Ellipticals Run Ovals Around Treadmills

Ellipticals are among the most widely used machines in health clubs, and the number of people using such machines increased from 2.4 million in 1997 to 6.2 million in 2000.

Elliptical exercisers are combination stair climber/cross-country-ski machines. Your feet are on pedals, which move in an oval shaped motion. Your hands grasp handlebars that are moved back and forth with your arms. The machine resists the motion of your arms and legs.

Elliptical machines designed for home use provide resistance with a band around the flywheel's rim. Comparatively, most health-club ellipticals use magnetic resistance, which allows for smoother pedaling.

Elliptical exercisers provide the following benefits as compared to other forms of exercise:

  • Ellipticals have oval-shaped pedaling motion, which is much easier on joints than running on a treadmill.
  • Ellipticals provide a weight-bearing workout, which helps protect bones against osteoporosis. Pedaling an exercise bike, swimming or using a rowing machine are not weight-bearing exercises.
  • Ellipticals are easy to use.
  • Elliptical exercise burns a similar number of calories to treadmill exercise with the same amount of effort.

Additionally, elliptical exercise provides:

  • 40 percent more gluteal involvement than traditional machines
  • Excellent knee range of motion, hip flexion and extension
  • A body position that minimizes the aggravation of knee injuries
  • A reverse motion that emphasizes hamstrings
  • A forward motion that emphasizes gluteal involvement

In terms of aerobic benefits:

  • People who used elliptical machines had lower rates of perceived exertion (RPE) than people who used other exercise machines
  • Ellipticals promote the development and maintenance of cardiovascular fitness
  • Ellipticals' reverse motion allows more calories to be burned at a given speed and resistance

Although studies have found that elliptical machines in health-clubs tend to be superior to home machines, home users can still get a good workout from the elliptical machine.

Washington Post April 10, 2002; Page C12

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

There is no question about it: you can't be optimally healthy unless you exercise. Fortunately, spring is here and most of us can go outside for exercise.

However, many have injuries that prevent them from doing outside exercise. So if you need to workout indoors at home or in a health club the elliptical is clearly the top piece of equipment to workout on.

It is my personal favorite as you get so much more of a complete workout than you do with running, and it is far easier on your joints.

It is important to note that there are two basic types of ellipticals, one that uses a fixed based and moves the arms and one that has the base that rotates through a wide range of motions and uses the arms.

Most people think that the machine with the arms is better, but I would strongly disagree. The arms are, relatively speaking, a small muscle mass when compared to the legs. So if you use the elliptical that allows you to change the incline of the legs you will get a workout of all of your different leg muscles.

Some of the less expensive ellipticals don't allow you to change the incline angle. I would only select a model that allowed you to do this.

I normally suggest adjusting the resistance setting and frequency of steps per minute so you are just short of not having enough breath to carry on a conversation. This is the aerobic threshold that will produce cardiovascular benefits.

The ellipticals are also great for reducing the boredom and monotony of exercise.

What I normally advise patients to do is to change the incline setting by one notch every minute. This will activate different leg muscles. I also suggest reversing the direction of the leg movement. With ellipticals it is equally easy to walk backward or forward.

It also seems that Precor is the best manufacturer of ellipticals, and their commercial models are what most health clubs have. I have included a picture of an elliptical for comparison.

Unlike most treadmills and exercise bikes, a typical elliptical has movable handlebars that add an upper-body workout.

I do not recommend these machines as they have a fixed incline and will not allow you to exercise all the muscles in your legs by rotating the incline through the entire range, as I suggest above, while you exercise.

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