What’s the best cardio workout for dancers? Quick answer: It’s not always the elliptical.

Don't discount running. Photo by Francesco Gallarotti via unsplash.com

Yes, we all love the elliptical’s heart-pumping, low-impact benefits. But a 2007 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that the forces across the hip and knee joints were actually greater on an elliptical machine than when walking because of the limited pedal trajectory (the machine requires the knee to stay bent, unlike a walker’s stride) and the fixed position of the foot.

The truth is, overuse on any one piece of equipment will create excess wear and tear on a joint. The key to keeping your joints healthy while cross-training is variability—switching things up.

“Minimize long term bouts on any cardiovascular machine," says Derrick Price, MS, CPT, PES, CES and programming manager at the Institute of Motion. "Use all of the machines intermittently. Instead of using an elliptical for an hour, select 3 machines and do each for 20 minutes.”

Price advises dancers to think of their cross-training as a way to provide balance from your current dance load. Here’s a breakdown of the benefits and drawbacks of six common options:

Bonus cardio tip: If your goal is to improve your stamina for a long piece of choreography, maintain a consistent intensity for 20 minutes or more. On the other hand, high intensity interval training has been shown to improve power and explosiveness, and is usually more effective when the goal is to lose weight or change your body composition.

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