….”Cell phone? Check. Ear buds? Check. ….Oh? Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban are on the rocks?!? Ok, People Magazine- Check!”
There is no doubt this is the standard check list of items for the infamous “Cardio Confessional,” that 60 minutes on the elliptical we do every couple of days or so to stay “on top of our (weight loss) game” or to undo last nights late night pizza and beer binge. Like a hamster on a wheel we trudge away, mindless to what our bodies are doing, while distracting our brains with magazines headlines or daily emails. Once in a while glance up, check out the “whos who” at the gym, gage our time put in and calories burned . Oh those numbers are key! That’s what counts– right!?!
The Human Nature Test
When it comes to exercise there are two facts of human nature we can’t ignore:
- We are, by nature, a bit lazy. We are hardwired to conserve energy! Look at the pure number of cardio machines vs. strength training equipment in most gyms. Cardio machines outnumber resistance-training equipment 10 or 20 to 1. This is designed for a reason. Now, look at the amount of seated recumbent bikes and elliptical machines? Not by chance– most people, nearly 90%, flock to the easiest machines first!
- We are not very good at multitasking. Cardio machines make it easy to do two things at once. Take for example that talking on the phone while driving is outlawed in 14 states. Why? Studies show it is the equivalent to driving drunk on the likelihood of an accident. In exercise, our distractions lead to low exertion and poor form which limit calorie burn and can lead to overuse issues or injuries.
Cardio Machine Calories are WAY OFF
On average, people over-estimate the number of calories burned during a 25-minute treadmill walk by 72%.
The worst machine by far is the elliptical. The University of California, San Francisco, did a study for Good Morning America and found that the elliptical overestimated calorie expenditure by 42%! Meanwhile, treadmills overestimated by 13%, stair climbers by 12% and bikes by 7%. And, depending on the age and condition of the machine, these overestimates could be even higher!
So, if putting in the time is really not producing the calorie burn we thought, what should we do? Current research shows that doing strength training is actually the best way to raise our basal metabolic rate (our metabolism baseline). Even better, doing short bouts of high intensity interval workouts, HIIT, is the most time efficient and effective way to burn calories. HIIT training is exercise that alternates short burst of anaerobic activity and very low-intensity aerobic activity. This can be done with cardio activity like riding a bike or with resistance activity like bodyweight circuits. The major benefit HIIT training is that it breaks down your muscles faster and most of the calories actually are burned post workout as your body recovers.
If the standard cardio equipment is the only option that’s ok. Try to do some level interval training while on the equipment. Go as hard as you can for 30-60 seconds and then take small recovery of say half the time. Or, if you are injured or working on building strength just focus on increasing your numbers like distance or calories burned each time you work out.
Next time just “don’t just put in time”!