When I was in my 20s, I lived with a lady who got up at 4:30am to get to the gym before work. She was a self-professed not-morning person, so one day I asked her how she managed it. Her answer?
She slept in her gym clothes.
Being honest, no one is always motivated to get their workout done. This can be a really hard thing to admit, since our cultural narrative tells you that you should totally have no problems A) being motivated and B) fitting a workout into your day. (Ha!) It’s actually quite difficult to stay motivated sometimes; this is especially true when exercise is a new habit, or when your routine has seen a significant change (hello, COVID-19).
A big part of my job is actually helping people understand that there absolutely can be a difference between what you see in the fitness-related media (magazines, websites, TV shows) and how you actually feel about working out. That is, you don’t have to love it, or even like it 100% of the time. You definitely do not have to always be super gung-ho motivated.
There are things you can do that help you stay motivated.
This won’t be the first thing you’ll read to tell you to find something that you enjoy doing. Not surprisingly, enjoying what you do helps a lot. The whole “no pain, no gain” mindset is not a great one – really, who wants to hurt themselves? And it has some pretty big potential drawbacks, like physical injuries. No thank you. Enjoying what you do for exercise makes it a whole less lot like a chore. It doesn’t have to be intentional “exercise” either; some of my best workouts have come from gardening. Take a look at what you do regularly in life that gets you moving, especially if it helps get your heart rate up or gets you moving in different ways than you might normally.
In that vein, thinking outside the box can also be helpful, especially right now when so many of us are stuck in one spot (more or less). Make it worth doing. What can you do around home that gets you moving that you need to do anyway? Lots of bigger household chores can give you a good workout and the satisfaction of getting things done.
Of course, keeping your goal in mind makes a difference too. If you want something badly enough, you’ll make it happen! Which, duh, of course… but you might not realize how much you don’t connect the effort and the outcome, in the moment. It’s so easy to get stuck in the “I don’t want to/This is hard/But I really should do these other things…” and let that derail you. It can be helpful to keep a small reminder of your goal nearby, or near where you might be if you’re putting exercise off.
Lastly, bear in mind that you won’t always enjoy it, and you don’t have to. No one likes to talk about it, but “work” is part of work out. I wrote this piece about staying motivated a while ago, inspired by some of the different things people to do keep themselves going – especially when feeling unmotivated. It’s actually one I go back to frequently in my own efforts to keep on track! Hopefully some of this might help you too.
What exercises should you avoid? The Short Answer: None of them.
Ok, like everything in health care, that comes with caveats and exceptions that depend on your personal situation. But broadly speaking, exercise is GOOD for you – no matter your age!
Prompted by a facebook post I saw, I did a quick Google of “should exercise hurt after 40” (what the post itself specifically referred to). I was surprised and disappointed with the search results…
Squats – bad.
Running – bad. (Especially sprinting.)
Overhead shoulder pressing – bad.
Jumping, hopping, and plyometric exercise – bad.
Heavy weights – bad.
This list goes on and on. While there were a few exercises included that I do actually agree with (crunches and behind-the-neck lat pulldowns), that’s true for any age group, not just middle age or older.
In the sample of article I looked at, the rationale behind the exercises “to avoid” is that you might hurt yourself. This is a valid concern. However, these articles vastly over emphasize the risk of injury associated with the listed exercises. In fact, at times the suggestions are exactly the opposite of the recommendations made by numerous exercise science associations like the ACSMin the US, ESSAhere in Australia, or BASESin the UK – just to name a few.
Some of the most common exercises recommended to avoid, once in middle age and beyond:
Rationale behind avoiding this: Plyometrics are power-based exercises based on jumping, hopping, or throwing, all of which involve explosive power, high force production, and have the potential to be very high impact. It’s suggested that high impact could be damaging to your joints, especially if you don’t have a lot of muscle or strength, or are otherwise not used to training.Muscle mass and strength act as the joints shock absorbers and help the body absorb force, spreading it through the limbs and not just pounding it into the joints.
What’s the actual risk? It depends on how high or far you’re jumping or hopping, or otherwise how much “oomph” you’re putting into the exercise. Higher, farther, or faster requires more force, which in turn can lead to higher impact. Remember that impact itself is not a bad thing – higher levels of impact are in part what helps maintain and prevent loss of bone density.
How to do this – safely! Even though plyometrics are high intensity and high impact, they can be done safely with the right prep:
Warm up well with some lower intensity movement (could be on a bike or treadmill, or some easy strength work like body weight squats) so the muscles are best prepared to produce and absorb force.
If you’re new to plyometrics, you’ll still be able to safely do small movements like hopping from one foot to the other, or jumping up onto a small/short box, or jumping over a line drawn on the ground (think of playing hopscotch). Smaller movements help the muscles get better at the quick contractions needed for force production, while conditioning the joints and bones to better withstand impact. As you get stronger and feel better, you can work on going higher or farther.
Lastly, work on controlling the moment of impact – when you land, you’ll want to squat slightly once you make contact with the ground. This “sinking in” is what helps the body absorb and spread force, and is really the key to injury prevention with plyometrics – for any age.
Why you should do this kind of exercise: Developing muscular power helps maintain muscle mass, which naturally decreases with age (starting around the age of 30!). More importantly, plyometric exercise helps the nervous system stay sharp, maintaining agility and keeping your reflexes and reaction times quick. This becomes increasingly important with advancing age – good agility and fast reflexes make it easier to catch yourself if you trip or fall, significantly decreasing your injury risk.
Rationale behind avoiding this: Lifting heavy weights can create muscle strain and joint stress – presumably, anyway. Some of the articles I reviewed don’t even discuss why lifting heavy weights might be bad for you.
What’s the actual risk? The risk of lifting heavy weight is the potential for “too much (stress on your muscles/joints), too soon”. Your muscles and joints can be conditioned for heavy weight, but picking up something really heavy without preparing your body for it does create higher injury risk.
How to do this – safely! Heavy is all relative. In strength training terms, “heavy” usually refers to a weight you can lift five or six times, but not more (and sometimes fewer). For each person, and for each exercise, that weight will be different. What’s “heavy” to you might not be heavy to the person next to you.
For functional strength, a “heavy weights” workout means choosing a weight that you can lift 4-6 times in a set, and still feel like you could have done one or two reps more. As you get stronger, you’ll be able to increase that weight for the same number of reps. If you’re a strength-training beginner, you may want to take a few weeks or even a couple of months doing higher rep sets (i.e. 8-10 reps per set) to help condition your muscles and joints to handle the load.
Also important when lifting heavy weights: Warming up, in this case with trigger pointing or foam rolling, dynamic stretching (stretching with movement), and light weight sets of your chosen exercise(s). This helps prepare your muscles and joints for the heavier sets to come.
Why you should do this kind of exercise: Loss of strength is one of the major factors that limits quality of life and your ability to keep up with it. Heavier weight lifting helps you maintain strength as well as muscle mass. If you lift weights without challenging yourself, you miss out on the opportunity to keep yourself strong and capable.
Sprinting and High Intensity Cardio
Rationale behind avoiding this: Naysayers will tell you that sprinting, jumping jacks, and other high intensity and high impact cardio can cause joint damage and put your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other soft tissues at risk for injury. As with heavy weights, this is said to be due to the powerful muscle contractions that create high intensity movement, as well as higher impact loads on the joints.
What’s the actual risk? Way lower than you think. Consider this: A study of 3000 masters athletes with an average age of 53 years, encompassing a wide range of track and field events, found that less than 2.5% of people presented with injuries related to high intensity efforts. That doesn’t automatically mean that you are free and clear to go as hard as you like. After all, this group was studied during competition, meaning that they had been in training for these types of efforts. But it also shows that you can safely train and compete with high effort.
How to do this – safely! Again, as with heavy weights, effort and intensity is all relative. One of the best ways to track your workout intensity is a 0-10 scale of effort (in exercise science, we talk about this as a Rating of Perceived Exertion, or RPE). If you aren’t used to high intensity exercise, ease into this sort of training with just a few short efforts (periods of time, i.e. 10 seconds). You might try include 10-20 seconds of faster walking, running, cycling, or whatever cardio you are doing, at a faster speed or higher intensity, so that you are feeling like it’s a 6 or 7 out of 10 effort. Make sure that you are well warmed up with the right sort of stretches and DIY massage for the muscles you’ll be using. Bonus: If you are planning on getting into high intensity exercise, treat yourself to a remedial or deep tissue massage to get your body better prepared.
Why you should do this kind of exercise: High intensity exercises are great bang for your buck.
You can burn the same amount of calories as a low intensity working in a much shorter time frame, which is great when you have a lot of other things in life going on and struggle to fit workouts in.
High intensity means higher heart rates during the workout as well. In turn, this leads to a phenomenon called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption, or EPOC. Basically, when your body is working super hard, it’s using up a lot of stored fuel in the form of glycogen (what carbohydrates are broken down into) and fat molecules. After a workout, your body will still be working hard – to replenish those fuel sources, so you’ll still be burning calories after your workout. The harder the work, the more you’ll burn afterwards.
You’ll do your bones a favor: High intensity exercise (either moderate to heavy weights, or higher impact exercises like sprinting, jumping, or plyometrics) will stimulate your bone to grow stronger, or at the very least limit bone loss. This is especially important if your calcium or vitamin D levels are low (both of these are necessary for good bone density), or if you have or are at risk of osteopenia or osteoporosis.
The Bottom Line
Any exercise can be bad for you, or have high risk of injury, depending on your personal circumstances. However, most exercises can also be safe for you, provided you use some common sense with your approach. Your rules of thumb:
Keep it pain free
Good joint alignment makes for good exercise technique
“Challenging” doesn’t mean “On the verge of passing out” – For weights, this means getting to the end of a set and thinking you could have done just one or two more with good technique.
Pay attention to your body – Difference between hard work and injury
Don’t slam yourself around – Whether you’re doing jumping, hopping, or other plyometric exercises, climbing up the stairs, or using a weight machine, control is the name of the game. If you can hear a thud when you make contact, try to slow down the movement slightly.
Use common sense and listen to your body, and you can have a lifetime of good workout and good health ahead of you, no matter what age you start.
The idea of reaching 10,000 steps on a daily basis is daunting for many people. In the US, one count averaged daily steps at 4800. In Australia the average hits around 7500 steps per day. That’s a bit of time on your feet, but still well below the 10,000 steps that gets tossed around a lot.
It bears asking: How much do you risk by not hitting your 10K target?
Less than the publicity would make you believe. As it turns out, there’s no real scientific basis for the recommendation of reaching 10,000 daily steps. Rather, this number likely originated in Japan in the mid-1960s, either as part of a marketing campaign for a pedometer, or based on the name of a pedometer brand. As an aside, it’s a little too convenient for such a nice round number to be the magic number to target for good health. Our bodies don’t often work so neatly!
The number of steps you take every day does have an impact on your overall health. Numerousstudiesshowthat the more steps you average on a daily basis, the healthier you’ll be. This suggests you’ll enjoy a longer life span, with a higher quality of life, than if you average fewer daily steps.
Daily step targets
Somewhat frustratingly, there doesn’t seem to be a minimum number you do need in order to achieve health benefits; We just know that the more you do, the better your health will be. As for getting steps just walking around, rather than going for a workout walk? Interestingly, health markers and life expectancy seem to be strongly linked with simply being on your feet more, as a designated workout or not.
In one recent study, the biggest decreases in risk of death occurred when inactive women became more active – even if it was nowhere near the 10,000 mark! Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at the daily step count of about 16,000 older women over the course of a week. They found that in the four years following the study, those with the lowest step counts were also the most likely to die.
This was true even at the relatively low end of the step count spectrum. Women who averaged approximately 4400 daily steps had lower mortality rates than those who took about 2700 steps a day. A higher number of daily steps saw an additional decrease in overall death rates, up through about 7500 steps daily.
So don’t sweat the 10K mark – just get up and get moving!
Using an elliptical machine or cross-trainer is a close substitute for walking or jogging on a treadmill or outside. Your body should move in roughly the same way, whether you’re walking around during day to day life, cruising on the treadmill, or turning the pedals on an elliptical machine.
When you walk, jog, or run, your heel leaves the ground as your back leg powers you forward. This same movement is used with an elliptical trainer. The main difference (obviously) is that you don’t actually go anywhere. To get your workout in and heart rate up, you still have to move the pedals, which requires the same “push” from the back leg that you use to move yourself forward when walking or running. (If you’ve tried using the crosstrainer with your heels stuck flat, it’s probably felt kind of awkward, yeah? That’s why!)
That doesn’t mean that you should spend your whole workout without your heel on the pedal – that would be like walking around on your toes all the time. Your heel should lift at least slightly as you bring your back leg forward, and be in contact with the pedal as your leg moves from in front to behind. How much acutal “lift” you get will depend on the machine you use, as some have a more oval-shaped pedal track, which will require more heel lift, and some will have a more circular pedal track, which might have little lift, or even just a shift of your body weight onto your toes.
The heel lift is part of your normal stride or gait. But it’s just one piece of the puzzle in efficient walking, running, or crosstraining. Lifting your heel as your back leg prepares to swing forward helps connect your foot and ankle with the other muscles in the back of the leg, and through the back to the opposite arm (using an opposite arm-leg swing pattern helps us stay balanced and not falling over). The muscles of your calf contract to lift the heel and push the foot into the ground, working in a coordinated pattern with the other muscles used in your stride pattern. Changing the way you move one part of your body (or prevent movement) can greatly impact many other body parts, and may predispose you to higher stress and strain on your soft tissues and joints.
I’ve answered a similar question over at Quora if you want more info. But your best bet? Let your body move naturally. If you’re not in pain during or after your workout, you’re likely ok!
Have your own question about your health and fitness? Submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org get a clear answer on how you can move easily and feel great.
Live in an apartment that has a gym in the building? It’s so convenient… for you and everyone else! An apartment or home gym workout is gold, for convenience. On the other hand… One of the challenges in getting a good workout in an apartment gym is that they are usually small, can be crowded, and the equipment is sometimes of questionable value.
Most apartment complexes with gym facilities have a treadmill, a stationary bike, and sometimes an elliptical or crosstrainer machine. There’s one of everything and that one is frequently in use, especially if you’re working out before work or after hours. But why tie yourself to the same old gym equipment? Here are some fresh workouts that you can use for cardio or aerobic exercise, without slaving away on the treadmill… In fact, you can stay away from the cardio machines entirely.
These workouts are travel friendly as well, allowing you to keep on top of training even when you’re away from home. Perfect for hotel gyms or even your hotel room if you’re happy to travel with an exercise band (the superband referred to below). And of course, great for home workouts too!
Body Weight Circuit
Jumping jacks/Star jumps
Side to side hops
Plank shoulder taps or Plank shift
Complete 2-5 rounds of 10-15 reps per exercises. See it in action here!
Super Band Workout
Superband front squats
Superband shoulder press
Superband bent over row
Superband monster walk (side-to-side and front-to-back)
Complete 2-5 rounds of 8-12 reps per exercise. See it in action here!
Bent over row
Complete 2-5 rounds of 8-12 reps per exercise. See it in action here!
With any and all of these exercises, remember that:
Only perform exercises that you can do safely and pain-free. If you aren’t used to moderate or high intensity exercise, chat with your doctor before starting an exercise program. You can test your Exercise Readiness with this quick questionnaire.
All of these workouts are flexible. If you like or dislike certain exercises, you can swap them out, or just add others in to create more variety. Choose your own adventure!
If you’re keen to workout on your own? Keep yourself going with this additional recommended reading:
You’re looking for someone to care about you, enough so that they want the best for you.
Could be dating, could be finding a new healthcare provider. Whether going well or not, these two situations have a lot of similarities. They boil down to some base questions:
Are you meeting the right kind of person?
In dating, you want to meet someone that you have something in common with.
In healthcare, you want to meet a provider that has training “in common” with your condition. A doctor for illnesses, a dietician for nutritional advice, a massage therapist and exercise physiologist for muscle imbalance and injury prevention – the list could go on and on.
Are you meeting them at the right time?
I recently had a client come in with debilitating back pain. She could hardly move. She’d already been to the physiotherapist, who had given her some exercises to increase her core strength (the right solution, long term)… that she couldn’t do, because she could hardly move. What she needed was the right type of healthcare for her present condition – in this case, remedial massage to relieve the muscle spasm and allow the exercises to work. For the most effective and efficient outcome, you need the right healthcare at the right time.
Do you like them?
In healthcare and dating, there are many fish in the sea. Your doctor, exercise physiologist, dietician, remedial massage therapist, physiotherapist, etc. has approximately the same training as all the others in their field. But, as with dating, just because a person meets basic criteria doesn’t mean that you have to stick with them. Better healthcare happens when you have good communication, and good communication happens when you connect with people. Look for someone who listens to you, asks good questions about how you feel, wants your input, looks to make you a part of the solution, and is nice to you!
(And just like dating, when you find a good one, hang onto them!)
I don’t have (or want) a gym membership. What can I do every day to get stronger?
Muscle mass naturally decreases with age, about 1% per year from your mid-30s onward. Strength decreases along with that loss. This is easy to ignore – when you’re in your 30s, 40s, 50s, it’s easy to not notice any losses, or feel like you’ve got plenty of time to make them up. And there’s no shortage of people that say they figure it’s just part of getting old.
While these losses are indeed part of the aging process, that doesn’t mean you just have to sit there and accept them. There’s lot that can be done to maintain strength and muscle mass regardless of age. And you definitely do not need a gym. Instead, get creative and find ways to move your body against resistance. Some of the examples commonly discussed with our personal training and exercise physiology clients include:
Do some pushups.For easier versions, choose an incline option, with hands on the wall, the kitchen table, counters or benchtops, back of the sofa etc. The lower you get to the ground, the harder the exercise gets. You’ll want to find the balance between the difficulty of the exercise and your ability to maintain good technique – if your back hurts or you can’t maintain a straight line while doing it, find something easier.
Carry your groceries in a shopping basket or bags, rather than a cart. This will help build upper body strength and perhaps surprisingly, core stretch – the core muscles will work hard to counterbalance the external weight and keep you in an upright position. It’s important to alternate which side you carry items on, only using one can actually create an imbalance in core strength and muscle tension. Bonus: If you park farther away, you’ll carry grocery bags for a longer period (building upper body and core strength) and get more steps.
Take the stairs.This may seem more like cardiovascular work, and climbing stairs does count as aerobic exercise, but it’s also a great strength builder for the lower body. Minimize your risk of knee pain by taking your bodyweight through the back of the foot, not just the toes. Bonus: Carry things while you’re doing it for increased resistance.
Squat down to pick things up. Instead of bending over from the waist to pick something up off the floor, squat down by reaching down and back through your hips and sitting on your heels. NOTE: This move is often stiff and uncomfortable for people who sit a lot, especially at first. Squat as low as you can and keep your chest lifted to minimize back strain. Even if it’s not a large movement, this will actually help you regain joint mobility and movement ability through the hips over time.
Do some sit-to-stand squats.Find a chair, sofa, stool, etc. that is slightly lower than what you normally sit on. Reach backwards with your hips and slowly lower yourself down to the seat, controlling your movement all the way. Push through your heels to stand back up. Repeat 10-15 times per set.
Daily activities can be safe strength builders as long as you keep two key points in mind. Anything you do need to be pain-free, both during and after the movement (noting that there is a difference between the muscle burn from 1000 crunches and the catching, stabbing, sharp pains that often go along with acute injuries). The first rule is always “Stay Pain Free”. The second point: Strength building still takes effort, regardless of where you do it. That means that whatever you’re lifting, moving, or carrying will still need to be heavy enough to feel like effort. There are many many ways to achieve this, so get creative. What can you come up with?
Another great question from one of our exercise physiology clients in St Lucia:
Should I exercise when I’m sick?
In broad terms, moderate exercise and good fitness support good health. But improving your fitness levels doesn’t guarantee that you’ll never catch a cold or the flu. Here are your science-supported guidelines for exercising when you’re sick.
Consider how sick you actually are. If your illness is moderate to severe, with an associated fever, aching muscles, extreme fatigue, or swollen glands, skip your workout and rest up. Do what you would normally do to get yourself better, whether that’s heading to the doctor or heading to bed with some extra vitamin C.
If you are severely ill, with the above symptoms, you may need as much as two to four weeks away from moderate to intense exercise. Illness and exercise both stress the immune system in the same way, and depending on what type of viral or bacterial infection, pushing through to work out when you’re sick can actually make your illness worse. In extreme cases, this can lead to lasting damage to your heart or lungs.
If your illness is minor, without any associated fever, muscles aches or fatigue, or swollen glands, you might be ok to exercise. General guidelines suggest that:
If your symptoms occur above the neck (stuffy or runny nose, dry cough, or sore/scratchy throat), you’re safe to start with easy exercise or activity – think short sessions that are low intensity, like heading out for a walk. If you find your symptoms get worse, stop exercise until they improve.
If you’ve got symptoms below the neck (fever, aching muscles, vomiting, diarrhea, or anything else to do with your digestive tract), rest up until your symptoms go away.
Use your common sense. Do you feel too tired to work out, or otherwise just don’t feel up to it? Your body is giving you the answer right there! You wont make any gains when working out under fatigue or illness, and in fact you may prolong your recovery. Get some extra sleep and get back to quality exercise when you’re feeling ready for it.
Putting your workouts on hold can be frustrating, especially when you’re working hard to build your momentum and maintain your progress. If you’re feeling this, take a minute to step back and look at the big picture: You could push through and do your workout, but will it be worth it? You’re unlikely to make any gains in fitness, and may prolong your illness and recovery. We all need more sleep anyway, so indulge in that, get better faster, and get back to life as you want it!
For more information:
Gleeson, M. (Ed.). (2006). Immune function in sport and exercise. Sydney: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
Plowman, S. A., & Smith, D. L. (2017). Exercise Physiology For Health, Fitness, and Performance (5th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Get started with a safe exercise that will improve your health and fitness with an in-home exercise physiology program from HealthFit Coaching. Regardless of your current health levels, you can safely work out to improve your health, fitness, energy levels, and quality of life. Contact us now to find out how.
To improve cardiovascular fitness, you need to challenge your cardiovascular system. Simply put, that means moving your body in a way that increases your heart rate and makes you breath harder. Of course, you can get fit without a gym membership, but the variety of cardio machines under one roof can make your cardio workout a little more enticing. Make sure you get the best cardio workout by picking the machine that will work best for you. That mean safe and keeping you pain free, effective, and maybe even enjoyable!
Stair Climber / Stair Stepper
The rundown: The stair stepper (or stair climber) is exactly what it sounds like. Generally the “stairs” take two forms: A treadmill-type “staircase”, or a set of foot plates that moves up and down.
The stairs are tough! Prolonged stair climbing will quickly elevate your heart rate, especially with a faster speed. But “tough” is all relative – you have control over speed or resistance to make the workout somewhat easier or harder. And don’t feel bad about giving yourself plenty of breaks throughout the workout. It will make it easier to get through the session and you’ll lose little or no benefit from it.
The stair stepper can be good for keeping your joints healthy. You need use a bigger range of motion, as each step will require more bend in the hips, knees, and ankles to lift your leg and take the “step”. This greater range of motion can help keep joints well lubricated and mobile.
Provides a nice added strength boost for the lower body. Because you have to take bigger steps, the muscles in your lower body will work harder. This means you’ll develop more strength in the major muscle groups in your legs (your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves).
The stair stepper may not be the best choice if you have existing knee pain, though that doesn’t automatically rule it out, either. Use a foam roller or trigger point ball on your quads (front of thigh) and glutes (butt and sides of hips) prior to taking your first step up. Loosening tension through these areas will take a lot of pressure off of the knees.
Getting tired? DON’T lean on the arm railings – this takes away much of the “work” and can put your body in an awkward position, which can lead to physical stress through the joints of your spine and upper body, and can long-term set you up for injury. If you feel the need to lean, take a 1-2 minute break instead, either by slowing the machine way down, or by hopping off and walking around.
The Verdict: The stair stepper is one of the most effective cardio machines at the gym, because the movement is inherently high demand. Plus you get the added bonus of strength building through the lower body and large ranges of movement.
The rundown: This machine guides you through low-impact movement that’s a cross between running and cross-country skiing.
Many machine have optional arm bars. Use them! Adding in upper body movement will lead to a larger increase in heart rate than just using the stationary handles. More muscles moving = higher heart rate and more calories burned.
This is generally the closest you get to running and still keep in low-impact (actually, no impact). If your elliptical machine has an incline setting, give yourself a boost here for a greater range of motion, which can help joint health.
Because you generally keep your feet connected to the foot plates, the gliding motion can sometimes lead to discomfort through the joints, especially if you’re already holding tension through the muscles of the hip and thigh (muscle tension can sometimes create more twist and torque through joints).
The Verdict: Excellent if you like to run but don’t feel comfortable with the impact any longer. If you choose an elliptical workout, get your upper body involved to maximize your results.
Stationary cycle / Spin bike
The rundown: Another low-impact cardio machine, stationary cycles and spin bikes can give you a great workout with minimal joint stress, provide you set the bike up to suit your body. Because you can set the resistance, you can somewhat turn your cycle workout into a strength builder as well.
These bikes can still lead to joint stress and strain, even without the impact. To prevent joint pain, make sure the bike settings are adjusted correctly for your body. Seat height should be set so that your knees are slightly bent when straight out, and the distance between the front of the seat and the “handlebars” is about the same as the distance from your elbow to your fingertips. This will minimize your risk of knee pain or lower back pain, though again, the risks are small!
Increase the resistance to simulate riding up a hill. This can be an excellent way to build strength in your quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
Variable resistance and the smooth motion of the pedal stroke means that stationary cycles and spin bikes are great in almost every situation, from knee surgery rehab to cross training for high level sports.
Leaning too heavily on the handlebars/arm bars can result in a lot on tension buildup through the neck and shoulders. During your ride, sit up straight frequently and shake out your shoulders and arms to keep everything loose.
The verdict: Great for use in almost every situation, as the speed and resistance can guide smooth movements with minimal physical stress. Make sure you know how to set the bike up for your arm and leg length to keep yourself comfortable and pain free.
The rundown: This machine is one of the most frequently mis-used, which is a shame. It can offer a really phenomenal workout!
Out of all the standard cardio equipment you find in a gym, this piece has the highest potential for a high intensity workout. Good rowing technique requires a powerful push with the legs, and a pull with the torso and arms, meaning that almost every muscle in the body is working hard.
This machine also allows you to set your own speed and resistance, so the workout doesn’t have to be crazy challenging. An important note though: make sure you have enough resistance to work against, especially with the leg push part of the movement – without this, there is a greater risk of losing control of the movement, which can lead to physical stress and injury.
One of the most common complaints with using the rowing machine is a sore lower back, and/or neck and shoulders. This happens when you lean too far back as you pull the handle, and when you pull the handle too high. At the end of the pull, you should be leaning back only slightly, and definitely not more than about 45 degrees, and the handle should be pulled in towards your bellybutton.
You might want to start small with this machine. Because there is a lot more upper body involvement, many people tire quite quickly. Interval training is a great option on the rower, or just start with 5 minutes’ work and combine it with another type of cardio.
The verdict: Once you’re comfortable with the technique, this is a really excellent option for a big workout in a short amount of time – big being relative, of course!
Treadmill (Walking, Jogging, or Running)
The rundown: The most well-known of the cardio equipment, you can walk, jog, or run in a controlled environment.
The tread can be a little bit more joint friendly than concrete, as it provides some cushion to help decrease the impact of each step. But that and the movement of the tread make it less work than walking or running outside. Get all of the benefits: Use a little incline to cancel out the “give” of the tread. A 1% incline is roughly equal to the work of walking on the ground, without the loss of cushion.
Don’t lean on the hand supports or arm railings. If you aren’t using your arms, your missing out on natural body movement and extra calories burned. This is especially true if you’re walking at a high incline, holding the handles and leaning backwards – you’re missing out on a lot of the benefits, and it’s not particularly safe on the off chance that your phone rings and you absentmindedly let go. THE ONE EXCEPTION: If you need some help with balance, by all means, hang on. Help maintain good body mechanics by keeping your hands somewhat in front of your torso, and away you go.
One of the benefits of using a treadmill is that you get your workout without going anywhere, so if you get tired, you get to just stop and get off. BUT. Please let the tread come to a complete stop before stepping off. Those videos you see off people flying off the back of the treadmill? I’ve seen that happen in real life and it’s not fun.
You’ll find most of these cardio machines in most gyms, but this isn’t a complete list of the equipment you might have available, nor is it a complete list of pros and cons. Always chat to a personal trainer or exercise physiologist about which cardio workout will be right for you and your specific situation.
Have questions about what exercise physiology can help you with? Get in touch!
HealthFit Coaching looks after inner city Brisbane and the western suburbs, including Spring Hill, Paddington, Bardon, Rosalie, Milton, Auchenflower, Toowong, Taringa, St Lucia, Indooroopilly, Chapel Hill, Kenmore, Graceville, and Chelmer.
Want to know the biggest secret about my life as a health coach/exercise physiologist/personal trainer?
I’m just a normal person.
I like all types of fried potatoes, working out is sometimes more effort than it seems like it’s worth, and I definitely do not have a six-pack. I’ve been through periods of being super active and fit, and periods of being super lazy, and while I much prefer feeling and being super fit and healthy, I frequently struggle to make the time for it.
It’s called real life – as least, it is for most of us. There are great trainers out there who are able to juggle big workouts, prepping and eating routine meals, making their body their whole focus – Awesome for them. I’ll even admit that I’ve more than a little jealous. I had that for a few years and it was great, but it was also when I was in college with the luxury of plenty of time to spend on it.
In the years since, I’ve stopped beating myself up over NOT doing all those things. I’ve found my balance between eating healthy and really enjoying my meals, between being fit and being out of shape (though I often sit slightly below my ideal fitness level). These days, my ultimate goal is to strike that balance between making my entire life about my body, fitness and health, and being able to enjoy what life has to offer.
So, my big secrets?
My fitness levels fluctuate A LOT and I have to really work for what I have. My biggest challenge is balancing my time between every life demand in a way that I’m happy with (or at least can live with). Sometimes workouts lose out.
I love eating. LOVE IT. I love movie popcorn and giant salads and everything in between. Portion control is my nemesis.
I struggle to make myself a priority. I spend all day every day talking to people about taking care of themselves. I’m the worst at taking my own advice!
Stress-eating: Ugh, yes, that’s me.
I would much rather watch Netflix than go to the gym. (Though as with most people, I get a lot more satisfaction from going to the gym, once it’s all said and done.)
I may or may not read on my phone every night in bed, even though I know all the science says it’s bad for your sleep. Oops.
The point is, this is real life. We can have all the education and experience in the world – I’m not short on either and definitely know better – and making the best choices is still challenging. I live those choices day in and day out, just like everyone else. But these days I’m ok with those challenges. They are a lot easier now that I’ve learned to make life about habits and choices I enjoy, rather than choices that feel like chores that I should or have to do. I’ve found my balance between the effort I’m happy to make, and the results I’m happy to have. I’m launching this new section, The Secret Life Of A Health Coach: Food and Fitness in Real Life, to share what those choices look like for me, and to give you some ideas and support in finding your own balance.