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Cardio Workout Equipment Primer

Treadmills, stationary bicycles, elliptical trainers, and other cardiovascular machines are among the most frequently used pieces of equipment at health clubs.

But many people use these machines incorrectly or don't fully utilize them.

If you exercise at a fitness facility, ask a staff trainer for a thorough tutorial on the capabilities of the cardio equipment. This will help you reach your fitness goals quicker.

A trainer also can help you use the equipment correctly, which can reduce your risk of injury and help you avoid boredom by suggesting varied routines.

Here are tips to help you get the most out of your workouts when you use cardio equipment.

Understand the equipment

Make sure you can access the preset programs (or create your own); control your workout's speed, intensity and duration; and adjust the seat position or incline, if applicable.

Before you begin, be sure you know how to stop the equipment in case you need to dismount quickly. Some machines have a 'stop' button on the console or a safety switch you can attach to your clothes. On other equipment, you just stop exercising and the machine slows to a halt.

Look for heart-rate technology

If possible, use equipment with integrated heart-rate technology. By wearing a transmitter on a chest strap, you can monitor your heart rate on the console as you exercise. Examine heart-rate charts or ask your healthcare provider to find the guidelines for your age.

Familiarize yourself with the programs

Most pieces of cardiovascular equipment have preset programs to help you meet goals, such as losing weight, preparing for a 100-mile bike ride, or training for a hill run.  Consider how the various programs will best support your goals and recreational activities.

Start with a manual or steady-state program

With a manual program, you can continually adjust your workout's intensity and speed. A steady-state program gives you a warm-up, cardio workout, and cool-down. Some steady-state programs are preset; others are customizable.

Advance to an interval program

Most machines have some type of preset interval program that intersperses periods of intensity with periods of recovery. The program may be called "fat burning" or "weight loss" on some equipment.

Choose a hill program for variety

Many cardio machines have this type of program, which may have a name like Pikes Peak or Mount Olympus. Often the name is based on a particular race or event (Uphill 10K Run, for example). If you need a challenge or want something new, a hill program may be the answer.

Use the race-pace program to prepare for competition

This program can motivate you to step up your training and get ready for an athletic event. For example, if you ran three 10K races in the past year, you may want to work on reducing your time in future runs.

If you train on a treadmill using this program, you can select warm-up, cool-down, speed, and possibly incline parameters that will help you complete the 10K distance at or near the race pace you want to achieve.

Remember always to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.