As the weather begins to chill (or become extra wet for us in the Pacific Northwest), many of us hand in our bikes and trail running shoes for the warm and bustling confines of our neighborhood gym in search of our regular doses of cardiovascular exercise.
For some, the idea of running on a treadmill is positively revolting, and it’s understandable why: getting out in the sun not only gets you a revolving window of scenery, but the fresh air and sunshine (hello, Vitamin D) are an easy win over the fitness centre.
Gym Cardio Ain’t So Bad
However, training inside on machines can have some benefits, including, but not limited to—
- Instant feedback. Unless you have a heart rate monitor, you are free-balling your effort and intensity when doing cardio outside. With the exception of spin bikes, most cardio machines give you a ton of feedback; time, distance, heart rate, and roughly how many calories you’ve expended.
- The digits keep ya honest. I am not going to lie, when I run outside I estimate time and distance. So while it may have felt like I ran 30 minutes, odds are good it was more like 22-24 minutes. Having the numbers and time laid out right in front of you, not lying to you is a great way to keep your workout honest.
- You can multi-task. I am not a huge fan of reading or texting while at the gym, but for some, it’s a great time to catch up on work. Try reading a newspaper while going down a mountain trail on your bike. On second thought, please don’t. Seriously.
- No excuses. Weather be damned, unless it snows eight feet overnight or a hurricane is about to make landfall, your gym will be open, waiting for you to come and sweat all over it’s machines. It’s easy to fall prey to the unbelievably powerful excuse-making factory that is going on within all of us; looks too cold, maybe later when it is dark, it’s too dark, too cold out, etc.
Cross training opportunities. You can do this outside, but in terms of equipment available to you, gym cardio workouts offer a limitless number of ways for you to mix up your cardio and stave off boredom. You can do 10 minutes on the bike, 10 on the rowing machine, 10 on the elliptical. Or the other way around. Or upside-down. You get the point.
8 Ways to Blast Your Cardio
Alrighty, so now that you are fully aware of why indoor cardio can be just as fun as cavorting out in the sunshine (yes, I know I am reaching there, but bear with me), here are 8 different types of cardio you can employ to reach your fitness goals–
1. Rope skipping. Best bang for eight bucks. Buy an $8 skipping rope (or borrow one from the gym—they usually have ‘em), jump into an unoccupied aerobics studio (or even your garage or basement if height allows it) and off you go. Great calf workout, and also one of my favorites for engaging my core and glutes. Plus you get to feel like Rocky, so it’s pretty much win-win. Side note: if you plan on jumping rope in your driveway or a parking lot, buy a jump rope mat to protect the rope and significantly extend the life of the jump rope.)
2. Elliptical. Perfect for people who want to run, but have shoddy joints, whether it’s their knees, ankles or hips. As a bigger guy, I like using this for some low impact cardio. Also my go-to for when I want to warm up my body for strength training as it uses your upper body a little bit as well.
3. Treadmill. The most popular machines at my gym. Most treadmills have the ability to adjust incline, and of course you can track your heart rate and all that other good stuff as well. (Fun fact: Adjusting your treadmill so that there is a 1% incline will most closely mirror outdoor conditions.)
4. Arms bike. Not enough gyms have this machine, and the ones that do usually only have one. It’s a highly underrated gadget though, and gives your upper body a fantastic workout, hitting your back, shoulders and arms. Also great for warming up said body parts before strength training. For a home-based alternative, you can replicate a lot of the same movements using a pair of battle ropes. These thick, nylon ropes are awesome for blasting your upper body and working you aerobic capacity.
5. Ergo (rowing) machine. Another great banger for your upper body. If you haven’t used this machine for a while, I highly recommend warming up and stretching your lats and traps before jumping on it. You’ll feel it for days otherwise.
6. Stationary Bike. An old favorite of mine that I only use now on active recovery days. Great for if you are just easing into exercise after some time off, the stationary bike primarily hits your quadriceps, which are responsible for extending and straightening your leg. That sounds important.
7. Stair Climber. The stair climber hits your leg muscles from your butt to your hamstrings, quadriceps and perhaps where you will most notice it, your calf muscles. Don’t forget to engage your core while doing this; often users will slouch over their machine in a misled attempt at easing their suffering.
8. X-Country Ski. This machine is a dying breed; I haven’t seen one in a gym in years, but I am sure there are still a few kicking out there. Which is too bad because it is one of the better full body gym cardio workouts listed here.
There you have it, 8 different ways to get your cardio at your local gym. And don’t worry, warm weather and those trails will be back soon enough.