Thursday, September 18, 2008

To Elliptical or Not

The elliptical trainer is now a staple in gyms all over the country. It is almost as popular as the treadmill. It is touted as a 'low-impact' aerobic exercise, which is why many people like to use it- except me. I have many reasons why I don't use the elliptical trainer, nor recommend it. It may be better than doing nothing at all, but not much.

So, here are the reasons why I don't like the elliptical trainer:

  • Fixed Motion- It is a machine, so you move your legs through the fixed, elliptical path that the pedals travel. Like weight machines, you must follow the motion of the machine, not necessarily your natural leg movement. Regular, repetitive motion of the elliptical trainer can cause muscle imbalances, and overuse injuries. It also does nothing to enhance the motor control of your muscles or joint stability (especially the hip and ankle). Essentially, you are always on two feet (not at all like the way we move in our daily activities or in sports).
  • Reinforces poor hip function and range of motion- Look at someone on this machine and you will see their hips stay in a small range of motion (flexed, like sitting and minimal extension) which does nothing to address the typical weakness of the hip extensors (your glutes) or enhance hip flexor (front of hips) flexibility.
  • Poor Ground-Reaction Force Tolerance: Our bodies adapt to stresses applied to them (basic exercise training principle) , and injuries usually occur when we encounter stresses too great for our body to handle (sometimes this can be cumulative). If we don't progressively increase forces on the body, there won't be any adaptation. Many people say, my joints can handle the stress of running (or whatever activity), so that is why I use the elliptical trainer. Well, you are just ignoring the problem. You need to strengthen your leg muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons with strength training so you can handle running (or whatever physical activity gives them problems). Remember, you are always training your muscle's motor patterns and influencing your physiology and anatomy, even with mindless, calorie-burning exercises.
  • Lower Back Strain/Posture Problems- Since the hips are always flexed (bent) you need to compensate by leaning forward (again, look at people on these machines). This puts a constant torque on the lower back. Over time (a very short time for those out of shape) the lower back muscles fatigue and you begin to slouch forward, your spinal discs migrate backwards and you get some nice low back pain (combine this with the crunch machine and you will be seeing your chiropractor in no time!).
  • Boring- I don't know about you, but doing the same motion over and over again and not moving (or moving anything) seems pretty boring to me (I am sure many will agree). It is mindless exercise, which I discussed the problems with this type of exercise in a previous post here. There are other, more effective and better ways to burn bodyfat. I will be happy to teach you, just ask.

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