The 3 Rules of Cardio Equipment

Hack your cardio equipment routine to improve your workout results, in just 3 quick steps.

March 20, 2017
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Adapted from The Men's Health Gym Bible

No matter which machine you decide to start with, there are several important things to remember when using any piece of aerobic equipment.

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1. Warm up for 5 minutes beforehand

You may be anxious to lose fat, but your body's not anxious to get hurt. That's why you need to warm up your muscles before you start. Set the machine at a low level or slow setting and exercise for 5 minutes. On the treadmill, that may mean a brisk walk before running. On the cycle, stairclimber, or elliptical machine, that means placing the machine on level 1 or 2. On the rowing machine, that equates to setting the tension on its lowest setting or rowing at a much slower speed than usual.

More: The Dynamic Warmup You Should Do Before Every Workout

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2. Give every machine a 2-week test drive

Most cardio machines offer a certain amount of preprogrammed workouts built in. With the push of a button, you can change the speed, level, incline, etc., of a machine, depending on which one you're using. These programs vary from manufacturer to manufacturer—some of the names run from "heart rate hill," "fat burn," and "speed interval jogger"—so it's hard to say which ones you may encounter. Still, these can be terrific ways to change up your workouts, so we encourage you to try them eventually.

However, before trying any of the built-in programs, use the machine on your own for a few weeks to get a hang of the controls. Most machines have a button that just reads "START" or "QUICK START" on it. Hit this button, then vary your workout intensity. After a few weeks, you should feel familiar enough with the machine—and its buttons—to give its programs a shot.

More: How to Find the Right Gym for You

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3. Switch machines every 3 to 4 minutes

If  you are looking to burn calories long-term and stay injury-free, mix up which machine—or activity—you use every 3 to 4 weeks. Too many people get stuck in a rut when they stick with the same piece of cardio equipment every time they exercise. Besides the boredom factor, there are two other reasons why this is never a good idea:

The first reason is that doing the same routine every time you exercise will eventually cause you to burn fewer and fewer calories as your body learns to work more efficiently to perform those specific movements. Just as they do during resistance training, your muscles—including your heart—will quickly adjust to the demands you place on them when training them aerobically. Eventually, they adjust accordingly and improve only the muscle fibers necessary for performing an activity. Increased speed and effort level are the only components that help you continue to burn calories. The rest of your body never gets a chance to work as hard or burn excess fat and calories.

The second reason is that using the same muscles over and over again overuses them—or makes them stronger than other muscles, causing a muscular imbalance. Both situations can lead to aches, pains, and possible injury—just the thing to shorten or stop your future workouts altogether.

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Tags: training