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Elliptical Machine Training Can Benefit Runners: Low Impact, Recovery and Beyond

Elliptical machines have become a staple in gyms worldwide, providing users with a low-impact, total-body workout that's easy on the joints. For runners, incorporating elliptical training into their routine can provide numerous benefits, from injury prevention to improved running efficiency. Cross-training, or engaging in various types of exercise, is essential for runners looking to boost their performance and avoid plateaus. In this article, we'll explore how elliptical machines can be a game-changer for runners, focusing on the benefits of low-impact workouts, recovery, marathon training, and more.

1. Low-Impact Exercise

Low-impact exercises are those that place minimal stress on the joints, particularly the knees, hips, and ankles. They're ideal for individuals recovering from injuries, those with joint issues, or anyone looking for a gentler workout option. When it comes to running, the high-impact nature of the sport can take a toll on the body, especially for long-distance runners or those with a history of injuries.

Enter the elliptical machine. Unlike running, which involves striking the ground with each step, elliptical training allows your feet to remain in constant contact with the pedals. This eliminates the jarring impact associated with running, reducing the risk of injury and making it an excellent alternative for days when your body needs a break. Incorporating low-impact workouts like elliptical training into your routine can help prevent overuse injuries, allowing you to maintain consistency in your training and ultimately improve your performance.

2. Aids in Recovery

In addition to its low-impact nature, elliptical training can play a vital role in aiding muscle recovery for runners. Engaging in regular, intense workouts can cause microscopic tears in your muscles, leading to inflammation and soreness. While this is a natural part of the muscle-building process, it's crucial to allow your body sufficient time to heal and rebuild.

Elliptical machines provide an opportunity for active recovery—a form of recovery that involves gentle exercise, as opposed to passive recovery, which entails complete rest. By working your muscles at a lower intensity, you can promote blood flow and nutrient delivery to the affected areas, speeding up the healing process and reducing soreness. Including elliptical training in your weekly routine can help prevent overtraining and ensure that you're ready to tackle your next run with renewed energy.

3. Ideal for Marathon Training

For those preparing for a marathon or other long-distance race, incorporating cross-training activities like elliptical workouts can significantly improve your performance. Building endurance is a critical component of marathon training, and the elliptical machine offers a low-impact way to increase your aerobic capacity without placing additional stress on your joints.

One advantage of elliptical training is the ability to mimic race-specific conditions. For example, you can adjust the incline on most machines to simulate hill workouts, which are essential for building strength and power in your legs. Intervals can also be easily incorporated into your elliptical sessions, allowing you to practice speed work without the added impact of running on hard surfaces.

When planning your marathon training schedule, it's essential to strike a balance between long runs and cross-training sessions. Including regular elliptical workouts will help ensure that you're giving your body the variety it needs to avoid injury and continue progressing toward your goals.

4. Improves Running Form and Efficiency

Another significant benefit of elliptical training for runners is its potential to improve running form and efficiency. The elliptical machine works several key muscle groups used in running, including the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Strengthening these muscles can help correct imbalances and promote better posture during your runs, ultimately making your stride more efficient and reducing the risk of injury.

In addition to targeting specific muscle groups, elliptical training can enhance your balance and coordination. The smooth, fluid motion of the machine encourages your body to engage its core muscles, which play a crucial role in maintaining stability while running. By regularly incorporating elliptical workouts into your routine, you can develop a stronger, more efficient running form that will serve you well on race day.

5. Increases Cardiovascular Fitness

At its core, running is an aerobic exercise that relies heavily on your cardiovascular system. Improving your cardiovascular fitness is essential for boosting your endurance and overall running performance. Elliptical training provides an excellent opportunity to work on this aspect of your fitness without the added impact of running.

One way to increase your cardiovascular fitness is through heart rate training, which involves monitoring your heart rate during exercise and adjusting your intensity accordingly. Many elliptical machines come equipped with heart rate monitors, allowing you to track your progress and ensure that you're working within your target heart rate zone.

Incorporating both aerobic (steady-state) and anaerobic (high-intensity) workouts on the elliptical can help improve your VO2 max—a measure of your body's ability to utilize oxygen during exercise. A higher VO2 max translates to better cardiovascular fitness and improved running performance, making it a valuable goal for any runner.

6. Versatility and Customizability

One of the primary advantages of elliptical training is its versatility and customizability. Most machines allow you to adjust the resistance and incline levels, providing a nearly infinite number of workout options. This means that you can easily tailor your elliptical sessions to meet your individual goals and needs, whether you're looking to build strength, improve endurance, or simply mix things up.

Some popular workout options for runners include intervals (alternating periods of high and low intensity), hill workouts (increasing the incline to simulate uphill running), and steady-state sessions (maintaining a consistent pace and resistance throughout the workout). By regularly incorporating a variety of elliptical workouts into your routine, you can keep your body challenged and avoid the dreaded plateau.

7. Psychological Benefits

Finally, it's important to consider the psychological benefits of elliptical training for runners. Engaging in the same type of exercise day after day can lead to mental fatigue and burnout, making it difficult to stay motivated and enjoy your workouts. Incorporating cross-training activities like elliptical sessions can provide a much-needed change of pace, helping to keep things fresh and exciting.

In addition to preventing burnout, elliptical training encourages a well-rounded approach to fitness. By working different muscle groups and challenging your body in new ways, you can develop a more balanced, holistic view of your health and well-being. This mindset can be invaluable for long-term success, both on and off the racecourse.

8. Sample Elliptical Workouts for Beginners and Advanced Runners

To help you get started with elliptical training, we've put together a few sample workouts tailored for both beginners and advanced runners. These workouts will provide a solid foundation for incorporating elliptical sessions into your running routine and can be easily modified to suit your individual needs and goals.

Beginner Workout: Steady-State Cardio

  • Warm-up: 5 minutes at a comfortable pace and low resistance

  • Main workout: 20 minutes at a moderate pace and resistance, maintaining a steady heart rate within your target aerobic zone

  • Cool-down: 5 minutes at a comfortable pace and low resistance

  • Total time: 30 minutes

This beginner-friendly workout focuses on building cardiovascular endurance and getting accustomed to the elliptical machine. As you gain experience and confidence, you can gradually increase the duration or intensity of the main workout to continue challenging yourself.

Advanced Workout: Interval Training

  • Warm-up: 5 minutes at a comfortable pace and low resistance

  • Interval set 1: 30 seconds at high intensity and resistance, followed by 90 seconds at a moderate pace and lower resistance (repeat 4 times)

  • Recovery: 2 minutes at a comfortable pace and low resistance

  • Interval set 2: 30 seconds at high intensity and resistance, followed by 90 seconds at a moderate pace and lower resistance (repeat 4 times)

  • Cool-down: 5 minutes at a comfortable pace and low resistance

  • Total time: 32 minutes

This advanced interval workout is designed to improve your anaerobic fitness and boost your cardiovascular capacity. The high-intensity intervals will push your body to its limits, while the recovery periods allow you to catch your breath and prepare for the next set. You can adjust the number of intervals or the duration of each interval to further customize this workout to your needs.

Beginner Workout: Hill Simulation

  • Warm-up: 5 minutes at a comfortable pace and low resistance

  • Main workout: 20 minutes at a moderate pace, gradually increasing the incline every 2 minutes to simulate uphill running (start with a low incline and work your way up)

  • Cool-down: 5 minutes at a comfortable pace and low resistance, gradually decreasing the incline

  • Total time: 30 minutes

This beginner hill simulation workout helps you build strength in your legs and get accustomed to exercising on an incline. As you become more comfortable with this workout, you can increase the duration or add more challenging inclines to continue pushing yourself.

Advanced Workout: Fartlek Training

  • Warm-up: 5 minutes at a comfortable pace and low resistance

  • Main workout: 20 minutes of F

artlek training, alternating between periods of high intensity, moderate intensity, and low intensity at random intervals (e.g., 2 minutes hard, 1 minute easy, 3 minutes moderate, 1 minute hard)

  • Cool-down: 5 minutes at a comfortable pace and low resistance

  • Total time: 30 minutes

Fartlek, which means "speed play" in Swedish, is a type of unstructured interval workout that mixes bursts of high intensity with periods of recovery. This advanced workout challenges your body in new ways, helping to improve your running speed and overall fitness. Feel free to get creative with your intervals and adjust the workout to suit your needs.

Remember to always listen to your body and adjust these workouts as needed to ensure a safe and effective training experience. Incorporating these elliptical workouts into your running routine will help you reap the numerous benefits discussed above and set you on the path to success.


Incorporating elliptical training into your running routine can provide numerous benefits, from injury prevention to improved performance. Its low-impact nature makes it an excellent option for recovery days, while its versatility and customizability ensure that you'll never get bored. With the addition of these sample workouts, both beginners and advanced runners can find a starting point to incorporating elliptical training into their routines. Whether you're training for a marathon or simply looking to improve your overall fitness, elliptical workouts can be a valuable addition to your training plan. The Fitscope app offers a huge selection of Elliptical machine workouts for all levels. Give it a try here, and you might just discover a new favorite way to cross-train.

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