Kids often want to copy whatever they see adults doing. Anything that looks ‘grown-up’, they’re likely to want to have a go at, and few things look more grown-up to a young child than an exciting piece of gym equipment with moving parts.
But can a child use an elliptical trainer? Children and gym equipment are not a safe combination, and you need to avoid having your young ones playing on or around your elliptical trainer.
But does that go for kids of all ages? Not necessarily. Older teens might find the cross trainer a good way of getting into the gym and keeping fit from the comfort of home.
There’s no hard and fast rule about what age it would be ‘safe’ to let your child have a go on the machine, but here we’ve put together some things for you to consider, some ‘do’s and don’ts’, and a few ways that you can keep your cross-trainer safe if you have little ones in the house.
Can Children Use a Cross Trainer?
Let’s start with what’s important. Gym equipment of all sorts, whether we’re talking weights, treadmills, cross-trainers, or rowing machines, are not safe for kids to be playing around with.
Pinched fingers and sore limbs are the best case scenarios, with serious and even life-threatening injuries being small but potentially tragic consequences of kids messing around in spaces where there are heavy weights, metal bars, and complicated moving parts.
Youngsters are likely to see an elliptical as just another type of jungle gym, not as a piece of adult exercise equipment with the potential for injury.
If your child is too young to keep themselves safe, or is fond of climbing whatever’s nearest and most risky, then we recommend keeping your elliptical in a room they can’t access, or if this isn’t possible then having it ‘child-proofed’ to the best of your ability (keep reading for ways you can make your elliptical safer for children when it’s not being used be).
But other than the obvious risk of falling and hurting themselves, or getting their hands, fingers, or even their head knocked or trapped by moving parts, what are the other reasons youngsters, even sensible youngsters, shouldn’t be playing around with an elliptical?
Can a 10 Year Old Use an Elliptical?
Making sure kids stay active and healthy at a young age is hugely important, especially when it comes to setting up positive patterns for the future, but young bodies do not develop or build muscle in the same way as adult bodies do.
There’s a reason that kids’ play areas are not decked out with running machines, weights, or ellipticals, and it’s not because they wouldn’t find them fun.
Children aren’t able to make these decisions for themselves, nor do they have bodies that require or cope with such targeted strength training.
It’s because, whilst staying active and mobile is important for kids to maintain a healthy weight and keep fit, building muscle through targeted strength or resistance training can be harmful to growing bodies if they haven’t had time to mature naturally.
Ellipticals have been designed to give adults a way of exercising in a controlled manner, targeting specific muscle groups and building strength through calculated resistance that the adult can adjust according to their own needs and goals.
There are further reasons why a child of around 10 years old shouldn’t be using a cross-trainer. The size of most adult machines means that only those with a certain stride length are going to be able to operate them without awkwardly stretching themselves and risking injury to the legs.
This minimum length is usually around 14-18 inches, a measure that younger children just aren’t going to reach.
Similarly, most children aren’t going to be tall enough to be able to safely hold on to the arm rests in order to work the machine properly.
Kids’ fine motor skills are also developing throughout their younger lives and few before the age of 11 will have developed the coordination required to safely operate an elliptical without it pulling their limbs in jarring, potentially painful directions.
However, if you are concerned about your child using a cross trainer you can purchase a product like this which is designed and safe for kids:
The long and short of it? If your child is not yet a teenager, have them playing sports, running around outdoors, or having fun with their friends instead as a way of keeping them naturally active. They don’t need an elliptical yet and it’s not necessarily safe for them to be using one.
How Do You Childproof an Elliptical?
If your home gym doesn’t have a lockable door and you have little ones that, no matter how many times you tell them, are unlikely to refrain from clambering on your machine, there are a few things you can do to try to make it safer for your family.
Many models come with a pin lock which means the pedals can’t move unless you want them to. Others allow you to disable the monitors and other operations, the flashing lights and touch pads that can be all-too-tempting for little adventurers to ignore!
Having your child play around with the machine when you’re not there is not the only danger scenario. When you yourself are exercising there are a number of ways that a curious onlooker could end up getting hurt, with swinging components and parts moving at a child’s head height.
To try to ensure this doesn’t happen, make sure someone is supervising your kid whilst you’re working out, or place your machine in such a way that you can see if they come into the room so that they’re not going to sneak in without you knowing!
Baby gates and child fences are also useful in keeping tiny wanderers out of unsafe zones.
Finally, always talk to your children about the dangers of gym equipment and about the difference between adult exercise machines and children’s play things.
Keep all electrical kit unplugged when not in use, stow wires away safely, and encourage children to keep away from home gyms when an adult is not present.
What about my teenager?
Teenagers are a different breed to toddlers, despite being capable of throwing the same sort of tantrums.
Physically-speaking, adolescence is often seen as a time where some supervised forms of gym training can be introduced, especially if a young person has developed an independent interest in improving their strength, flexibility, or general fitness.
Many teenagers will be big enough and co-ordinated enough to operate an elliptical, though they should be taught how to do so safely, including making sure they don’t try to go too fast or stop suddenly, both of which can result in muscle or joint injury.
The key to ensuring that your teenager is using the machine safely is to make sure they’re supervised when starting out.
If they’re joining a gym, make sure that there are instructors there to take them through how to use any piece of kit they might use, and try to pick a gym where instructors are on hand to assist should they need help or advice at short-notice.
Remember, kids of this age will happily pretend they know how to do something rather than risk embarrassment, so don’t take their word for it when they tell you they know what they’re doing! Give a demonstration before letting them have a go themselves.
If you have teenagers and younger children under the same roof, make sure your teenager knows about the risks the elliptical can pose to little ones and don’t let them work-out while the younger children are wandering around the same area.
Always remember, adolescence can be a difficult time for many young people, with anxieties about body shape and appearance playing a key part in many psychological difficulties that can emerge around this time.
Though teenagers should certainly be encouraged to keep fit and look after themselves, obsessive gym-going, aerobic work-outs, or restrictions of diet can be a sign of poor mental health rather than good physical health.
Try to make sure your child is using the elliptical for the right reasons and seek advice from your local GP or mental health services if you think they might be struggling with their mental health.
The bottom line
Younger children and elliptical machines? Not a good mix. These pieces of gym equipment are designed for adult bodies and adult fitness goals – they are not climbing frames for adventurous little ones.
Try to ensure that any children under the age of 12 are discouraged from playing on or around the elliptical, and keep very young children out of the area altogether if possible.
With older teenagers interested in keeping fit, the elliptical can, as with adults, provide a comparatively low-impact, generally safe way of exercising the upper and lower body, as well as providing the option of working out from the comfort of your own home (something that your moody, Netflix loving teenager might appreciate).
Keep an eye on your kids, check the safety features that come with the machine, and don’t let them play around with it as if it were a toy.
If you follow these rules and trust your own common sense, you should be able to benefit from a cross-trainer in your home without it posing a risk of injury to you or your little ones.
An ex-triathlete, fitness coach and writer with a Masters in Sports Physiology. Fitness is my passion and I've had my fair share of home fitness equipment tried and tested!