The elliptical machine -- one of the usual suspects in gyms across the country -- seems simple: If you can walk, you can probably use one. Whether you do so safely and obtain good results or maintain poor posture while getting tangled up depends on how you use it. If you're new to ellipticals or are not sure if you're using one properly, taking the time to learn the ropes can make for a better, safer workout.
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Getting to Know You
Fitness enthusiast, meet elliptical. Unfortunately, introductions won't make you any more familiar with an elliptical model. If you've purchased one for your personal use, all the information you need will be in the instructional manual. Read through it carefully to ensure that setup has been completed properly and you know how to operate the machine before you ever hop on. If you're using an elliptical machine in a gym setting, ask an employee for a demo, even if you've used similar models before. Different models have different safety, monitoring and programming features that you should know about before you start.
Handling the Elliptical
For two reasons, all standard elliptical machines feature handles. First, as a safety feature to help you feel supported, and second, as a way to keep your arms moving along with your legs for better exercise efficiency. A common mistake is to grip the handles too tightly, warns the American Council on Exercise. A light grip should be sufficient. As you mount the elliptical machine, start with the pedals in the neutral position, next to one another and parallel to the floor. Grasp the handles as you step on the pedals and keep them in neutral position as you program your machine.
Most modern ellipticals offer a number of features, and you'll need to get comfortable with them to use the machine to its fullest advantage. You can adjust the resistance of the pedals for less or more, depending on your comfort and strength. Your machine may also offer programs that automatically adjust the resistance throughout the workout for you. Other machines offer heart monitors, so you can keep your heart rate in the target zone for the most effective workout. It's best if you make adjustments and change programming and resistance before you start exercising, warns Consumer Reports. Trying to press buttons and change programs while moving could be dangerous.
Finally, you'll need proper posture to use your elliptical machine correctly. The American College of Sports Medicine notes that if you have to lean on the front bar, your resistance level may be too high. Instead, you should be able to stand upright. Imagine a piece of string attaching your head to the ceiling.
As you become more familiar with the elliptical, you might be able to increase resistance or even try to pedal backward to increase the intensity of your workout.