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5 Reasons to Avoid the Elliptical Trainer

“Train Smarter” Blog series by Shayleen Pastick, Licensed Physical Therapist and Elite Trainer

I have had the pleasure of training motivated and well-educated adults for over 15 years with over 1,300 contact hours each year. My clients and I focus on restorative fitness techniques and injury prevention first, building a strong foundation for continual and consistent fitness gains over time. When careful and consistent functional training is practiced consistently it can lead to extraordinary levels of fitness. We FMS screen 100% of our clients. If you’re lucky, you’ll see one of my superstars walking around town in our limited edition “Train Smarter” T-shirts this fall. If you’re wearing one, congrats, I’m so proud of all of you. Enjoy your super powers and don’t ever use the dark side of the force!

As a part of my career path, I’ve enjoyed being bombarded by all of the nonsense that is the fitness and nutrition industry. One of the reasons for my success is my ability to use my common sense and professional perspective to sort through all of it. For my family, my clients, and myself there’s a great deal out there that can help us all. There are also many trends and advice that we’re bombarded with that simply cannot be a part of long-term health and wellness practices. I’m after Vitality, not just fitness.

I can’t even tell you how much time I wasted on elliptical trainers. In fact, I have the honor of admitting that I was on the very first one that was invented in the 90’s. That clicking in my knee didn’t go away for years, until I got off of the ellipticals altogether. This is advice coming from a person who has been exercising at least 3x/week or more for over 20 years and coaching people how to do so effectively for over 15 years. Maximizing my client’s function and fitness results (per unit of training time, typically 55 minutes) is my job, and I take it very seriously. We don’t have an elliptical at Vitality Personal Fitness for a reason.  Here’s why.

Elliptical frown lady graphic#1 No Impact. 
No Impact = No bone mineral density. Period. More than half of our clients are women, and any of them who have shown up with some form of Osteoporosis have received regular recurring bone scans proving that walking and strength training can reverse the adverse effects of Osteopenia/Osteoporisis, both life-threatening conditions. Men also need to be concerned about this although it is typically a women’s health concern. 100% of our cases have been reversed and sometimes in as little as 6 months time! One of the leading causes of death in this country is a secondary medical condition due to hip fracture, which is, in most cases, preventable. Walking is a low impact exercise that is proven to help bone mineral density when clients are medically supervised. Please consult your medical team if you know you have bone mineral loss. You can’t build bone mineral density without great nutrition, sometimes supplements (calcium), and for some people medication as well. Medical problems require medical supervision and great personal training on top of it to help permanently solve them.

#2 No natural arm swing.  
No big deal? Well, if you have studied Gait and Kinesiology, you would share my sentiments. It’s only 20% of your natural gait cycle, no big deal… Yes, there is a nice push-pull handle available on an elliptical, but it’s not natural. To get your heart rate up people do thousands of reps with maximal resistance, which is the exact formula for repetitive strain injuries. I have seen some nasty tennis elbows, golfers elbows, and upper trap dominate clients whose sole form of cardio was elliptical training over the years, often times because they are arthritic and their doctors told them not to walk. That is not what I would recommend, not even for one second. Walking and incline walking are great ways to stay in shape throughout your lifespan. Don’t forget to walk tall, and as naturally as possible and include your arm swing. In other words, if you are on a treadmill, don’t hold on. Don’t use a speed and incline combination that changes your gait. Train gradually and gently increase your exercise power output overtime especially if you’re a beginner. You lose up to 20% of your calories and the balance component to walking when holding on to a treadmill. If you need balance training hire a PT to help you with that. Solving a balance loss can be as easy as 3 simple exercises a day for as little as 1-6 weeks. Consistent training and slow progressions work 100% of the time when I’ve supervised these kinds of client programs.

#3 No hip extension. 
Hip extension is the opposite hip position to sitting (hip flexion). Can your leg move behind your buttocks? If not, you’ve got a hip extension problem. Sometimes we see new clients with 0 degrees of hip extension due to too much sitting, lack of hip flexor mobility, and use of cardio forms like the elliptical (recumbent bike is equally ineffective at doing any good other than getting your heart rate up). Hip extension = happiness. It can reduce knee and back pain, improve balance and overall functional performance when your hip flexors are at an optimum length. Happiness is a supple hip.

#4 No balance component.
The same way we all go to the dentist 2x/year, hopefully facilities like Vitality and professionals like myself will be able to promote a biannual fitness check up that is eventually covered by insurance. If you can’t stand on one foot for 1 minute, regardless of your age, consider starting a balance-training program. We can help. I’ll be sure to post some basic exercises in my next blog that can literally save your life. You want to work on your balance a little bit every day. You’re not doing so if you are in a closed chain machine like an elliptical. Closed chain meaning you are not moving freely, you’re attached to something.

#5 No ankle mobility or lower leg strengthening.
Before the phone starts ringing, let me clarify. Elliptical trainers do not provide ankle mobility and lower leg strengthening when compared to walking. Our favorite types of cardio as functional training practitioners at Vitality are walking, incline walking, walk/jogging/running, rowing, intervals. Not a single client on our caseload is encouraged to run without a passing FMS score. Clients running for the first time in 3 months are given a careful cardiovascular prescription, foam rolling and stretching regimen to avoid the common ailments many runners suffer from due to lack of strength, mobility, and restorative exercise.

The elliptical is at the bottom of the barrel in promotion of functional strength. As a person who suffered lower leg obliteration due to a total car accident and air bags to the shins last year, never underestimate the importance of the strength and health of your leg below the knee. Including your foot, of course!

Some exercise is always better than none, so please don’t let this deter you from any exercise, anytime. It’s my job to make the time that my clients use for fitness most effective as possible. This will never include a cardiovascular exercise prescription including an elliptical trainer. They’re only good for one thing: getting your heart rate up.  There are many great ways to increase your heart rate that have compounding positive performance results. Some great personal training is also better than none, so if you’re in the neighborhood and ever want to learn a few exercises that will keep you feeling fit and pain-free for the rest of your life, you know where to find me. Hope you enjoyed my blog.  Email me questions anytime at vitalitypersonalfitness@gmail.com or contact me at www.vitalitypersonalfitness.com using the “Contact us” button.

October 21st, 2014 Posted in Cardio, Functional Training, Health News, Osteoporisis