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Elliptical Trainers - What are they and Why are they so Popular?
Since bursting on the fitness scene five years ago, millions of elliptical trainers have been installed in health clubs and homes. Elliptical cross-trainers are the only real breakthrough aerobic product of the past few years," says Gregory Florez, spokesman for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). "They are absolutely not a gimmick."
According to the American Sports Data, Inc., "the elliptical motion trainer, continued to grow in popularity, with 6.2 million users in 2000, up from 2.4 million when first measured in 1997."
Elliptical trainers combine the natural stride treadmill and the simplicity of a stair climber. On an Elliptical trainer, you stand comfortably in an upright position while holding onto the machine's handrails and striding in either a forward or reverse motion.
What makes a trainer unique is the ability to offer a weight bearing workout that puts minimal stress on the joints. Your feet never leave the pedals of an elliptical trainer, thereby eliminating any impact in your workout. Whether you go forward or reverse, and regardless of the level of resistance, there is a reduced risk of injury from overusing any one-muscle group.
Weight bearing exercises like running, hiking and aerobics benefits the body in ways that non-weight bearing exercises like rowing and cycling cannot. Weight resistant workouts builds bone density and burns calories more efficiently.
For individuals trying to burn calories and trim down, the weight-bearing arm/leg exercise optimizes energy expenditure during self-selected exercise of moderate intensity in overweight subjects. In recent studies it was concluded that energy expenditure among overweight subjects was higher on the elliptical machine than a treadmill, or leg cycles with and without upper body motion. For overweight individuals who are initiating a regular exercise program to decrease excess body fat, they will find that elliptical treadmills optimize energy expenditure.
The low impact, intensive cardiovascular workout of an elliptical trainer is achieved through smooth and natural motion. The fluid, non-jarring motion makes the elliptical trainer ideal for anyone with back, knee, hips and joint problems. The dual action machines utilize both the legs and arm in providing a full upper and lower body workout.
Motion studies over the last decade show that the human foot moves through an elliptical pattern as we walk, run or jog. Fitness products that imitate and support this motion are the fastest growing new category of cardiovascular equipment.
With scarce time, a major factor in people's daily lives, total body exercise can be truly beneficial. A total body exercise machine meets three goals that are most desired - weight loss, time efficiency, and motivation.
Total Body Exercise involves more muscle mass in an aerobic exercise activity. For the average person, the larger the muscle mass involved in exercise, the more effective that exercise is for improving fat mobilization, burning calories and building muscle endurance in an efficient period of time, and at a reduced perceived rate of exertion. The upper and lower body workout of a trainer utilizes the quadriceps. hamstrings, glutes, chest, back, triceps and biceps.
Within the fitness industry, "Elliptical Technology" has become the generic name for devices that incorporate the various linkages/mechanisms in an effort to create a preferred pattern of movement for a pair of foot pedals. The shape of this preferred movement is intended to mimic the natural path of the ankle, knee and hip joints experience during locomotion - walking, striding, jogging and/or running.
In its most rudimentary form, Elliptical Technology consists of a crank arm (similar to the crank of a bicycle) that revolves around an axis at one end and that is attached to a bar at the other. The opposite end of the bar moves in a reciprocating, linear pattern when the crank rotates. Since one end of the bar rotates in a circular pattern while the other moves linearly, points between the two ends of the bar move in elliptical patterns. The points of the bar closest to the crank move in wider, more circular ellipses (closest to a circle) and the points closest to the other end move in thinner, flatter ellipses (closer to a straight line).
The most obvious advantage of Elliptical Technology is the lack of impact to the lower limbs and back. Unlike a treadmill in which the foot of the user is continuously lifted off of the running surface, striking that surface upon the return, the foot and foot pedal of an elliptical machine are in constant contact. Effectively eliminating impact.
Impact force is also felt on stairstepper devices. Although the foot often remains in contact with the foot pedal when such devices are used, the foot pedal undergoes a virtually instantaneous direction reversal. Essentially, the foot pedal is moving in one direction, must stop and then is pushed in the opposite direction. The force required to reverse the movement of the mechanism results in "impact" to the joints of the lower body.
The mechanism incorporated in an elliptical machine moves in a smooth, continuous motion and does not suffer the effects of direction reversal. The exercise experienced on elliptical machines is weight bearing (versus exercise bikes) which has ramification in the inhibition of the onset of osteoporosis.
In addition, although cycling is a well-recognized and safe tool to improve cardiovascular conditioning, the elliptical modality is a more functional pattern of movement. Since ellipticals simulate a natural walking pattern, they easily lend themselves to an upper body component of exercise. Many other devices, either due to their mechanical structure (treadmills) or the pattern (cycling) do not readily adapt to a total body configuration.
The various manufacturers of elliptical machines have developed many iterations of this basic technology. As a result, the field is full of machines that have a different "feel" - the articulation of the ankle, knee and hip is different. The true nature of Elliptical Technology has been somewhat obscured by the preponderance of these questionable devices. Many lack the design and mechanism to duplicate a fluid, natural motion. As with all forms of exercise equipment, there are cheap versions that offer negligible physical benefits.
Due to the natural motion, combined with an upper and lower body workout, quality elliptical trainers will continue to grow in popularity and their sales will substantially increase. They appeal to a population that is increasingly overweight and looking for an optimum workout for burning fat and calories. Elliptical trainers also appeal to an aging population that seeks a total body workout, minus the impact.