Q: Are Ellipticals OK for Runners?

Dear Lauren-

Are “elliptical” machines at the gym useful for runners?  Do you personally work-out on ellipticals?  If so, what do you do on them?  Or is it better to just stick to the treadmill?




*Update to post from 2013. Since 2010 I have been using an ElliptiGo instead of an elliptical for most of my cross training. It has all the things I loved about elliptical but it lets you go outside, and has a longer stride more similar to running. You can also put it on a bike trainer to use it indoors during bad weather. Check out Elliptigo.com for more info.


I frequently use elliptical trainers to supplement my running.  When I’m injured I use them all the time, and when I’m healthy, the elliptical makes a good substitute on the days I don’t want to run twice.

Out of all the cross training methods, I find elliptical most complementary to running, and the most fun to do.  Some will say aqua jogging is better, but if you aren’t injured with a stress fracture that prevents weight-bearing exercise, why torture yourself in the pool?  I don’t know, that’s just how I look at it, but I’m not exactly a lover of water.

On the elliptical, a resistance setting between 6 and 8 while maintaining a quick cadence mimics the effort of running pretty well for me.  I keep the ramp low because I’m a wuss and don’t want burning quads for 45 minutes straight.

If you are training for fitness and recreational road races, then swapping out a run for elliptical twice a week is a great idea.  It takes the load off your legs and helps prevent over-use injuries.  You have to be careful though because, unlike the treadmill, its easy to cruise through an elliptical trainer workout without breaking a sweat.

When I get on an elliptical, I do intervals almost every time.  Try a 10 minute warm up, and 8 sets of 90 seconds steady/hard, 90 seconds easy, and a 10 minute cool down.  Another option: 6x 1min steady/hard, 1min easy; take a 3 minute easy break; 6x 1min steady/hard, 1min easy.

I like to get on one of the ellipticals next to someone reading a magazine who is so relaxed she isn’t even mouth-breathing, and proceed to work myself into a sweaty mess, drops flicking off my elbows onto the floor forming a puddle while I huff and puff, inevitably scaring her to death.  Its a little hobby of mine.  Kind of like one of those jokes where you walk into a crowded elevator and proceed to the very back corner where you face the wall for the remainder of the ride up.  Freaks people out every time.  Have fun with it 🙂