April 7, 2010
Let’s be honest, in a fast paced-world we all want the most “bang for our buck.” And when it comes to cardio workouts this same mentality applies as we search for the most time-efficient way to burn the most calories. So what piece of cardio equipment will elicit the best results? The answer is there isn’t one in particular. Essentially it is the intensity that you work at and the duration of your session that will be the primary factors in dictating the overall effectiveness of your cardio session.
To maximize your cardio sessions, consider interval training. Interval training is defined as short, high-intensity exercise periods alternated with periods of rest. So instead of hopping on a piece of cardio equipment for 30 minutes and performing your workout at the same speed for the entire session, try mixing it up one day with periods of sustained higher intensity exercise followed by a return to lower aerobic intensities used as a recovery period. There are a variety of approaches to interval training, for example you may opt to utilize, including a 1:1 exercise to recovery ratio (e.g. run for 2 minutes then walk for minutes) or a 1:2 ratio (e.g., cycling for 2 minutes at a higher intensity followed by a 4 minute recovery period of cycling at a lower intensity). Interval training can be used by novice exercises and elite athletes alike by simply adjusting the intensity and/or the rest-to-recovery ratio accordingly to meet the needs and current ability level of the exerciser. Research continues to emerge regarding the benefits of interval training, and more recently the researched benefits of high-intensity interval training.
When it comes to equipment, the best suggestion is to choose a mode of activity that you enjoy, as you’ll be more inclined to stick with your regular workouts long-term. To combat boredom and also to reap the benefits that cross-training provides, try completing your cardio workouts on several different pieces of equipment, either within one workout session or from one session to the next. Below are some popular cardio equipment options you may consider incorporating into your cardio program-
- Treadmill- For those who enjoy walking or running, treadmills are a great option, especially during inclement weather when outdoor activity is not possible. For those who are newer to exercise, walking serves as a great weight-bearing form of activity that can strengthen muscles and bones, and tends to be tolerated well by most individuals given that fact that it is relatively low-impact in nature. A 1996 study cited the treadmill as an optimal choice for cardio equipment when measuring energy expenditure at various intensity levels, which were defined by different ratings of perceived exertion.
- Stationary Bike- Stationary bikes, both recumbent and upright, place less stress on the joints then some other cardio equipment options, and are relatively comfortable once you’ve become accustom to sitting in the saddle for an extended period of time. Recumbent bikes in particular are a great option for those with low back pain, as well as those who are new to cycling as it provides added support for the back.
- Elliptical- Elliptical machines are a great option for those who enjoy walking or running, yet are seeking less stress on the joints. Given its low impact nature, an elliptical can serve as an alternative to a treadmill for those with previous knee or leg injuries as well as those who are new to exercise. If possible, opt for an elliptical with an upper body component to challenge the arms and increase the overall number of calories burned.
- Stair Climber-When done properly, stair climbers can provide a challenging and effective cardio workout while also strengthening the muscles of lower body. Avoid the temptation to lean heavily on the sidebars when using this machine (or any piece of cardio equipment for that matter), as this will decrease the overall effectiveness of the workout. Instead, focus on maintaining good posture throughout the duration of your workout session. While stair climbers and step mills can provide a great workout, it may take some time to build up your endurance to sustain this activity for an extended period of time, so focus on gradually increasing the duration of your sessions. Also individuals with knee pain or a previous knee or leg injury should opt for a lower impact option when selecting cardio equipment.
At the end of the day, the effectiveness of your cardio workout truly boils down to how hard you work, which you can control on just about any piece of cardio equipment by changing the level or resistance you are working at, or by simply picking up your pace. Also keep in mind that cardio does not have to be a form of activity that you dread. Considering mixing up your cardio workouts with some fun activities, such as hiking, swimming or dancing, or consider integrating technology in to your indoor cardio sessions by listening to music or by using a heart rate monitor or pedometer to track your progress.
Jessica Matthews, MS, E-RYTContributor
Jessica Matthews, M.S., E-RYT is assistant professor of exercise science at Miramar College. As a leading fitness expert, writer and educator Jessica is a regular contributor to numerous publications, including Shape and Oprah.com. She holds a B.S. in physical education teacher education from Coastal Carolina University and M.S. in physical education from Canisius College. She is a certified Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor and Health Coach through the American Council on Exercise (ACE) as well as an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT) through Yoga Alliance and trained stand-up paddleboard (SUP) yoga instructor. Prior to teaching at Miramar, Jessica worked full-time ACE, serving in a number of key roles including exercise physiologist, certification director and senior health and fitness editor. Her past work also includes serving as aquatics director at Conway Medical Wellness and Fitness Center and designing health and physical education curriculum for grades K-12. Full Bio Jessica Matthews »