Updated: May 23
Have you ever walked into a gym a noticed how full the cardio floor is? Lines of machines filled with people in a what seems like a mindless trance as they chug through their cardio workouts. I watch as people lean forward into the machine, often holding on to the handle bars (and in some cases bracing themselves by the very top crest of the machine). Slowly their posture suffers as they hunch their shoulders forward and their head turns down staring into a book, smartphone or tablet. Or how about the people walking along on the treadmill, chatting away in lengthy conversation on their cell phone (which is considered a big "no-no" at most gyms by the way!), which asks the question, how hard are you working if you are holding a lengthy conversation?
So should we avoid the cardio floor? No way! When used properly many of those cardio machines can be great fitness training devices. They offer a low impact alternative, enable us to get our sweat on in inclement weather, provide a safe and effective way to cross train, and they can even challenge our fitness in new and creative ways! The key is to understand just how you can best use them and reap optimal benefit.
Elliptical machines enable the user to engage several muscle groups at once while placing minimal impact on joints, making it a great partner for individuals who need a low impact alternative to traditional cardiovascular fitness activities. Ellipticals are often recommended for people rehabbing from a knee injury, who are significantly overweight, suffer from joint pain, or varicose vein sufferers.
To get the most out of your next elliptical workout try consider these tips:
Don't rely on the handles. The handles are for safety and security but not for leaning on. Work to maintain proper posture as you push/pull the handles back and forth opposite your foot stride (should mimic walking) to engage the full body, or to build upon balance and coordination let arms move freely without holding on to the handles.
Use the heart rate monitor to assess how hard you are working. Is your beat per minute placing you in your target or active heart rate zone? if you are in the resting heart rate zone or low end of your spectrum; contingent on age, gender and current fitness level, then you probably aren't working hard enough.
Use intervals. Basic interval training. Warm up at a moderate pace/resistance for 2 min, increase pace and/or resistance to high intensity for a 2 min period, then decrease pace and/or resistance back to moderate intensity for 2 min, repeat this increase/decrease process for 20-30 min (depending on your current fitness ability), cool down at minimal resistance for 5 min
Practice hill climbs. Gradually increase/decrease resistance level every 2-3 min from low to high over a 20-30 min period (depending on your current fitness level), then reduce to minimal resistance and cool down for a 5 min period.
Do a stair climb. Start with a low ramp resistance for 5 min, move to a medium ramp resistance for the next 5 min, then increasing to a high ramp resistance for the next 5 min, reduce back to medium ramp for 5 min, then low ramp for 5 min, reducing all the way down for a cool down at minimal resistance for 5 min.
Alternate pedal direction. Start with a 2 min moderate intensity moving pedals in the forward direction while engaging the upper body as you push/pull the handles, switch to backward motion of the pedals releasing the handles and swinging your arms (as you would walking) at high intensity for 2 min, repeat forward/backward intensity swaps for 20-30 min, reduce to minimal resistance and low intensity for a 5 min cool down.
Stair at the horizon. Many machines today have a built in t.v. monitor conveniently at eye line height, which enables the user to keep their head neutral and maintain proper posture as they gaze forward. If your device does not have this feature try creating a playlist on your tech device (and it doesn't have to be music - you can download books or podcasts too!).
Treadmills can be a good alternative to the outdoors during inclement weather and they help fitness enthusiasts challenge their training by providing a variety of training styles - from interval training and use of incline/decline and speed. They also typically offer a more forgiving surface than that of concrete or crushed rock, helping to minimize negative impact to your joints. Treadmills provide the opportunity to improve on form, balance and stability, all while offering a safe place to walk and/or run.
To get the most out of your next treadmill experience consider these tips:
Don't rely on the handles. The railings and handles are there for safety and security, not for leaning on. Your arms should sway back and forth as you keep pace. Work to maintain proper posture (mimicking natural walking) and engage the full body.
Use the heart rate monitor to assess how hard you are working. Is your beat per minute placing you in your target or active heart rate zone? If you are in the resting heart rate zone or low end of your spectrum; contingent on age, gender and current fitness level) then you probably aren't working hard enough.
Build endurance - set a moderate walk pace (3.5 - 4.0) you can maintain for up to 30 min
Build strength - set a moderate walk pace (3.5 - 4.0) you can maintain for up to 30 min as you gradually increase incline resistance every 2-3 min (you may need to adjust the speed accordingly as you increase to higher resistance levels)
Run/walk. Try a walk/run interval! Start with a 2-5 min warm up of a low to moderate intensity paced walk, increase speed to a light jog (a pace of 5.0 - 5.5) for 1 min then reduce speed back to a moderate to high intensity walk pace for 1 min, repeat this interval style for 20 min, cool down at low intensity pace for 2- 5 min (as your strength and endurance improve try increasing intervals to 2 min on/1 min off).
Mountain climb. Start with a low incline of 0-1 for a 2 min warm up, increase to a level 2 resistance for 2 min, then increase by 1-2 resistance levels every 2 min over a 20 min period, then reduce by 2-3 resistance levels, lowering every min until back at a 0-1 resistance level, cool down at minimal resistance for 2- 5 min.
Sprint intervals. Walk at a moderate pace for 1 min, jog at a moderate pace for 8-10 min (or 1 mile) to warm up, increase speed to sprint all out for 30-45 seconds (it should be difficult to breath) then return to fast paced walk or light jog pace for 1 min recovery, return to sprint speed for 30-45 seconds, repeat this interval style for 10 - 20 min (depending on your current fitness level), cool down with a low to moderate paced walk for 2-5 min.
Run hills. Walk at a moderate pace for 1 min, jog at a moderate pace starting at level l resistance for 1-2 min, increase 1-2 resistance levels every 1-2 min thereafter until reaching your max resistance level (depending on your current fitness level), then work your way back down 2-3 resistance levels at a time until back at a 0-1 resistance, cool down at a low to moderate paced walk for 2-5 min.
Stair at the horizon. Many machines today have a built in t.v. monitor conveniently at eye line height, which enables the user to keep their head neutral and maintain proper posture as they gaze forward. If your device does no have this feature try creating a playlist on your tech device (and it doesn't have to be music - you can download books or podcasts too!).
Bottom line - both the elliptical and treadmill machines can be great cardio fitness tools, offering a great deal of variety to workouts. When used appropriately they can also provide a safe and effective workout for a wide variety of fitness enthusiasts, from beginners to the more advanced athlete. For these reasons it comes as no surprise that the elliptical and treadmill are actually 2 of the most commonly found pieces of equipment in gyms as well as the top pieces purchased for in home use. By applying some of the above tips you can get even more out of your fitness experience while supporting your overall health and safety too, win/win!