Web Extras: Ellipticals – But do they work?

Various studies in reputable peer-reviewed journals over the years have been done on the training and health benefits of the elliptical trainer. None have shown the same result, and methods have varied somewhat, making it difficult to compare apples to apples.
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By Jean Suffin Â
For the complete story, see GearTrends® Fitness 2005, p. 28, "No Passing Fancy"

But Do They Work?
Various studies in reputable peer-reviewed journals over the years have been done on the training and health benefits of the elliptical trainer. None have shown the same result, and methods have varied somewhat, making it difficult to compare apples to apples.

>> One of the earliest studies and one often cited, understandably, by elliptical companies was published in 1997 and done at the University of Mississippi by Len Kravitz. It showed the elliptical produced higher aerobic-training responses than the treadmill at equivalent perceptions of effort. But oxygen use and calories use were similar.

>> Another published in 1998 and done at the University of Wisconsin showed that heart rate and oxygen use on an elliptical were identical to running on a treadmill, but the impact was less. Oh, and about that backwards pedal trend? No cardiovascular benefit although it does use different muscle groups, this study found.

>> Then there's the one done at New York's Ithaca College and published in 2004, also comparing the elliptical to the treadmill, which found the treadmill elicited greater calorie use and heart rate, while users felt less taxed. Researchers attributed the increased perception of effort on the elliptical to localized leg fatigue. Their conclusion: The perceived level of exertion was higher on the elliptical than the actual level, so the workout was less beneficial. Elliptical companies don't talk about this one much.

>> Also in 2004, a study done at the University of Nebraska found that there was no difference in calorie use in men or women using ellipticals or treadmills. It also found that heart rates elicited on the elliptical were higher than the treadmill, although users' perceived effort level was similar. Researchers concluded there was no difference between the two in maximizing calorie use at self-selected, moderate intensities.

What now? Yes, more research is needed. Anyway, that's what all the researchers say and what some with a sense of humor dub "the great researcher cop-out." Meanwhile, does it matter? Ellipticals still provide movement, calorie use, muscle demands and, in the end, better health.

Don't miss the full story, "No Passing Fancy," in the GearTrends® Fitness 2005 issue. To download the full issue, go to www.geartrends.com/magazines.

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