Can You Train on an Elliptical Machine for a Half Marathon?

cross trainer in row with a view to the ocean

A half-marathon is a challenging goal, requiring significant endurance to complete all 13.1 miles. The most appropriate training routine depends on your physical condition, your goals and your available time and energy. If you have ample access to an elliptical machine and running outdoors is less convenient, you can certainly incorporate the indoor runs into your routine. If you have any chronic cardiovascular conditions or are severely overweight, consult with a doctor before beginning any training.

Ellipticals vs Treadmills

An elliptical machine offers a slightly different workout than that of running on regular ground. If you must train indoors, a treadmill more closely approximates the movements of normal running. Instead of moving your feet in oscillating stirrups, a treadmill forces you to move your legs independently of any guides, along the moving belt. However, even a treadmill does not require the same effort as running outdoors. Increasing the angle of your treadmill slightly will better prepare you for real race conditions, such as wind resistance. In addition, a treadmill's moving belt helps you to draw your feet back at the end of each stride, a benefit not available during regular running.

Indoor and Outdoor Training

To acclimate yourself to the conditions of an outdoor half-marathon race, combine training on indoor machines with regular running outside. During preparation for a race, it's important to build up slowly to avoid exhaustion or strain injuries. You can build variation into your routine and avoid boredom or burnout with different training elements. For example, use long outdoor runs to improve your endurance and include indoor elliptical training for building up your tempo. You can also use the elliptical to prepare yourself for uphill sections of the race, simply by increasing the machine's resistance.

Drills for the Elliptical

Especially for more experienced runners, working on speed is one useful element in well-rounded race preparation. If an elliptical machine is more convenient than an outdoor track, practice running quickly for distances of 400, 800 or 1,600 meters. After you complete each run, spend five to 10 minutes lightly jogging or walking to recover. You also can use an elliptical to practice "tempo" training, or increasing your pace over longer distances. Run one-quarter of the distance you use on your long runs, and try to improve on your normal pace. As for the short-distance speed runs, limit your practice time to no more than 30 minutes at a time.

General Tips

If it's your first half-marathon, consult with a local running group or a physical trainer about safe and effective training plans to suit your physical condition. As a general rule, you should allow at least 10 weeks of preparation before doing a half-marathon. Aim to increase your speed gradually, by no more than 10 percent each week. Always warm up and cool down before and after runs to avoid muscle strains and other injuries.