You want to use equipment properly and get the most out of your workout, but maybe you’re fuzzy on the specifics. Take the elliptical, for example. Are you supposed to always use the elliptical handlebars? Do you get a better workout with them? Should you hold on or let go?

The short answer is that there is no wrong choice – it all depends on what you’re trying to accomplish with your workout.

Using Handlebars

If you want to exercise your arms or if you need help balancing on the machine, handlebars are the way to go. By actively pushing and pulling the handlebars through each stride, you’re adding an arm component to your workout. You should set the resistance high enough to where you can feel your arms working. You won’t see any benefits if your arms aren’t adding to the effort.

Erica’s advice:

Use the moving handles intentionally – don’t let your arms passively go along for the ride. Push or pull the handles to engage the upper body for a better training effect.

Vary your workout further by adding asymmetry and pushing and pulling with one arm only while the other swings naturally in rhythm with the stride.

This will further recruit the obliques and core stabilizer muscles, and provide a coordination and balance challenge.

Going hands free

Not using the handlebars means your legs aren’t receiving help from your arms, so they’ll get a harder workout. Handlebars also provide support, so by leaving your hands free, you’re relying more on your own balance and engaging your core muscles to keep you upright.

Erica’s advice:

To improve balance and coordination, train hands free. This is my favorite method. I prefer to keep a moderate resistance and focus on higher RPM. This style of movement will best engage runners looking to simulate their outdoor training.

To get the best of both worlds, try alternating between using the handlebars and letting go. You can use interval routines or pre-programmed workouts to keep your elliptical sessions exciting and effective.

With or without the handlebars, the elliptical is perfect for getting a robust, full-body cardio workout. Want to give it a try? Here’s a 20-minute full-body elliptical routine rotating between using and not using the handlebars …

elliptical workout

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