We've all seen fellow gym-goers hunching over stairclimbers, clinging to the rails for dear life. But just because they're going Mach 3 doesn't mean they're getting anywhere. "In general, correct form is the key to getting the best workout out of a machine," says Ann Marie Miller, director of fitness programming at New York Sports Clubs. Miller gives her tips for upgrading your next cardio workout and avoiding injury:
Burn Booster: Posture, posture, posture! Stand up straight and punch in a speed that's slow enough to allow a full range of motion—superfast baby steps don't do as much for your leg muscles as long strides. If you have knee pain, take shallower steps.
Bad-form Buster: Not only does leaning on the console cut calories burned, but it stresses the wrists, shoulders, and lower back. Some slackers even get carpal tunnel syndrome.
Burn Booster: Ask a specialist to teach you the proper stroke. Keep your back straight and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Initiate backward movement with your legs, keeping the chain parallel to the floor, and concentrate on making the movement completely smooth.
Bad-form Buster: To avoid back and knee pain, don't bend your knees more than 90 degrees, hunch your back, or push up onto your toes. To prevent your knees from locking, don't fully extend your legs. Concentrate on keeping your shoulders over your hips when you pull back; don't lie back on the machine.
Burn Booster: Monitor your heart rate and work in your target zone. Try to keep your hips, knees, and toes in the same plane (i.e., no knock-knees). As with the stairclimber (see above), a lot of people sabotage a great workout by supporting their body weight on the rails. Leaning on the handrails may reduce your calorie expenditure by up to 50 percent.
Bad-form Buster: Don't crank up the resistance too much at first—it can unnecessarily stress your joints and tire you out prematurely.
Burn Booster: Concentrate on maintaining a smooth stride, and aim for an average speed of 80 rpm. Challenge yourself with interval training: Alternate between one minute of power pedaling and three minutes recovering at a comfortable pace.
Bad-form Buster: Set the seat at a height that allows your foot to be flat on the pedal with a slight bend in the knee when you are at the bottom of a revolution. If your seat is too low, it can lead to lower back pain; if it's too high, it can crunch your crotch.
Burn Booster: See Stationary Bike.
Bad-form Buster: Set your seat so that you maintain good posture with your extended leg slightly bent. Your legs should never have to reach for the pedals.
Burn Booster: Start by just using your legs, then add the arms. The key to getting the most out of this machine is getting into a rhythm. Practice with less resistance, then build up. Don't lean on the hip pad—you'll lower your calorie-burning potential.
Bad-form Buster: To protect your shoulders, adjust the length of the arm cord so that your arms swing naturally without allowing for any slack in the rope. To protect your pride, get some coaching so you don't get tangled up and fall down. Instead of trying to keep your feet flat throughout the skiing motion, scoot your foot back as if you were trying to scrape gum off the bottom.