Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hamster on a Wheel

I think I’ve been overtraining. The combination of long flights in a cramped seated position, too many time changes and an increase in mileage have worn me down. I had to take a break today with a 45 minute trip on the elliptical. I have a love-hate relationship with that particular piece of equipment. About a year ago I fell down a flight of stairs and injured my right foot. I was unable to run for almost two months, but had just enough mobility that I could maintain my fitness by daily workouts on the infernal space walk to nowhere. Surprisingly, I found that if you set the resistance up high enough, you get a great full-body work-out. Like many neurotic runners, the entire time I was on it I was thinking about how to equate that work-out with the one I was doing on the treadmill next to it.

Experts have long debated the benefits of the elliptical versus those of the treadmill. Most maintain that ellipticals allow for the least bodily damaging workout because the machine is extremely low-impact. My question is whether the fact that they’re low impact detracts from their efficacy as a (albeit temporary) running replacement. Some advocates of the equipment assert that the fact that the elliptical is low-impact allows the user to burn more calories with less exertion than a treadmill, especially when the lower-body workout is combined with the machine's moveable arms function. My personal experience tells me that I sweat a lot more when I’m cranking away on an elliptical, and it gets my heart rate into the zone a lot faster than running at a normal pace either on the treadmill or outside. Nevertheless, both running and working out on the elliptical give me that nice endorphin hit that I expect after some intense aerobic activity.

The main problem with the elliptical is the same problem I have with the treadmill. They both turn the act of exercise into an intensely boring experience. Neither machine delivers the emotional benefits of running outside. Unfortunately, four days a week I have to exercise at the gym in my office so I’m usually yoked to the treadmill. I think I might throw one elliptical work-out per week into the mix for variety sake and to ease the strain on my knees and lower back , at least until my body gets accustomed to marathon mileage again.

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