Role of the Elliptical Machine in Marathon Training

We frequently get asked about the role of the elliptical machine as a mode of cross training while preparing for a marathon.

The elliptical is a very popular fitness machine that mimics the running motion in a zero impact way.

If you’ve been listening to the MTA podcast for long you know that we highly encourage including cross-training activities in your training. Focused cross training is an important way to build strength and stay injury free.

Role of the Elliptical in Marathon Training

There are many different opinions on the elliptical out there and I tend to approach it with some caution. Why? Because the elliptical mimics the running motion so closely I don’t feel like it’s as valuable as some other exercises that you could be doing at the gym or in your workout space at home.

I encourage activities that use the muscles in different ways so that your overall body is strong, not just the running muscles. Things like swimming, cycling, rowing, yoga, Pilates, core/strength training and weights can be used to build a stronger overall body, thus helping to prevent overuse and injuries.

So if you’re running regularly then your time is best spent with something that challenges the body in a different way. Most of us have limited time for training and need to use cross training time wisely.

Great for Dealing with Injury

Now, if you’re dealing with a potential injury or are unable to run the elliptical might be a good way to give you a cardiovascular workout so that you don’t lose as much fitness. Of course, make sure that you’ve cleared the use of the elliptical with your healthcare provider to make sure that it doesn’t negatively impact your injury.

I’m all in favor of moving a shorter run to the elliptical if you’re feeling especially fatigued and don’t think your body needs the high impact of a run. But apart from reducing the impact of running the elliptical doesn’t provide anything that running itself doesn’t provide.

In fact, cycling may be a better choice because it uses the complimentary muscles like the quadriceps that don’t get targeted much in running. It also helps strengthen the outer hips and gluteus medius which help keep the hips from swaying outward too much during the landing phase of the running motion. Too much outward swaying can cause a tightening of the IT band.

So, if you’re injured by all means try out the elliptical or aqua jogging in the pool. But if you’re currently able to run try to choose cross training activities that will actually move your fitness level forward and make you a stronger runner.

Photo credits: Oregon State University, Flickr Creative Commons

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