Cardio – you either love it or you hate it. If you are a constant follower of this blog you’ve already learned from me that unless you enjoy the feeling like a hamster on a wheel, 20 minutes three times a week on any stationary cardio equipment is enough to be effective for most fitness goals.
If you are an outdoor running or cycling enthusiast, then you can stop reading this blog today and go out and run/bike. But if you are like me and oblige the cardio gods with a weekly dose of walking or climbing in place, then I’ve a few tips to help you decide which cardio equipment is best for you and your goals.
Treadmill Walking with Incline
PROS: Low impact; keeps you into the fat burning zone; great at toning and lifting the glutes.
CONS: Slower on calorie burn than other options; not good if you have balance or feet pain issues.
PROS: Burns lots of calories (depending on length of run); great way to tone legs; indifferent to the weather outside.
CONS: High impact; hard on joints; puts you into an anaerobic heart rate level which does not burn as much fat as aerobic levels (like you’ll achieve walking at an incline).
Elliptical w/Swinging Arm Handles
PROS: Low impact; stable; incorporates upper body toning; burns fat calories.
CONS: Can be boring with so little variety in how to use the machine; easy to not push yourself so you won’t burn fat effectively.
PROS: Can be a great cardio workout (aerobic or anaerobic) if you alternate between hills and flats and keep the tension ramped up; great leg toner too; low impact.
CONS: Very easy to just “cruise” and burn very little fat calories; risk of thigh chaffing and numbing/irritating of the glutes.
PROS: Low impact, easy to maintain fat burning zone.
CONS: Not easy to find proper form and hence high risk of hyper-extended elbows and excessive knee pressure (my least recommended equipment).
Step Mill (Gym Escalator)
PROS: All the benefits of walking a flight of stairs, but you can’t stop and rest; great way to get and stay in your target heart rate zone; offers different ways to step (sideways, backwards) which tone entire lower extremities.
CONS: All the benefits of walking a flight of stairs … but you can’t stop and rest; not good for weak knees; doesn’t offer any upper body toning.
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No matter which you choose – and of course my recommendation is to choose a variety throughout the week – try to stay in your target heart rate (THR) zone for 20 minutes to gain the maximum fat burn. If you don’t know what your THR is/should be ask a trainer at the gym, or write to me.
No go burn some fat, get some tone, and get on with the rest of your day!
Wake up call people — it’s already February of 2015. Raise your hand if your commitment to getting in shape that was so passionately fueled last month, has slowed it’s momentum or worse, stopped completely. Now let’s see a show of hands of those who just never got their mojo ramped up enough to even get off the couch yet this year – the fact being that you are stuck in a rut.
This is unfortunately all too common with 85% of the over-weight population in America. The task of shedding fat when you clearly don’t already enjoy exercise can seem very daunting. Combine that with poor nutrition, and the depressing momentum of increased weight with decreased energy and stamina and you will be STUCK in a cycle of immobility and negative thoughts.
So how do you get un-stuck? There’s no one-size fits all answer to this, but there are choices. Some are slow and steady, some are more aggressive. It’s all about what kind of person you are, and how important your life and health are to you. The key here is motivation. I’ve written many times in this blog about tricks to getting and staying motivated. I won’t reiterate them here – surf this blog and read them for yourself. But know this, if you don’t really want to see/feel a change in your body and internal health, then you will stay in your rut and I suggest you just find a way to be happy there (yes my sarcasm is showing). Below I list several options for starting your journey to health and fitness, beginning with the easiest and progressing to more aggressive choices.
Stand up! Right now!
Set a phone or watch timer and every 30 minutes stand up and move. Walk some stairs, do some stretches, march in place, whatever low impact activity you can muster, but do it for 4 minutes. You do this 6-10 times a day and the changes to your body, stamina and mood will surprise you. Then progress to more energetic activities like jumping jacks, desk or wall push ups, air squats, etc.
Take a walk.
No need to run – running is best for the young or non-obese. But walking – fast walking – preferably with a hill or two will get your heart in to the fat burning zone, tone your lower extremities and elevate your mood significantly. Start with a half mile, progress up to 3 miles. Bring music or a friend – use a smart phone app that spews out motivational reminders — whatever helps you stay on task. (A half mile will take you 10 minutes on average.)
Do NOT diet or buy a new exercise DVD.
These options are too easy to quit, and too temporary. Instead, buy a cookbook of low calorie, easy to make meals and spend some time on your feet cooking. Join a gym and commit to 3 times a week doing something different each time – for only 30 minutes. This keeps your time commitment manageable, your boredom level low, and the constant changing up of what you do there will keep your body from plateauing thereby making results continue which perpetuate motivation for you to continue.
Make a contract.
Get a workout buddy and sign a contract with each other to keep each other on task and accountable. Take turns designing the workouts – keep them fresh and ever changing. Let your egos take over as you try to one-up each other – while still not over-doing it however. (Injuries are the best way to get back in a rut!)
Set a aggressive fitness goal.
Pick a 5k, 10k, half marathon to train for. Hire a trainer and set a body fat % goal. Join a rock climbing gym, pole dancing or salsa class. After a few months you should have achieved your goal and be ready to maintain your new health levels or set another goal.
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The key with all of these is to make shorter-term goals that are achievable and then progress incrementally. Whether it’s six months or one, you WILL get out of your rut. Once again I stress that you have to really want this! Take stock of your life and how different (better) it could be if you were physically in better shape. If that is something you want, follow these steps and you will achieve it.
Most large gym franchises (24 Hour Fitness, Golds, LA Fitness) as well as many small independent gyms offer what’s referred to as a “circuit” for your workouts. A circuit consists of a series of machines (usually 8-12) placed in an oval or circuitous line, designed to hit every body part. You start on any machine of your choosing (although some gyms actually have them numbered consecutively), then follow the machines around until you have used each one. Simple, right?
Yet I find that 99% of gym members misuse or simply do not understand how to effectively use the circuit. Members either follow the circuit in a robotic fashion still performing the exercises exactly the way they were shown in their sign up demonstration (which unfortunately is usually wrong), or they avoid the circuit completely. To many gym-addicts, the circuit carries a stigma of “for beginners only” and egos shy away.
But the circuit provides several great options to beginners and advanced lifters alike. There’s the obvious benefit that you can get a total work out completed in a relatively short period of time. But other perks include that you’re less likely to need a workout partner (a spotter if you’re lifting heavy), and less likely to get injured if you don’t have perfect form.
So how do you decide if the gym circuit is right for you, and more importantly, how do you effectively use a circuit to increase muscle tone and lower body fat? Well, here’s the skinny (excuse the bad pun):
The circuit is right for you if you are a beginner; if you are looking to do something very different than you’ve done the last several months; or if you want a total body workout in 30 minutes or less. A circuit of machines usually consists of the following:
- Chest press
- Pec Fly
- Lat Pull Down
- Back Row
- Shoulder Press
- Leg Press
- Hamstring Curl
- Calf Raises
- Ab Crunches
Performing 3-4 sets on each machine, one machine at a time, will allow you to hit every major (and some minor) muscle groups. If time is crucial to you, you can use the upper body machines one day, and hit the lower body on your next gym visit.
Being that the circuit is comprised of machines (vs. free weights) and that they have a limit to how much weight is available, your best approach is to start with lighter weights lifting for more repetitions. A great, and underutilized tool of machines is the easy ability to do “drop sets.” When incorporating a drop set into your routine, you start with the heaviest weight you can handle, then every 5-10 reps, you drop the weight by 5-10 lbs until you are down to a very low weight.
Example: Chest press 50 lbs x 12 reps
40 lbs x 10 reps
30 lbs x 8 reps
20 lbs x 5 reps
That’s one set. Do it again starting from the top 3-4 more times. By the end you’ll be pushing hard to do those last 5, but it’s a great way for beginners or people wishing to avoid bulking up to tone muscles fast. (You can also do reverse drop sets, starting with lighter weight and moving heavier.)
Form is of great importance with all resistance training, and this is where the most confusion and misuse of the circuit machines occur. Almost all of them have seats and/or backs that need adjusting to your height. How do you know where is the right placement for you? Usually the machines offer a diagram or a “spot point” where your knees or elbows should line up to. Use that as a guideline. Otherwise, make sure that your back is supported, and that when you perform the motion, your elbow, knees or shoulder joints are not feeling strained. You want to try and isolate the designated muscle (biceps, triceps, hamstrings, etc.) It may take you a few tries and adjustments but soon you’ll know exactly where to set the seats.
As for range of motion, the slower and fuller you can perform each exercise, the better. Take a biceps curl – if you don’t straighten your arms fully (i.e., you keep a bend to your elbow at all times) you will be cheating yourself out of toning the lower portion of the biceps. If you see a large muscle-bound man speedily performing a chest press where he only pushes the weights about 2 inches off his chest, he’s not only lifting too heavy, he’s not accessing all his pectorals have to offer.
As for what weight to pick, if you can perform 20 reps and it never gets hard, it’s too light. If you can’t even get through 8, it’s too heavy. Also keep in mind that you will gain strength over time, so you’ll need to adjust the weights (heavier by 5 lbs, etc.) about half way through a 4-week period.
Hopefully this will help you see the circuit in a better or less intimidating fashion. As always, you should never stick to the same routine for more than about 6 weeks, but give the circuit a try and I suspect you’ll become a fan. If you would like a personalized circuit routine created for you, please visit my website http://www.workouts247.com.