Fitness Equipment Experts Debunk the Top Elliptical Myths

Ellipticals remain a widely used piece of equipment both in homes and in commercial gyms, but the most commonly believed elliptical myths could be holding you back from reaching your fitness goals. 

Don't worry - our fitness equipment experts help debunk the top elliptical myths to help you pick the best elliptical for your workouts, and help you understand the most common asked questions when purchasing an elliptical, including: 
- How do you get the most effective workout on an elliptical?
- Do you know the questions to ask before purchasing an elliptical?

- How do you select the best elliptical for your preferred workouts and fitness goals?
- Why it is imperative that you test ellipticals before committing to a specific machine?

On an elliptical trainer, you follow a specific pattern of movement that usually mirrors an ellipse shape. But not all ellipses compliment your natural pattern of movement.

So, it’s important you find the pattern that feels the best, most natural to you. For example, an elliptical may be engineered to create a movement a little broader in the front and closer together in the back. Or balanced, or bigger in back.

The movement patterns you follow are different based on the geometry of the machines that create the ellipse. So the designed variety in the path of motion is what affects the overall movement. Additionally, some have a fixed path of movement and some have an adjustable path of movement.

EACH of these options dramatically affect how comfortable you are on the machine.

So, what pattern of movement is the best? Again, this is a personal decision, but to decide pay special attention to the point of the ellipse where it changes direction in front of and behind you. 

Now, let's get started comparing and contrasting elliptical features to help you find the one that only supports your goals, but feels more natural to you.

Discover the top things to consider when purchasing an elliptical, to help you understand the differences in construction and design, and how each affects how the machine FITS YOU.  

QUESTION: What’s the best elliptical machine out there?
ANSWER: The one that fits you, and feels natural and comfortable to YOU.

Do you try on shoes? Test drive a car? Tour an open house? Experiment with paint samples before committing to a color?

Major buying decisions usually require a bit of research.

If you are looking for an elliptical for your home it’s very important that you try out several different machines before you make a decision, because the elliptical trainer is uniquely tailored to your body and movement pattern.

In order to find the right machine for you, you must find the right fit. The right fit prevents injury and encourages use. Why would you invest in a machine you don’t use? With an elliptical or cross trainer you MUST try before you buy!

QUESTION: What is the most important consideration regarding an elliptical’s design?
ANSWER: First and foremost the pattern of movement is a huge consideration when deciding which elliptical is right for you.
To consider:

- Do your feet pass at the same height?
If so that makes pushing forwards and back a more similar level of force. If you add resistance to your machine, the part where you swing backwards is going to be ok because those muscles are stronger but the part where you swing forward might be harder for you and require more effort.

 - Do your feet perform a flat pattern?
This can be described as same height at back as front, where you change direction. Often this pattern is easier at lower resistance levels. Which means if you plan to keep your workouts at a lower intensity this is a fine machine for you. If you want to do some HIIT training on this machine, it might not work.

You need a pattern of motion that you are comfortable with and fits your training goals. You won’t know it until you try.

QUESTION: Does individual style and movement of walking affect how you train on an elliptical
ANSWER: Of course! Gaits have common similarities, but everyone’s is unique and individual to them.

The act of walking is essentially the same for most of us, however we ALL have a unique way of walking (gait). A normal walking cycle is comprised of two phases.

(1)   stance phase, when the foot is in contact with the ground;
(2)   swing phase, when the foot is moving forward in the air

During normal walking, one leg is in the stance phase while the other is in the swing phase. Muscles must contract to counterbalance the forces of gravity, to offer acceleration or deceleration to momentum forces, and to overcome the resistance of the walking surface.

During the swing phase your repositioning leg (the leg that’s moving forward) has no stress on it, it’s not pushing against anything, just swinging through the air. During most cross training exercise you would hope swing phase not heavily loaded. Amount of force normal gait – extensor muscles – push foot backwards.  Big muscles pushing back (glutes, knee flexor etc.) Repositioning muscles pushing forward – are not as big, so they aren’t as strong. Muscles that push leg backward very powerful. Muscles that push leg forward not as powerful.

These muscles are very well defined and proportioned for their role.

QUESTION: Ellipticals are low impact, does that also mean they are low stress?
ANSWER: In short, no. Elliptical machines are considered low impact but not low stress.

What does this mean?

The path of motion you use directly impacts the force you use during your workout. Stressors applied to YOUR joints depend on the design of the machine.

Look at someone in slow motion on an elliptical it looks like they are running in slow motion – no impact.

But when you are running you have almost no force in the leg that’s moving forward.  The leg that’s going backward is the leg that applies the most force. As you swing your other leg forward you.

On an elliptical trainer there is significant force in the repositioning leg moving forward. Path of motion going forward is the repositioning motion. Depending on your pattern of motion and your predisposition you will respond differently.

QUESTION: Is it beneficial to incorporate incline into my elliptical workouts?
ANSWER: Ultimately it depends on your goals and physical abilities and limitations.

The advantage of incorporating incline is it provides additional workout options to increase the overall effectiveness of your workout, hitting the muscles differently and avoiding any potential repetitive stress. It allows you to increase your workout resistance while continuing to use a machine you prefer.

But, you body type, leg length and intensity goals play heavily on your decision as to how much incline is good and how much is too much.

When you raise the incline you allow your forward leg to be the power leg – that’s easier with higher incline. As you incline the pattern of resistance is higher and it becomes an advantage to have more incline. But not everybody wants the same amount of incline or same resistance.  It’s something you have to test and decide for yourself.

QUESTION: Which type of stride length on ellipticals is the most effective Fixed, Machine Adjustable or User-Defined?
ANSWER: Yep - again -  depends on your preferences!

Every elliptical offers certain a stride length – some are fixed, some adjustable on the machine and some change with each stride depending on the user (user-defined).

Stride length adjustment is one of the most important reasons a client really has to try the machine before making a purchase. Stride length allows a user to better replicate walking, jogging, or running movements. Like incline, stride length adjustment helps avoid the potential for repetitive stress.

QUESTION: Which provides a more effective workout on an elliptical, stationary arms or moving arms?
ANSWER: Depends on your workout goals. Are you using the elliptical as a warm-up tool? Are you looking to isolate lower body? Do you want a total body workout on one machine?

You would think this one’s an easy decision.  Movement is always better right? Not always.

Moving arms on an elliptical don’t necessarily offer a significant upper body workout. It’s deceptive because the heart rate response for upper body work is higher than for lower body work.  So while you may feel like you are really working your arms that activity disproportionately elevates your heart rate.

Moving handles DO help warm up your total body – so it works well as a warm up for HIIT and any other strength training you are planning to do.  This decision is all about FEEL and comfort.

And if you prefer motion you have to select which kind of motion works for you – converging vs straight – again, it’s all about what feels good.

QUESTION: What considerations do I need to explore regarding elliptical footplate design?
ANSWER: Placement, Movement, Size and Composition.

Placement - Front to rear and side to side (Q factor bicycle term – how far apart pedals are) affects comfort. The foot pedals should be within a comfortable distance from each other, and should not be further than your hips. If they are, they can put constant strain on the hips, lower back, knees and glutes.

This is particularly problematic for women who generally have narrower hips. Make sure the distance between the pedals are comfortable when working out.

Movement: Stationary some models will design their foot pedals to incline slightly inward or articulating (Articulating pedals adapt to the cycle of your stride with a change in angle These are ergonomic, pivoting foot pedals that rise with your feet to mimic the elliptical motion.

By adjusting the angle up or down. They are designed to further reduce foot strain and potential numbness by keeping your ankles, knees and hips in proper alignment)

Size: The size of the pedals is important to consider as well.

Oversized foot pedals are typically beneficial for most users because it gives the feet space and avoids cramping. Elliptical trainers often have wide and long pedals to accommodate differing heights and shoe sizes.

Composition:  Some are a stiff plastic and some offer cushioning and/or tread to ensure your feet stay on the pedals. This may seem like an easy choice; cushioning = good, right?

Well if you have sciatica it might prove to be uncomfortable so make sure you test out all of the options.

QUESTION: What considerations do I need to explore regarding elliptical drive design.
ANSWER: Front, Rear, and Center

Elliptical machines offer front, center and rear drives

The flywheel is the drive system to an elliptical trainer; it’s what moves when you apply pressure to the pedals, and it’s also the part that controls the resistance levels.

Each option has a different feel to the machine and affects the height and overall footprint of the machine.  It’s a vital part of choosing the best machine for you.

Rear drives have the axle behind the user. A rear-drive system put users higher off the ground—creating a higher center of gravity and more stress on the machine frame.

Front-drive systems have the axle and flywheel in front. This machine is usually lower to the ground than center- or rear-drive machines. This helps when choosing machines for a low-ceiling space like a basement.

Center-drive systems have a pair of drive axles on either side of the machine.
This creates an extremely stable platform because the user is placed in the middle of the machine frame. What’s more, center-drive ellipticals are much smaller than front- and rear-drive machines when not in use—since when not in use, the pedals rest inside the machine. 

Now you know the purpose, advantages, and benefits of an elliptical - as well as the top questions to ask before purchasing an elliptical. 

Ready to explore our wide lineup of the best ellipticals for home? Visit our fitness equipment page here

Not ready to commit to building your home exercise space? View our pros and cons of working out in your home vs a gym. 

Still not sure of the best fitness equipment for your goals? Learn the questions to ask to before purchasing fitness equipment to know which fitness solutions are right for your goals, budget, and available space. 

Like the idea of  low-impact workouts, but not sure which solution is best for you? Visit our Low Impact Workouts: The Real Story. 

Craving an elliptical, but not sure how to determine which elliptical is right for you? Discover the best ellipticals for every fitness level.

 

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