The Difference In Cardio Machines

The Difference In Cardio Machines

Here is a great nutrition tip before I talk about cardio machines

Immediately after waking up, drink 16 oz of cold water to get your metabolism fired up. Studies show that drinking cold water can increase metabolism as much as 25% for 2 hours after finishing.

According to a study by the The University of California at San Francisco’s Human Performance Center, cardio machines overestimate calorie-burn by shocking amounts. (http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Weekend/exercise-calorie-counters-work/story?id=9966500#.T1p_TvF8C80 the link to the study)

Treadmill: Overestimated calories burnt by 13%

Stationary Bike: Overestimated calories burnt by 7%

Stair Climber: Overestimated calories burnt by 12%.

Elliptical: Overestimated calories burnt by 42%

First off, there is no right or wrong answer here. Hopping on a cardio machine and doing the simplest of workouts is beneficial, and if nothing else, is useful for burning off calories from the ice cream you had the night before. With that being said, there are definitely some programs and machines that are more beneficial than others. As a general “wake up call” statement, documented studies suggest that treadmills and other cardio machines actually overestimate calories burned by up to 42%. Using cardio machines entails moving the large muscles in your body. These muscles require large amounts of oxygen which is circulated into your blood with the end goal of raising your heart rate. Taking this into account, the machine that requires the largest muscles to move the most should create the largest benefits, right? Lets take a closer look below at what I find to be the most effective machines. (4 most common machines)

1. Treadmill 

Benefits

  • Versatility– From a brisk walk to an uphill sprint, treadmills offer a wide range of tools in terms of speed, incline, and training programs.
  • Emulates Natural Movements– As technology continues to develop, fitness moguls are developing new machines that can be awkward or confusing. The treadmill is a familiar, and mostly natural movement for the human body that doesn’t allow you to rely on momentum to power the machine.
  • Seniority– Treadmills have been around since the 1800’s and are a staple at every gym and most homes.Naturally, they have been researched, developed, and perfected more than any other piece of cardio equipment.
  • Consistent Surface– As opposed to running outside, where you can encounter rocks, cracks, and other uneven surfaces, treadmills allow you to run on a consistent surface, year-round.
  • Full Body– Walking and running are rooted from the strides your legs are forced to make. In order to stride forward you have to engage your core and utilize momentum from your upper body.

Downfalls

  • Tough On Joints– In general, running can put stress on your spine, hips, knee, and ankle joints.
  • Safety Issue– Doing incline sprints can be dangerous if you are really “pushing the limits.”
  • Unnatural Handles Often times, people like to know their heart rate and find their target heart rate zone. Trying to hold on to the treadmill handles while you are running can be challenging and awkward.
  • Posture Problems Some studies show that the size of the belt can cause people to change the way they walk or run, leading to muscle imbalances and posture problems.
  • Difficulty– Running(especially on an incline) is hard. People are lazy. People will use the machine they find to be “easiest” and use that specific machine as a way to burn calories.
Consensus 
Overall, I think treadmills are the most effective cardio machine mainly because of the versatility in programs and the amount of muscles groups that are affected by a forward stride. I am a huge proponent of hill intervals (both walking and running) and I think using a treadmill to complete a high intensity training program can work wonders for your fitness goals.

2. Stair-Climber.

Benefits

  • Non Impact Conditioning Unlike the stress of running on a treadmill, stair masters can provide similar cardiovascular benefits without putting your joints in a vulnerable position.
  • Muscle Memory Almost everyone is guilty of taking the elevator or escalator in today’s technology-driven world. Naturally, the muscles in our legs become accustomed to a walking or running stride. Using a stair stepper will activate different muscles groups that may have been ignored in the past.
  • The Legs Feed The Wolf- The stair stepper is a great way to build leg muscles and increase lower body endurance. It also allows you to work on your balance and work on rehabilitative exercises.
Downfalls
  • Lower Body Specific- Climbing stairs definitely burns the quads and glutes, but your upper body is used sparingly in a stair stepper.
  • “Convenient” Handle Placement– The geniuses that created the stair stepper made handles that are easily accessible and almost invite you to hold on to them which can cause decreased energy output by your actual legs.
  • One Dimensional– You can’t change the incline on most stair steppers like you can with the treadmills which limits the overall versatility.
Consensus
Muscle memory is no joke. Using a stair stepper should be added to your weekly exercise regimen to activate different muscles in your legs that have become dormant due to technology-not your own personal laziness of taking the elevator everyday. (Yes I am guilty too)
3. The Elliptical 
Benefits
  • Non Impact Conditioning– Much like the stair stepper, the elliptical allows your body to emulate a running motion without causing the strenuous impact of actually running.
  • Cross-Training Aspect– Most ellipticals are now equipt with moveable handles which allow you to exercise your upper body and lower body simultaneously.
  • Reverse- Most ellipticals allow you to stride in reverse which can activate different muscle groups and put more emphasis on your quads.

Downfalls

  • Laziness– Ellipticals were a product of human complaint. “too hard”, “too much stress on my legs”. If running actually does cause pain on your joints, try an inclined/brisk walk on a treadmill. Check your heart rate and see how it compares to the elliptical.
  • Gravity- Elliptical pedals are suspended off the ground and lack the “weight-bearing effect” that is utilized when running.  Weight-bearing exercises strengthen bones and muscles, and is particularly important for older people in preventing osteoporosis.
  • Momentum- Operating an elliptical, especially on lower levels, can allow you to use the machines’ momentum to compensate for actual work output

The Consensus

If performed efficiently, the elliptical can be used as a valuable cardiovascular machine with interval training and tough, cross-training programs. Unfortunately, this is generally not the case. The elliptical’s reputation as the “lazy mans treadmill” is exactly that. Not to mention that ellipticals outrageously overestimate calorie expenditure.

4. The Stationary Bike

Benefits

  • Lower Body Endurance Bikes are great tools to build lower body strength, endurance, and stamina.
  • Limited Stress On Joints- Like the elliptical, the bike does not impose your entire body weight on your joints but stills allow you to reap enormous benefits.
  • Great For Rehabilitation- Bikes are great tools for people with pulled muscles or recovering from a lower-body injury.
  • Difficulty Factor- Cranking the resistance up on a bike can force you into a standing position and as a result cause enormous caloric expenditure.
Downfalls
  • Human Nature The average human spends 9.3 hours a day sitting. Why would you want to sit during exercise?
  • One Dimensional- The bike focuses primarily on lower body performance.

Conclusion

DON’T RELY ON CALORIE ESTIMATES BY CARDIO MACHINES. Joe Smith, exercise physiologist at UCSF’s Human Performance Center said the overestimation is not surprising.”I think the estimations are just that. You can’t necessarily believe everything you read on those machines.” However, cardio machines can be a great resource if you use them efficiently. Going on a 20 minute elliptical stroll will burn SOME calories, but will not give you the same benefits as an interval program on a treadmill. I give everyone credit for going to the gym and getting on a machine but why wouldn’t you use your time efficiently?

My Suggestion

Mix it up. Try different programs on different machines to constantly keep the body guessing. Rowing machines have started to make a return (thanks crossfit) and can be used as a great asset as well. Chances are, the machine you dislike the most is probably the one that is the hardest and causing the greatest amount of work output by your body. Lastly, spend one day a week doing some form of intervals. (See my Dec. 16 post for more on interval training)

Thanks for reading. Let me know if you have questions or comments.

From South Bend,

 Kevin
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2 responses

  1. Husband switched to a rower when joint problems killed running as an option. He’s very happy with it. I jog on a treadmill at a gym. I’m guilty of one-dimensional cardio b/c I find comfort in such a fixed routine that I don’t have to think about. But TY for the kick in the rear to mix it up. Esp since I’m starting to notice the beginnings of hip/back pain (I’m 46).

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