top of page

You're Probably Using the Elliptical and Treadmill Wrong...

Being a physical therapist that was also at one time a physical trainer has its blessings and curses. On the bright side, I feel like I am able to easily progress people from their physical therapy treatment into safe exercises at the gym. The transition into regular exercise from PT exercises is a breeze. On the downside, I can't help but notice when people are not doing things correctly at the gym. It can get distracting for me during a workout because I just want to run over to people and correct their form and help them.

Lots of people talk about good form at the gym particularly as it relates to lifting. You always hear about lifting safely. But there's good form in every exercise we do and even every movement. I feel like the most overlooked are often the ones that we think are commonsensical. That's probably why my "How to Walk Correctly" video on Youtube is so popular. It's something we don't consciously think about until something is glaringly wrong.

The same concept goes for the gym. How many people talk about good form on a treadmill or elliptical? None that I can think of... This is because these machines are meant to be so user-friendly and common sense that we think we can hit the on button and just go. So today's the day that I'm going to be breaking down how to use some of the "easiest to use" machines at the gym.

Any equipment is made for a specific purpose and best use is dependent on the intention you set for it. The majority of the time we get hurt or overdo a body part is from USER ERROR.

So what's the intention for cardio equipment? Obviously, it's all about raising your heart rate.

The moment you get your heart going 10-20 beats per minute faster than your resting heart rate, you've already accomplished your mission. Having an increased heart rate means you will burn more calories. Any really good cardio should be between 20 and 30 minutes of continuous movement. The end goal is that you then lower your resting heart rate when it's all said and done. It might sound counterintuitive, but by taxing your heart during exercise, it won't have to work as hard on daily "resting" tasks. This is overall increasing the efficiency of your heart.

Losing weight or burning calories is really just meant to be an added bonus of cardio.

So how exactly do you use a treadmill and elliptical correctly? I've broken it up into each machine below!


The basic design of the treadmill is a motor that pulls a belt around pulleys. All the other bells and whistles are just bells and whistles. In essence, you can approach a treadmill like it's a completely mechanical machine. If it wasn't plugged into electricity and you tried to make a treadmill move, you'd have to really grip down with your feet and pull through to move the belt. Just because the machine is helping you, doesn't mean you should do a different action. I teach everyone to use a treadmill by pulling it through with your feel like how a big cat walks and grips the ground.

  1. Paw: Yes, spread those toes and try to have a pendulum striking moment with your legs.

  2. Grip: Gripping those toes at the moment of impact will soften the shock through the rest of your lower body and lower back.

  3. Pull through: Pull the belt through with some forceful action to create an explosive use of the hamstrings which only improves the stride and pendulum of the legs.

  4. Lean forward through your four dots: Set up your standing and running alignment. Posture is so important in all activities but even more so when you are performing a repetitive task.


The elliptical is a wonderful, low-impact machine that uses rhythm and resistance as it's key components. Halfway between a bike and a treadmill, you see people half-heartedly pulling on the arms and bobbing like a bobblehead because they haven't fixated their feet. My number one tip for an elliptical will go completely against how you think you should stand on an elliptical.

  1. Position your heel to the back of the pedals!

  2. Pull using your hamstrings like you are about to kick your butt with that heel that just dug into the pedal. Hamstrings are what this exercise is all about. The elliptical will help you build your hamstring endurance which is the way to relieving stress on your back and core.

  3. Once your pulling pedal is over the top of the arc, start the cycle again with the other leg.

And there you have it. Check out our Youtube channel here for more exercise and educational videos!

Heal smarter,

Dr. Justin C. Lin


bottom of page