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What is an Elliptical Fitness Cross Trainer?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 17, 2024
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An elliptical fitness cross trainer, often referred to as simply an elliptical, is a piece of aerobic fitness equipment. The elliptical fitness cross trainer is often considered to be a cross between a treadmill and a stationary bicycle; one is able to stand on the machine and pump two pedals, which simulate walking or jogging without any impact on the joints. Elliptical machines are very popular for both home and gym use, and many have adjustable pedals to change the stride length for different users.

Features vary on different elliptical machines, and typically go hand in hand with price. An elliptical fitness cross trainer might function in one of two ways; in the simpler, less expensive way, the pedals are attached to a flywheel that spins as the user exercises. More expensive versions often feature magnetized pedals, which eliminates the need for a flywheel, making this type of elliptical machine more durable and more expensive. Machines with a flywheel rather than magnets sometimes require manual adjustment for increased tension.

An elliptical fitness cross trainer may have stationary or movable hand rests. Some have handles that can be moved back and forth while exercising, to pump the arms, and help get the heart rate up. Again, movable handles tend to be found on more expensive machines, while stationary hand rests may be found on less expensive versions. Heart rate monitors are often found on the hand rests as well; the user simply needs to grip the hand rest for approximately ten seconds to get a heart rate reading.

Most elliptical machines now will have a digital screen on which the user can make selections regarding the difficulty and tension of the stride, and to select a pre-made program, or to create their own. Another common feature is the ability to enter height, weight, and age for the machine to then estimate the amount of calories burned in an exercise session. More expensive elliptical fitness cross trainer machines, particularly those found at gyms, often feature small individual television sets with headphone jacks on the machines for the users to watch while exercising.

When using an elliptical fitness cross trainer, it is important to wear supportive sneakers. One can stride forward, as in normal walking, or reverse the stride and go backward, which uses different muscle groups. Elliptical machines can be a great choice for those who want a challenging aerobic workout without a lot of impact on their joints.

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Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On Jul 18, 2014

@Pippinwhite -- I wish I could agree with you! I've tried all the different elliptical trainers at my gym and I can't do it. I'm not coordinated enough, and one even made me sick! I was downright woozy when I got off, after only five minutes or so.

I can walk on a treadmill or ride one of the bikes all day, but I cannot deal with the elliptical trainers. I thought they looked cool and fun to use -- and then I tried one. I looked like an outtake from a "Three Stooges" short! It was awful. I decided to avoid further embarrassment and hit the treadmill.

By Pippinwhite — On Jul 18, 2014

I use an elliptical at my gym and I really like it. It's so much easier on my knees! I always have achy knees after I've walked on the treadmill. The elliptical machine is very low impact and I'm just moving my knees, not jolting them by walking on the treadmill. It's also much easier on my ankles. I have sprained both of my ankles in the past and I really prefer exercise that doesn't put too much stress on them.

I think the elliptical is the best all-around piece of exercise equipment. It's a great cross trainer and just good for general cardio fitness.

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