The truth is there are both advantages and disadvantages to a cross trainer workout. They aren’t the right choice for everyone.
With that said, a cross trainer can provide a tough aerobic workout that burns plenty of calories. Here are six advantages to using this type of machine.
1. Less Impact on the Joints
Running is a brilliant exercise. But it’s no secret that pounding pavements can put damaging force through your joints.
Surprisingly, running with correct form may not actually be bad for the knees. Several studies have shown that these runners are not more likely to suffer from osteoarthritis than those who take part in lower impact activities.
With that said, running can be damaging if your form isn’t perfect. As most of us aren’t expert runners, this is a common issue! People who are overweight also put more force through their joints when running, which increases the chance of injury.
Cross trainers are much less stressful for the body. Your feet are stuck to the pedals throughout the motion, so there’s little impact on the ankles, knees, hips and lower back. If you suffer from joint pain or need to lose a few pounds, an elliptical trainer is a good alternative to running.
2. Burn as Many Calories as a Treadmill With “Less” Effort
If you’re trying to lose weight, elliptical trainer workouts typically burn more calories than exercise bikes, walking or steppers. This is because you’re using both the lower and upper body, instead of just the legs.
For comparison, an hour on an elliptical with moderate effort burns around 365 calories. Cycling at 10mph for the same time burns just 292.
Treadmills tend to burn a similar amount of calories as a cross trainer. An elliptical often feels easier though, as you’re using more major muscle groups in the body.
Of course, the number of calories burned varies depending on your age, weight, gender, fitness level and how hard you work out. But an elliptical is an efficient tool for burning calories and moving towards your weight loss goals.
3. Versatile Exercise from One Machine
The fixed nature of an elliptical machine can trick people into thinking it’s less versatile than other cardiovascular equipment.
Fortunately, this isn’t the case. Many cross trainers let you adjust resistance levels, stride length, program type and even target heart rate zones (check out our guides for more tips on getting the most from your sessions). You can also complete both high intensity interval training (HIIT) and steady state on an elliptical trainer.
Additionally, pedalling in reverse switches the emphasis from the quadriceps to the glutes and hamstrings.
4. Complete Control of Speed
Treadmills run at a speed set by their computer, regardless of how fast you’re jogging. This is fine most of the time – but can lead to some dangerous situations if you can’t keep up.
In contrast, you’re in complete control of a cross trainer. If you stop, the machine stops, so it can be a safer option. And if you need to slow down for a rest, this happens almost instantly.
It’s also quick to adjust the cross trainer’s resistance, workout type or stride length via the on-board computer (if the trainer you’re using allows it).
5. Great for Home Training
Cross trainers in gyms are often bulky machines, especially compared to an exercise bike, but there are plenty of options that are better suited to a home workout.
Home cross trainers are often smaller and have a folding design to save space. They might not be as durable as a commercial model, but the best domestic cross trainers are strong enough for the average user.
There are also advantages to using a high-quality cross trainer compared to other machines. For a start, they are safe to use alone and provide near-limitless potential for increasing difficulty. Ellipticals also mimic a jogging motion, which is great if you want to train without exposing yourself to cold and wet weather.
6. Full-Body Cardiovascular Exercise
As I mentioned, most cardiovascular workout machines focus on either the upper or lower body. Elliptical trainers are one of the few gym machines that workout both, while helping you lose weight through burning more calories.
This means many more major muscle groups are used – including the legs, arms, stomach and chest – and you can change which muscles are emphasised be subtly adjusting form. Here are some examples:
- Quadriceps – Driving the flywheel forward provides a strong workout for your quads. Increasing the resistance can cause a deep burn in these muscles.
- Calves – It’s not just your thighs that benefit. Both calf muscles are worked on a cross trainer.
- Glutes – The bum muscles are activated during a regular stride on a elliptical trainer, but can be emphasised by pedalling backwards. The same is true for the hamstrings.
- Core (stomach and lower back) – While the abs and lower back activate to stabilise your torso during a regular stride, you can force it to work harder by letting go of the handles.
- Upper Body – The lats and biceps are activated when you pull the handles, while the pecs and triceps are used for pushing.
Can you build muscle with a cross trainer though?
Cross trainers are never going to build noticeable muscle size or strength. You’ll need weight training exercises for that. But you can increase your muscular endurance whilst providing a cardiovascular workout.
And Now The Downsides…
There are many cross trainer benefits, but it wouldn’t be fair to ignore the potential downsides.
Ironically, one of the most important drawbacks is also a key benefit: the lack of force through the body.
While low impact activities are great for preventing joint pain, the lack of force means your bones don’t need to adapt. In other words, your bone density is unlikely to increase when using a cross trainer – even though the exercise is weight bearing.
This makes using an elliptical a bad choice for preventing or treating osteoporosis. In contrast, weight lifting, running and other high impact activities force the body to build stronger bones.
Some trainers also believe that the restrictive movement pattern of an elliptical trainer may increase the chances of overuse injury. For this reason, always build up your workout intensities slowly, and seek medical advice if you experience pain.
An elliptical cross trainer can provide a low-impact cardiovascular workout that’s safe and easy on the joints. This makes it one of the best options for cardio training – both at home and at a gym.
The benefits of cross trainer workouts depend on you though. It’s your responsibility to find a workout routine that’s safe, effective and suitable for your goals.
Do you have any questions about the benefits of using a cross trainer? Or do you think we’ve missed one of the advantages in this article? Let us know in the comments section below.