Does the Elliptical Cause Tight Calf Muscles?

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Ultimately, you control the intensity of your elliptical workout by adjusting cadence, incline and tension settings and, to some extent, the level of stress put on muscle groups like the calves. However, the elliptical is a complex machine. There are multiple factors that affect how your body interfaces with the machine. But it helps to be aware of the downfalls of the elliptical. With some knowledge, you can take precaution and use proper posture to avoid sore, even chronically tight calves.

Train Smart

  • Watch for symptoms of muscle tightness if you are using the elliptical as a cross-training method when recuperating from an injury in another sport. The elliptical has its advantages: It's a low-impact exercise form that is highly customizable to varying workout intensities. However, you cannot expect to successfully translate your running long-distance workouts to the elliptical without consequences. You may encounter tight calf and/or other muscles. If you ignore these symptoms, you risk chronic muscle tightness.

    Minimalist shoes are popular these days — among runners, weight lifters, even walkers. If you’ve never used minimalist shoes, or are just trying them out, do not wear them for a full workout on the elliptical. Because the machine can cause calf muscle tightness even for individuals wearing supportive aerobic or running shoes, don’t take your chances. Get used to the elliptical first.

Biomechanics

  • While you control the incline, tension and pedal direction, the elliptical designates to a large extent how your body moves. Like other endless-path machines including cross-country ski machines, stationary bikes and Stairmasters, the elliptical imposes structural changes on the body, which impact your body’s biomechanics. Normally when you walk, the knee straightens out as the leg swings forward to step, and again when it pulls through at the end of the swing. But the foot pedals on an elliptical control the motion of your feet and knees. The heel remains on the foot pedal through each revolution, and the knee flexed. Through a chain of events, your calf muscles are stressed atypically and as a result, may shorten and grow tense.

Too Much Support

  • Just think about it: 6-foot and 5-foot tall elliptical users, each with varying body proportions, have the same assortment of elliptical machines to choose from at the gym. Every body must compensate. During their workout, most elliptical users unknowingly conform their bodies to the machine, lapsing into poor posture. Tight neck and shoulders are common complaints. But it's the lower body that really gets hijacked. The elliptical acts like a pair of crutches in several ways, decreasing the workload of the muscles that carry you when you walk, namely the medial hamstring, tibialis anterior (shin), and soleus and gastrocnemius (calf muscles). But it's not like they're just getting a pleasant break. The gastrocnemius, for example, takes over at a point when the tibialis anterior would typically be working to bring the foot up to swing forward. The support of the two legged pedal motion may be nice for rehabilitating an injury in the short-term. But after time, single leg stabilization problems may occur, including tight calves. Other common injuries caused by the elliptical include low back pain, posterior tibialis tendinitis, plantar fasciitis and anterior knee pain.

"The Hip Bone’s Connected to the Thigh Bone ... "

  • Pay attention to your form when using the elliptical. Though you may not see how better form can help lessen stress to the calves, the connection is there. In fact, stiffness in one part of the body typically causes other areas to tighten. Avoid leaning heavily on the handrails, which can cause upper body stiffness. Keep your core firm and lifted slightly throughout your workout to ensure proper posture. If you use the mechanical arms, position your hands at a point that feels natural. Remember to relax your shoulders. Also, keep the tension and incline settings low if you're new to the elliptical. To get a more intense workout, keep your cadence as high as possible. As your body gets used to the elliptical, you can begin adjusting the settings. If you aren't already doing so, stretch after each workout while your muscles are still warm. Give attention to your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, back and upper body. Be sure to hydrate well, too.

References

  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
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