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man using an elliptical machine Motion studies during the last twenty years demonstrate that our feet move through elliptical patterns when we walk, jog, or run.  Cardiovascular exercise products that imitate and support this natural body motion are a rapidly growing category of fitness equipment.

Within the fitness business, elliptical technology has become a generic name for devices which incorporate various mechanisms in an effort to create a somewhat natural pattern of movement for a pair of foot pedals.  This movement is designed to imitate the natural path that the ankle, knee, and hip joints experience while walking, striding, jogging, or running.

Basic elliptical technology utilizes a crank arm (similar to a bicycle crank) which revolves around an axis at one end and is attached to a bar at the other end.  The opposite end of the bar moves in a linear, reciprocating pattern while the crank rotates.  Because one end of the bar rotates in a circular motion while the other end moves in a linear fashion, points between the two bar ends move in elliptic patterns.  The points of the bar nearest the crank move in wider, more circular ellipses (approaching circular motion), while the points nearest the other end move in thinner, flatter ellipses (approaching back and forth, straight line motion).

elliptical exercise machine The clearest benefit of elliptical technology is the lack of repeated impacts to the lower limbs and back.  Unlike treadmills, in which the user's feet repeatedly lift off and then strike the running surface, the foot pedals on elliptical machines remain in contact with the user's feet at all times, which virtually eliminates lower body impact problems.

Users also experience impact forces when using stair steppers.  Although users' feet usually stay in contact with the foot pedals when using a stair stepper, the foot pedals do reverse direction almost instantaneously at both ends of their vertical travel range.  Essentially, a stair stepper foot pedal moves in one direction, stops, then is immediately pushed in the opposite direction.  The sudden force required to reverse the foot pedal movement can stress the users' lower body joints.  An elliptical machine's mechanical motion is smooth and continuous, so it does not produce the adverse effects of sudden direction reversal.

Last, but not least, an elliptical's exercise modality is weight bearing, while that of an exercise bike is not.  Although cycling is a safe and well-regarded cardiovascular conditioning exercise, the natural walking pattern simulated by an elliptical machine exercises the upper body as well as the lower body.

From these observations, we can safely conclude that ellipticals provide a more comprehensive workout than other types of exercise equipment such as treadmills, stair steppers, and exercise bikes.


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