If you've wandered through a thrift store or maybe the land of late-night infomercials and found yourself facing an X- or A-shaped frame with two independently swinging pedals attached, congratulations: You've sighted an example of the relatively rare "air walker" family of exercise machines. Essentially a poor man's elliptical trainer, these machines were marketed as a solution for very low-impact cardio workouts, and they do deliver. But they also have some very definite limits.
So-called "air walker" machines offer a low-impact cardiovascular workout that may be a great challenge for beginners. However, they do have a few drawbacks, including limited range of motion and a relatively limited range of exercise intensity.
Cardiovascular Benefits of Air Walkers
Often marketed under brand names such as the Gazelle, the Air Walker or the Gravity Walker exercise machine, the biggest benefit of using air walker machines is that they offer a low-impact cardiovascular workout.
It may be tempting to associate cardio with weight loss — and it is definitely helpful for that. But regular cardiovascular workouts also offer a number of proven health benefits, including reduced risk of chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes; reduced pain and improved mobility for those with arthritis; improved mood; a better cholesterol profile; and a boost to your immune system.
As recommended in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020, to maintain your health, you should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio or 75 minutes of vigorous cardio per week. You'll get even more health benefits if you can exceed that amount.
Air Walkers Are Low-Impact
Another great feature of air walkers is their low-impact nature, which places less stress on your joints and musculoskeletal system than high-impact workouts like running. As long as you do it to the proper intensity, this type of low-impact workout still offers the cardiovascular benefits of a high-impact workout — it just puts less stress on your joints during the process.
What an Air Walker Can't Do
Although air walkers do pack some definite benefits, one of the things they don't do is offer much resistance. That might not be an issue at first if you're new to exercising, but many of the benefits of cardiovascular exercise are predicated on the intensity of your workouts.
If you become fit enough that using your air walker at the highest resistance level doesn't make you break a sweat and get out of breath enough that you can't sing, you've fallen below the threshold for a moderate-intensity workout.
That said, some cardio (of any intensity) is still better than none, and some air walkers offer enough resistance options that they can continue challenging you for quite a while. So this isn't so much an automatic deal breaker as something to be aware of.
Some infomercials promise that your air walker will deliver a full-body workout — but no matter how much you might push and pull at the handlebars attached to the pedals, they won't take the place of a full-body resistance-training program.
Weight and Range of Motion
There are two other quirks of the air walker machine type to be aware of. First, some of them have relatively lightweight construction and low weight limits. If you're close to the air walker's upper weight limit and unsure of its build quality, it's better to be safe than sorry and look for a sturdier model, if only because it'll make for a more stable exercise experience.
The other quirk of air walkers is that because the bulk of their motion focuses on the hip joint, they don't work all the muscles of your lower body through a full range of motion the way that a treadmill or elliptical trainer would. But any cardio workout that you enjoy enough to do regularly is a good thing, so that's not necessarily a complete deal breaker either.
- Mayo Clinic: Aerobic Exercise: Top 10 Reasons to Get Physical
- Health.gov: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 1. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
- The Nation's Health: Living Healthier Through Low-Impact Exercise
- Mayo Clinic: Exercise Intensity: How to Measure It