Tedious Treadmill?

 

Tedious treadmill?

 


By Jeannine Stein
September 18, 2006 

**Henry Williford, director of the Human Performance Lab at AU is a source in this story.** 

THE workouts that cardio machines get are usually pretty monotonous. Treadmills are walked upon. Elliptical trainer foot beds move forward and back, forward and back. Stair climbers and stationary bikes are pedaled the same way, day after day. 

Not a terribly exciting life, even for an appliance. 

Now some trainers and group fitness instructors are pushing these popular cardio machines beyond the usual routines, including the ones already programmed into equipment. They've devised unconventional workouts and added apparatus to up exercisers' cardiovascular levels and train new muscle groups. 

They're looking for new ways to get clients and students fitter faster — all, of course, while keeping an eye on safety. Anyone who's seen somebody on a treadmill get so caught up watching "Access Hollywood" that they trip and get shot out the back can attest to the potential dangers of these machines when used incorrectly. 

Often, the programs are born out of a trainer or instructor's own personal ennui: 

• That's how it was for Los Angeles-based personal trainer Erik Flowers, co-owner of LA's Body Builders Gym and creator of a new interval workout on the current "it" machine, the elliptical trainer. 

"I was working out at home and I thought, 'I'm not even paying attention to what I'm doing, I'm not sweating anymore…. There's got to be more to this machine,' " Flowers recalls. 

He began experimenting, eventually coming up with ElliptiSize, which uses a combination of speeds, resistance levels and positions, such as squatting and lifting up on the toes. Beginners can progress in stamina, strength and balance. 

Sequences include pedaling the machine in a squat position at high resistance (taxing the glutes and quadriceps) and pedaling backward while up on the toes, training the core and working major muscle groups, including the calves. 

A few things, he found, didn't work — such as keeping one's eyes closed. Though this does help improve a person's balance, most people found it too difficult and awkward. Adding dumbbells — even light ones — threw off coordination and made the ride too unstable. He officially launched the trainer-led program last January. 

• Amy Dixon, group fitness manager for Equinox in Santa Monica, is another who's retooled workouts for classic gym machines. She teaches Shreadmill, a treadmill-based group exercise class inspired by her high school track team days: walking lunges, walking with knees up, walking on toes, or backward or sideways, with various combinations of speed and incline — and sometimes with eyes closed. 

Dixon says that some students are skeptical about the class. "They think, 'What can this woman give me on a treadmill that I don't already know?' " 

Other gyms have adopted such classes: Last spring, the Sports Club/LA launched a version of Shreadmill, taught by instructor Felix Montana. 

• Brooke Siler, Pilates instructor and owner of re:AB fitness studios in Manhattan, has reformatted gym machine workouts using cardio machine moves she practiced on her own for years. When she did them, "my biceps were popping, my shoulders were more developed, and I realized I could use the equipment to sculpt my body." 

Siler put her moves into a book, "Your Ultimate Pilates Body Challenge: At the Gym, on the Mat, and on the Move," released last December. Among her suggestions: leaning forward and doing push-ups on the fixed arms of the elliptical or the Cybex Arc Trainer while pedaling; or putting hands on shoulders and twisting while on the stair climber or elliptical, to better work core muscles and improve coordination. She tells clients to imagine, while on the treadmill, that they're pushing the belt themselves, because it makes the leg muscles work harder. 

• Some go further than asking clients to "imagine." Trainer Todd Durkin, owner of Fitness Quest 10, a personal training and workout facility in San Diego, shuts the treadmill motor off so that clients have to propel it themselves, sometimes with both legs and sometimes, per his instructions, with just one, to check for strength imbalances. He also has clients walk and run backward and sideways — and skip, to improve coordination. Supervision and starting slowly keep the exercises safe, he says. 

• At A Tighter U Fitness Studio in Culver City, trainer and gym owner Steve Zim teaches a workout combining treadmill for cardio and elastic bands, wrapped around the console of the machine, for toning the arms. He developed the idea on his own years ago, while traveling and working out in hotel gyms. 

Compressing strength and cardio into one routine to save time is one appeal, Zim says; another is the boosted cardio benefits and calorie burn from walking while doing upper body work. 

Such new twists on old equipment are gaining fans. On a recent day at Zim's gym, 21-year-old Hillary Reed walks on a treadmill at a breezy three miles per hour and 7% incline while alternating between bicep curls, tricep kick-backs and shoulder presses with armbands. 

Twelve minutes into her routine, she is sweating and breathing heavily, something she says takes twice as long to achieve doing the treadmill alone. 

At Body Builders Gym, Jennifer Mechner did Flowers' ElliptiSize program for five weeks and says she dropped 6 pounds from her 5-foot-7 frame, and took 3 inches off her hips and 1 1/2 inches off her thighs. 

The 35-year-old L.A. photographer was no stranger to elliptical workouts — but this, she says, was different. "What I was doing before was not even close to a cardio workout," she says. "The actual interval training is way more intense." 

Though trainers and teachers and some students might be enthusiastic about these boosted cardio workouts, experts wonder how far they can go. 

Research has shown that walking backward and sideways burns more calories because it requires more oxygen, says Henry Williford, director of the Human Performance Lab at Auburn University in Alabama. 

But combining cardio with strength training might not improve calorie burn or cardio benefits. Adding bands or weights could "affect your normal activity and you could even burn fewer calories because it's going to make you slow down," he says. An elevated heart rate isn't always proof of added benefit, he adds: More detailed metabolic tests must be run. 

Manufacturers are aware of how their machines are being modified. "We realize it's a trend," says Greg Bahnfleth of Life Fitness, an Illinois-based exercise equipment-maker. In fact, observing gymgoers and listening to trainers has caused the company to add new programming to the machines — cueing people to push and pull more on the arms of an elliptical trainer, or change pedal direction. 

"We'll definitely continue to explore ideas," says Susan Bell, director of commercial marketing for Washington-based Precor Inc., which manufactures ellipticals, treadmills and bikes. "We love to learn how people are using the machines."