How To Properly Use An Elliptical


One of the most popular pieces or cardio equipment is the elliptical. If used properly, it’s a great option when weather forces you to work out indoors and it can compliment a PRI program nicely. However, most people don’t maintain good mechanics on the machine. If you’ve ever had your toes go numb while on one, this pertains to you. 

Because this machine is challenging muscularly as well as cardiovascularly, our bodies are quick to use typical compensation patterns to make this activity ‘easier”. This typically involves letting our pelvis rotate forward which extends our lower back. This forces our body weight to go forward onto the balls of our feet (hence the numb toes). We also tend to pull the handles backward toward us or not use them at all. This is problematic as it puts into a generally extended pattern. This is the posture most of us with pain assume throughout the day. It causes us to overuse our outer quads, lower back, and pec muscles which cause muscle imbalances and pain. If you’re undergoing a PRI rehab, this can kill your program. Whether you’re undergoing a PRI program or not, it’s important to use any machine or piece of equipment properly to avoid an injury and make your work out as effective as possible. Get the most out of your work out by following these rules:

1) It’s essential to use the handles on the machine to maintain proper body mechanics. If we hold our arms steady on the equipment, the body’s momentum from our pelvis and legs suddenly stops in our lower backs. This can cause pain and misalignments in the pelvis, SI joint, and/or lower back. When you do use the handles, remember to push them away from you. This helps us to use our shoulder blade muscles on the pushing side as we as our abdominals on the opposite side of our bodies.

2) Keep your pelvis tucked. Thank about pulling you belly button toward your spine and contracting your abdominals. This will help keep our pelvis in a neutral position and disallow it from rotating forward. This takes unnecessary stress off of our lowers backs and allows us to use our glut and thigh muscles as we cycle our legs, and not just our lower back extensor muscles.

3) Keep your weight on your heels. When we walk or stand, our weight was designed to go through our heels. It is biomechanically incorrect to keep your weight on your toes and can cause nerve compression and pain. Putting weight through your heels also helps you engage your hastring muscles which stabilize your pelvis. 

4) Look around. When we stare at the computer or TV screen ahead of us, it tends to lock our body into the extension pattern mentioned earlier. If you feel like you need to watch TV to get through your work out, just remember to look around the gym every few minutes or so. This keeps our neurological system relaxed and fluid and working the way it should. 


Written by Lesley Callaham, MPT, PRC January 24, 2017