Getting your sweat on is fantastic. It’s something I advocate for every day, but are you working out the wrong way? Many times, I walk by a gym to see people running on the hamster mill (i.e. treadmill) or see people furiously pumping their arms on the elliptical thinking they are going somewhere fast. Another piece of gym equipment that is misused is the weight machine - particularly the hamstring curl machine and quad leg extension machine.
Why are these machines not good to use? Let’s find out why!
The Treadmill. Now, you may be thinking, why would the treadmill be on this list? Doesn’t Sarah love to run? The answer is yes, I love to run, but always outside on the trails! Weather (cold, rain, snow) rarely stops me. Seriously, the coldest to date has been -60 degrees F.
Running on a treadmill doesn’t mimic real life movement and running. You are running on a belt that is propelling you forward. Next, people rarely change the incline from 0.0. That incline is actually a downhill slant, not a flat road. Thirdly, most people set the speed that they cannot maintain and hold onto the rails for dear life. The treadmill rails are not part of the workout! They are simply there for safety. Also, your gait and foot strike change for the worse when on a treadmill. So when you start to have hip, knee or other problems you wonder why.
So, when can you use a treadmill? For very specific workouts (speed or hills) or during a blizzard or hurricane. If using the treadmill, make sure the incline level is set at 1.0 or higher, but try to run outside as much as possible. Preferably on dirt trails.
Go natural when running! Note: there is a plethora of cold running gear, so don’t let the excuse of running in the cold (or rain) stop you! Here are the top 7 pieces of winter running gear I sweat by.
The Elliptical. I cringe when I see and hear of people working out on the elliptical. Being drenched in sweat does not mean the exercise is effective. If you learn one thing from this article, I hope it's this: The elliptical machine does not mimic real life movement and does not build a strong body. You might be able to burn a lot of calories on this machine, but “burning calories” is not the goal of cardio. The goal of cardio is to raise your heart rate for a short period of time and then bring it back down, to build strong lungs, legs and overall body composition (which will burn calories). Instead of jumping on the elliptical for a 10 minute sprint, choose a cross training circuit that incorporates real life movement. Jump squats, jump rope, push, pull, throw, leap, crawl. Want to prevent injuries? Skip the elliptical for real life movements. If all else fails, just walk (or run) outside, or climb stairs.
The Weight Machines. Rarely are stationary weight machines effective. Once again, they don’t mimic real life movement. I see many of these used incorrectly all the time. The top machines would be the leg curl and quad leg extension (and also the bicep machine and ...) Again, they don’t build muscle the proper, effective way. Sure you might be able to pump out 15 reps, but your entire body is moving and jerking during the process. (No doubt you’ve seen this!) That is not the point of the exercise!
Instead of the leg curl machine, get a stability ball and do bridges with double leg curls and then work up to single leg curls. These are super duper effective and you might even curse under your breath by rep 7.
Instead of the quad leg extension machine, do pistols, one legged squats, run hills, cycle hills, lunges, box jumps. If you must do the quad leg extension machine, do one leg at a time. Keep the weight low enough so that your whole body doesn’t move during the exercise. Remember: time under tension. This is how you build muscle.
Strength training is really, really important, just make sure you are lifting the right way. Buy a kettlebell or two and some free weights. You can do so many exercises that build muscle the proper way.
The bottom line? Gym machines don’t translate into everyday, natural life movement. Stick with exercises that incorporate natural, real life movement. Lift heavy things, run outside (on trails), climb, pull, push, throw, jump.
What would you add to this list? What pieces of gym equipment have you seen being used effectively? Have you used the three machines listed above? Why? Leave a comment below! I always enjoy hearing from you*.
*Please keep the comments respectful and positive.
Photo credit: Barkaw