’s a chest strap) or use the contact plates on the handlebars to monitor your heart rate. This will give you clues as to how hard your body is working and whether you’ve achieve the particular intensity that you’re aiming for during that workout session.
  • Use The Programs. Building variety into your workout routine is essential for ongoing results and the programs built right into the elliptical help make that possible. Use the programs such as hill, fat burn, or interval training to help challenge your body and switch things up so that you maintain maximum interest in the workout that you’re doing. Don’t make the mistake that many people do and hit the gym only to do the same workout over and over again.
  • Pedal Backward. Finally, if you really want to change things up and challenge you body in an entirely different way, consider pedaling backward. This may seem a bit awkward at first, but if you keep at it, you’ll get the hang of it.

There you have a few of the best tips to help you make the most out of your elliptical. Do keep in mind that every brand is slightly different, so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with your particular model and ensure that you’re able to use it to it’s maximum capacity.

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