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Cardio Machine Myths
How to Get a Better Cardio Machine Workout

Cardio Machine Myths
Tell the machine about yourself,
don't let it guess.

Jumping onto a cardio machine and pressing start is a simple way to get a little exercise. However, the quality of that exercise can vary dramatically. Here are six things you need to know to get the best cardio workout in a gym.

Don't let the machine guess about you. Instead of just pressing start, you should enter your weight, sex and age if the machine asks. That way you get feedback that's appropriate to your body and not a generic profile. Without your specific details, the numbers your cardio machine displays can be off by 30% or more.

Don't lean on railings or handrails. Leaning when you're on a stair stepper or treadmill can dramatically lower how many calories you burn. It can also cause injury because your body isn't in proper alignment. Use the handrails for what they were intended. As a way to get on and off the equipment safely and as a way to steady yourself when you get off balance.

Don't trust the built-in heart rate monitors that rely on your touch. Your heart rate isn't as strong or steady when measured from your hands or fingers as it is when measured from a heart rate strap around your chest. Plus, touching the monitors on many machines forces you to lean forward, taking your body out of proper alignment.

A better option is to sync up a chest strap heart rate monitor to your machine. That will gives you a more accurate readout of how hard you're working and how many calories you may be burning.

The best option is to use an app on your smartphone, synched up to a chest strap heart rate monitor. That gives you consistent feedback regardless of what cardio machine you're using. It also keeps a history of your cardio workouts, so you can compare over time how your sessions are going.

Don't assume the button that says "fat-burning" is the best way to drop fat. The fat-burning workout on most machines keeps you running at a constant speed for a set period. The idea is that the slow and steady "aerobic zone" is the optimum speed to burn fat as fuel. If you go faster, you can't burn fat fast enough for energy, so you start burning muscle for fuel.

We know now that's not entirely true. When you do interval workouts, you push your heart rate much higher, but only for short periods. Then you let your heart rate slow back down to recover.

Those cardio bursts, burn far more calories in a very short period, meaning you'll lose weight quicker. The secret is you're never doing any interval long enough to start burning muscle. The longest interval would be four minutes, with most as short as 30-60 seconds.

In the end, it's all about losing fat as quickly as possible. A 1994 study at Laval University in Quebec, Canada found that "High Intensity Interval Training [or HIIT] was nine times more effective for losing fat than steady-state cardio." Skip the fat-burning setting on those machines and program them for intervals.

Don't believe that you have to stay on a cardio machine for an hour or more to see results. If you were doing traditional "fat-burning" cardio like I just described, that may be the case. But when doing intervals, you can get an extremely effective workout in as little as 15 minutes.

Don't automatically turn on the television. A proper cardio workout requires some concentration. You need to make sure you're properly positioning your body. You should be tracking your heart rate and how long you're spending in different cardio zones. If you're doing it right, you may not be on the machine long enough to get into a show anyway. Use the TV only after you've made sure your form and pace are appropriate.

Make these simple changes for the best cardio workouts ever.

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