Your Friendly Neighborhood Gym Girl: Cardio Police

Okay everybody, clap your hands, wiggle your hips and do the STEPMILL LEAN!

I shouldn’t be joking about this topic because it’s a problem I see every day at the gym, and have repeatedly seen for 15 years. How many of you readers are guilty of hopping on a cardio machine and setting the intensity or incline at a level you probably aren’t ready for? Or maybe you think you have been performing cardio at a suitable level that’s challenging and sweaty, but could likely be putting your body at risk for injury. The sure way to tell if you’re making efficient, correct use of your time on a cardio machine is your POSTURE. Take a look at this picture of my midriff. This is what made me realize I need to reach out and get this important message across.

I’m an astute trainer —  I’m careful about my technique, form, symmetry, and posture when I train. One day close to my last bodybuilding competition, when I was maxed out for energy I came home from a cardio session with creases on my middle. I felt like I had been standing erect for the entire 30 minutes on the stepmill, but apparently had been slouching or my middle would not have been folding like that.

This is a mild case of poor form, but I am sure if I’m guilty of it, many of you are too. Here are some dos and don’ts for the popular cardio equipment you can find in your gym. I promote training in a way that you use your body in real life situations. You don’t walk down the street while folded in half and hanging onto something to take weight off of your legs, so why train that way in the gym?

STEPMILL:

If I see any of you spending 30-60 minutes on a stepmill (revolving stairs,) leaning down, hunching over the stability bars/handle and looking down at the floor, I might have to hunt you down and send you to the naughty stool. Do you really want your muscles to develop while you’re carrying on in such a hazardous position? It may seem like you are targeting your legs but just imagine what your lower back is going through. Personally I believe your hip-flexors, glutes and hams are suffering too and its only a matter of time before it shows up in the form of inflammation or injury.

If you’re craving an insanely sweaty session and want your legs to work hard, set the speed at a pace where you feel challenged holding your arms up in the air, resting your hands on your head, or placing them on your hips. I like to see how long I can go without touching the bar. This is an incredibly efficient way of targeting your legs, and if you want to target your glutes too, ensure you are squeezing them at the end of every stride. Another trick you can do to maximize your session, is skipping steps – try extending each stride and hitting every other step.

What about this common scenario – the Wrist-Massacre. I suppose I can’t start nagging about posture in this case, but I guarantee the wrists are doomed for injury, with that level of strain for 60 whole minutes. That’s not even the big problem here — the problem is the speed of the machine. It’s clearly too fast if the legs can’t keep up and you have to hold your body weight off of the machine to continue at that speed.

Think about what are you trying to achieve with this technique. If it’s fat loss, and you aren’t comfortable stepping without holding onto anything, lower the speed a little and LIGHTLY rest your hands on the side bars, right at your sides or slightly back, so your shoulders are forced to square-off. Trust me, you will still burn all those calories you were burning with the Wrist-Massacre technique.

STAIR-CLIMBER:

The Stepmill techniques also apply to the Stair-climber machines. EVERYONE has seen someone doing the Wrist-Massacre on a stair-climber. I prefer a sweaty hands-free stairclimber session. I saw major transformation in my waistline (lower abs,) and inner thighs when I learned how to use a stairclimber in an efficient manner. I sincerely believe I could use a stairclimber for 30 minutes and get more of a workout and burn more calories than someone using the Wrist-Massacre technique for 60 minutes.

Instead, try pushing down with your heels on each stride and squeezing the glutes. Set the intensity fairly high so you have to push down firmly on every stride to stay elevated on the machine. Using quick short steps to keep yourself elevated just doesn’t compare in my opinion. the best part is you really don’t have to do this one for a whole hour. 25 to 35 minutes is plenty.

TREADMILL:

My main concern with treadmill users is unhealthy posture and setting inappropriate incline/speed. We could all use a reminder to hold excellent posture on a treadmill. This might sound funny, but I like to imagine there’s a camera crew filming me when I’m on a  treadmill. Sometimes I imagine I’m on the final stretch of a marathon and crowds are watching me, and newspapers are snapping photos. I think of how I would want to appear to them. Would I want to look like I’m absolutely dying and not able to hold my own? Would I want to be hunching over as if I’m 98-years-old and standing over a walker? No, I want to look like an athlete with shoulders back and a smile on my face. Visualization works wonders in getting me through rough cardio sessions.

With regards to speed and incline, all I have to say is this; pertaining mostly to incline speed walking which many bodybuilders do to cut fat close to competitions, your settings are too ambitious if you have to hang on for dear life and PULL yourself up that incline. I dare you to try a hands-free session on a moderate incline instead.

Disclaimer: with hands-free cardio sessions, please ensure you are confident in your balance and strength. I’m not condoning unsafe machine use. I have some days where I can go extended periods without holding onto the bars, and some days where I must lightly hold on. The main goal is to not rely on arms/hands to hold your body weight up off of the machine.

WARNING: Applying these cardio tips may mean you have to bring a mop for the puddle of sweat on the floor, a change of clothes for the rest of your workout, and a hair towel. Cheers to a beautifully WET and exhausting trip to the gym!

Happy Lifting!

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2 comments for “Your Friendly Neighborhood Gym Girl: Cardio Police

  1. Barbara
    November 16, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    Hmmm I’ve seen the same marks on my belly quite often. There are lots of common workout mistakes that most of us are unaware of. This can be a great recurring topic for your blog, I’m sure you can think of at least 10 other common mistakes, here’s 5 that I just found 🙂 http://strength-training.top5.com/top-5-common-workout-mistakes/

  2. November 13, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Good read Mindy. I love the challenge to put hands behind head on step mill. Because I understand the importance and benefits of good posture I often find myself feeling less fit when my intensity is less then a woman who “looks” less fit and older then I, but then I do a posture check and ohh so bad! No wonder she can go at a higher intensity!!

    Have a “Fitastic” Day!

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