How does a brisk two-mile walk compare to a two-mile run on an elliptical machine? How effective is exercise on an elliptical machine as a weight-bearing workout?
Walking and ellipticalling (which, if it is a word, should not be) are similar in some respects and quite different in others.
According to a number of recent studies, elliptical training results in greater activation of muscles in the buttocks and thighs than walking does, and less activation of muscles in the calf. Elliptical training also places greater strain on the lower back than walking because of how the muscles fire, a consideration for people with back problems.
It also involves less weight bearing. According to a study published this month in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, walking causes 112 percent of someone’s body weight to strike the ground with every step, while only 73 percent does in elliptical training. The less jarring on the elliptical is an advantage for people with sore joints, but less advantageous for those who hope that it will improve bone health.
If, however, you wish to burn calories, walking and elliptical training seem indistinguishable. In an interesting 2010 study, college students were asked to complete two 15-minute sessions of exercise, one on a treadmill, the other on an elliptical machine. In both, they were instructed to maintain a pace that felt challenging but sustainable (the equivalent of a 4 or 5 on a 10-point scale of intensity). Throughout, the researchers monitored the volunteers’ energy consumption and found that it was the same regardless of which machine they were using. Only the intensity mattered — and you control that measure.
If your brisk walk feels less tiring than a session on the elliptical machine, pick up the pace; or alternatively, dial up or down the resistance on the elliptical machine.