Sick of the stationary bike? Tired of the treadmill? Boost your fat-burning efforts with these boredom-busting fixes for the five most-popular cardio machines.
Most individuals have a love/hate relationship with cardio machines. You appreciate that you can hop on a treadmill or bike and get a quick, effective fat-burning workout, but oh, can those handy machines get dreadfully, mind-numbingly boring when they’re your main mode of cardio. There’s nothing worse than a five-miler where your only view is the wall in front of you (or worse yet, a TV tuned to QVC, with no remote in sight).
If you’re tired of the same old grind when it comes to cardio, there’s hope. All it takes is a willingness to put aside the same-old sessions of 30–60 minutes at a steady pace and make use of all the options each machine has to offer. Whether it’s ramping up the treadmill incline, ratcheting up the resistance on the bike or even slamming your elliptical ride into reverse, these tricks will spark your workout creativity … and your body’s fat-burning furnace.
1. Stationary Bike
The biggest drawback to this otherwise high-potential exercise is the ability to zone out and think about anything else but the task at hand — burning maximum calories. Let’s face it, lots of texting, magazine reading, TV watching, texting and daydreaming (did we mention texting?) gets done on stationary bikes.
On the stationary bike, then, you need to counteract the tendency to settle into a lackadaisical cardio session by engaging your competitiveness. That means changing up your intensity and effort throughout your workout through the use of sprints and resistance levels.
Here’s a sample of what we mean. Say you plan on a 25-minute cycling session. Warm up for five minutes at a steady cadence and easy resistance. Now, for minute six, do an all-out sprint. Then, for the next two minutes, dial back to a slower speed that’s just a touch faster than the warm-up. For the ninth minute, knock the machine’s resistance level up one notch and do another sprint, again followed by two minutes at the normal pace. Then, repeat the sequence. When you reach minute 20, slow to a cool-down pace for five minutes to round out the workout. There you have it: you’ve just completed a solid high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session! And a bonus is that you’ll burn fat for hours after leaving the gym.
The ubiquitous treadmill may just be the busiest piece of cardio equipment at the gym. And why not? It offers all the painful, arduous challenge of running outdoors, but without all that pesky fresh air and change of scenery. All sarcasm aside, however, the treadmill doesn’t always need to be a plodding chore. Despite its straightforward nature, there are unique opportunities to crank up the innovation and still get a great workout.
One approach is to adjust the incline; the higher it goes the harder you work, although you don’t have to max out the machine to reap the benefits. Research indicates that just a 1% incline is all that’s needed to burn as much as you would doing a similar workout on an outdoor track.
Another method to battle monotony is to incorporate some lateral shuffling — say, in bouts of 30 seconds to a minute — while on the flat setting, according to Delf Enriquez, CSCS, a fitness trainer and consultant based in Los Angeles (delfenriquez.com). “It’s a way of spiking your heart rate, as side shuffles demand more overall effort and intensity,” he says.
Of course, shuffling in this manner takes a well-balanced ego resistant to the potential judgment of others. The fact is, though, you’re the one who’ll end up on the right side of the physique balance sheet sooner, and you’ll be able to chuckle at their lackluster bodies.
The row machine is beneficial because it engages your whole body in a concerted, coordinated effort, and mandates that you give it your full focus and energy from start to finish. Having said that, however, like every cardio machine, the repetitious nature of it can bore even the most avid of land scullers. But it doesn’t have to be that way if you take full advantage of the machine’s controls. “The row-machine program I like to use is the ‘race’ setting, where you work on speed/pace against the machine’s computer,” Enriquez suggests. “Competitive type-A personalities will love using this feature.”
Another option is to vary your speed and your rowing style, for instance, by alternating minutes of long rowing motions with shorter, quicker bursts. It’ll make the time seemingly go by faster, as you’re breaking up a longer workout into one-minute segments.
The elliptical was designed to offer the cardiovascular benefits of running while drastically reducing the impact on the joints that running entails. To that end, it succeeds, but still at the price of the mind-numbing repetitive motion you’re locked into. To break the tedious cycle, literally and figuratively, you have to break the habit of using only the forward motion of the machine. Part of its design is the function to go backward as well. Doing so shifts emphasis to the all-important quadriceps, specifically the rectus femoris on the front of your thigh (the typical forward motion places emphasis on the hamstrings). Ideally, you should use both strides in a typical workout. Try alternating the forward and backward motions, switching every three or four minutes.
Speed is another great element to manipulate — the elliptical is well-suited for sprints of anywhere from 15 seconds to a minute in duration. One handy tip to keep in the workout bag of tricks is to sprint for the last 15 seconds of every minute during a 20–30-minute bout on the machine. You’ll be surprised at just how quickly the time will elapse when you’re moving in this manner.
The stair-stepper, increasingly going the way of the dodo, has gotten a bad rap among guys as being more of a female-oriented machine, but that doesn’t deter stunt professional and fitness trainer Rocky Abou-Sakher in the least. “Aside from burning a ton of calories, this machine works out some of the most important muscles in the body,” he says. “So let people stare. After incorporating it into your workouts for a few months, people will be asking what your secret is to losing fat and having such strong, muscular legs.”
Here’s a 20-minute stair-stepper interval program that’ll give you a great cardio workout: To make the most of your fat-burning efforts, alternate one-, two- and three-minute periods of assorted intensities (following a three-minute warm-up). Mix steady steps, jogging steps, running steps and hiking steps with at least one two-minute recovery period midway through a 20-minute belly-fat blasting session that ends with a two-minute cooldown.