Elliptical Trainers!

Ellipticals are terrific for impact-free exercise. There’s a model you can take outdoors, like a bicycle, and one that works like a stairstepper!

Originally published 2011

Using an Elliptical Trainer

I love the elliptical trainer. It’s like landing on a cloud that slowly recedes until it hardens to become a firm plank you’re pushing off of. So you land on a cloud, and push off from a plank. Gotta love that.

But when using it, I noticed that my quads were burning something fierce. The solution, of course, was to do more toe running. (See Running Technique!)

Great for Cycling!

On the other hand, I found that all the work on the quads paid big dividends, the next time I went out cycling. I didn’t notice much difference on the flats, but I powered up hills like they weren’t even there! Even though I hadn’t been on the bike at all for several months! Apparently, you use your quads a lot on hills, and front-wheel elliptical gave me a lot of work in that area. (A front-wheel elliptical turns out to me more like cycling, or uphill running. A rear-wheel elliptical is more like running on the flats.)

I wanted to work on toe running, but that technique requires a shorter stride, and the stride length on the elliptical is fixed! Toe running with a long stride works your cardio vascular system something fierce, so until someone designs an elliptical trainer that lets you vary stride length, I’ve found that the interval training program works best.

I’ll do a minute or so at toe-running speed, followed by the same amount of time at a slower speed. The slower speed pounds the quads, but gives my breathing a chance to recover. Since the stride length is fixed, the cadence at given speed will be the same for everyone. I used a metronome to gauge the machine I use, and got these numbers:

Speed (mph)
Cadence (steps/min)

With a shorter stride, I could undoubtedly increase the cadence. But with the fixed stride length, it looks like I’ll max around somewhere below 150 steps/min, given that the top speed on the machine is 18 or 19 mph. (At least, that’s what the machine says the speed is. I know for a fact I can’t run that fast. But maybe I’d be going that fast on a wheeled vehicle.)

During the exertion intervals, I work the cardio vascular system hard enough to be breathing hard — something I haven’t been able to do for years, due to knee injuries. During the recovery intervals, I’m working my quads — which is great for cycling. So I get the best of both worlds, with time for each system to recover before going at it again.

Going Outdoors with the Elliptigo

Once I discovered the elliptical trainer, I wanted one I could take for a ride outside. Today, I found from friend Bill Venners that a company called ElliptiGo makes one! “Only” $2500 (eep!), but beautifully designed. And for $400 more, you can get a stationary trainer, which gives you an indoor elliptical! (There are no built-in programs with it, but you can get a training DVD or use GymBoss to set up your own interval patterns.)

Omigawd! You can even adjust stride length! That’s something I can’t do with a stationary trainer. The range is from 18 to 25.5 inches. Gotta go out and measure my stride! (Somehow) You can’t change it on the fly, to vary your speed (you have gears for that), but you can make sure that the stride length is appropriate for your height and fitness level!

Going Uphill with the Bowflex MaxTrainer

For a super time-efficient workout, I recommend the BowFlex MaxTrainer. I bought one, and I love it. It has the best built-in interval training program I’ve seen, with 25 seconds of maximum effort, followed by 80 seconds of recovery effort. That’s 105 seconds in total, or 1:45 minutes.

The handles go up and down, giving you any number of ways to work your upper body at the same time. (I use the upper handles for the maximum-effort segments, and the lower handles for the recovery segments.)

I recommend starting with like, one training segment. Yeah. That’s right. One minute and 45 seconds. Some workout, huh? Well, this thing will kick your butt! Then add one additional segment a week.

In 4 weeks, you’ll be up to the 7-minute “short session”. And that may be a good place to hang out for a while. If you continue progressing, you’ll be up to the 14-minute “normal session” in no time. (If you’re truly a gluten for punishment, you can work up the 21-minute “super session”.)

The machine is very solid, takes little space, and is extremely well designed, and has many possible workout programs. The only bad things about it, in fact, are two things that should be the easiest thing for them to fix, one day:

  1. Doesn’t remember your last workout.
    So it always starts at the 14-minute standard program.
  2. Changes programs in one direction only.
    The up and down buttons both move “up”, through the list of programs. If you’re going for the 21-minute program, that’s no big deal. One press of the button, and you’re there. But if you’re going for the 7-minute program, that’s at the end of the list. So you have to cycle through all the programs to get there. (And if you go past it, you have to start over!)

In the end, I gave up on trying to click my way to the 7-minute program. Figured I’d wear out the buttons in a hurry, if I did. And there was no real need. Instead, I just hit the pause button when I’ve reached the number of intervals I have in mind for that day, and then hit it again to end the workout.


  • Running Technique! – For efficient, injury-free running.
  • ElliptiGo – Run with wheels!
  • BowFlex MaxTrainer – Dynamite elliptical stair stepper (I own the M7 version. Love it.)
  • Gym Boss – Great dual time count-down timer for interval training. An inexpensive, clip-on gadget.

Copyright © 2011-2017, TreeLight PenWorks

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    Trackbacks & Pingbacks

    1. Running Technique! | Treelight.com April 15, 2017 (5:49 pm)

      […] Using an Elliptical Trainer: Elliptical trainers are great, but most have a fixed stride length. One observation on the DVD is that when you start running this way and don’t shorten your stride, you find yourself working very, very hard. For two ways around that problem, see Elliptical Trainers! […]

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