Maybe it’s just a matter of semantics but I cringe when I hear the phrase “muscle toning.” Although it is extremely common, the word “tone” has no meaning in fitness.
You can look it up in any textbook – it won’t be there.
Fit muscles have strength and endurance. Athletic performance also includes power. However, there is no state of muscular fitness even alluding to “tone.”
How can “muscle toning” be a myth if there are so many classes, books and blogs on the subject? How can all the trainers, instructors and writers be wrong? The myth in “muscle toning” is the suggestion that exercise can make your muscles tight and firm. This is completely false. Unfit muscles are not loose or flabby and they do not shrink with exercise. They grow.
Some people shy away from muscle growth because they see images of body builders pumped up on steroids. But those men and women train for hours a day at extreme intensities and their results are determined by genetics as well as the use of supplements. They are the exception rather than the rule. For most people, muscle building means a modest increase.
It is better to think of toning your body through muscle building and fat loss. Avoid under-training with exercise programs designed to “tone but not build.” You know better now.
Elliptical machines are as popular as treadmills, if not more so. Gym goers are enticed by this weight-bearing, low-impact activity that can burn lots of calories. Personally, it is one of my favorite modes of aerobic exercise. But I cringe when I see so many people making the same mistakes at the gym. Having tried different techniques myself, I am convinced there is one way to make this workout really work for you:
Drive the machine, instead of letting the machine move you.
It’s all too easy to get the machine going with your legs, grab the moving arms and let the machine carry you away. Working out in this manner can lead to the infamous “elliptical bounce.” Avoiding bouncing makes the workout harder, and therefore more effective.
Try these corrections in your own elliptical workout:
- Center Your Core: Start by focusing on the core of your body (imagine a rectangle cornered by your shoulders on top and your hips on the bottom) and keep it in place. This is mainly a matter of concentration, as opposed to contracting or tightening specific muscles.
- Drive With Your Legs: Feel each leg push down into or against the pedal. You will notice your glute muscles contracting when you do this properly. Alternatively, if you bounce, when your leg goes down your body will move up and away from the work (i.e. bounce) and you won’t feel any muscle tightening.
- Keep Your Body Weight Over Your Feet: Typically, there is a temptation to shift the hips backward to avoid actual weight-bearing. When step machines were all the rage people avoided weight-bearing by supporting their body weight with their arms. This is also a no-no on the elliptical. Weight bearing is a major benefit of many aerobic exercises and accounts for much of the calorie burn. The leg muscles don’t have to work very hard if they are not actually supporting your body weight.
- Optional Arm Work: Additional energy is required for the arm work only if your total work output (i.e. calories per hour) increases when you add the arm movement. This is accomplished by actively pushing & pulling the handles and works best with more resistance. If the arm work distracts from your leg work then skip the arms. There is nothing wrong with using a stationary hand position.
- Balance Your Body: Advanced users may want to skip the handles and reap the benefit of balancing your body in motion. This takes practice and should only be attempted if you can stay balanced while maintaining the desired intensity.
Enjoy your workout!