Increase your results by letting go

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, is a Certified Health Coach and a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center.

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach

It’s that time of day, the one most of us either dread or cannot wait to enjoy. Whether it’s working off the overconsumption at lunch, or jump-starting your morning before greeting the pressures awaiting you at the office, or maybe just an hour of “you-time”, the cardio workout is a vital part of staying fit. 

Two of the most popular pieces of cardio equipment at my gym are the treadmill and the elliptical trainer.  Choosing a program with different settings, speeds and inclines can add to the challenge of the workout, as can varying the level of intensity. This sort of exercise ought to provide a considerable calorie burn, judging from the sweat-soaked tee shirts I often see on dedicated individuals.  However, many people find that in spite of their time and efforts on these machines, their physiques simply refuse to change. 

If this defines your current cardio experience, hold on and prepare yourself for this next piece of startling news: stop holding on!!! According to exercise physiologists, grasping onto the sidebars when using a treadmill, or clinging to the handles of the elliptical trainer, might be robbing you of the opportunity to invoke the greatest possible calorie burn.  After all, if you have set aside and prioritized time in your busy schedule to drive to the gym, change clothes, spend 45 minutes doing cardio, shower, change clothes again and drive home, you deserve to get the most burn for your buck.

Reasoning for reliance on the handles of the treadmill or elliptical trainer falls under two distinct headings. The most common of these is the notion that utilizing the arms will make the workload easier on the legs as you begin to fatigue.  In truth, you will tire faster, since the arms simply cannot keep pace with the legs, and in so trying, you are defeating your purpose.  The second reason cited is for balance and the maintenance of proper form.  While I applaud the desire for good posture while moving, the goal should be to achieve this with only the fingertips resting lightly on the handles.  If you are finding this to be an impossible task without stumbling or tripping, it is best to either slow down the pace or decrease the level on intensity/incline on the machine.

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Many cardio machines with advanced design come equipped with a clip which, when secured to a piece of clothing, can provide a significant measure of comfort that in the case of a misstep, you will not go flying off the back of the treadmill.  If you think utilizing this clip doesn’t look “cool”, I have seen individuals fly off treadmills; trust me, you’d rather use the clip!  Another nice feature on most of these pieces is an emergency STOP button.  Conveniently located in the middle of the front panel, and designed to resemble the typical road sign, this button will stop the machine if the user should suddenly feel unsteady or tired and desire an immediate dismount. 

These two safety features are present to eliminate the need for gripping the handlebars while performing a strenuous cardio workout. Prior to selecting one of the treadmill’s built-in programs of intensity and speed, decide on your level of comfort when it comes to training hands-free. If your upper body gets bored while you are walking or running through your paces, it is perfectly acceptable to swing your arms in a natural rhythm, as such a move will not diminish the effectiveness of your workout.

If this is news to you, please proceed with caution the next time you perform your cardio exercise.  Keep fingertips lightly resting on the handles until you are secure in your gait and your ability to balance. Soon you will find your comfort level increasing, your physique changing, and your confidence soaring.