Thursday, 1 December 2011

Elliptical VS Treadmill

As some of you may know, I decided to run a marathon at the beginning of November on very little training.  In fact, my longest run prior was about 18 km, while the marathon itself is 42.2 km.  So, I almost did half of the distance beforehand- that's good enough, right?  WRONG!

Not the smartest training strategy, and definitely not what I would recommend.  Nevertheless, I had a lot of fun, and the race was actually not that painful.  If you ever want to try a really fun and fast marathon (or half), give the Road2Hope Hamilton Marathon a shot!

So, while the race itself did not rank overly high on the pain scale, I soon after realized that my lack of training would come back to haunt me.  The recovery has been slow- including abnormal walking of 7-10 days duration, which has been followed by a few random, slow, awkward, painful runs.  Note to self- "do long runs in training prior to marathon."  If  only it were as simple as this guy made it seem.

In desperation to get some exercise in, I have resorted to something I never thought I would: the elliptical machine.  Laugh if you want, the machine is actually great; it gets my heart rate up, and my legs feel amazing as I do it (amazing= not quite as injured).  I just hope I don't turn into this guy.


Naturally, I started to wonder how effective the elliptical is as a replacement for running.  In my search of the literature, I came across this study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

In the study, 18 subjects aged 19-24 were put through a series of tests on both the treadmill and elliptical machines.  The study measured the following parameters: oxygen consumption, energy expenditure and heart rate at a set level of perceived exertion.

What they found:

This is what they researches found when comparing the elliptical and treadmill trials:

1) No difference in VO2 max (measure of maximum oxygen consumption)

2) No difference in TOTAL oxygen consumption

3) No difference in energy expenditure (measured in kcal)

4) Interestingly, the elliptical trials resulted in a higher average heart rate then the treadmill trials in both females and males.

So, in other words, these people were sucking up just much oxygen and burning just as many calories regardless of which machine they were on.

So what does all this mean?

Overall, as you can see based on these results, the elliptical is undoubtedly a great way to cross train for running, at least from a cardiovascular standpoint.  The most interesting component to these results, however, is that at a set level of perceived exertion, the subjects were able to push themselves harder on the elliptical resulting in a higher heart rate.

Why would this be?  Well one idea stems from the subjects themselves.  The population was noted as being healthy, but also not committed to any regular exercise program.  So one possibility is that the elliptical's non-impact and fluid motion allowed the people to push themselves harder at the same level of perceived effort when compared to the jarring and uncomfortable nature of running.  I think it would be really interesting to repeat this same study with trained runners to see if they would get more out of the treadmill workout compared to the elliptical (if I had to guess, I would say they would). 

Another obvious possibility mentioned by the authors is that the elliptical does include arm movements that are more exaggerated then that of the average runner. This could also account for the increased metabolic demand without increasing the perceived level of effort. 


So is the elliptical a good way to compliment running training?  Absolutely.  This is especially true for people (like myself) who are injured, and want to maintain some fitness while they recover.  On a scale of  "doing nothing" all the way to "running," these results show that the elliptical is much closer to the "running" end of the spectrum.

BUT, can the elliptical machine replace the treadmill as a means to train for running?  No.  If you want to get better at running, the obvious thing to do is run.  The elliptical undoubtedly will help from a cardiovascular standpoint, but from a biomechanical and muscular standpoint, running is best.  I suspect that if you train hard on the elliptical, you will potentially turn into a decent runner...but surely an amazing elliptical-er (such as Tony Little).

No comments:

Post a Comment