Elliptical machines provide a joint-sparing cardiovascular workout. But ellipticals also strengthen, or tone, muscle when the resistance is adjusted. Ellipticals add resistance without any impact, though, unlike hard pavement. And your muscles benefit. As a bonus, many models let your pedal backward to tone the hamstrings and calves, which are often-missed parts of the legs. Talk with your doctor before using an elliptical if you're unconditioned or have a health condition, such as arthritis.
How the Elliptical Tones
Adding resistance, or increasing the force it takes to rotate the pedals, builds muscle mass. Over time, larger muscles help rev up your metabolism so you're burning a few extra calories 24/7. The beauty with an elliptical, though, is that it tones the whole body -- legs, glutes, back, abs and arms. You work the entire leg, from the quads and hamstrings down to your calves, as your rotate the pedals. Tighten your belly as you pedal to focus on your abs and the muscles that strengthen your spine. And take advantage of those ski-pole handlebars. The back-and-forth action works the biceps and triceps -- flex your upper arm to see the pair at work. Plus, the machine tones the lats in your back.
Cardio Toning Intervals
Increasing your elliptical's resistance builds muscle mass. But unless you trim the fat, your trouble zones will appear bigger. Increase your speed to burn more calories, but only for short periods. Use high intensity interval training, or HIIT, with added resistance on the elliptical for maximum calorie burn. Start your workouts with a five-minute warm-up, with your elliptical's resistance at a level one. Switch between one minute of fast-paced pedaling and one to two minutes at a slower pace for the duration of your workout. Raise the resistance to level two or three during each fast interval, then lower the resistance during your resting phases. Slow down to your starting pace for a five-minute cool-down at the end. (ref 2)
Watch Your Joints
Elliptical machines are low impact and not typically hard on the joints. However, a higher resistance means it takes more effort for your joints to move the pedals. This can spell pain and discomfort if you're prone to joint conditions, such as arthritis, or are overweight. Avoid your elliptical's pre-set programs, which may increase the resistance beyond what your joints can handle. Slowly raise the resistance at your own pace instead. Lower it if you feel any discomfort. Watch your form, though. Joint pain may be a signal of poor form. Straighten up, loosen your grip on the handlebars and look straight ahead.
Ease into toning by adding resistance gradually, especially if you combine higher resistance with HIIT. Whether you add intervals or not, you can make elliptical workouts part of your overall fitness plan. Perform at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, and schedule 90 minutes of strength training, spread out over three days. Let your body rest in between strength training days.
- Morning Cardio Workouts; June E. Kahn and Lawrence J. M. Biscontini
- American Council on Exercise: What is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and What Are the Benefits?
- American College of Sports Medicine: Selecting and Effectively Using an Elliptical Trainer or Stair Climber
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?
- Mayo Clinic: Are Elliptical Machines Better Than Treadmills for Basic Aerobic Workouts?
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