Cardio Workouts: Tips for Making Them More Effective

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On the list of things we love to hate and hate to love, cardio machines sit at the top. It can sometimes feel like we’re pedaling, running, and stepping our lives away. Add in a lack of results over time, and you’ve got all the reasons you need to avoid cardio machines at all costs.

But don’t toss out the treadmill just yet. Regular cardio comes with a ton of benefits: It can improve your mood and heart health, keep your mind sharp, help protect against some types of cancer, and so much more.

“The variety of cardio machines is also a major benefit in itself,” says Aaptiv trainer Kelly Chase. “All these machines target different muscles and are hugely beneficial for improving endurance and strength—if you know how to use them right.”

But how do you make using them less tedious?

Chase recommends finding something to push or challenge you. “You need good music, someone to motivate you, and something to tell you what to do,” she says.

We asked Chase to break down other simple ways to make cardio-machine workouts more interesting:

Treadmill

1. Always do intervals!

“I never recommend anyone do steady-pace cardio all the time,” Chase says. “Try incline or speed intervals. Stay at your same pace, but up the incline every few minutes or try it the other way. Keep the incline the same and continuously increase your speed.

2. Sprint it out.

“Sprinting works wonders,” Chase says. “You don’t have to do 30 minutes of it, but you’ll get a great workout in half the time if you alternate one minute at your maximum effort and two minutes at a slower speed or walking.

3. Add strength training.

“You can always slow your machine way down and do moving lunges,” she says. “Or pick up some dumbbells and walk as you do bicep curls or shoulder exercises.”

Elliptical

4. Add more resistance.

“Always add resistance to your elliptical workouts even if it’s light,” says Chase. “You should always be pushing against something and activating different muscles.” She recommends testing a variety of speeds against changing resistances to mix up your workout.

5. Take it back.

“Try going backward at various speeds and against different resistance levels,” she says. “Whenever I’m going backward, I feel different muscles in my legs working, and I also feel like my core is more engaged because I’m working to balance even more.”

Stair Climber

6. Gradually add speed.

“I love progression intervals on the stair climber,” says Chase. “You start at a lower level and work your way up, increasing the speed every few minutes.”

7. Go a different direction.

“Always incorporate multidirectional work into your stair-climber workouts,” she says. “You can turn to either side or even go backward at a super-slow pace. You’ll work your full body trying to stay balanced, and those legs will get a killer workout.”

8. Squat it out.

“It’s possible to do squats and jump squats on the machine too,” she says. To do this, slow the machine way down and, with both feet on the same step, squat as you normally would. Continue on to the next step and so on.

Indoor Cycling

9. HIIT it high.

“When I teach indoor cycling, I incorporate high-intensity interval training the most,” Chase says. “You don’t use too much resistance and instead you push hard on sprints and then pull it back for a few minutes.”

10. Move in and out.

“Practice different speeds and different resistances both in and out of the saddle,” she says. “Set your bike to a certain resistance and do intervals at that level both standing and sitting.”

11. Make it heavy.

“I also really love seated climbs on the indoor cycling bike,” she adds. “Crank the resistance all the way or most of the way up and push against it while in the saddle. This really sculpts and tones those legs similar to jogging on an incline on the treadmill.”

Rowing Machine

12. Beat the clock.

“I like doing intervals for time whenever I’m rowing,” Chase says. “I see how fast I can get to 200 meters, and then I try to beat it going from 200 to 400 meters.”

13. Build a pyramid.

“Try pyramid work to keep things interesting,” she says. “Hit 100 meters, take a 30-second break, do 200 more meters, take another break, add 300 more meters, and take another break, etc. Keeping it progressive keeps it interesting.”

Overall, Chase recommends using a variety of machines each week or even each workout. “I enjoy doing 15 minutes on the elliptical, 10 minutes on the stair climber, and 15 minutes on the treadmill,” she says. “It keeps things fun and feels like the time goes by faster, but you’re still getting 45 minutes of cardio in.”

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