Cardio machines help you work very hard in a very short period of time, making a morning or lunchtime workout an exercise in efficiency. But most people don’t use the machines correctly. Fix your mistakes and you’ll get more calorie burn for the effort.
The mistake: Too much bouncing up and down. Your head should remain relatively level while running, otherwise you’ll tire out your joints—and yourself—too soon.
The fix: Improve flexibility to smooth out your stride. Try leg swings—hold the handlebar, stand on one leg, and swing the other back and forth, keeping your upper body still. This will loosen your legs.
The mistake: Too many long, steady, flat runs.
The fix: Run shorter and harder, mixing speeds and inclines to create intervals. Start with a 2 percent incline, and over several sessions work up to 10 percent. (Just walk at steep inclines.)
2. Stationary Bike
The mistake: The seat is too low or too high. A low seat fatigues the legs and stresses knees. Set it too high and your hips rock from side to side, which is inefficient.
The fix: Adjust the seat, people! Sit on the seat and place your heel in the middle of the pedal, where the ball of your foot would normally go. You want your leg fully extended, at the lowest point of the pedal rotation. By moving your foot to the correct position on the pedal, you’ll have the right amount of bend.
The mistake: Cruising instead of charging.
The fix: Vary the intensity, with 2 to 3 minutes of high-cadence pedaling and a 3-minute recovery, then repeat for 15 minutes. Stand occasionally, which will add another dimension to your workout. Standing requires more muscle not only to push the pedals, but also to support and balance your body.
3. Elliptical Trainer
The mistake: Too little resistance. Many people allow momentum to do the work for them instead of propelling the step with their leg muscles.
The fix: Set the resistance correctly to be able to feel that you are pushing the ramp down when you make a revolution rather than flipping around freely.
The mistake: Getting bored.
The fix: Do intervals. It will force you to reach a higher intensity of training for a sustained period of time. Try 90-second blasts every few minutes, with recoveries twice as long. Reduce recovery time as your fitness level increases.
4. Stair Climber
The mistake: Holding yourself up with your arms. A lot of people put their hands on the railing and lock their elbows with arms straight down. That’s like using crutches.
The fix: Rest your hands lightly on the bars only for balance. Keep your body upright, with just a slight lean forward.
The mistake: Too little resistance.
The fix: Go slower, with challenging resistance. You’ll give yourself a tougher workout, increase your heart rate and maintain your time in the training zone longer. Result: You’ll burn more fat.
5. Rowing Machine
The mistake: Your hands bump your knees, which throws off your cadence.
The fix: Take a tip from rowing crews to create a fluid motion: Think of the stroke as a dance, counting 1-2-3 and 3-2-1. On 1, push with your legs; on 2, “swing up” your body by leaning back; on 3, draw your arms to the bottom of your rib cage, spinning the flywheel. Then reverse it: 3, extend your arms; 2, swing your body forward from the hips; 1, bring your legs up after the handle passes your knees.
The mistake: A long, steady slog, which leads to inefficient exercise. You’re spending too much time rowing at a moderate intensity.
The fix: With medium resistance, do four to six 10-minute sets of high-intensity rowing with 2 to 3 minutes of rest in between. This will allow your heart rate to come down a bit so you can regroup with intense effort. Result: You’ll expend more calories and get out of the gym quicker.