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- Fitness trainer Emily Samuel doesn’t love big gym machines. She prefers to keep her clients fit by relying on functional movements that people actually use in their everyday lives.
- One of her favorite pieces of equipment is a jump rope, which you can buy for around $10.
- Samuel says jumping rope is a great way to get your heart rate soaring in a hurry, and the risk of injury is low.
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Let’s be honest: Elliptical trainers are weird.
“It’s almost like you’re half riding a bike, half walking,” fitness trainer Emily Samuel told Business Insider. “It just doesn’t really apply to real life.”
Samuel, who trains a roster of celebrity clients at the exclusive Dogpound Gym in New York (where Hugh Jackman works out), said she is vehemently “against” the elliptical machine.
“I would choose other things to get my heart rate up,” she said.
Her advice is to opt instead for more portable, affordable equipment.
“I really would recommend doing a jump rope instead,” Samuel said. “All you need is your body, you don’t need a gym.”
Researchers generally agree with Samuel on this. Regularly jumping rope has been shown to help people stay fit at every age. Jump ropes can improve balance and coordination in kids, help obese teens reduce belly fat, boost bone density in female college students, and improve heart health in adults.
If you are wondering how vigorous a jump rope workout really is, consider that when it comes to a measurement called MET – one of the key indicators that exercise scientists use to pin down how many calories people burn doing specific physical activities – jumping rope burns more than twice the calories of a moderate spin on the elliptical machine.
Once you get good at the basic jump-rope hop, Samuel suggests you “try different tricks” to continue challenging yourself, like jumping on one foot, adding in high knee kicks, playing double dutch with friends, or criss-crossing the rope back and forth.
Many elliptical machines overestimate the amount of energy you’re using
Elliptical trainers are relatively new in the workout world – the first machines were developed in the mid-1990s. Inventor Larry Miller, who wanted to find a more low-impact way for his tennis-loving daughter to work out than running, is credited with building one of the first elliptical prototypes. Elliptical manufacturer Precor says that early machine was “assembled out of some 4x4s, plumbing pipes, and tricycle parts.”
But elliptical trainers often overestimate how much energy we really expend when we use them. One study performed at the University of California, San Francisco’s Human Performance Center found that an elliptical trainer overestimated how many calories a Good Morning America reporter burned in a 5-minute spin by 42%. (To be fair, the treadmill, stationary bike, and stair climber all over-estimated her calorie counts too, albeit by much smaller margins ranging from 7-13%.)
Even fitness-equipment manufacturer Precor notes that the calorie totals on its machines are imperfect.
If you want to stick to fitness machines but avoid the elliptical, Samuel has a few other suggestions. Jacob’s ladder, which looks a bit like a stair master on steroids, is one of her top picks. Rowing machines aren’t bad either, she said, and they’re relatively low-risk for injuries as long as you engage your core and sit up straight while you row.
- Jessica Rinaldi for The Boston Globe via Getty Images
The best exercise to choose is whatever you enjoy most
If hopping on the elliptical regularly is what makes you happy, don’t let Samuel derail your routine.
Elliptical trainers are good for what they’re designed to do: provide an extremely low-impact form of cardio that is easy on people’s joints. So there is absolutely no shame in giving the elliptical a go, particularly if you’re injured or dealing with weak joints. Even Samuel admits the machines are a very “safe” exercise choice, especially for elderly gym members.
As long as you’re enjoying yourself, Samuel endorses any kind of movement that people choose.
“Move your body in ways that you like to do,” she said. “Don’t do things that you hate doing. If you hate being on the elliptical for 30 minutes, don’t do that. Pick something that else that you would rather enjoy.”
- Trae Patton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
Habit researcher Wendy Wood, a professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California (who happens to like the elliptical) agrees that people are most likely to exercise regularly when it’s something fun.
“If you like what you’re doing, it’s more likely to actually develop into a habit,” she said.
So remember: The best type of workout for your health is whichever one you’ll actually do.