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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Is Elliptical Training as Good as Running for Improving Fitness?

Elliptical trainers have become very popular in gyms as well as in the home. Their popularity is due to a lack of impact on the body while providing resistance to both the lower and upper body musculature. The movement pattern looks similar to running but does not involve pounding of the feet on the ground. An added advantage is the relative silence of an elliptical device compared to a treadmill, which produces considerable noise from foot strikes and its motor.

An important question is whether the elliptical trainer provides as good an aerobic workout as a treadmill or running outside. A study by Brown et al. in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (volume 24, number 6, pp. 1643-1649, 2010) was designed to answer that question.

Experimental Procedure
9 male and 9 female college-aged subjects worked out for 15 minutes on different days on both a treadmill and an elliptical trainer at a difficulty level they self-selected as “somewhat hard.” The subjects were instrumented to collect information on their rate of oxygen utilization, pulse rate and other relevant variables.

The only statistically significant differences between exercise on the elliptical machine and the treadmill were that the elliptical machine produced higher:
  • heart rate
  • percentage of maximal rate of oxygen utilization
  • Ratio of carbon-dioxide produced to oxygen used
However, there were no significant differences in total energy expenditure or total oxygen consumption.

Bottom Line
The similarities between the responses to exercise on the elliptical trainer and treadmill were far more important than their differences. They both produced very similar aerobic stimulus to the body when the subjects worked out at a moderate level of difficulty, which is typical. Therefore, for general health, one can use an elliptical trainer with confidence. However, since running is a very basic human activity that is essential for sports and reacting to emergencies, run training is still generally more useful. Someone who trains exclusively on an elliptical machine and reaches a high level of fitness will not perform as well when faced with a running challenge, and muscle soreness will surely result. Yet, elliptical training is a good way to maintain cardio-respiratory function for injured athletes and others who cannot tolerate lower body impact. It can also provide variety in training for those who run regularly.

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