4 Gym Machines for Boosting Your Cardio Without Injury

Going to the gym is a great way to work a comprehensive cardio routine into your day, rain or shine. There are many different gym-centric approaches to establishing an efficient cardiovascular regimen, each posing its own risks and rewards. Below are several of the most popular cardio options found at your local gym and a few tips for using them safelywhile also maximizing their health benefits.

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1. Treadmill

According to WebMD, “the treadmill burns the most calories of any of the cardiovascular machines available at most gyms.” That said, walking or running on a treadmill can pose similar joint distress to that which you might encounter on an outdoor jog. Exercise physiologist Kathleen Alexander told WebMD, “Every time your foot hits the ground, the impact forces are 3.7 times your weight just walking on the planet.”

Impact on a treadmill is less severe than what it would be on an outdoor run, given that the treadmill is moving beneath your feet and guiding you along with each step. Still, be mindful of your knees and lower back. As with any exercise, overexertion is a risk for injury!

2. Elliptical

The American College of Sports Medicine reports that ellipticals “provide an excellent alternative workout to running without the high impact on joints and muscles.” According to WebMD, elliptical machines have a high calorie burn rate — especially when the arms are incorporated — due to users remaining in a standing position throughout their physical activity.

While ellipticals involve less strain on a person’s joints, there is still plenty of risk for injury, most of which can be avoided, provided you are mindful throughout your use of the machine. Livestrong recommends that users be particularly aware of maintaining good posture, which will aid in the prevention of back and sternum strain. 

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3. Stationary bike

The stationary bike is agreed upon by many experts as posing the least risk for injury. The American College of Sports Medicine calls this machine “safe and effective.” The machine provides what the organization refers to as “low-impact cardiovascular exercise,” due to the user’s feet being held in place. Because a user is seated during this exercise, the stationary bike is a less efficient calorie-burning activity, taking about 4 miles’ worth of pedaling to burn 100 calories.

That said, any mindful cardio is good cardio, and this is a safe, consistent way to feel the burn without wearing out your joints. Note: To avoid knee strain, exercise physiologist Matthew Vukovich tells WebMD to make sure that the stationary bike is fitted to your body proportions.

4. Rowing machine

The American College of Sports Medicine describes the rowing machine as “a low-impact exercise that utilizes the arms, abdomen, back and legs to provide a total-body workout.” The fact that this machine effectively works out the entire body speaks to its cardiovascular efficiency, but also to the possible risks associated with its use.

The rowing machine requires a degree of coordination: It engages the upper body (arms and back), core (abdominals), and legs. Users must push with their legs while pulling with their arms. Common errors in the use of rowing machines include “allowing the knees to flex too early on in the stroke, as well as allowing the seat to slide out from under your body upon release.” The American College of Sports Medicine also recommends that the rower not combine increased resistance with a slower stroke rate, as this can put the back in compromised position, particularly if the user is predisposed toward back injury.

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Getting lean and mean is a gradual process, and what exercising safety really comes down to is what an individual’s body can handle. For your protection, WebMD suggests alternating your fitness routine regularly so that various muscle groups are being worked on any given day. This will help avoid overworking one specific set of muscles during your workouts, and it will prevent the inevitable boredom that accompanies the same old “30 minutes on the treadmill” drag every day.

It is also important for a fitness enthusiast (or non-enthusiast!) of any level to set realistic goals for his or her body. Being overly ambitious in your weight loss, calorie burn, or muscle growth objectives is a risky move — not only physically, but psychologically. While it is important to push yourself to the limit, an overly ambitious mindset can lead to an often needless sense of failure while also increasing your chances of injury. Push yourself, but only to a point where your body can stand it.

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