May 4, 2010
Which Cardio Machine is Best?
When you finally make the decision to exercise, you want to get the most mileage out of your time invested.
After all why not get the most out of the time you are spending in the gym right?
The menu of aerobic choices to pick from is vast and equipment manufacturers are constantly coming up with new ways for us to get fit.
So, the questions begs to be asked, “Which cardio machine is best?”.
Well, there is no reason to break a sweat trying to decide which piece of equipment will whip you into shape.
Some of the major categories include treadmills, bikes, climbers, ellipticals, rowers, and skiers.
Each of these comes in several variations.
Some include upper body and most all have a variety of programs and levels to choose from.
The definition of cardiovascular fitness is the ability to perform large muscle movement over a sustained period.
It’s related to the capacity of the heart-lung system to deliver oxygen for sustained energy.
It’s also called cardiorespiratory endurance or aerobic endurance.
Cardiovascular condition has many benefits including fat burning, heart and lung efficiency, boosted immunity, lowered blood pressure and cholesterol as well as increasing longevity.
With so many reasons to participate and so many machines to choose from, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each category.
Pros — These are still the most popular, by far. Walking is a relatively easy activity that you’re already used to doing, so there isn’t much of a learning curve although you should always start the belt out slow if you are a beginner. Walking is a lower impact activity, so it’s gentler to the body. Treadmills help you keep pace and most have a variety of programs that can keep you challenged. You can monitor your progress and see improvements in time, distance and speed. Treadmills allow you to be challenged by increasing the elevation rather than the speed which is great for those who prefer to keep the impact lower.
Cons — Walking can cause shin splints if done excessively, and it’s not the best calorie burner. Many people find indoor walking boring. Running is a great calorie burner, but at a higher cost to your joints. If you do progress to running, take several months to safely evolve to it. To compensate for the belt propelling your stride, add a 2 percent incline to the treadmill which more closely simulates outdoor walking. To make this challenging, try different pre-set programs which vary your speed and incline, then strive to beat your own record. Replace your walking shoes every 3 month to protect your joints. Many people hold onto the rails creating improper form and promoting poor posture.
Pros — There are both upright and recumbent bikes to choose from, as well as bikes with upper body levers. Bikes are less stressful on the joints and once you get accustomed to spending time in the saddle, they are relatively comfortable. Recumbent bikes are a good place to start for beginners, those with back pain and anyone very over weight.
Cons — It’s more challenging to get your heart rate up on a bike since the weight of your legs helps to propel the pedals, therefore needing less effort. To make this challenging, deliberately focus on keeping your cadence up or add resistance. Otherwise this can be a low calorie burner. Think Lance Armstrong as you ride. Bike set up is also going to be important. When your foot is at the bottom of the pedal stroke, there should be a slight bend in the knee. Hips should not rock side to side as you pedal. If you are unsure about a bike set up, ask a pro for help.
Pros — It’s a great calorie burner when done properly. Even though you may be accustomed to going up and down stairs, this machine takes stair stepping and your body to a whole new level. You are completely supporting your body weight on the pedals; therefore, it takes a lot of energy (calories) to sustain this exercise.
Cons — It’s easy to cheat by locking your arms out on the equipment. Stair climbers may not be comfortable for anyone with knee pain. It takes some time to build up the endurance to sustain this exercise for 20+ minutes. To make this more challenging, focus on posture, lightly place your hands on the rails and eventually try to swing your arms by your side naturally as you climb. It may take you a while to build up speed. On the Step Mill, the tendency is to want to look down because you feel as if you’re going to trip. You feel like you’re moving slowly, but your heart rate is really racing.
Pros — This family of equipment is relatively low impact and therefore is less stressful to the joints. They are excellent for rehabilitating injuries or for beginners. They are also a challenge to avid exercises when using higher levels (resistance) or quick speeds. Arm work will help to elevate the heart rate and increase the work (calories burned). This simulates running without the impact and is a way for walkers to build up their speed without stress to their joints.
Cons — Again, unless you are choosing a high level of intensity, it’s just easy to stride along without breaking a sweat. To make this more challenging, attempt to increase your levels, pump your arms and change programs often.
Pros — It’s a great total body cardio exercise. Rowing helps to improve the endurance of the postural muscles (abs and upper and lower back). This exercise is low impact and is easy to reach your target heart rate due to the arm and leg involvement.
Cons — It may not be comfortable for anyone with knee, back or hip problems. If you don’t keep good form, you can encourage poor posture and overstretch the muscles of the upper back and shoulders (which may already be over stretched due to activities of daily living. To make this more challenging, focus on your posture and perfecting your stroke. Try to beat your personal score of strokes per minute or meters traveled over time. Both upper body and lower body must be done at the same time so participants tire quicker.
Pros–Skiers are a wonderful total body exercise. They quickly elevate the heart rate, are a great calorie burner, are low impact and are usually adjustable for different heights. Skiers are low impact and therefore kinder to the joints. A new line of skiers encourages lateral motion as well as extending the legs to the back. There are few machines that perform that movement (almost simulating speed skating) and target a muscle group we would all like to improve (the hips).
Cons– Some find coordinating the skiers challenging. People tend to flex forward at the hips, encouraging poor posture and possibly straining the lower back. Using both the arms and legs at the same time can lead to rapid increases in heart too rapidly for some people.
So What is Really Important When it Comes to Cardio Exercise:
When it comes to cardio, several factors go into the answer of “which is best.” As you can see, there are pros and cons to any exercise you may choose. Whatever choice you make, you must do it consistently, correctly and intensely.
Consistency — Here’s your key. When you find a piece of equipment that you enjoy, you need to engage in it often in order to see results. “Often” means three times a week to improve your health and up to five times a week to improve your fitness, optimize calorie burn and improve your cardiovascular efficiency.
Correct form — Never sacrifice form for speed or performance. If exercise is to be a lifetime commitment, you want to keep your body healthy, injury free and feeling as good as possible at all times. Think about keeping your entire body relaxed when you do cardio and you will find that you can become more efficient on whichever equipment you choose.
Intensity — Your heart rate is usually a good indicator of your intensity. Healthy adults should strive for 60-85 percent of their maximal heart rate during exercise. If you aren’t working hard enough, you aren’t going to see the benefits. If you’re working too hard, you’re setting yourself up for injury. It’s important you become in tuned to your body’s signs and signals.
Variety – This is not only the spice of life, but also a good rule of thumb when choosing cardio equipment. Mix it up throughout the week. That will help to reduce boredom and maximize your outcomes.
Fun – Its easy to pass the time on any equipment by watching TV. Research shows that people tend to workout at lower intensities when reading or watching, TV, but they do exercise longer. Exercising with a friend also increases your chances of sticking to it!
The bottom line is to choose something that you will do often, is convenient and feels good. The best suggestion I can give is to use a variety of equipment.. Your body may need different things on different days.
If you had a tough workout, you may want to do an easy walk or bike ride the next day. If you are rested and feeling energized, you may want to tackle the stair climber. What’s important is that you do it. The benefits are priceless.