Thursday, January 6, 2011

beginner's guide to losing weight: cardio at the gym

Every January, gyms all across the country become more packed with new gym-goers with hopes of making their New Year's resolutions stick. Part of me (like most regulars) gets annoyed with the influx of people, making it hard to get an open cardio machine or find room in the aerobics class. But mostly I'm excited to see people getting into a better lifestyle.

This brings us to the first installment of the Beginner's Guide to Losing Weight: Cardio at the Gym!

image from here
Most people who are trying to lose some pounds do so through cardio exercises and machines. The most commonly used cardio machines are the elliptical, the treadmill, the stairmaster, and the arc trainer. has a good list and instructions on how to use these possibly intimidating machines. Knowing how to use the machine, even something as simple as the elliptical, is necessary to produce a more efficient workout and avoid injury. If you're not sure how to use something, just hop on and try your best to figure it out! If you're having a lot of trouble, ask a gym staff member to help you out. No need to be embarrassed!

[Pretentious side note alert.... My biggest pet peeve about elliptical users: If your head is bobbing up and down or your heel comes up with each step, you are not using it correctly!]

The most important thing to remember when doing cardio is to stay in your target heart rate zone. Many people think that the harder they work out, the faster they will lose weight. This is true, to an extent. The harder you workout, the more calories you burn. HOWEVER, it is much more efficient to work out where your heart rate is in the "fat burning zone".
chart from here
For a person who is 35 years old, their fat burn zone would be a heart rate generally between 100-120. That's only 50-65% of their maximum heart rate. I met with a personal trainer for several sessions over the summer and he was even more extreme, recommending that I stay between 90 and 120 for optimum fat burning. I was amazed that by working less strenuously I was able to burn fat more efficiently and ultimately, lose weight.

image from here
To check your heart rate, you can use a heart rate monitor, which I have never personally used (but would love to), or the old fashioned finger on the neck check. Place two fingers under the cheek bone/upper neck area and feel a pulse. Count the number of pulses for 6 seconds. Add a 0 on the end of your number, and that's your heart rate.  Most cardio machines have sensors that show the users heart rate, but I have found that they are not always the most reliable.

Next up in the Beginner's Guide to Losing Weight: Food Journals!

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