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Round and Round

by on April 5, 2013

Elliptical trainers: everyone loves a jog that goes nowhere.

The Sole Fitness E35 elliptical, with a $1,300 price tag. Still goes nowhere.

The Sole Fitness E35 elliptical, with a $1,300 price tag. Still goes nowhere.

Or, wait… no, that’s the complaint I hear most often about the cardio equipment at the gym.

“I can’t stand the thought of getting on one of those things and just sitting there for so long. It’s so boring!”

To each their own, but I think some of my friends are missing out.

The elliptical is one of my favorite machines, but I’m not picky. I love my stationary bikes (former Spin teacher… of course I do), and I can get some use out of the treadmill, rowing machine, or stair climber. Does it get old sitting or standing in one spot, performing a repetitive motion for a long time?

Not really, because I don’t let it.

How do you make a stationary workout more interesting?

There’s the basics of course. Almost everyone has their favorite music. If the motion permits, you can bring reading material. Many gyms offer televisions for additional distraction.

But none of that is what I’m talking about today.

What I’ve found works best for me is incorporating some of the adjustments I made in Spin classes into my time on the elliptical. These can also work on any other cardio equipment where you can easily adjust resistance.

Ladder Climb Set your resistance to a medium level, where it almost feels too easy. Focus on maintaining pace, and add some resistance every 15 or 30 seconds until you cannot maintain the pace. Drop off the resistance and repeat.

Sprints – Drop resistance to where you have just enough so you’re pushing against it, then increase speed to your maximum pace and hold it for a long duration – 30 seconds to a minute, maybe more depending on your fitness level. To get any benefit from this, you have to push to your limits; you should be straining and panting at the end of the sprint, or you didn’t go hard enough. Slow down and recover until your breathing returns to normal.

Hills – Increase resistance to the maximum amount while still maintaining form. You can slow your pace a bit, but you should still be working hard as you push through the resistance. Pick a time – 30 seconds to a minute – and then drop resistance while doubling your pace for a short “downhill” jog. Lather, rinse, repeat a few times.

Tabata – One of my coworkers suggested this based on the popular ideas about “tabata” intervals – he had me do 12 repetitions of short bursts with short rests in between – 12 seconds at max speed, then 8 seconds at a very relaxed pace. That’s four minutes. Take two minutes at a normal pace with moderate resistance, then repeat the process.

Isolation – One of my favorites from Spin class involves hovering above the seat, tightening up the core so that the upper body stops moving and the legs do all the work. This can also be done in an upright position, which works great for the elliptical as well as the bike. Your whole body naturally moves with the motion of the cardio equipment, but in this case, you’re focusing on holding your body still except for the muscle groups that should be doing the actual work. It should feel like your torso is locked in one place, not bouncing up and down, moving forward and back, or twisting or swaying left and right. Hold this for 30 seconds to a minute, then return to a normal, natural motion for the same amount of time. You will feel your legs burn with this one!

Mixing up your activity on the elliptical or any other cardio equipment will give you a more intense workout and a much-needed distraction from the monotony. On top of that, you’re focused and intentional about your workout – and putting more into it gives you better results. Time flies when you’re busy counting out intervals and challenging yourself in short bursts.

Now you’re getting somewhere, without going anywhere at all!

What works best for you? What tricks or techniques do you use for getting the most out of a “boring” workout? Let me know in a comment.


From → Get Moving

  1. rebeccatirabassi permalink

    Popping in from the A to Z challenge. I like the way you compared eating to keeping track of your money. It is a different way to think about it. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks a lot for stopping by! I’m about to do my A to Z rounds too. I’ll start with yours 😀

  2. I find that time on a stationary machine is perfect for watching a movie or tv shows. I rarely have the time to just sit and do that so it accomplishes two things: I get to see something that takes my mind off the time I’m on the machine and it makes the time on the machine go by much faster.

    • Absolutely! I do that too… catch up on movies, TV, or even a book if I’m getting through one. It’s calming and relaxing after a stressful day. I usually get to the gym between work and home, so it helps me get my mind off the job and get ready for time with my wife and kids.

      I just wrote this for the folks I’ve heard say “I can’t stand getting on a machine and doing the same thing the whole time.”

  3. faithlaces permalink

    I admit I’m loathe to run on a treadmill or the elliptical (unless I’m injured). I just prefer being outside even in bad weather; however a day or two would be a nice break for my joints.

    • I hear you. I’ve been dealing with frustrating stiffness and ankle pain – to the point that I’ve crawled around the house – so high impact stuff is mostly a thing of the past for me. This is just what works for me to get the most out of the indoor equipment. But everyone has preferences and being outside is one of those things.

  4. I absolutely agree with you! The Arc trainer is my favorite, the AMT and the bike…love to train on those at my local YMCA…great post…thanks for stopping by my blog the other day, blessings!

    Shannon at I Survived and Now I Run

  5. I used to have one of these in my living room and used it while I watched TV. Now, I go out running but I still kind of wish I had one of those elliptical trainers sometimes when the weather is particularly harsh.

    • Good call. I wish I had the space (and disposable income) for an elliptical in the house. I do have a treadmill, but all too often it becomes a storage shelf. Then again, I have the base gym available to me.

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