Can Elliptical Trainers Improve Your Running?

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Try the elliptical trainer workout I describe later in this post, as a cross-training alternative to running. Believe it or not, it can be great for running form!

Following my previous article on Aqua Jogging for Running Performance, another much-maligned piece of equipment is the elliptical trainer, also known as the cross-trainer.  

For some people, this raises images of people in tracksuits and headbands in front of TV, or something you see on late night infomercials. Like Aqua Jogging elliptical trainers provide benefits to runners beyond being the obvious cardio workout.

Elliptical Trainer for Runners: Potential Benefits

Running Cadence Workout on the Elliptical Trainer

Nearly all elliptical trainers have a cadence or RPM meter. For those trying to increase their running cadence the elliptical trainer provides an easy, monitored environment for doing this.

A simple workout is to reduce the load on the elliptical and simply hold the cadence at around 90-95 strides per minute (each side) for 40 minutes. If this is too difficult just do intervals at this cadence interspersed with recovery intervals. 

Remember, this is a nerve firing workout rather than a strength building workout so don’t worry too much about the load and just concentrate on the turnover. The goal is to improve leg speed.

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Running Posture

Once you’re comfortable using the elliptical trainer, it will allows you to focus your running posture. Leading with the hips instead of ‘sitting’ on the run, proper chest and head position are all something that can be focussed on during an elliptical trainer workout.

It is important NOT to use the moveable arms on the elliptical.  Whilst it is perhaps true this burns more calories it also encourages poor running technique as the elbows are moved forward of the torso and the chest lowered.  Use the fixed handles but also try not holding on at all and maintain posture. This in itself will challenge your core strength!

Running Stride Control

This is where there can be a big difference between elliptical machines. A ‘good’ elliptical allows you to closely mimic the action of running, in terms of running in circles, knee lift, foot landing under the body. Using these ellipticals helps program the proper action of bringing the knee up and through.

However, poorly designed elliptical trainers don’t have this circle and are more of a trapezoid shape which encourages the foot landing in front of the body.

Always look carefully from the side when deciding which elliptical to buy or use at the gym.

Building Leg Strength on the Elliptical Trainer

Similar to stair running, ellipticals help build quad and glute strength – a benefit for hill runs and cross over training for cyclists.

Try this Elliptical Trainer Workout:

  • 10 minute easy tempo and resistance warm-up on the elliptical
  • 5 x (4 minutes at max load on elliptical, 4 minutes at zero load but high cadence)
  • 5 minute easy cool-down

Clearly, for runners, the benefit of the elliptical trainer is that there is no impact on the body so a great option for people with Achilles or plantar issues but the biggest benefit I have found for runners is increasing run cadence. Add a ‘leg turnover’ set to your weekly routine and you will quickly see the improvement in your cadence.

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Last updated on March 2nd, 2021.


  1. I have been looking for an article about running on an elliptical trainer. I am a big guy who has always wanted to run, but being heavy with bad knees prevented me from doing that. Reading this gives me hope that I can start running on an elliptical machine without damaging my body.

  2. I think the elliptical trainer is good for cardio exercise with low impact. If you want to improve your running skill, running outside is the best way.

  3. Nice article, Graeme. I just want to add how important the stride length of an elliptical is though. For example, if you purchase an elliptical with a 14-inch stride, then you better be under 5 ft 8 to obtain a comfortable workout experience. If you’re over 6 ft, then an 18-inch stride elliptical is needed, which is unfortunately much more expensive.

  4. Hi Graeme! Thanks for the article. I’ve been considering elliptical trainers to improve my endurance and this is good info. Thanks again.

  5. I would certainly agree that holding onto the shorter handles maintains better posture in terms of your upper body position, but I can’t say I recommend letting go of the handles altogether.

    It’s something I’ve tried before and you really can’t transfer anything like the same amount of power into your stride, reducing the overall effectiveness of the workout.

    Great article though and really appreciate the video.

  6. Hey Graeme! Great article. I’ve been using elliptical trainers for quite a while and they do work great to improve my overall fitness. Useful info provided by you.