A newcomer to the fitness world always starts with cardio and can easily be bewildered by the range of different machines and accessories available to help them to get fit.
With such a wide range available both in gyms and in the home fitness market, it can be difficult to determine how to spend your time. Many people will focus their attentions on the machines that they think are most closely aligned with their fitness goals, yet achieving your goals is less to do with the choice of machine and more to do with how you use it. You can lift weights to help you burn fat or you can use a cardio machine to help you build your strength and power. This blog will look at how you can use treadmills, exercise bikes, cross-trainers, skipping ropes, steppers, twisters and other ‘cardio’ accessories to achieve your specific goals.
The key to achieving your goal to burn fat is concentrating on your heart rate. The optimal fat burning zone is 65-80% of your maximum heart rate, which is defined as 220 minus your age in years. Therefore before you start exercising, it is well worth calculating what the 65-80% range equates to in terms of beats per minute for you so that when monitoring your heart rate you can be sure that you are staying within this range.
Whilst many cardio machines offer sensors to provide a heart rate reading, a specialist heart rate monitor is a superior option. The information provided will be more accurate, and it also means you do not have to grab hold of anything to generate a reading. This is particularly useful on a treadmill, as it means you can maintain your running form whilst having access to the information you require. As long as you keep track of this information, you can increase or decrease your effort levels accordingly to stay within this range, and the longer you can maintain the exercise, the more fat you’ll burn.
For many people, their concern with burning calories will be matched by a desire to burn as much fat as possible, in which case it is advised to follow the steps above. If for whatever reason you are specifically looking to burn as many calories though, things are slightly different. Now, the higher the intensity, the more calories you will burn, and some machines will help you to burn more calories than others. As a general rule, the more muscles the machine works, the more calories you will burn at an equivalent intensity. Therefore if you are looking to maximise the number of calories burned, focussing on machines such as the cross-trainer will be a more efficient way to spend your time than an exercise bike, hand bike or stepper machine.
If you are looking to work on your stamina and endurance, there are two key factors to consider – duration and intensity. Pushing yourself as hard as you can across 40 minutes will bring greater endurance benefits than coasting for 60 minutes. A great way to do this is to decide how long you want to spend on a machine (this will depend on how long you have available for the session and how many different machines you want to use) and then see how much ‘distance’ you can cover. Then in your next session, you keep the time the same and try to cover more distance.
Resistance levels do not need to be too high – the forces required should be relatively comfortable and not feel like a big effort, though you may need some resistance for more efficient steps/strokes. Any cardio machine can be used for endurance purposes. You can look to slowly increase the duration of your exercises whilst maintaining a regular tempo, which will help you to practice your technique and harden your hands also.
If you are looking to work on your strength and power, you do not need to spend your time exclusively on weights (though this will probably still form a part of your session) – cardio machines can be used for power too. Higher resistance levels (if you are on a treadmill increase the incline) require a greater force to maintain a particular tempo, therefore helping you build your muscle power. It is also worth bearing in mind that it is more energy intensive to accelerate from zero/a low-speed to your maximum speed than it is to simply maintain a high-speed on any machine where you have to force the machine to move. This means interval training, a repetition of relatively short bursts of energy often 1 or 2 minutes in duration with recovery periods in between, can be a very efficient way of building your power. The key is to not lose sight of the need for repetition – if you do this only a few times, you will not enjoy the same benefits in terms of your muscular development.
Given that you can work towards your fitness goal on any of the most popular cardio machines, how should you allocate your time across the different machines? You can spend all your time on your favourite machine, but it is often better to use multiple machines in one session. Even machines that work all of the major muscle groups work them only in a specific way. Working your muscles in different ways not only provides you with a greater overall level of fitness, it also allows some of your muscles to recover whilst you work on others, allowing you to train longer and/or harder than staying with the same exercise for your full session.
Any good cardio machine will be easy to get on and start using, but in order to maximise the results, you do need to think about how you will use the machine. Tailoring your exercises to your specific fitness goals will help you achieve your fitness goals faster, especially when combined with additional exercises that complement this training.
To discover the Domyos fitness range available exclusively at Decathlon, please visit our cardio range.