Using an Elliptical Trainer to improve Your Running – injured or not. By MSC Head Coach Nick Croft
Following on from one of my previous articles on Deep Water Running (DWR), another great training tool to help your running (potentially looked down on by some) is the elliptical trainer, or cross-trainer. Like DWR there is no impact on joints to contend with and can be a great second run for the day or additional general run frequency wise with no additional impact stress to the legs.
Personally as I age, I am finding run time diminishing (injury / pain from niggles) and are reducing run time out of necessity. Still having the benefit of cross training through cycling and swimming of course really helps get your dose of intensity and cardio and adding in a Yoga or Pilates session if time available in taking away specific poses / routines from these disciplines and doing yourself for those tight / injury prone areas really does help as long as you do consistently.
Enter the elliptical. One of our Noosa (still current pro) local Former world champs who has had a few career threatening injuries in recent seasons spent months during a previous non running phase on the elliptical and was able to up swim and ride volume and she came back to win a few Ironman events and place very highly at that year’s 70.3 Worlds – podiumed in fact. I coach a number of older age group athletes via distance – into their 50’s and 60’s who swear by the Elliptical as part of their weekly training with running every second or third day and doing body maintenance between and are running as well as they were when running over twice the volume and spending far less time out due to injury.
Like Deep Water Running, elliptical trainers provide benefits to runners / triathletes beyond being the obvious cardio workout and not only for those injured runners that may have been steered towards the elliptical for rehab. Most elliptical trainers have a cadence feature. With many runners trying to increase their running cadence the elliptical provides an easy, monitored environment for doing this without the stress of actually running. A simple workout is to reduce the load on the elliptical and simply hold the cadence at around 90+ strides per minute (each side) for 30minutes. Alternately you can break up into a series of intervals instead at target cadence with recovery between backing off the tension and go easy but still and a higher cadence between the efforts.
Focusing on cadence is not a strength building session but more a nerve firing one so keeping that cadence up is the key and load / strength oriented session can be worked in for specificity and just work on the turnover. The aim is to improve leg speed. Once you’re feeling as ease being on the elliptical, you can focus on different aspects such as running posture, standing tall and let the hips lead instead of ‘sitting’ and proper chest and head position are all something that can be focused on during an elliptical trainer workout.
Ideally, try not use the long moving arms on the elliptical. Sure, you get a better overall conditioning workout but it won’t be great for you running technique as your arms end up way out in front of you as though you are ‘punching’ the air and are more forward of the torso. Use the fixed handles that are between the outer arms so you can focus on the leg turnover and when doing a more loaded resistance session will help keep power up through the hips. Not all elliptical’s are the same. A newer machine should allow you to maintain the action of running, with getting in your knee lift, feet landing under the body. Ideally these are the better ones to use if able to access to best simulate run form. Older machines may not allow you to have you foot land under you and indeed instead of running ‘circles’ is a more ‘mechanical’ action which sees your foot land in front of you.
Like running uphill or stairs, elliptical’s help build quad and glute strength. You can try the elliptical trainer workout below, as a cross-training alternative to running. Over time your form will improve if used once a week or more if unable to run for a period.
- 10 minute easy tempo and resistance warm-up on the elliptical
- 5-8 x (3 minutes at solid load on elliptical, 2-3 minutes at very light load but higher cadence)
- 5 minute easy cool-down
Biggest positive for elliptical trainer is that there is no impact on the body so a great option for people with lower leg / soft tissue / feet issues. Impact of course is still a necessity to strengthen and temper the legs for racing on the road. But for age groupers that are getting up into their 40’s and beyond and like myself are finding more injuries creeping in from wear and tear and developing imbalances and weaknesses forcing reduced run time and adding an elliptical session into the mix may save your legs that little bit more but the biggest benefit I have found for runners is that it is a great tool for increasing run cadence.