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Elliptical Benefits

By Sheila Ascroft

Ugh. Winter.

I’ve been cycling for 24 years, which means I’ve had 23 winters to get through. Real winters of snow and ice and cold winds. I wish I lived in New Mexico! I do try to cross-country ski when the weather abates, but obviously, it’s no substitute for indoor workouts.

Oh, did I mention how much I loathe my indoor bike trainer? I don’t go anywhere! I force myself to use it, but let’s be truthful; it’s hard to stay on it long enough to improve. And alas poor me, I can’t afford a fitness club membership.

What’s a cyclist to do? Well, talk to your neighbours. No, that’s not the workout! If luck befalls you the way it did me, one of “your street people” will have an elliptical trainer at home. If you are nice and ask in a plaintive, pitiful way, you might be able to use it.

My neighbourly angel offered hers to me during office hours when she is out of the house. Fortunately, freelancers don’t have fixed hours. Sometimes, they have no hours, so I have lots of time to elliptate (okay, so that may not be a verb yet, but it sounds cool).

After only a few sessions, I’m a convert! A high-quality (read expensive) elliptical machine gives a lot harder workout than just cycling. It works way more muscles and, dare I say it, it is kind of fun to do. It is simple to use: plant your feet on two platforms that move in an elliptical (not quite circular) track. Using the arms poles assist with the rotation of the platform pedals.

A club-model machine is not just sturdier for heavy use and heavy users (!); it has more built-in programs and is buttery smooth. As in not jarring, no pain in the joints. The swinging motion of an elliptical allows the stress to be handled by your muscles and tendons, unlike the pounding that takes place on a treadmill. The lower-priced models will do the same job; just don’t expect the same kind of smooth movement or durability.

Using an elliptical feels a lot like cross country skiing, there’s the weight exchange from one leg to the other, plus the cycling-like movement forward on each foot platform. If you use the arm levers, it mimics the natural swing of ski poles too.

Since biking is basically sitting, muscle movement is pretty well limited to the quads, hamstrings and calves. On an elliptical though, it feels more like being out the saddle like when you climb. Because of this, the elliptical offers a more complete workout – using not just the legs but also lower back and butt muscles. Standing allows the whole body to be involved in the exercise so a good cardio workout happens quicker than on a bike. Add in the arm levers and it’s a full body workout.

Most ellipticals have a computer display panel showing various bits of information such as time spent to heart rate to calorie counting. The better quality machines have more workout programs like cardio, fat burning, random, hills and yes, even Mount Kilimanjaro (no kidding!) that are tailored to your weight and give more accurate readings.

There are plenty of videos on if you want instruction.

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