The elliptical is by now a familiar and popular choice in gyms and home set-ups across the world, offering a cardio workout that’s easier on the limbs and joints than traditional running.
But what happens when you use the elliptical trainer hands-free? If you use your elliptical trainer without touching either the arms or the handles, your lower body will be made to work harder during the workout. This can be useful if you want to work your lower body and core muscles more intensely. Going hands free can also make your workout feel as if it takes more cardio effort.
There are, however, instances in which you might be better off using the arm levers. Today, we’ll be thinking about why many elliptical machines are designed with arm handles, and what they can offer you during your exercise session.
Is It Better To Use Elliptical Without Arms?
What are the advantages of going hands free on your cross trainer and when is it best to ditch those arm handles?
Essentially, if you are simply holding on to the arm handles just because they’re there, but are not actually pulling or working your arms at all, it’s better not to use them.
Unless you are using them in a way that actually puts strain on your upper body, or you require them for balance, then they are likely to hinder the overall potential of your workout.
This is because letting go of the arm levers will actually force your body to work harder in other ways.
In terms of balance, going hands-free will engage your core muscles in your body’s attempt to keep you stable and upright. This can have the added benefits of improving your overall form, as well as giving your abdominals and core muscles a more targeted exercise session.
Letting go of the handles or arm levers will also encourage your body to focus on driving through your heels and keeping both feet firmly planted on the foot plates.
This is an important element of elliptical form, as this positioning of the feet engages the larger muscles of your lower body more fully.
There is sometimes a tendency to operate the elliptical whilst standing predominantly on the toes. This can reduce the effectiveness of the workout, leading to certain lower body muscles remaining only partially engaged.
Not only does a fuller engagement of the large lower body muscles lead to greater muscle toning potential, it can also enhance the difficulty of the workout overall.
If you are looking for an effective calorie burner and weight-loss exercise, ensuring the muscles of your body are being engaged to their full potential is important.
Some people also claim that driving the elliptical using just the lower body and without relying on the arms makes them more out of breath than otherwise, indicating that this could also be a better method of boosting cardio-vascular fitness.
Should I Use Arms On Elliptical?
So why put those arm handles there at all? Well, there are certain circumstances where you may wish to engage the upper body during your workout and make use of those upper levers.
Well designed ellipticals should have arm levers which offer enough resistance to actually work and tone the arms and upper body. This can mean that, if you are genuinely operating the arm levers, your body receives an all over workout that isn’t just limited to the lower muscles.
To get the most out of this feature, you have to be conscious of your movement and be honest with yourself about how hard you’re working the arms! Focus on your range of motion and try to ensure that you’re feeling some form of lactic acid burn to show you’re working the arms hard enough to count.
If in doubt, it can sometimes be useful to switch up the focus of your workout, by pulling and pushing the arms far harder and going easier on the lower body. When done correctly, this can temporarily shift the bulk of the exercise strain to your upper body, whilst continuing to push your cardio.
Some people like the elliptical machine for its ability to switch focus in this way between the lower and upper body during the workout. Variable resistance settings may also help you to adjust the amount of strain the machine is capable of placing the arms under.
Should You Hold The Handles On Elliptical?
The words ‘handles’ and ‘arm levers’ are often used interchangeably when it comes to referring to components of elliptical machines, but they can sometimes refer to different things.
Many ellipticals come with both moveable arm levers for working the upper body and stationary handle bars for resting the arms or upper body on.
The stationary handle bars are there primarily for balance and safety, aiding the user on and off the machine, or having something there to hold onto in the event of slips or unsteadiness.
In short, these handles should only be used if you need assistance with balance or mobility. Those new to the elliptical machine might also benefit from holding on to the stationary handle bars whilst they get used to the range of motion.
However, if you are not using the handles purely for safety or as a vital balancing aid, but are merely resting on them for ease, you are undoubtedly reducing the effectiveness of your workout.
Holding on to the stationary handles can encourage your body to slouch, reduce proper form, weaken posture, and take responsibility away from your core for keeping you stable and upright.
Remember, workouts aren’t always supposed to be easy, they’re supposed to be a way of challenging your body so that it gets stronger!
Unless you need to hold onto the bars for stability and safety, we recommend letting go of them as soon as you are able to!
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!