The Elliptical: A Curse or a Blessing for the Back?

Woman Exercising on Elliptical

Back pain has become a widespread disease and a global burden. According to the American Chiropractic Association, back pain is the single leading cause of disability and affects 80% of the population at some time in their life. One of the most common, if not the most common, reason for people suffering from back pain is a lack of physical activity. The elliptical is one of the most popular cardio machines and provides an extremely popular opportunity to exercise at home.

But how does working out on the elliptical affect our back? Is it advisable to exercise if you suffer from back pain or can the elliptical even cause or worsen back pain? And what should you pay attention to? In this article, we are going to deal with all of these questions. Have fun! 😉

Are Ellipticals Bad for Your Back?

Back Pain during Exercise

This question can probably be best answered as follows: When used correctly, ellipticals are not bad for your back! In this case, the elliptical actually provides one of the best opportunities to work out. If used incorrectly, however, the elliptical, like any other piece of exercise equipment, can cause or worsen back pain.

Later on, we will talk about how to use the elliptical correctly. But first of all, I would like to show you why the elliptical might be a blessing for your back.

The elliptical could be seen as a middleman between walking and running. During normal running outdoors, however, our feet constantly hit the ground. These impacts put great stresses on our joints.

In fact, our joints are subjected to 3-4 times of our own body weight with every single step when running. This is a real problem especially for overweight people or people already suffering from back pain.

The elliptical, on the other hand, allows for a low-impact workout that is very easy on the joints because the feet remain in constant contact with the pedals, which means that the shock loads are eliminated. Therefore, when used correctly, the elliptical is a real blessing for the back and can effectively prevent back pain.

4 Mistakes You’re Making on the Elliptical That Can Cause Back Pain

1. The Body Posture

Woman on Elliptical

If you’re using the elliptical, you should avoid slouching. Many people are slouching because they are placing a book or their cell phone on the elliptical’s display and try to read it while working out. This prevents them from adopting an upright posture and is one the most common reasons why the elliptical might cause back pain.

Especially in the area of the upper back and neck, this can lead to tension and pain. So do yourself a favor, stand up straight, look forward and put your cell phone away during the workout. By the way, putting away your cell phone will also help you to relax and get rid of any source of distraction.

2. The Foot Position

Exercise with Elliptical Machine

An incorrect foot position is another main reason why the elliptical can cause back pain. Many people only put the tip of their foot on the pedal. You should, however, make sure that the entire foot is on the pedal, because everything else will lead to uneven load distributions and put a lot of stress on the joints.

3. The Handles

For fear of reducing the effectiveness of the workout, many people avoid using the handlebars on the elliptical. However, in fact, the handles even increase the workout’s effectiveness and help to prevent back pain! You should grab the handlebars very tightly.

Holding them loosely or not using them at all usually causes the body to bend forward. This causes the spine to twist, which can lead to severe back pain.

Therefore, try to grip the handles centrally and tightly. This leads to an upright posture and prevents the forward bend that often leads to back pain.

Elliptical Machine Exercise

4. The Pelvis

The pelvis is located at the center of our body and accordingly, it plays a central role in adopting a good body posture! So, what do we have to pay attention to?

The pelvis should not tilt laterally and should be directed forward! Many people tend to swing sideways while working out on the elliptical, but you should avoid this at all costs! Otherwise it can lead to back pain, because the spine will be exposed to heavy loads.

Likewise, the buttocks should not be shifted backwards, as this causes pain in the lumbar spine. Therefore, try to push the pelvis forward and adopt a posture that is as upright as possible.

How to Choose the Right Elliptical to Protect Your Back and Prevent Back Pain

Not only the proper form plays an important role. You should also choose the proper elliptical if you want to protect your joints and prevent back pain. Let’s take a look at what you should look out for.

The Flywheel Weight

As the name already suggests, the movement on the elliptical follows an elliptical path. Since on earth, we are surrounded by a phenomenon called gravity, it is of course easier to push the elliptical’s pedals down than to get back up from the lowest point. This means that the loads vary in the course of the movement.

And this is where the flywheel weight comes into play: it stores the swing energy that we generate ourselves when we push down the pedal and returns it to us on the way back up. This allows the whole movement to feel more even, smooth and natural.

If the flywheel weight is too light, so-called “dead spots” can occur. I advise you to choose an elliptical with a flywheel weight of at least 30 pounds. This will be a real blessing for your joints and will help you to prevent back pain.

The Stride Length and Pedal Distance

In general, cardio machines should always simulate movements that are in harmony with our natural motion patterns. As I already said, training with an elliptical comes closest to walking or running at a leisurely pace. In order to simulate this as realistically as possible and to protect the back and joints, it is important to pay attention to the machine’s stride length and horizontal pedal distance.

Basically, it is said that a combination of a long stride length and a narrow pedal distance is the most joint-friendly. Therefore, the stride length should be at least 18 inches or 20 inches for tall people. At the same time, the distance between the left and right pedal should not exceed 8 inches.

The Best Elliptical to Prevent Back Pain

Ellipticals in the Gym

Okay so far, so good. You are now a true elliptical expert and know how a back-friendly workout should look like. What is still missing right now is an elliptical machine that fulfills all the criteria mentioned above.

In my opinion, the Nautilus E628 is a very, very good cardio machine! The flywheel weight is 30 pounds so that this elliptical provides a back-friendly and joint-gentle exercise opportunity without “dead spots”. The whole movement feels very smooth and natural.

There are 29 preset training programs, so that both beginners and advanced can push themselves to the limit.

The purchase price, which at first glance might seem a bit high, pays off completely in my eyes, mainly because this machine is a high-quality product. As the elliptical is made of high quality materials and comes along with a fantastic workmanship, it is also very durable and will normally not let you down even after many years.

But I guess, the best thing for you to do is to take your time and get an idea of this machine for yourself. Here you will find the Nautilus E628 including all the relevant information.

Conclusion: Are Ellipticals a Curse or a Blessing for the Back?

This article is called “The Elliptical: A Curse or a Blessing for the Back?”. What can we conclude at this point, exactly 1323 words and a lot of important information later?

The elliptical allows for a workout that is very easy on the joints and protects your back. However, it is extremely important to pay attention to the proper form and choose the right elliptical. In this case, it is definitely a real blessing for the back and does not cause any back pain.

I hope I could help you with this article. If you still have questions, or would like to share your own experiences, feel free to write me an e-mail.

Otherwise, I wish you the best of luck for your own elliptical workout journey! 😉

Benny Laker

I am the owner of High Tech Fitness. I love testing any kind of exercise equipment and enjoy sharing my insights with you.

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