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Secrets of Cardio Machine Programs
How to program your cardio equipment for optimum results.

Program cardio equipment for best results.

Cardio in a gym used to be easy. You would walk in, get on the treadmill or exercise bike and get to work. They were about as complicated as an on-off button. Sit down, turn it on and start moving.

Today that on-off switch has been replaced with a computer console that offers dozens of workout routines, courses and levels. Would you like to try the fat burning, cardio, or manual programs? Should you measure by time, distance or calories? It's overwhelming.

Time to end the confusion. This is what all those choices really mean and which one you should consider using.


When you get on most cardio equipment, there's usually a big button that says QUICK START. If you're like me and don't want to spend a lot of time messing with things, that's the button to hit. You can then usually increase the speed your machine is moving. It's simple, but it won't give you an optimum workout.


The MANUAL button offers a wider range of choices. First, you'll be asked to set a goal. The machine needs to know what it should measure, so it can tell you when your workout is over. You can measure by how long you want to workout (TIME), how far you want to go (DISTANCE) or how many calories you've burned (CALORIES).

Once you've set your goal, then the equipment will want to know how to set the intensity of your workout. You can have it control how fast you go (SPEED or PACE), the angle of the surface you'll be exercising on (ELEVATION or INCLINE), how vigorously your heart should be pumping (HEART RATE) or how many METs you want to expend.

The least understood measurement is the MET. It means metabolic equivalent. One MET is the amount of energy your body uses when you're at rest. If the cardio machine is giving you a program that's six METs, it wants you to use up six times the energy you would need to expend in a resting state.

TECHNICAL DETAILS - Many machines measure a single MET as an expenditure of 3.5 milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of bodyweight per minute. Many trainers will use MET for their guide because it accounts for differences in body weight that other measurements ignore.

Setting and using a machine on MANUAL gives you more control over many of the variables in a workout, but it lacks the subtle refinements many programs offer. If you're ready to fine-tune your workout even further, try one of these five common cardio machine programs.

CARDIO or AEROBIC is a high-intensity workout that emphasizes cardiovascular benefits and maximizes fat burning. Many machines will require you wear a heart rate chest strap so they can automatically adjust the intensity level. A cardio workout will try to keep your heart rate beating at 80 percent of your theoretical maximum. Because it's more intense, it should be saved for users who are more fit.

HILL or INTERVAL workouts are interval-training programs that have hills (periods of greater intensity) followed by valleys (periods of lower intensity). It's a good cardiovascular workout that's just a little less intense than most CARDIO settings.

Don't trust the calorie burn shown on cardio machines! They're calibrated against the weight of an average person, not specifically for you. They can be off by as much as 30%. Use a wireless heart rate monitor to get the most accurate results.

FAT BURN or WEIGHT LOSS is an even lower intensity workout designed to burn your body's fat reserves. Just like the CARDIO setting, many machines do this best when you're wearing a heart rate chest strap so they can continuously adjust the intensity level. The goal for a FAT BURN workout is to keep your heart rate at 65 percent of your theoretical maximum.

GOAL or ZONE TRAINING are workouts that attempt to keep your heart rate working within a specific target range. You decide how fast or slow you want your heart rate to be and the machine works to keep you there.

RANDOM programs are just that. Constantly changing intensity levels that have no regular pattern or progression. If you've quit seeing progress using other programs, setting a machine on random is a great way to give yourself a new challenge.

Now the next time you get on a piece of cardio equipment, you'll have a little better idea what all those programs mean and which one might be best for you.

Did you know that about 5% of the population can't use the built-in heart rate monitors on most cardio machines? According to one manufacturer, True Fitness, "About 5% of the population cannot be picked up by any CHR (Contact Heart Rate) system. This is because their heart is positioned in a more up-and-down manner in their chest, as opposed to leaning over to one side."

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.