Elliptical machines are one of the most popular machines for cardio workouts. Unless you're training for a road race, such as a 5k or marathon, the elliptical should provide most of the health benefits of jogging, without the added risks of injury. But you’ll need to push yourself to make every minute of your elliptical workout count.
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Cardio and Calories
The American Heart Association recommends about 30 minutes of exercise, five times a week. But to be most effective, cardio activity should be intense enough to get you to 75 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate – maintained for at least 25 minutes.
Jogging and running is higher intensity than the elliptical, so you may reach your maximum heart rate sooner. But by increasing resistance and incline on the elliptical machine, you can make your heart rate climb to the optimal range. By amping up the resistance, you’ll build more muscle strength, too.
For a 160-lb. person, jogging at five miles per hour burns about 584 calories per hour. Running at eight miles per hour burns about 986 calories per hour. On the elliptical, a 160-lb. person can burn about 400 to 500 calories in an hour during moderate exercise, and 600 to 700 calories per hour during vigorous exercise.
A Whole-Body Workout
Jogging and elliptical machines both give your lower body an intense workout. Some elliptical machines also have movable upper body poles, similar to ski poles, that allow you to exercise your arms at the same time. Some machines also have foot pedals that move forwards and backwards – something you can’t easily do while jogging – which works even more muscle groups. By using the added features, the elliptical can provide more of a whole-body workout than jogging.
Posture is important to getting the most benefit out of the elliptical, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Proper posture means shoulders back, head up, abdominals tight and arms relaxed. Don't lean forward or grip the bars tightly, as your weight should be fully supported by your lower body.
But the elliptical isn’t much of a weight-bearing exercise. It doesn't strengthen bones and muscles like jogging and running. If you're looking to prevent osteoporosis, the elliptical alone may not be enough.
Wear and Tear
One of the biggest benefits of the elliptical over jogging is that the lower-impact activity can be less stressful on your knees, hips, back and bones. On the other hand, most running injuries are caused by shoe problems and training mistakes, and most are preventable. For instance, a runner who logs 10 miles a week should consider buying new shoes every nine to 12 months. Shoes won't lose shock absorption so quickly on an elliptical machine.
When is Jogging Best?
The elliptical provides most of the same benefits as jogging. But a short, higher-intensity jog may do the job of a longer session on the elliptical. That’s worth considering for those looking for the most efficient workout.
If you're training for a road race, jogging outside or on a treadmill can better prepare you for the event, as nothing quite prepares you for the demands of running as … running. But consider adding cross-training with an elliptical during race training to reduce wear-and-tear on your legs in the long run.