People experiencing injuries of the lower body often turn to the elliptical for the comparatively low impact workouts it offers.
It is frequently seen as a good choice for those looking to maintain their cardio fitness and burn calories whilst giving their lower joints a rest from the pavement pounding of running or the jarring motions of athletic sports.
But is it the elliptical good for those suffering a pulled hamstring? The elliptical can be a good way of getting an aerobic workout in whilst dealing with a pulled hamstring, although this will depend on the severity and type of hamstring injury you have sustained. You may find that a mild hamstring pull may be exacerbated by treadmill running or other weight bearing activities, but the controlled, lower impact motion of the elliptical does not cause the same discomfort.
Today, we’ll be looking more closely at why the elliptical can be well suited for building back strength and fitness following a hamstring pull, as well as instances in which it may not be suitable as part of a rehabilitative programme.
Can You Use the Elliptical With a Hamstring Injury?
Hamstring injuries are unfortunately common amongst athletes and recreational runners. They also come in various shapes and sizes, from microtears of the muscle that can heal in just a few weeks, to severe damage to the tendons that may require surgery and months of proper rest.
The nature of your specific hamstring injury is likely to determine whether or not the elliptical can be used as a safe, rehabilitative tool.
However, the good news is that many people who suffer a mild hamstring pull discover that, whilst running may prove uncomfortable during the healing process, the range of motion offered by the elliptical is far more bearable.
One reason for this is that operating the elliptical tends to require less flexion of the hip than a full running stride.
Since the hamstring muscles are intimately connected to both the hip flexors and the knee joints, significant extension in either of these areas can cause discomfort in an already pulled hamstring.
The fact that the elliptical does not involve your feet leaving the pedals, and thus exerts less weight-bearing pressure on your lower limbs, is another reason it can be a more bearable workout for pulled hamstrings.
The location of your hamstring injury can also have a bearing on whether or not the elliptical proves a comfortable workout.
If your hamstring pull is high up, the hip flexion involved in the elliptical motion, even though this may be less than with running, may still cause some discomfort.
However, sufferers of high hamstring injuries sometimes find that any seated exercise, such as that offered by exercise bikes, is uncomfortable. For this reason, you will sometimes find people opting for the elliptical due to its standing position.
Alternatively, if your hamstring injury is closer to the knee joints, then flexion of the knee could result in further discomfort.
The predictable, stable range of motion offered by the elliptical, as well as the adjustable stride length of most models, should allow you to discover relatively easily whether or not this will be an issue for you.
Hamstring pulls towards the centre of the muscle group, roughly midway between the hip and knee, may actually afford a greater range of motion.
This manner of hamstring injury, provided it is a relatively mild sprain or microtear, may not disbar you from using the elliptical as a way of maintaining and even improving your cardio fitness whilst giving the muscle time to heal.
Is Elliptical Good for Tight Hamstrings?
The primary culprit when it comes to tight hamstrings in modern times is our regrettably sedentary lifestyles. Sitting at office desks and in front of screens for much of the day results in under-used, under-extended, and stiffened muscle groups in the lower body, and the hamstrings are no exception.
In this respect, the dynamic exercise and range of motion afforded by the elliptical is a good way of strengthening the hamstring muscles, keeping them more supple and flexible than if they were not worked at all.
It also helps promote mobility and encourage bone health in the lower body in general.
The elliptical is even used by some athletes as a way of warming up the joints and lower muscles before switching to a higher impact workout, such as sprint workouts or treadmill running.
However, strengthening the hamstrings and muscles of the lower body through elliptical work is not necessarily the best way of ensuring they retain elasticity and flexibility on a longer term basis.
Regular stretch-based exercises such as yoga, pilates, or post workout cool-downs are all important to ensure that muscles are at their full, flexible potential.
It’s also worth remembering that muscle groups don’t operate in isolation. When focusing on tight hamstrings, it’s sometimes easy to forget that tight quads can also cause problems in the lower body, including in the hamstrings themselves.
It’s important to ensure that you are stretching out the front muscles of the legs as well as your rear groups to keep things balanced.
Accompanying your elliptical workouts with dynamic stretch routines and other forms of exercise can be important in giving you the range of stretches that you need to reduce overall tightness, rather than focusing on only one muscle group at the expense of other areas.
Overall, ellipticals can be a great option for people looking to maintain their cardio fitness, continue aerobic workouts, and burn calories whilst recovering from some form of hamstring pull.
This is because the low impact and controlled range of motion afforded by the elliptical often puts less strain on the impacted muscle.
There are, however, instances in which even the elliptical may prove a step too far for the injured hamstring.
If the hamstring pull is severe or the tendons are ruptured, extended rest and gradual, supervised rehabilitation may be required.
Always ensure that you consult a trained physician prior to engaging in any rehabilitative work for muscle injury.
It is also important to trust your body and to avoid trying to ‘work through’ any lingering pain during a workout.
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!