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Ellipticals... here's my 2 cents worth.

So, just to start, I just noticed that my keyboard does not have an easily accessible “cents” symbol.  Sign of the times or has it always been missing?  Can’t remember.

Anyway, 2 times in the last couple days, I’ve been asked for advice specifically about the use of elliptical machines.  Like many things, I have a strong opinion about this ubiquitous cardio facilitator.

Like many pieces of gym equipment, it was built with conventional ideas and data that does not suit the average female.  Women (and others including many non-average size or build men), have come to recognize that we have to make accommodations when using many workout and resistance machines.  But with the particular mechanical features of an elliptical, as they are currently built, the accommodation cannot be accomplished for many women.  I believe this machine in particular can potentially cause harm if you are not built for it.

Is the Elliptical right for you?

Is the Elliptical right for you?

The problem, as I have observed it, is that the foot pedals are spaced too far apart for the average woman’s gait or weight bearing stance.  When women walk, due to the typical pelvic alignment, our feet actually come very close to, if not actually overlapping, the mid-line.  It’s like we were built to walk the beam.  The current elliptical design has pedals that are incapable of allowing for that (due to the machinery between the foot pedals).  This creates tremendous mechanical dysfunction at the lumbo-sacral area as we literally shift our hips from left to right to re-centre our downward force over our weight bearing foot.  Any woman with lumbo-sacral  compromise, (including disc herniations or disc loading problems) may be at risk with this repetitive action.  My own experiences with this led me to survey women, albeit informally, who use ellipticals.  The topic was whether or not they notice any odd sensations in the foot, especially the big toe, or other low back and leg symptoms that they associate with the use of the machine.

I have heard from a startling percentage of women who use these machines who say they have.

The most common symptom seems to be great toe numbness or tingling.  On many occasions, they were assured it was due to them tying their shoes too tight or some other casually dismissive cause. Even though these symptoms may appear mild, they represent significant repetitive trauma to the nerves of the lumbo-sacral area.

My own feeling is that women are at risk from the specific repetitive motion induced into the lumbo-sacral area by use of this type of machine.  Whenever any of my female patients ask about ellipticals or I suspect they are using one, I make sure they are aware of this potential.  In the business of healing, we can’t afford to have such a significant, possible repetitive stressor go unrecognized.  The machine may be tolerable or even fine for you, but just know what the potential is and keep your eye out for signs of nerve stress; an indicator that this machine may not be suitable to you.

Maybe someday they will think to better re-design the elliptical for women!  Until then, talk to your trainer or to us to find an alternative that moves you toward your goals.  We want to help you improve not only your fitness, but your health and quality of life as well.

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