How to Incorporate an Elliptical Trainer into Marathon Training

Incorporating cross-training exercises into your marathon training schedule or routine will not only help you with endurance, muscle toning, and speed, it will also help you perform better on the day of the race, recover better after the race, and help to prevent and avoid possible injury on or near race day. Cross-training is also beneficial to your muscles because you’re adding variety and not getting too much wear and tear on the same muscles every time you workout. This is a great benefit when training for a marathon that is all about endurance and muscle training.

While many marathon or half-marathon runners incorporate biking or weight training into their race training routine, few consider using an elliptical trainer because it may be viewed as “too easy.”  Yet, an elliptical trainer can offer the cardiovascular and muscle toning benefits of both biking and weight training combined, all one, in less time, and with less injury. Think about it. Biking can still strain the joints of the knees and ankles, just in a different way. Biking can also be hard on the back. It’s great for a cardio workout, and also great for building the quads and butt muscles, but elliptical training can build those same muscles without the same strain. The same holds true for weight training. Weight training allows you to work only one or two muscle groups at a time, and will very little cardio, so again, an elliptical trainer allows to do less with more as you can manipulate the resistance and incline to work multiple muscle groups while also getting in your cardio. Some runners incorporate weight training in the form of boot camp style routines, but this is discouraged as it can cause even more injury than basic weight training.

Training on an elliptical machine a few days a week or month while preparing for a big race can help you to target weak muscles that are necessary for longer runs. Runners and bikers both tend to have pretty strong quadriceps muscles and hamstrings, but suffer when it comes to butt or hip muscles because of the constant pressure on the knees and possible lack of stretching or poor posture when running, putting extra strain on these joints and muscles. The muscles of the back can also suffer if you do not maintain proper posture and keep abdominal muscles strong and toned. Elliptical trainers allow you to specifically target certain muscle groups at a time, depending on how you set the incline and resistance levels. And since elliptical trainers do not require a lot of pulling of the hamstrings like running, runners can actually work to build up those muscles to prevent tearing or injury when running. Another great set of lesser muscles an elliptical trainer works is that of the muscles in back, affected by poor posture and basic constant impact of running. When using an elliptical, you will maintain a better posture more naturally than when you are running, which trains the muscles in the back and stomach allowing you maintain a taller and stronger posture that will translate into your running routine on your next race. Any time you run for an extended period time, muscles fatigue, and when muscles fatigue, posture is compromised. Compromising posture is one of the leading causes of low back pain, which also radiates to the knees and ankles, so working constantly on building up muscles to maintain posture, and practicing what good posture feels like, will help you immensely on your next big race.

Lengthening stride is another major benefit to incorporating an elliptical trainer into your race day training routine. Most elliptical trainers have an adjustable stride length, anywhere from 18 to 22 inches, which is ideal for practicing to maximize your stride length also when running. While a treadmill and an elliptical trainer are equal when it comes to calorie burning potential and cardiovascular benefits, elliptical trainers allow you to burn those same amount calories with less perceived exertion because of the way elliptical trainers are built, with a long, sweeping stride and drive system. This is why elliptical trainers may be viewed as “easier” than running on a treadmill, but it’s simply because of the longer the stride, making it easier on all of the joints and stretching out and working your muscles. Marathon runners know that endurance is more important than even speed when it comes to pounding out mile after mile on a long run or in a race, but marathon runners also know a longer stride means more distance covered with less work. Therefore, building endurance overall by improving your stride length, and increasing speed, is very important and can be easily achieved simply by incorporating elliptical training into your marathon training routine.