Saturday, December 27, 2014

The elliptical trainer as a running alternative

While recovering from injury, when used correctly, the Elliptical Trainer can be very effective in place of running. Below are my ideas and suggestions for maximizing your Elliptical experience.  These are only suggestions, useyour own judgement as to whether to follow them or not.  

When an injury prohibits normal running, runners another avenue to allow maintaining fitness while the injury heals. One option that saves pounding on the leg and foot, is the Elliptical Trainer. So, how does a runner maximize the time spend on an Elliptical Trainer and more closely replicate running?

Here are a couple of hints that will, without question, result in a good cardio and strength workout.

First, to avoid excess stress on my knees or legs, I set the controls low, with low resistance and elevation. I also do this to enable me to achieve the rapid steps-per-minute I discuss below.

Strides per minute.….

Most runners run between 160 and 180 steps per minute.  Set the steps-per-minute readout on the machine to display your count. Try to push your steps per minute on the Elliptical to that same range of 160 to 180 steps per minute.  You will note that there is substantial difference between the 160 level and the 180 level.   Another reason for the rapid steps-per-minute is to help you achieve a good cardio workout.

Heart rate….

One of the most important methods of determining effort is heart rate. 
The first requirement is for one to know her Maximum Heart Rate.  This can be determined safely by a physician-monitored test, or, less accurately, by charts and formulas.  A method that has been used for years, and is known to many is to take one’s age and subtract that number from the figure 220.  Most now concur that that result is a little low for a trained athlete and most add a few points back to that.  Below is the result for both a 68 year old and a 46 year old.

For a 68 year old:    220
                        Less       68
            Plus x factor       8
      Max Heart Rate   160

For a 46 year old:    220
                        Less       46
            Plus x factor       6
      Max Heart Rate  180

In his fantastic 1,000 page book, Lore of Running, Dr. Tim Noakes uses the following categories for Maximum Heart Rate for age groups:

Chart #2

20-29 – 200
30-39 – 190
40-49 – 180
50-59 -  170
60-69 – 160
70+    -  150

So, using the long used formula of 220 less one’s age, plus an X factor of 3-4%, results in exactly the same MHR for a 68 year old runner as does Dr. Noakes’ chart.  The same applies to the 46 year old.

Now let’s check the percentages of MHR for both:

            68 y.o.

160 bpm =  100%
144 bpm =    90%
128 bpm =    80%
112 bpm =    70%
  96 bpm =    60%
  80 bpm =    50%

46 y.o.

180 bpm = 100%
162 bpm =   90%
144 bpm =   80%
126 bpm =   70%
108 bpm =   60%
 90  bpm =   50%

Now…..what do you DO with your maximum heart rate number and how can you use it to make your workout as good as possible?

Sally Edwards, in her book Smart Heart, (also referenced in Dr. Noakes’ book on page 283) uses 5 training rate ZONES for fitness:

Ms Edwards’ Zone Chart

Zone 1 – Healthy Heart = 50-60%
Zone 2 – Temperate      = 60=70%
Zone 3 – Aerobic            = 70-80%
Zone 4 – Threshold        = 80-90%
Zone 5 – Red                 = 90-100%

Below the chart shows what the two runners would have to attain in BPM in order to achieve the different zones:

                                                            68 year old                 46 year old

Zone 1 – Healthy Heart = 50-60% -        88 bpm                       99  bpm
Zone 2 -  Temperate      = 60-70% -     104 bpm                      117 bpm
Zone 3 – Aerobic            = 70-80% -     120 bpm                      135 bpm
Zone 4 – Threshold        = 80-90% -     136 bpm                      153 bpm
Zone 5 – Red                 = 90-100% -   152 bpm                      171 bpm

Now, all this to make this recommendation:  For a trained and heart healthy athlete that wants to maintain both cardio and leg speed, I would suggest the following:


You will likely find that the bottom part of the Aerobic will be fairly easy, while the top is much more difficult. 

Now, how to convert this to something equating your mileage?  Basically, I think that time is the way to go, rather than trying to determine how many ‘miles’ you ran on the Elliptical. 

Using 10 min per mile pace, let’s convert a week’s running schedule into a like Elliptical Trainer schedule:

            Miles running             Minutes on Elliptical

M -              4                                      40
T   -              0                                        0
W  -             6                                      60
T  -               3                                      30
F  -               0                                        0
S  -               9                                      90
S  -               3                                      30
               25 miles                   4 hours and 10 min (250 min)

Use your same hard/easy days of training.  Run your long run and other ‘easy’ runs at the bottom of your target zone and your shorter ‘hard’ run(s) at the upper reaches of your zone.

-Kenneth Williams @marathonkoach

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