If there’s one piece of gym equipment that elicits a nearly universal eye roll, it’s the elliptical machine. With commonly cited faults like being boring (research even says so) and not challenging enough, it’s no wonder the elliptical doesn’t get any love Enjoyment perception during exercise with aerobic machines. Carraro A, Gobbi E, Ferri I, et al. Perceptual and motor skills. 2014 Aug;119(1):146-55.. But as with anything, an elliptical machine workout is what you make of it. And you actually can choose to make it great!
So get ready to change your ways, elliptical skeptics. We’ve rounded up all the reasons—both silly and scientific—that the hated cardio machine legitimately rocks.
1. You can absolutely do it.
The elliptical is good for all ages and fitness levels (barring those who are injured), says New York City-based fitness expert Amie Hoff. “It’s a very easy motion and can give people a sense of security,” she says—which can be particularly helpful to gym newbies who may be intimidated by other equipment. Bonus: You don’t need a manual to understand how to use it.
2. You can find ‘em almost everywhere.
Need a boutique studio (and a ballooning savings account) to access an elliptical machine? Nah. These bad boys are in just about every gym, including the measly ones found in apartment buildings and hotels. #NoExcuses.
3. You CAN get your heart racing.
Believe it or not, your pulse revs up during elliptical training—higher than the treadmill, according to one study (even when perceived exertion is the same) Comparison of energy expenditure on a treadmill vs. an elliptical device at a self-selected exercise intensity. Brown GA, Cook CM, Krueger RD, et al. Journal of strength and conditioning research. 2010 Jun;24(6):1643-9.. Another study found that runners' legs felt more tired after using the elliptical than a comparable workout on the treadmill Heart rate and ratings of perceived exertion during treadmill and elliptical exercise training. Green JM, Crews TR, Pritchett RC, et al. Perceptual and motor skills. 2004 Feb;98(1):340-8.. The cherry on top? You get all the heart-pumping benefits (if not more), minus the pounding.
4. You can squeeze it into your schedule.
As much as we love HIIT workouts, they always require a post-workout shower session. And if you’re strapped for time (here’s looking at you, lunchtime workout warriors), you know it’s crucial to get in and out of the gym ASAP. Plus, if any of you ladies out there have ever tried to keep your strands smooth and sleek through a sweat session, you know it’s pretty damn difficult. Since you have direct control over intensity on the elliptical, you can avoid being a sweaty beast (and spend more time exercising).
5. You can avoid unwanted competition.
Friendly competition? Awesome. Trying to power through your workout with the dude next to you eyeballing your mileage and speed? Not so much. Thankfully, that phenomenon seems to be limited to the treadmill, so you can hit the elliptical in peace.
6. You can get an upper-body workout too.
Just pump your arms to move the handles (and thus your legs). You can also grab some dumbbells, ditch the handles, and do shoulder presses as you move your legs. And voilà: earning the right to bare arms.
7. You can improve your life.
It may sound like a lofty claim, but science actually suggests elliptical training may improve quality of life and beat back fatigue—though it’s worth noting that this study measured both effects in people with multiple sclerosis Elliptical exercise improves fatigue ratings and quality of life in patients with multiple sclerosis. Housing JM, Filipi ML, Stergiou N. Journal of rehabilitation research and development. 2011;48(7):881-90.. An extreme case, to be sure, but definitely a benefit in our books!
8. You have plenty of variety.
Not only do the built-in programs make switching up workouts super simple (i.e. they do the work for you with pre-set options), but manually switching the settings is also a cinch. Tip: If you’re sticking to the programs, keep tabs on how challenging they are for you—you don’t want it to feel like you’re breezing through the movements 15 minutes into the workout, Hoff says.
9. You can multitask.
Whether you’re dying to catch up on your favorite show (oh hey, Scandal) or just have to fire off e-mails on a tablet or phone, checking stuff off your to-do list is totally possible on the elliptical. And, OK, so you can technically do all of this on any cardio equipment at the gym, but it’s especially easy when you're on this machine.
10. You can go easy on your knees.
The elliptical is softer on the body in general—and that’s pretty major for people with joint, knee, and lower back issues, Hoff says. The gliding motions are low impact, but can also have major payoffs.
11. You can get a killer workout.
But it’s up to you. One study suggests exercising on an elliptical machine leads to similar fitness improvements as hitting the treadmill or a Stairmaster Physiological changes following a 12 week gym based stair-climbing, elliptical trainer and treadmill running program in females. Egaña M, Donne B. The Journal of sports medicine and phsyical fitness. Jun;44(2):141-6.. They key? Making sure you work as hard (read: keep that intensity UP) and as long as you would on the other two machines. In other words: no coasting! Hoff suggests challenging yourself by cranking up the incline (which works the booty a little more) for three to four minutes, then decreasing the incline as you increase speed, and alternating until you’ve completed your routine.
12. You can bounce back from injuries.
Though you should get the go-ahead from a doctor before hopping back into the fitness game post-injury, experts believe the elliptical machine may help you regain range of motion in the hips. And if sore joints are the issue, the low-impact exercise may be beneficial, according to research. To top it off, doctors often recommend incorporating the elliptical into a rehab program for people who’ve had ACL surgeries. One study even suggests that elliptical training may be useful in a rehab program for those who’ve suffered from traumatic brain injuries Lower extremity kinematics during walking and elliptical training in individuals with and without traumatic brain injury. Buster T, Burnfield J, Taylor AP, et al. Journal of neurologic physical therapy. 2013 Dec;37(4):176-86.. And even more research suggests elliptical training improves balance, endurance, and mobility in people who have experienced a stroke Use of an elliptical machine for improving functional walking capacity in individuals with chronic stroke: a case series. Jackson K, Merriman H, Campbell J. Journal of neurologic physical therapy. 2010 Sep;34(3):168-74..
13. You don’t need tons of energy.
Some days, beast mode just isn’t in your workout repertoire. When that happens, hit the elliptical. Since it’s low-impact and you can adjust the intensity, you can get your sweat on without doing yourself in. Plus, the built-in settings make it even easier for you to coast—in case that’s exactly what you need.
14. You can read.
Anecdotal evidence shows that turning pages while using a treadmill or Stairmaster is way tougher than doing so on an elliptical machine. So when multi-tasking’s your only option (ahem, you’re cramming for finals or frantically prepping for an interview), the elliptical is a pretty safe bet to get your sweat on and your reading done too.
15. You can ease your way back into your fitness routine.
Hopping back on the workout wagon after an exercise hiatus isn’t an easy thing to do. Just like it’s a great tool for newbies to get their sweat on, the elliptical is a solid choice for anyone looking to get back on the straight and narrow.
16. You can work your entire body in less than 30 minutes.
We’re all about efficiency (who isn’t?), and the elliptical has to be one of the most efficient pieces of equipment. Work your upper and lower body and get your cardio fix all in one go.
17. You can use it as an add-on to other workouts.
Ever left a group fitness class feeling like you’ve hit about 80 percent of your workout potential? Well, when that happens, just hop on the elliptical and power through a quick little session before calling quits!
18. You can (usually) go backwards.
Why is that a good thing, you ask? As it turns out, pedaling in reverse works the calves and hamstrings more than the forward motion. Consider this the green light to switch things up as you go through your routine.