Within seconds of meeting Keith McLaughlin and stepping on a late-model Precor elliptical machine, I learned the hard truth: Id been misusing this ubiquitous, deceptively simple-looking aerobic exercise device for years.
Dont laugh, bucko. Youve been messing up, too.
I came to Sports Club/LA, a tony health club in Washington, to investigate McLaughlins signature offering: individualized coaching in using the elliptical machine, a device designed to provide a full-body cardio workout without mashing ones knees into putty. He sells a package of three 30-minute coaching sessions on the machine for $135. The result is an odd mix of personal training, upright spinning and advanced sweat extraction techniques.
Stand up to start, shoulders relaxed and back in line with your hips, and grip the handles lightly, says McLaughlin. Dont lean on your arms or hunch over. Now, start to stroke and drive through with your heels.
That stance, as opposed to riding on the balls of your feet, helps keep you centered over your hips, meaning your legs not your lower back will do the work. I set the machine to its cross-trainer program, which is designed to work a variety of lower-body muscles, while McLaughlin issued perhaps the most important tip for proper elliptical form: No bouncing. Your upper body should be almost totally still.
Most of us ellipticizers (we know who we are) tend to push our entire bodies up with each leg thrust and then allow gravity to sink us into the next one. Aside from cheating your legs out of some of the work, that bounce makes it almost impossible to hold your form intact. This puts knees, lower back and hips at risk of strain.
I followed McLaughlins directions, and two things happened: My quads sent a flurry of exclamation points up to my brain (Dude! Whats with the Ironman training?) and the calories-per-minute readout on the Precor jumped from around nine (when I was bouncing) to 13.5.
McLaughlin showed me how to use the segment time function for example, cranking away in a squat position for two 90-second segments while he slyly boosted resistance on the Precor.
Eight minutes in, I am panting hard (How ... many ... clients ... collapse ... doing ... this?) and starting to drip sweat. My heart rate hits 80 percent of maximum.
Stand up and get your strides-per-minute up around 160, McLaughlin says. If I was bouncing, he says, theres no way Id be able to sustain that pace and Id be burning about 30 percent fewer calories. I intentionally lapse into bad form and, sure enough, my stride count falls off and my caloric burn plummets.