To my knowledge, there are no well-designed, peer-reviewed research studies on the newest iteration of elliptical training machines that incorporate lateral movement (such as the Helix or Octane equipment). Conceptually, one could conclude that the large muscle group, rhythmic movements required by exercising on a lateral elliptical trainer result in a similar cardiorespiratory challenge as compared to elliptical trainers that promote movement in the sagittal plane (i.e., forward and backward movement). One could also assume that because the movement is focused in the lateral (or frontal) plane, that the emphasis of the work targets on the hip abductors and adductors (i.e., muscles of the outer and inner thighs). These muscles are known to be important in proper knee and back mechanics to spare these joints from undue stress during simple activities such as squatting, walking, and running and athletic endeavors such as jumping and cutting (i.e., changing directions quickly). Whether or not exercising on a lateral elliptical trainer actually translates to better functioning in other activities and/or results in less knee and back pain remains to be seen.
Without research to confirm these ideas, the concepts related to lateral elliptical training are only assumptions and should be treated as such. Because this type of equipment is still so new, it may take some time before enough research has been published to support the claims made by the manufacturers of these products. These claims, which are offered on the manufacturers’ websites, include:
• Helix: “The unique 360 degree motion on the Lateral Trainer provides you with a great workout that is able to move, tone, sculpt and strengthen your entire leg in one go. Rather than performing a number of exercises, the Lateral Trainer will work your inner and outer thighs, butt, and the front and back of your legs all at the same time. This fantastic machine will also increase your fitness and burn fat and calories to give you a complete workout.”
• Octane: “Add a new dimension and excitement to the cardio floor with the Lateral X elliptical that delivers functional challenges, more muscle demands and greater caloric burn. Octane advantages: adjustable lateral 3-D motion; 27% increase in caloric expenditure; 30% increase in hip abductor/adductor activity; adds muscle confusion with 10 varying planes of motion; great for sports, rehab and stability training, working the hips, thighs and glutes.”