If you are unable to run and concerned about a drop in your running fitness levels, the elliptical trainer is a viable alternative.
What is an Elliptical Trainer?
An elliptical trainer (or Cross Trainer) is a stationary exercise machine that allows you to mimic running without causing excessive pressure to the joints, this in turn decreases the risk of impact injuries.
Can I Use When Injured?
The first step is to get the all-clear from your doctor/ sports injury specialist. They will know your injury the best. Your priority is achieving a complete recovery in the timeliest way.
Once you have the all-clear, the information below will guide you through how best to incorporate the elliptical trainer into your plan.
Will I Maintain Running Fitness?
A pool workout or bike session won't (usually) provide the same cardiovascular benefits as a run. But can the elliptical trainer help you maintain fitness if you have an injury that prevents you from running, or you cannot get to run due to another reason?
Yes, “running” on an elliptical trainer produces similar physiological and performance benefits to running, but without the excessive impact on the joints. The elliptical trainer provides a low impact, aerobic workout, with oxygen and energy expenditure like that of a treadmill run. Workouts can vary between light and high intensity, depending on your speed and resistance.
For rehabilitation, the elliptical will help maintain cardiovascular fitness while allowing for recovery from injury. However, you will not be training the muscle groups that help your body manage the impact forces experienced when running. You will need to build strength back gradually when returning to running.
Check with your sports injury specialist for low impact strength movements to help your return to running.
How Best to Replace your Run with an Elliptical Session?
- Ignore your pace, it is highly unlikely that you will achieve the same pace as when running.
- Train according to time and effort rather than distance and pace.
- Apply your running heart rate zones to the elliptical trainer, focus on heart rate and/ or RPE.
- The elliptical trainer mimics the running motion, however there are a few distinct differences:
- Less effort is required because you are not moving your own body weight forward or enduring repeated impact on the ground.
- The knees lift higher on the elliptical trainer than they normally would whilst running.
- There are also a few options for your hand position.
Hand Position Options
- Mimic your running arms, ignoring the hand bars. Swing your arms freely as you do when running. Pay particular attention to your posture, run tall and from the core.
- Moving bars: these provide you with more of a full body workout, as you engage your upper body with the pushing and pulling of the handles. Your core will also work to balance the movements between the upper and lower body.
- Static hand bars: maintain your posture, avoid using these to stabilize yourself, or to rest any weight on them - this detracts from the effectiveness of the workout. They are an option, but not great if you are trying to mimic running.
Whichever option you choose, focus on posture, engaging your core and running tall. And avoid leaning forward or resting your weight on the bars.
Getting Started (rehabilitation)
- A low intensity session, around 50% of your planned run duration to allow your body to “test” out the new equipment. If you respond positively, with no pain during or following your session, you can progress. If not stop and revert to your doctor/ sports practitioner for further advice.
- As you recover from injury, remain easy in Zone 2, slowly increasing the duration of the sessions. Only incorporating higher intensities when your injury allows.
- Listen to your body, do not be tempted to push too hard or fast, this could cause more time on the sideline.
Getting Started (other)
If you are looking for an alternative because you cannot access the outdoors or a treadmill, follow the guidelines below:
- A low intensity session, preferably 50% of your planned run duration, this will allow your body to “test” out the new equipment, if you respond positively you can progress.
- Next include 60-80% of the prescribed intensities and up the volume to 90-100% for the rest of the week, then follow the sessions (using HR or RPE) as planned.
- Aim for a resistance that replicates what you would be doing outside, so for a recovery run, keep the resistance low. For an interval workout, raise the incline and pick up your pace for the intervals of effort. And for a hilly run, mix up the resistance.
Finally, remember, the elliptical trainer is a backup solution and will not give you the specific training that running will. As soon as you can get back on the road you should.
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