Elliptical Cross Training | Why you must do Elliptical Workouts

Ugh, cross training. The very word makes you groan. You’ve been working hard to get your butt out for a run a few times a week, and now you just learned that you should be cross training too.

Why? And how in the world are you going to fit it into your already busy schedule?

At this point, it’s hard enough to find the time and motivation to get your runs in, much less worry about extra workouts. Can’t that wait until you are a more seasoned runner?

Sorry, but no, it can’t. Because cross training will make you a better, stronger runner. And it will actually help you to hate those runs a lot less.

And cross training doesn’t have to be horrible. In fact, elliptical cross training is a great alternative for runners – and it can be a lot of fun!

Many new runners mistake cross training as weightlifting, and while weightlifting is definitely something all runners should do, the two are not one and the same.

Weightlifting strengthens your muscles. You can use it as a supplemental workout to keep you healthy and strong as a runner. Cross training, on the other hand, is a type of exercise that you can do instead of running. It can replace your regular run.

Yep, you read that right! You can replace a run with elliptical cross training if you want to! Now don’t tell me that didn’t just make you smile.

The goal of cross training is aerobic fitness, not strength. And you need both aerobic fitness and stronger muscles, to be a better runner.

And if you are a better, stronger runner, than you can enjoy running more. And hate it less.

The major reason runners need to do elliptical workouts

Elliptical cross training closely mimics running.

It gives you the same benefits as your regular run, but with less chance of injury. And it helps to prevent boredom by breaking up your exercise routine.

Reasons to do elliptical cross training

Cross training on the elliptical uses the same muscles as running does, which is why it is such a great workout for runners.

In fact, according to a 2010 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, oxygen consumption was the same on the elliptical as it was on the treadmill.

This means you are working out just as hard on the elliptical as you are when running!

A 2004 report from the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that an elliptical and a treadmill equally help you to become a better runner – the treadmill isn’t better than the elliptical.

So, if you are tired of running, you can hop on the elliptical!

If you aren’t convinced yet, a 2014 study also discovered that elliptical cross training is easier on your joints than running is, which reduces your risk of injury.

This is because on an elliptical, your feet never leave the pedals, reducing the impact on your knees, hips, ankles and other joints. The Mayo Clinic also found that training on an elliptical can prevent an overload of injuries, which is common among novice runners.

An ‘overload of injuries’ happens when you train too hard, too quickly. If you try to build up mileage too fast, you’ll hurt yourself.

So, hop on the elliptical instead! It can replace one of your runs, (lucky you!) so that you can build up mileage slowly.

When to utilize the benefits of elliptical cross training

Cross training on the elliptical benefits all runners, but there are times when it is really good to use the elliptical. You should use it if you want to avoid overtraining or if you are recovering from an injury. Or maybe you are just tired of running and need to shake it up a bit.

Benefits of elliptical cross training

Use the elliptical if you want to avoid overtraining

When you run, your body needs time to get used to the impact of your feet hitting the ground. The constant pounding is jarring your bones and causing stress on your muscles and ligaments.

If you can slowly build up your milage, you can reduce this stress on your muscles and bones by giving your body more time to get used to it.

The elliptical still trains your body but without the added stress, because it mimics the running motion. This reduces your risk of injury from overtraining.

It helps you to strengthen your body for running, without actually running.

But that doesn’t mean you can do all of your runs on an elliptical! You still need to complete actual runs as well.

Use the elliptical if you are recovering from an injury

If used correctly, elliptical cross training lets you work out in even when you are injured.

It’s not always safe to head out for a run when you are recovering from an injury. But, since the elliptical mimics a run, you can easily hop on the machine and ‘go for a run’.

This is because the elliptical is less intense and easier on your body than running is. So, you can maintain, or even improve, your fitness level while nursing an injury, by cross training on an elliptical.

Use the elliptical if you want to add variation to your cardio routine

There are so many ways you can use elliptical cross training.

If you want to, you can use it in combination with your regular running routine. Just keep your regular runs and add in a run on the elliptical on one of your off days.

If you are prone to injury, you can use it to add mileage to your week without actually pounding out the miles.

If you are finding it hard to get your butt out of bed for your daily run, you can replace a run (or two!) with elliptical cross training.

And if you like to stay active with a variety of activities, but running is your main focus, you can use elliptical cross training as a way to shake up your weekly routine.

Using an elliptical will help you to improve your endurance while giving you a break from the monotony of running.

How to translate running workouts to elliptical workouts

How do you move from running outside to running on an elliptical? Even though the elliptical mimics a run, the motions are still different. On an elliptical, your foot never leaves the pedal.

So how do you use the machine to get the most bang for your run?

It helps to remember that working out on an elliptical is ‘mincing running’, which means it mimics actual running. You are working out the same muscles as you would when running.

You are also getting a similar cardio workout and building the same amount of endurance.

But you can only do this if you are using the proper settings on the elliptical. If the settings are wrong, your workout will either be way too easy, letting you off the hook (and hurting your performance later) or it will turn into a leg workout with very little cardio.

Working out on the elliptical can be mincing running

When you move from outside or the treadmill to the elliptical, you need to match your normal running speed to the right revolutions per minute on the elliptical. Your running speed is made up of your stride length and your stride rate called your ‘cadence’.

When you run outside, you want to run as close to a 180 cadence as possible. This is 180 steps per minute, and it gives you the most efficient stride.

To mimic this on the elliptical, you need to try to get as close as you can to 90 RPM (revolutions per minute). And to do this, you will probably need to maintain a moderate resistance.

But what is resistance?

Resistance is the intensity level of your workout. Resistance levels are different on every machine, but they often range from 1 to 100. (And the type of run you want is going to determine how much resistance you use)

If you want to run intervals, you need a higher resistance and you will ‘run’ on the elliptical for a shorter time.

A long, easy run will require less resistance but a longer running time. And if you want a hilly run, you need to increase your incline as well as your resistance. Incline levels range from 1 to 20. (Note: this example is for the Cybex 750A Arc Trainers)

To start with, I recommend a low-medium resistance with a medium incline. This varies across all machines, but generally speaking, this would be around the resistance of 12 and an incline of 15. (Again, this example is for the Cybex 750A Arc Trainers)

Monkey around with the settings until you get what you are looking for. But remember to think about time and effort on the elliptical, rather than miles or pace.

How to make elliptical training interesting

Elliptical cross training does not have to be dull or monotonous! Quite the contrary, it can add variety to your normal routine.

However, anytime you confine yourself to a machine when you are used to hitting the open road, it can seem boring.

So, if you find yourself struggling to enjoy your workout, here are a few things you can try, to make your work out more interesting.

  • Read a book: It is actually easier to read a book on the elliptical than it is while running on the treadmill because you aren’t bouncing around with every step. But if it is still hard to focus on the words while working out, you could try an audio book. 
  • Watch a TV show: With an endless supply of streaming devices, you can easily stream or download a TV show or a movie to watch, while working out. Just like a book, the show will keep your mind distracted while your body works out, making your run a little less painful.
  • Use the virtual screens to run through parks and trails: Some ellipticals have a virtual run, which makes you feel a little less confined. Turn it on and have a little fun!
  • Talk to a training partner: It’s always better to exercise with a friend! Workout together, and spend that time catching up. Or use the time to give a good friend a call. Put your phone on speaker and talk while you run. (It’s a good lung workout!)
  • Alternate the resistance and incline to spice up your run: If it seems too monotonous, try periodically changing the resistance and incline. You can also use it to increase and decrease your ‘speed’, to imitate interval and tempo runs.


If running’s got you down, try elliptical cross training!

It mimics running in almost every way, so if you need to get off the road and indoors for any reason, an elliptical run is a great way to go.

If you want to avoid overtraining, are prone to injuries or are just recovering from an injury, an elliptical run can help you maintain or even improve your fitness level.

However, running on an elliptical can be challenging if you’ve never done it before. You need to find a resistance and incline that matches the kind of workout you want to perform.

A good place to start is at a low to medium resistance and a medium incline.

And remember, not all ellipticals are created equal. As a runner, you should look for a machine that mimics running – a rear drive elliptical with pedals on a circular track.

Ellipticals are a great way to shake up your running routine, especially if you are bored with running. So, go give it a try and have fun!

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