Which Piece of Cardio?

Health & Wellness

Tips for Living Healthy in South Arkansas

Jason Rogers
Manager, JRMC Wellness Centers

Treadmills, elliptical machines and stationary bikes are the three main types of machines for cardiovascular exercise. All offer you the opportunity to create aerobic workouts that burn calories and strengthen the heart. All are primarily lower-body in nature, but each works your muscles differently and offers different benefits. Over time your best bet for creating the most effective program would be to use all three.

“Cardio” machines are designed to help you condition your heart by raising your heart rate for extended periods of time. A positive side effect
is that the activity burns excess calories, aiding in body weight management. The intensity with which you undertake the activity is what determines the level of increased conditioning as well as the number of calories burned.

Stationary bikes differ from treadmills and ellipticals in that you are seated when performing the activity. A recumbent bike – large seat and seatback, with your feet more in front of you – allows for non-weight bearing activity. This position puts much less stress on the joints of the lower body, the hip, knee, and ankle. An upright exercise bike – smaller seat, and your feet are under you – allows for more weight bearing by the ability to stand on the pedals while exercising. This uses the muscles of the lower body differently. An exercise bike is almost completely non-impact. Calorie burn on an exercise bike is dependant on how much resistance you use and how fast you pedal.

Depending on the speed, a treadmill may either be (relatively) low-impact or high-impact. Your heart rate and work are dependant on the speed and/or incline of the machine. You get no upper-body workout unless you use dumbbells at the same time. Running on a treadmill is more stressful on the ankles, knees, hips and back than using a stationary bike or an elliptical.

Ellipticals create aerobic workouts that may include both lower-body and upper-body muscle use if the machine is equipped for it. Also, if the machine lets you create a reverse pedaling motion, you can work your calves and hamstrings more than with a forward leg motion. Depending on whether the foot platform on the machine is located directly under you, or slightly in front of or behind your hips, you might experience different levels of knee, shin and hip discomfort.

In an age when we try to quantify everything as “good” or “bad”, “better” or “best”, we don’t seem to have much tolerance for variety. To prevent boredom, repetitive stress injuries, and a plateau effect from using the same muscles to perform the same exercises week after week, consider using all three machines, whether during a single workout or on different days.

The JRMC Wellness Centers, located in Pine Bluff and White Hall, offer a variety of fitness options for all ages and interests. Free weights, machines, cardio equipment, personal trainers and a full schedule of Les Mills classes are available at both facilities. For more information call the Pine Bluff (541-7890) or White Hall (850-8000) facility.


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