We'd always had a soft spot for the cross-trainer here at SL, until we heard rumours that slogging it out on the elliptical wasn’t nearly as effective as we’d always hoped.
But, thanks to Greatist.com, we now know a stint on this often-overlooked cardio machine can do wonders for your body – if you use it in the right way.
It turns out the cross-trainer can actually improve your fitness levels just as well as the trusty treadmill, as long as you avoid certain fitness pitfalls and step to it properly.
Read on for top personal trainers’ tips on how to make cross-training work for you, plus the ultimate 20-minute, fat-burning workout to try next time you’re at the gym...
1) Make a plan before hitting “start”
Before even stepping foot on the machine, set an intention for the workout. “Ask yourself what you want to achieve that day,” says Leanne Weiner, a personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist.
“Then monitor your perceived level of exertion – where zero is like going for a leisurely stroll and at ten you’re completely out of breath – throughout the workout to make sure you’re not just dialing it in. If you don’t feel like you’re working, you’re probably not.”
“Not having a goal is one of the biggest mistakes people make on the cross-trainer,” adds Marc Santa Maria, national group fitness director at Crunch. “People just hop on and think, ‘If I move, this will be effective’, but that’s not the case. You have to have a workout plan.”
2) Use the handles for a total-body workout
“Power is shared between the upper and lower body on the cross-trainer,” says Weiner. For the most effective workout, actively push and pull the levers while maintaining an upright posture, keeping the shoulders pulled back and the abs engaged – otherwise the arms are just along for the ride.
Working the machine without holding onto the handrails at all is another option. “In this case, most of the power is generated from the lower body, requiring more core activation and balance,” Weiner says. “Stay upright, keep the abs engaged, and pump the arms forward and backward at a 90-degree angle, as if you were running.”
“With handrails on the machine, it can be tempting to grab on and lean forward as your legs do all the work. But slouching forward will simply make the workout feel easier, so it’s not doing you any favours,” says Jonathan Cane, a triathlon coach and exercise physiologist. “Instead, stay upright with a firm core, without hunching over,” he says. “Poor form is inefficient, and can contribute to low back pain and muscular imbalances.”
Plus, those handles aren’t supposed to make the workout feel easy. “I often see people leaning heavily on the handrails or propping themselves up on them,” Cane says. “But all that’s doing is fooling the machine. If you support your weight on the handrails, the machine will tell you your caloric expenditure is greater than it really is.”
2) Repeat your routine
Doing the same workout day after day may be effective at first, but it will eventually lead to a fitness plateau. “Our body is an evolutionary machine that's programmed to adapt to new stressors in about four to six weeks,” says Weiner. “It’s important to constantly change exercise variables.”
To reap maximum general fitness benefits, interval training is the way to go. “You’ll get better conditioning than from steady-state work,” Cane says. “One of the nice things about the elliptical is that you have a few variables you can manipulate to make things more challenging, such as resistance, stride rate, and even elevation on some machines.” Not only will diversifying your elliptical workout keep your body in top shape, it’s also more fun.
Here are some ideas to change up your routine from Santa Maria:
- Do 5-minute intervals, increasing resistance each time.
- Start and stay with a steady pace – the base-pace rate – and increase the machine’s incline/decline setting.
- Move at base-pace for 2 minutes, then double the speed for 2 minutes (keeping incline steady) and recover for 1 minute. Repeat this pattern as many times as desired.
- “Being creative keeps you from getting bored,” Santa Maria says. “See if you can improve your distance or levels of endurance each time you get on the machine. Compete against yourself to get stronger and leaner.”
If you’re still not convinced the cross-trainer is hard core enough, try this interval workout created by Weiner. “High-intensity interval training is a fast and effective way to get in a solid workout with limited time,” she says. “What this interval workout lacks in duration, it makes up for in intensity.”
Your moderate speed should feel like going on a casual run – not a sprint, but not a walk. High resistance should feel like 80-90% of your maximum effort, moderate resistance should be 60-70% maximum effort, and low resistance should be 40-50% maximum effort.
The 20-minute Cross-trainer Interval Workout:
For the full article, visit Greatist.com