The Best Way to Use an Elliptical Trainer

Discover five proven benefits of an elliptical trainer—plus how to use the elliptical trainer to burn more calories, become a better runner, and get more fit while decreasing your risk of injury. 

Ben Greenfield
5-minute read
Episode #292

best way to use an elliptical trainerI have some friends (dyed-in-the-wool exercise enthusiasts) who think that the elliptical trainer at the gym, or those funny looking outdoor standup elliptical trainers with wheels, don't really work at all, especially when it comes to making you a better runner.

Many personal trainers also tend to stop at the elliptical trainer, instead choosing modalities such as the treadmill, the rowing machine, or the bicycle for interval training or aerobic cardio.

But a recent study on elliptical trainers (specifically the outdoor type that are on wheels) caught my eye. The study, which was entitled “A Physiological and Subjective Comparison of the ElliptiGO and Running in Highly Fit Trained Runners” investigated elliptical training on something called the “ElliptiGO” as a potential form of cross-training that could to provide a low impact, running-specific, high intensity exercise experience without the actual joint jarring that running typically causes.

In this study, they compared the physiological response to running with the physiological response to an equivalent workout on the outdoor elliptical trainer. The study showed complete maintenance of the fitness necessary to maintain running performance in highly trained, fit runners when using the elliptical trainer. In addition, this fitness was achieved with a lower rating of perceived exertion and a higher rating of enjoyment.

So it turns out that elliptical trainers aren’t just silly exercise devices—they can actually be used to train both the general population and highly trained runners for enhancing fitness. But there’s even more good news when it comes to elliptical trainers, and in this episode, you’re going to discover five more proven benefits of an elliptical trainer, how to use the elliptical trainer to burn more calories, become a better runner, and get more fit while decreasing your risk of injury.

5 Benefits of an Elliptical Trainer

Benefit #1: Lower Joint Stress Compared to Running

The elliptical trainer was originally designed by an inventor who came up with the idea for the elliptical motion by filming his daughter running alongside his car, then replicating that running motion in a machine that gave running benefits, but put less strain on the joints.

And he was right. A study at the University of Missouri measured oxygen utilization, lactic acid formation, heart rate, and rating of perceived exertion on an elliptical trainer as compared to a treadmill, and found that the elliptical exercise was nearly identical to the treadmill exercise in every respect, but the elliptical trainer created far less joint impact.

Benefit #2: Ability to Fix Weak Muscles

Another study compared muscle activity patterns of the quadriceps and hamstrings in walking on the ground, walking on a treadmill, stationary bicycling, and the elliptical trainer. The elliptical trainer produced significantly greater quadriceps utilization and greater quadriceps and hamstring coordination than any of the other modes of exercise!And a study at Willamette University found that when you pedal backwards on an elliptical, your quadriceps utilization skyrockets even more.

Considering that most people have weak quadriceps compared to hamstrings, this is another definite benefit to using an elliptical trainer, especially if you’re a frequent runner or cyclist who wants balanced muscles.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.