Getting regular aerobic exercise does wonders for your health, decreasing the risk of obesity and diabetes, strengthening the cardiovascular system and perhaps even staving off Alzheimer’s disease. The problem is that many people aren’t getting the maximum benefit from their cardio workouts because they’re either using the machines wrong or failing to pace their exercise correctly.
If you’re using an elliptical machine, for instance, don’t set the resistance so high that you can’t work out comfortably without leaning on the machine for support. “Hunching over or using a death grip on the machine handrail because your incline or resistance is too high for you cheats your body and can throw off your alignment, jarring your spine, shoulders and elbows,” says Scott Danberg, the director of fitness at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami.
He suggests challenging yourself enough that it’s a tough workout but not so much that you can’t use a natural gait with a light grip while you’re on the machine; this goes for any cardio machine. For a harder workout on the elliptical, Danberg says you can hold on lightly with one hand and move the other arm, switching arms periodically. “Save the reading for after your workout so you can focus on good form,” he says.
If you’re staying on cardio machines for too long, that may mean you’re not working hard enough. “Decreasing time and increasing resistance can shave off half of your cardio routine,” says Sara Haley, a Global Reebok master trainer and independent fitness consultant.
Also, try mixing up your routine. If you’re a die-hard treadmill jogger, Haley recommends adding high-intensity machines like the rower or the Jacob’s Ladder to your routine; these machines make cardio more efficient by working more muscle groups and burning more calories.
“Employing different planes of motion with lateral trainers like the Ultraslide and the Helix also prevent people from working the same muscles over and over,” says Haley. Diversifying your workout will ensure you give all your muscles some love.