Low Impact, Lofty Results: How to Get the Most Out of Your Elliptical
Feel like it might be time to shake up your workouts and add some challenging elliptical sessions to your routine?
Let’s start with why. Why should you forgo a walk or even a run and instead choose an elliptical workout?
With an elliptical, you can elevate your fitness to new levels without the high impact pounding of the everyday walking, jogging or running. Yes, “low impact” and “lofty results” can be found in the same sentence ─ and the same workout!
As you walk, jog or run, one foot comes off the ground and transitions your body weight over to the other foot which stays in contact with the ground. In the next second, your lifted foot returns to the ground and does so with a fair amount of impact as it receives body weight from the other foot that is now lifting to take the next step. This constant pounding puts stress on your ankle, knee and hip joints, step after step after step.
With an elliptical, both feet stay in contact with the surface of the pedals, so your ankles, knees and hips remain stabilized and the natural, fluid motion of the elliptical eliminates any sudden, jerky movements.
The good news is that reduced stress on your joints does not reduce the benefit of an elliptical workout! On the contrary, this feature allows you to vary your movements and to make most of your elliptical sessions by turning them into cardiovascular challenges and full-body resistance workouts.
- Forward pedal motion strengthens the quads and calves.
- Reversing your pedal stroke recruits the glutes.
- Keeping proper form in both directions requires your abs and back to engage.
- Using the handlebars with intent works your upper body, strengthening the biceps, triceps and deltoids.
As with any exercise, proper form is important on the elliptical.
- To begin, place your feet flat on the pedals about hip width apart and place your hands on the handlebars.
- Relax and keep a slight bend in your knees and elbows.
- Tighten your core and focus on keeping your back long and straight.
- Then, just start a walking pattern, keeping your feet flat to the pedals and allowing your arms to push and pull on the handlebars.
Basic: For a basic cardiovascular workout, increase the speed of your pedals to elevate your heart rate.
More challenge: Want more challenge? Rev up the resistance on your elliptical and increase the load on your lower body muscles.
Extra challenge: Still not enough for you? Test out the incline function, a feature unique to the Matrix Ascent Trainer. The incline function adds height to the ellipse pattern of your step, which intensifies the strength component of your workout by recruiting your quads, hamstrings and core muscles. This not only increases strength training but fires up the calorie burn. The ability to train harder without increasing impact or sacrificing comfort is a benefit that is unique to the elliptical and accentuated by the Ascent Trainer.
There are multiple styles of workouts you can do on an elliptical to keep your workouts fresh and your body challenged. Check out the Matrix consoles where you’ll enjoy a huge variety of pre-programmed workouts and routines. Here are a few you might try with any elliptical machine:
- Endurance: Endurance exercises improve the health of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system. Set your workout time for 30 minutes (or more) and maintain a challenging, but steady state pace.
- Sprint intensity interval training: Amp up your routine and challenge yourself with bouts of increased speed, resistance and/or incline using the Sprint 8 program. Sprint 8 involves “sprint intensity” intervals that lasts only 30 seconds, followed by 90-second recovery periods, repeated up to eight times. The entire workout, including warm-up and cool-down takes just 20 minutes to complete. Research shows that exercise involving sprint intensity intervals can result in a variety of health benefits including reducing fat, increasing strength, lowering LDL cholesterol levels, improving cardiovascular health and more.
- Hill climb: Increasing the resistance and/or rise on your elliptical engages quads, glutes, hamstrings and even your ankles. In addition to challenging your muscles in a different way from other elliptical workouts, the Hill Climb program on an elliptical can be an excellent cross training option for runners. Challenge yourself by increasing the program level each time you do this workout.
- Upper body: By using the handlebars and focusing on pulling and pushing movements, you can work your chest, shoulders, and arms. Add this into any of the workouts mentioned here or maintain a steady state, lower body routine while you amp up the resistance and drive from the upper body.
- Reverse stride: Striding backwards is beneficial and uses different muscles from forward movement. It can increase the range of motion in your knee, quadriceps strength, hamstring flexibility and mobility. Reverse pedaling strengthens the opposing muscle groups used in forward motions where many of us spend most of our workouts. Add 1-2 minutes of reverse function between forward movement sets to vary your workout and balance muscle development.
Harness your power
Reach new heights by including the watts measurement in your elliptical training. Watts is an objective measure of power that you are producing, calculated by speed and the force used to move the pedals based (resistance and/or incline). The higher the wattage, the harder you are working.
While many of us use our heart rate as a guide to indicate how hard we’re working, our heart rate may vary depending upon our use of caffeine, amount of sleep, body temperature, weather and recent training/overall readiness.
Here’s how to use watts/power to reach those lofty fitness goals:
- Raise the watts: Set a baseline for the amount of watts you can produce and maintain during a 10 minute workout. The Constant Watts program on Matrix consoles is the perfect workout for this target. Simply input your target watts goal during the program set-up and the program makes it easy to focus on staying on track for your power goal. To see progress, gradually increase the duration of your workout over time while maintaining watts. Or maintain the same workout duration but increase your watts goal over time.
- Plant power surges: During interval training, use watts to measure the power produced in each segment and create workout plans that increase watts for each segment over time. Matrix consoles make it easy.
Watch your fitness level soar fueled by the rising wattage of your workouts!
Note: With any type of elliptical session, be sure to include a few minutes for warm-up (dynamic movements) and cool-down (stretching movements) to prepare your muscles for the challenge and to stretch your muscles after the effort.
The Last Rep
There’s no doubt that the elliptical is back as a cardiovascular, strength training, cross-training and a recovery day modality. The variability in setting resistance and rise in addition to speed and direction combine for powerful training no matter what your goals might be.
Key metrics on an elliptical include time, distance, number of steps, incline and calories burned – and let’s not forget the watts! Depending upon your fitness goals, you can select a subset of metrics to motivate and inspire your fitness journey.
Proper form, variety and power are the keys to keeping your body safe, workouts fresh and results rising.
About the Author
Rebecca Isensee, Matrix Master Trainer, USA
Rebecca has worked in the health and fitness industry for more than 10 years, fueling her deep passion for helping clients honor health as part of a full life through practical strategies and healthy habits. She holds Master Trainer certifications in MX4, multiple Les Mills disciplines and has earned ACE Personal Trainer and Fitness Nutrition certifications.
Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational and educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional medical advice. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat or prevent any disease or medical condition. Seek the advice of your health care provider before making changes to your diet, daily activity, sleep or fitness routine and any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. Matrix Fitness assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions or advice given in this article. Always follow the safety precautions included in the owner's manual of your fitness equipment.