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The elliptical machine is aptly named as the pedals move in an elliptical, or oval, pattern. Because your feet do not lift off the pedals as you work out, elliptical machines offer a low-impact cardiovascular alternative to treadmills. Where and how you position your feet on an elliptical machine are important considerations for a comfortable and effective workout.
The pedals of an elliptical machine vary in movement, size, material and features. Front-drive elliptical machines -- the flywheel is on the front of the machine -- have a flatter movement pattern than rear-drive elliptical machines. This flat motion can cause foot numbness, especially after long workouts. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends using a rear-drive elliptical machine for a more natural, comfortable movement. If you do use a front-drive machine, choose one with articulating pedals. These pedals pivot with the movement of your ankles, eliminating some of the stress from the flat motion. Pedal stride is the farthest distance the pedals can move away from one another. Short stride lengths can make you feel cramped and awkward. Choose an elliptical with a long enough stride length so your movements feel natural.
The size of the pedals can vary among brands. Use a machine with pedals that are large enough to accommodate the entire length of your foot. Place your feet in the middle of the pedals. Do not push your feet forward against the front edge of the pedals -- this can cause discomfort during long exercise sessions.
If you stay up on the balls of your feet while using an elliptical machine, the continuous and excessive pressure can cause foot numbness and discomfort. The American Council on Exercise recommends rolling through the entire length of your foot as you glide -- similar to the natural movement that occurs when you walk. This distributes the weight over a larger area of your foot, reducing numbness and discomfort.
It is important to maintain a proper body position while on the elliptical machine. Stand upright; do not lean forward or backward. Do not grip the handles too tightly. If you are new to the elliptical machine, start by pedaling only forward. Perfect this technique before adding more advanced variations, such as pedaling backward. Always consult a physician before beginning any exercise program.