Saturday, April 4, 2009

Spoilt for Choice!

Enter a Gym and you will find one hundred and million machines that shout out their effectiveness towards keeping you fit and healthy! But you can afford only 30-40 minutes before you start work!
My friend calls it the 7’o clock dilemma – since he finds it easy to follow the schedule designed for him when he reaches the gym at 6.30am, but when that becomes 7am, he has to spend nearly 10 minutes just to decide what to do on that day!!!

Well here are some suggestions – whether you are like my friend or you just want to be informed!
We will start with Cardio machines. In case you are pressed for time and are not following any rigorous exercise schedule or trying to participate in a competition(!) – always opt for 30 minutes of a cardio workout.
The Cardio machines popularly seen in any gym are – treadmills, elliptical cross-trainers, upright cycles, recumbent cycles, steppers and rowing machines.
Treadmills provide the simplest and the most natural form exercise since they simulate the act of walking and can involve the full body muscles besides targeting the cardiovascular system primarily.
They are designed to provide resistance, incline angles and different speeds at which you can move.
The incline option simulates climbing a slope and puts the focus on particular muscles more than the others, as compared to walking on a flat ground.

Always choose a speed which keeps you slightly out of breath, and enable you to maintain the speed for atleast 10 to 30 minutes. In otherwords, instead of running for 5 minutes and exhausting yourself, choose to walk for longer durations, increase your stamina and then progress on to running.
Remember, fat burns in prolonged activities which last for atleast 20 to 30 minutes and to sustain such durations, the intensity can be lower to begin with and gradually increased over a period of a month.

Although treadmill walking or running is simpler than walking or running on a road outside, it can still provide an effective workout, particularly in the winters!
The treadmill, which we discussed last time is one of the most popular machines in the gym. There are so many people, who do not feel like they did a cardio workout if they do not walk on it for atleast 10-15 minutes!
However, one of the other popular machines is the Elliptical Crosstrainer – my personal favourite too!
It is called elliptical since the path followed by the motion caused by your legs is an ellipse!

The beauty of the Crosstrainer is that it is a highly non-impact machine – as in since the feet are constantly in touch with the feet-pads and there is no lifting and placing of the feet, there are no chances of impact. Impact forces act when your feet is lifted off the ground and then placed down, as is the case in walking.
In this case, as per Newton’s Laws of motion, the force exerted by your feet is countered by and equal and opposite ‘impact’ force which is subjected to the sole of your feet and travels upward towards the ankle, knee, hip and the spinal joints.
Hence, we call jogging as a high-impact activity. The body is usually designed to accommodate these impact forces without causing any problems – however, which can go wrong in case of excessive impact caused due to faulty movements. Hence it is a good option for the elderly age groups.

The Crosstrainers offer a very good cardiovascular workout, which uses the upper and the lower body simultaneously. They usually have the ‘incline’ and the ‘resistance’ functions, as was seen in the treadmills. The incline usually works on varying your stride length, which then affects the perceived exertion of the movement.
Remember to keep your complete foot on each of the pads, and not just push with the ball of your feet. Also, remember to keep the shoulders relaxed and the neck looking straight.
Once in a while, you can also try it out without the hand motion – this calls for higher balance and thus tines your core muscles!
Continuing the discussion on different types of Cardio machines and their effectiveness lets move on to discuss the third favourite Cardio Machine amongst all gym freaks, coming in strongly after the treadmill and cross-trainer!!

The loyal old stationary cycle - based on the lines of the cycle used as a vehicle by a lot of people even now! There are primarily two kinds of cycles – upright and recumbent. The main distinguishing feature is that the cycle is primarily a lower-body intensive machine, with very little effort exerted on the upper body, unless moved.

Upright cycle is the one which emulates the conventional cyclical motion with the feet pushing on the pads in a circular motion, moving against gravity in an upright position. It works in a plane perpendicular to the flat ground, which is technically called the Sagittal plane.
The upper body and the core muscles also get focused during the movement thereby intensely working out the whole body. However, a major part of the body-weight comes on a small area of the lower-back in contact with the seat and hence could cause discomfort.

Recumbent cycle is the one in which the torso and the feet pads are at an angle and the motion is slightly elliptical and moving against the machine-generated resistance along with gravity. It puts the user in a reclined position and is better supported at the lower-back and hence more comfortable.
The weight of the body, especially the upper part is spread over a larger surface area and hence there is less pressure on the lower back. It also does not place any stress on the shoulder or wrist muscles which are quite possible in the upright cycle.
Also a very interesting fact is that in the recumbent cycle, the legs are near to the level of the heart – a fact which enhances venous return to the heart and also helps build endurance.

However, the abdominal and the core muscles also relax in this position and hence are not acted upon as a side-effect, which happens easily on an upright bike. Also, some people find the structure very cramped as compared to the upright cycle.
There is nothing too good or bad…. Take your pick!
The last few of the most commonly found cardio machines after the Treadmill, Cross Trainer, Cycles – Upright and Recumbent are the Steppers and the Rowing machines.

The Steppers as the name suggests are machines that simulate the action of stepping or in other words climbing an elevation like a stair case or something like that.
The Steppers are considered to give the benefit of a cardiovascular workout since they use the larger muscle groups of the legs and involve the whole body. The machines come with resistance adjustments top increase or decrease the intensity of the workout.
However, as compared to the other cardio machines, they rank pretty low on the effectiveness of the workout. The primary effect of the climbing movement is on toning the rear leg muscles especially those of the glutes (muscles of the butt).

However, if the angle of the knee in the bent position is greater than 90 degrees, excessive forces are placed on the knee cap (patella) and hence these technical details have to be taken into consideration while performing the movement so as to avoid long-term negative effects to the knee.

The rowing machine is also a popular cardio option in the west, especially because it involves both the upper and the lower body while working out. The primary muscles targeted are those of the lower back, Latissimus dorsi (of the upper back), hips, arms and of course the legs.
It is a very high-energy and demanding workout and can be used effectively to have a great workout.

However, one of the common mistakes that people make is tense their shoulder muscles while performing the rowing action which can then lead to stiff neck and shoulder muscles. Hence kindly take care to keep the upper body relaxed while performing the action.

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