Thursday, July 21, 2005

Realizing the Benefits of Aerobic Training

By Todd Schemper, PT (Work Systems Rehab & Fitness; Des Moines, Iowa)

The year is half gone! So how are those New Year’s resolutions to work out coming along? The cold weather of winter often makes it difficult to enjoy being in creation, but now we are dealing with the stark reality of the heat and humidity that the summer has to offer in our parts. While I love to be outdoors, on some days I am extremely thankful that there are many indoor exercise options to get the body moving. I will discuss some of the more popular machines being used today for burning some calories.

There are many benefits and reasons to exercise. A major one is improving your aerobic capacity or endurance. Exercise can also help decrease body fat, improve blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, reduce stress, and decrease the risk of heart disease. Other reasons include increased muscle strength and bone mass.

Duration and Frequency
The duration and frequency relate to how long and how often you should exercise. If you have not currently started a program it is important to start slow. One option is to begin with a 10 to 15 minute session one day, take the next day off to see how you feel, and then gradually bump up your time the day after that. A general rule is to exercise a minimum of 20 minutes 3 days a week. The maximum limits would be 5-6 days a week and 45-60 minutes of exercise.

Mode of Exercise
The main machines for cardiovascular exercise include treadmills, stationary bicycles, elliptical machines, and steppers. There are others out there but these are the most popular in health clubs and home use. People mainly focus on their heart rate and calories burned with these activities. I will discuss some of the musculoskeletal considerations with these modes of exercise. You don’t have to get crazy and walk sideways on the treadmill or stand backwards on the elliptical, but thinking about what your joints and muscles are doing with these activities could give you an even better work out.

The treadmill seems to be the most popular of the indoor machines. Whether you walk, run, or fight for your life to stay on, it is a great mode of exercise for burning calories and getting your heart pumping. While ultimately safety should come first, holding on excessively with your hands can take away from some core (hip, pelvis, back, abdominal) strengthening that could be occurring if you did not hang on. Once you feel ready to go hands free, give it a try and see how it feels different. Another very important idea with treadmill activity is making a practice of using it with the belt at a slight incline. This creates a more natural balance with the muscles of your legs.

Stationary Bicycle
The bicycle is another option for exercise. It has the added benefit of decreased joint pounding. There are many types of stationary bikes, recumbent, arm motion with pedal motion, and regular handlebar. One is not better than another as long as it is a comfortable fit for you. The seat should be at a height that you have a slight bend in your knee when your foot is at the bottom of the pedal stroke. A recommendation with riding the bike is to focus on a circular motion with your legs, pulling back as well as pushing down, to again get a more balanced work out.

The stepper is exactly what it sounds like, a machine that simulates going up stairs. This is another machine that would be a good one not to hang on as much. Not using your arms challenges your balance and core stability. Remember safety first. Also think about pulling one leg up as you push the other down.

The elliptical machine is one of the newest members of the cardio family. It can be hard to describe, but is sort of a cross between the treadmill, bike, and stepper. Your feet stay on it so you don’t get the pounding of a treadmill, but you are standing, so it is a great weight bearing exercise for bone and muscle building. Try going forward and backward, pushing and pulling for a well-balanced work out. Remember the hand issue here too.

Key Points
The benefits of aerobic training can only be attained if you make a point to be consistent with your program. Also try a variety of machines to exercise your body differently. And as always, have fun and enjoy improving your health.

Todd Schemper, PT, is a physical therapist with Work Systems Rehab, P.C. He can be reached at (515) 309-4706 or

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