What Does an Elliptical Machine Do for Your Body?

Do you ever wonder: What does the elliptical do for your body? Until you know how to navigate each piece of equipment at the gym, it's easy to get caught in a pattern of selecting the treadmill every time. The elliptical machine, though, can be just as effective as the treadmill — and a lot more fun.

Elliptical machines are a great total body exercise. (Image: skynesher/E+/GettyImages)

Tip

In addition to getting your heart rate up, the elliptical machine provides an effective full-body workout, while accommodating low-impact cardio considerations.

What Does the Elliptical Do?

The elliptical machine is a popular piece of stationary exercise equipment found in most gyms. In fact, it's so common that it's often found in hotel gyms, too, which gives you a great option for exercise while traveling.

This device was first introduced in the 1990s and has developed a reputation for being a great method of minimal-impact cardiovascular exercise. It allows for both light or high intensity based on speed and resistance levels.

Many elliptical machines include ski-like levers for your feet and long poles for your hands that allow your arms to work in conjunction with your leg movements to push and pull. They are designed to work for people of all heights and sizes — you just adjust where you hold your grip on the poles based on your height, and off you go.

But what does the elliptical do for your overall health and wellness? The benefits are plentiful.

Gets Your Heart Rate Up

According to the American Heart Association, being physically active is important to prevent heart disease and stroke, the nation's top killers. But what does being "physically active" actually mean? The organization recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise — both of which can be achieved with the elliptical.

Steady-state exercise is something you commonly see people doing on the elliptical at the gym. You just select the resistance of your choice, put in your headphones and get moving for your desired length of time.

But according to the American Council on Exercise, a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout is also possible on the elliptical. To achieve this, you must perform short bursts of maximum effort by increasing both speed and resistance on the elliptical followed by recovery. For starters, try 30 seconds of max effort, followed by 90 seconds or two minutes of easy effort before repeating.

Provides a Full-Body Workout

Unlike the treadmill, most elliptical machines are equipped with handles or poles for your arms. These allow you to incorporate both your upper body (biceps, shoulders, chest and triceps) and lower body (hamstrings, calves, quads and glutes) at the same time, while also activating your abs and core.

When you activate your entire body in this manner, you can achieve an effective and challenging workout. Remember to use proper posture, though, to get results and stay injury-free.

If you are using an elliptical machine, keep your shoulders back, your head up and your core tight. Don't lean forward or look down at your feet. Instead, keep your head up and allow your lower body to support your body weight as you move.

When proper posture is used on the elliptical, you should not experience any joint or back pain during or after exercise (aside from a few sore muscles from time to time).

Offers Low-Impact Cardio Option

Perhaps saving the best for last, another big benefit of the elliptical machine is that it offers people a great low-impact option for cardiovascular exercise. In fact, people who are suffering from acute injuries to their feet and/or knees often turn to the elliptical when high-impact exercises like jumping and running are not options.

Harvard Health Publishing cites that low-impact exercise (like the elliptical) can be a great option for people with existing physical limitations, especially arthritis, as it's much easier on the hip and knee joints. High-impact workouts, on the other hand, carry a higher risk of injury.

Trainers agree that people carrying extra weight may benefit from using the elliptical machine. The American Council on Exercise suggests several other low-impact activities that take into consideration the physical and emotional effects of obesity. Walking, hiking, boxing, stationary cycling and rowing are all fantastic options, as well as the elliptical. Switch up your routine for maximum benefits.

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