While it looks like any person can just hop on and start moving, it's not as simple as just gliding like a gazelle for half an hour straight. Form comes into play (of course), and you can hurt yourself if you don't follow along in the right way. Trainers actually see a lot of people make mistakes on it, which sabotages the whole full-body cardio benefits that the elliptical grants to everyone who climbs onto it at the gym.
"Ellipticals can be a great low-impact cardiovascular option," says Phil Timmons, program manager at Blink Fitness. That said, it's only if you're doing it with proper form. And so, avoid these five most common mistakes that trainers see people make on the machine.
1. Focusing on speed
One way to never get stronger? Only looking at speed on the elliptical. "Faster is not necessarily better," says Timmons. "Instead, focus on your strides per minute when increasing your resistance. Try not to drop to lower strides per minute as you're increasing the resistance level."
2. Improper form
Just like there's a right way to run or to spin, there's a right way to move on the elliptical. "You should keep your back straight and shoulders back, head held high with your core engaged," says Timmons. "Avoid leaning too far forward, slumping your shoulders, or leaning on the handrails." As for your lower body, he says to keep your feet close to the inside edge of the pedals and your legs slightly bent, avoiding locked knees. Also: "Keep your body weight in your heels, shoulders stacked over your hips, and keep your hips on an even plane and your shoulders and chest pointing forward," says Jacey Lambros, co-founder of JaneDO and instructor with NEOU Fitness.
Lambros points out that she sees a lot of people doing three main things: leaning, rocking, and twisting. "Leaning is when, instead of driving your bodyweight in the center and engaging the core, you shift right and left instead of keeping your hips on an even plane as much as possible and your shoulders down, away from your ears," she says. "When you're leaning side to side, you're shifting your bodyweight and not getting the most effective workout in your entire body."
This is when you're rocking forward and back, which sabotages your full-body workout potential. "When it comes to forward flexion and arching your back, most people tend to lean back instead of engaging their core and kneading their ribs, pulling shoulder blades back to stay engaged," says Lambros. "People lean too far forward or arch too far back, but you want your shoulders aligned with your hips. The straighter you can keep your body, the more engaged you'll keep your abdominals."
Lambros says that a lot of people twist their upper body when on the elliptical, too. "This kind of engages the obliques, but for the best overall compound workout, you should keep your shoulders square," she says. "Instead of twisting into rotation, use your abs and upper back so that your lower body can benefit from the machine, too." She notes that the back and chest muscles should facilitate all of the work of the arms, so as you pull the handle back, you're activating the back, and as you push forward, you're working the pecs.
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